Tag Archives: handwork

The Sun My Heart

the solstice sun | contemplative handwork using up-cycled and natural materials

We had the great pleasure of offering a workshop at the Festival of Conscious Parenting last Sunday.  This conference was a wonderful convergence of many teachers, community leaders, and families committed to creating mindful and non-violent environments for children.

Because the summer solstice was also last weekend, Om School’s offering centered on the life-giving energy of the sun — and how the sun is really our second heart, the great heart outside of our body.

What follows is the prepared text of the talk I shared.

Hello friends and families,

How is everyone today?  I hope you are well and remembering to smile at the blue sky.  My name is Chelsea True and I am the founding instructor at Om School Learning.  Om School offers contemplative community programs and services to families and children in Sebastopol.  All of our programs are held at Sophia’s Garden — a biodynamic farm and medicinal herb garden.  It’s a lovely space and I hope you’ll come out and join us this fall.

So what do we do there?  Well, we come together each week to learn mindfulness — to practice holding the world in kindness by paying attention in a special way.  We do this with storytelling, songs, games, and handwork with natural materials.  And we’re going to share a contemplative handwork project here today.  This is a special way to train our attention to hold the world in kindness… and to shine the light of our awareness on the whole world for the whole world.

But before we get started with that, I want to talk more about this, “shining the light of our awareness…”

Does anyone know what we’re celebrating this weekend?  Yes, many fun things here at the festival — and I hope you’ll enjoy all of the joyful offerings.

The thing I’d like to celebrate with you all today is the summer solstice.  Yesterday and today are the longest days of the year with the sun right here giving us its gifts.  One of my teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, has this to say about the sun:

“The sun is our second heart, our heart outside of our body. It gives all life on Earth the warmth necessary for existence. Plants live thanks to the sun. Their leaves absorb the sun’s energy, along with carbon dioxide from the air, to produce food for the tree, the flower, the plankton. And thanks to plants, we and other animals can live. All of us—people, animals, plants, and minerals—”consume” the sun, directly and indirectly. We cannot begin to describe all the effects of the sun, that great heart outside of our body.

When we look at green vegetables, we can see that it is the sun that is green and not just the vegetables. The green color in the leaves of the vegetables is due to the presence of the sun.”

The same is true for these flowers and oranges.  These oranges are the sun.  These flowers are your heart.  Seeing this way, we’re able to understand that the earth is our body and the trees are our breath — our lungs.  The water in the oceans and little rivers is not separate from the blood in our veins.  And when we feel that warm sun our cheeks — well how does it feel?  I think it feels like a mother’s love.  Soft and warm, radiating towards us, falling on everything equally, inclusive and undiscriminating.   In an ancient language, this kind of warm, radiating love is called, “metta,” or loving-kindness.

We can generate this kind of tender love, the warm love a mother has for her child, on purpose — with special phrases, wishes that we send out to the world.  We begin with sending this warm, sunlight to ourselves.  Let’s do that now.

Imagine someone you love — someone you see regularly.  Maybe your mom or dad, your dog or cat or horse.  Someone who loves you and takes good care of you.  Now close your eyes and imagine them very close to you.  See the warmth of their heart shine into yours.  Feel the sunbeams of their love shining to you.  Now let’s say the phrases.  Amelie, who is an Om School student, will help us.  Let’s repeat after Amelie:

May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be peaceful

Now we can radiate that warm, soft sunlight of loving-kindness right back to the person we’re imagining.  Picture the love shining from your heart, warming them with gentle loving-kindness.  Now let’s say the phrases for them.  Emma, who is also an Om School student, is going to help us.  Let’s repeat after Emma:

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be peaceful

And we don’t have to stop there.  The sun shines on the whole world.  Let’s send that loving-kindness to all beings, even to the sun — to thank the sun for all of the gifts it gives us.  Liam and Tonia, who also practice mindfulness with Om School, will help us.  Let’s repeat after Liam and Tonia:

May all beings be happy
May all beings be healthy
May all beings be peaceful

Can you feel it?  I think we’re warming up the world.  And if you don’t feel it, that’s okay too.  We’re planting seeds and we can trust that they will grow.

I trust that the sun is your heart — and mine too.  Without the sun, no living being could survive. Without sun, there would be no you, no me.  So everything we know, even these oranges are the coming-together of many conditions near and far.  Here in one orange is the sun, the rain, the earth, the farmer who cared for the soil, the tools used to work the farm, the sky from which the rain fell, the parents who gave birth to the farmer.  In fact, this sun-ripe orange is the body of the entire cosmos… made up completely of non-orange elements —sunshine, rivers, and consciousness — and without any of these, the orange cannot be.

We can learn a lot from an orange.

Walt Whitman said, “I believe a blade of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars….” He also said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”  The sun is our heart, yes?  John Muir said, “When one tugs a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

These are meditations on our interbeing — on how all things are intricately interwoven.  So, with that, let’s weave together a solstice sun.  Let’s honor the sun, that great heart outside our body, with an enormous weaving project — and create a big, yellow sun with up-cycled fabrics, wool roving, and other natural materials.

And for the parents– what makes this a contemplative project?  Many things.  We’ve just heard how the sun is our heart, so now we have a chance to deepen and embody this understanding through the experience of using our hands.  But that’s not all.  Some of you may have done a project like this in the past.  Today we’re going to do it differently.  Instead of just weaving the fabric around the branches, we’re going to repeat the loving-kindness verses as we weave.  With each verse, our hands will make a coordinating movement.  So, it’s, “May I be happy…” as we wrap the fabric around the frame.

In doing so, we are weaving our loving-kindness right into this sun — so it can shine on everyone.  We’re also training our attention to be right here in the present moment, where our lives take place… and not caught in worry or planning.  And this present moment, under the warm, solstice sun, is a pretty nice place to be.

Thank you, everybody.

Now let’s turn to some of the Om School kids to get us started.  And if you’re not an Om School kid, but you’d like to help, please come on up.  It’s going to take a lot of little hands to weave the entire sun.

This talk was inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Sun My Heart and references an article of the same title by Thich Nhat Hanh, published in the Engaged Buddhist Reader, ed. Arnold Kotler (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1966)

The Mindful Art Program at Om School this Saturday!

mindfulness and the artsWould you like to learn more about the Mindful Art Program we’ll be sharing with pre-teens this Saturday at our Family Mindfulness Day? Emily Tara Weiner, MA, MFTI, framed this as a wellness program that focuses on cultivation of mindfulness skills, stress reduction, social and emotional learning, and self-compassion.  While not a therapy program, it’s largely based on Dr. Laury Rappaport’s Focusing-Oriented Art Therapy (FOAT) methods and is featured in her book, Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies — available here.

We still have a few more spaces in Saturday’s PRE-TEEN program.  Be sure to register in advance… our program for children 8 and under is now wait-list only!

Modeling Beginner’s Mind

3-7-14 361We had rain for our March Children’s Program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center,  so we kept dry inside working with clay and a story.

In, The Two Teacher’s and Tea,  a university professor comes to see the Zen teacher, Nan-in.  While waiting for tea to be served, the professor starts into one of his lectures.  He talks on and on… and on… and on.

When the tea finally arrives, Nan-in pours… and pours… and pours.  The professor’s cup overflows right into his lap.  “Just like this cup, sir, you are also too full… please first empty your own cup, then we can learn something together.”

How easy it is to be like the professor — so full of our own ideas that nothing new gets in… so quick to press forward that we may not actually see what is before us.   As Nan-in tells us, it is better to cultivate a beginner’s mind — an attitude of openness and curiosity.

3-7-14 362
Sarah Conover’s book, “Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents” features the story, “The Two Teachers and Tea.”

After the story, we enjoyed modeling, “empty cups” with terra-cotta clay.  As always, we shared apple juice and freshly baked muffins from the Green Gulch kitchen.

For more about beginner’s mind, read Shunryu Suzuki Roshi‘s classic book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  Our next program is Sunday, April 6th.  We meet near the zendo at 10:00 am.  Hope to see you there!

Breathing with Anchor Words

felt flowersTomorrow at Om School, we’ll practice mindful breathing with the anchor words,  “breathing in,” and “breathing out.”

We’ll imagine ourselves as flowers with petals open as we breathe in… and petals closed as we breathe out… then illustrate what we imagined in our Mindful Schools workbooks.

We’ll recite Thich Nhat Hanh‘s gatha for mindful breathing:

“Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.
Breathing out, I feel fresh.”

Then we’ll enjoy a felt-flower sewing project using this tutorial.   We’ll try to connect our breath with each stitch.  Breathing in: the needle goes down.  Breathing out: the needle comes back up.  Each flower petal receives two stitches.

These “anchor words” come to us from the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing – or Anapanasati Sutra — an ancient text that can be read here.

I’ll post photos of the children’s work here and on our Facebook page.  Be sure to stop back by!

Raindrops, Cherry Blossoms and Ryōkan

white cherryWe celebrated the mid-way point to spring yesterday with a new season of Children’s Program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. 

The first part of the teacher’s talk featured the Soto monk Ryōkan who lived much of his life as a hermit.  He’s remembered for his calligraphy, poetry, love of children, and eccentric ways… playing games and filling his rice bowl with violets and dandelions.

After the talk, we walked through the light rain noticing cherry blossoms and daffodils in bloom.

Children were then guided through a short meditation… listening to the rain and the sound of the bell…  noticing in-breath, out-breath, and the gap in between.

IMG_1526Older children were then invited to try calligraphy and brushstroke with ink.  Younger children used crayons to draw what they noticed on the walk and their experience of listening to the rain.

We read the book, “No Ordinary Apple” — a story about mindful eating… then enjoyed apple juice and apple muffins prepared earlier that morning by some of the children in the Green Gulch kitchen.

Our next program meets Sunday, March 2nd.  We meet outside the zendo at 10am.  Advanced registration is not required.  Participating families are invited to stay for lunch in the dining hall.

Hope to see you next time!

With metta,
Chelsea

May All Beings Be Free

It’s the 4th of July and with everyone’s attention turned towards freedom, flags, and independence, I’m thinking about freedom, prayer flags, and interdependence… and sending these wishes out to all beings.

This is the classical mindfulness practice of loving-kindness or metta meditation.  Mindful Schools translates this practice as, “heartfulness.”  Susan Kaiser Greenland calls it, “sending friendly wishes.”  You can see kids practicing in this short video.

We begin by picturing someone who loves us and feeling their love flowing into us.  Stay with this feeling for a moment.  Then repeat short verses such as:

May I be peaceful.
May I be safe.
May I be free.

Now that we are filled up with this warm, safe feeling, we’re ready to share it.  Imagine sending out this feeling — from your heart to someone you love.  Picture the person or animal you’ve selected and repeat the verses for them.  May Prudence be peaceful, safe, and free…

But we can’t stop there!  Because my freedom, safety, and peace is inextricably tied to yours,  next we send loving-kindness to all beings:  May all beings be peaceful, safe, and free…

One way to bring this practice into your home is by making metta prayer flags.  We’re using this fun, kid-friendly tutorial from Future Craft Collective:

We’re writing short words and phrases on the white panels: kindness, peace, love, homes, clean air, fresh water, joy.  Then repeating our wishes/verses as we stitch them to to the colorful panels:

May all beings have clean air.
May all beings have fresh water…

We’ll hang them in the garden and let the wind carry our wishes out into the world.  We’ll also share this project with the Children’s Program at Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center this Sunday… and hope to see you and your family there.  In the meantime, may you and all beings enjoy peace, safety, and freedom this 4th of July.

With metta,
Chelsea