Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Living with Intent

I like having a purpose.  I encourage my little one to declare an intent each morning and enjoy sharing my intents on Intent.com.  Making public declarations helps us live more consciously and bring our aspirations out of our dreams and into reality.  With the year winding down, I've discovered a new intent bubbling up within me.  I thought I'd share it here today.  

My intent is to rise each morning and smile... to be rooted and fluid, steady and secure, transparent, passionate, and balanced... to be accepting of my faults, prepared to get back up again when I fall, and to see everything as my teacher... to have a soft and grateful heart, open and ready to receive the blessings and abundance in my life, to be grounded in my family -- loving them and being loved in return... to know that divinity lives in me as me, and to rest in the awareness that I am enough. 

If you have an intent you'd like support achieving, please feel free to share it here -- or join me at Intent.com.

An Affirmation for Forty

I turned forty this week.  The day sort of crept up on me.  We spent it at home cuddling under warm blankets, noshing on yummy food, playing games, and watching movies.  Hubby even made me cupcakes.

Forty feels good.  It feels solid and steady, grounded, inward, and whole.  Twenty and thirty were outward times -- always trying to get somewhere, ambitious, sometimes blue, often grasping.  The last ten years have been filled with letting go, falling apart, and coming back together again.  

Being pregnant at forty is a curious and beautiful thing.  I'm bringing a new life into this world while giving birth to myself and the next phase of my life.  During the last few weeks I've been releasing fear and instability and, as Thich Nahat Hanh writes in Touching the Earth, bowing down to receive the earth's energy of stability and fearlessness.  I'm turning my focus to images of the sacred feminine, earth goddesses round and full, and practicing seeing myself in Mama Earth herself. 

The preface of the Ksitigarbha Sutra says, "Earth means that which is stable, thick, and has a great capacity for embracing."  This has become an affirmation for me.  It's helping me find my roots -- to open, and soften and feel the stable earth within.  We're planning a natural birth at home and I imagine that these are qualities that will help during labor and delivery.  It seems that once again, life is giving me just what I need to learn.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Trusting Our Inner-Wisdom

Amelie's Sunset Heart
Stepping outside of the mainstream takes courage.  Once you're there, staying there takes both a commitment to your own ideals and trust. But how do we learn to trust our inner-wisdom?  The first step is by paying attention with moment-to moment awareness.

Our decision to homeschool didn't come easy.  We had all of the same questions and doubts that everyone else has.  Can we really do this on our own?  Will she really get the best education we can provide?  How will we create positive socialization?  What about college?

Now that we're doing it, I find that those same questions still arise... but so do their answers.  We began our homeschooling journey in preschool.  A combination of disappointment with the available choices and love for learning together with our little one brought us here.  Now it's four years later and we're two and half months into first grade.  What's keeping us here?  A commitment to paying attention and trusting in the process.

I recently attended a debate for County Superintendent of Schools.  While neither candidate seemed to have the same vision for our schools that I would like to see, one of them possessed a perspective that stood in stark contrast to my own.  In support of standardized testing and basing teacher's wages on their student's performance, she said in a slick voice, "Data makes the invisible visible."  I wholeheartedly disagree. 

What makes the invisible visible is not data but relationships.  No multiple choice examinations or collection of processed figures can replace what the human heart is capable of perceiving.  We don't need more "measurable" results.  We just need to listen more closely to our children. 

If you think back to when your kids were very small, you'll probably remember all of those early milestones -- stacking blocks, sorting objects, gripping crayons, drawing circles, naming shapes and colors... first steps, first words, hopping, skipping, and jumping.  As parents, we're naturally tuned into our children and we see each of these little miracles as they unfold.  Then something happens.  They turn five and we stop trusting ourselves.  We send them off to school and forget that we - more than anyone else - are equipped to understand them. 

Our cat has a debaucherous habit of waking us up in the middle of the night by knocking over anything and everything in his reach.  Last week, he jumped up on Am's dresser and startled her awake.  I actually didn't hear a thing until she came in to tell me about it.   

"I was scared and my heart was beating really fast, mama," she said.  "So I sat up and listened to my breath... and my heart slowed down again!"

If you've been following our blog, you know that mindfulness and breath awareness are essential elements in our core curriculum.  Hearing her say those words was the sweetest little gift -- more measurable than any test result or report card.

Whether you're educating at home or just committed to engaging in your child's education, paying attention moment to moment can help you stay connected to their inner-world.  When we when bring this level of awareness to our parenting, we see the little miracles as they unfold.  Often, the little things we notice are the greatest gifts of all.  They enrich our lives with joy and help us build a strong foundation for trusting our inner-wisdom, trusting the process of parenting, and trusting that life is the best teacher.

Friday, November 12, 2010

This Moment

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. Inspired by Amanda Soule at SouleMama.  A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

This Moment

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. Inspired by Amanda Soule at SouleMama.  A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A New Beginning

We've been on a pretty long hiatus, haven't we?  But Om School is not closing its doors.  We're making room for a new student, actually.  

I've been absent from the blogosphere because we've been sitting on some exciting news for about a month now.  I wasn't ready to share with the entire universe until after that first sonogram... and having a little life growing inside me has been just about the only thing I can think of -- so the blogging had to take a back seat.  Until now.

We're due in late May and happy to report that Baby Om is growing strong and healthy right on schedule.  I'm focusing more on the magical, natural, and spiritual aspects of childbearing this time around.  I put down "What to Expect" after the first few pages and instead read Deepak's, Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives from cover to cover in just a few days.  Instead of buying into the medicalization of childbearing, I'm emptying my mind and embracing my inner-wisdom.  Our bodies know how to do this.  Like with so many other things in life, often all we really need is to get out of our own way.

Our schooling has already taken on a new shape... with first trimester challenges like morning sickness and pregnancy fatigue cutting into our usual program, we're learning to be more flexible with our schedule -- a skill we'll certainly need to have mastered by the baby's arrival.  We've been embracing our creative energies and looking at impermanence for our October mindfulness unit.  Am's added the soprano recorder to her musical repertoire, continues to enjoy piano, and has advanced a belt in karate.  We've been painting, counting by 2s, 3s, 5s, and 10s, and invented a new character, the Can Can Fairy, to help us with the four functions (of math).  We've read some amazing books lately -- our favorite being, Old Turtle and the Broken Truth which I hope to give a full review to here soon.   

I had all but forgotten what a magical time pregnancy is -- it's a time when our connection to Mama Universe is even more evident... a wondrous time when we're smack dab in the middle of the universe creating itself.  In Magical Beginnings, Chopra writes, "With the birth of every child, the universe chooses to look at itself with fresh eyes."  I hope you'll enjoy sharing this new beginning with us.  Many blessings to all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Making the Darkness Conscious

On our Nature Table: balancing stones, Wild Child by Lynn Plourde, felted acorns, red manzanita bark, and seeds of awareness

When we see inner and outer realities as a single continuum, the universe becomes a mirror.  This makes life the best teacher.  As such, our eyes have been turned towards nature all month.   

Autumn is the season of restoring balance.  It is a time for letting go and emptying our minds so that we can see with clear eyes.  It's the bittersweet end of the abundance season and the beginning of earth’s decline into the resting season.

The Autumnal Equinox takes place each year about September twenty-third. The name "equinox" is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), because around the equinox, the night and day are approximately equally long.[i] 

This week, as we enter the time of introspection, we can also begin cultivating equanimity.  As Swiss psychologist Carl Jung explained, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”  To honor the Autumnal Equinox, we'll have a candlelight letting-go ritual this week.  Here's how: 

When unpleasant events arise, write them down.  Become aware of the sensations in your body and the feelings that accompany these situations. Do you raise your shoulders when you feel stress?  Does your stomach tighten when you are angry?  What happens to your breath when you are anxious?  Include these bodily sensations and feelings in your notes.  

Consider drawing pictures of the things in your life you would like to transform.  Examples might be impatience, judgment, negative thinking, or self-doubt.  Encourage younger children to remember a time when they felt upset, frustrated, or saddened.  Then help them identify the cause of their being upset and express it through artwork.  Very young children might express their feelings by experimenting with a variety of colored crayons or by drawing different shapes.

On the evening before the Autumnal Equinox, gather your family together around a candle that you have placed on a large plate.  Ask everyone to bring his or her drawings and words.  Explain the Equinox to your children:

"Twice per year, around March 20 or 21 and September 22 or 23, the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world.  We call these two days the March Equinox and the September Equinox. They are the two days of the year when the light is equal to the dark.  We have light and dark within us too.  The light in us is the part that brings joy to the whole world.  The dark is the part of us that experiences sorrow.  Equinox is a perfect time for balancing the light and dark within us."

Take turns sharing what you wrote or drew.  Next, consider turning off the lights and saying a verse like, “Tonight we create a balance of darkness and light.  Tonight we make the darkness conscious.”  Then light your candle.  Take turns placing your drawings and words on the plate by the candle, symbolically bringing light to them and releasing them into the fire.  When we use rituals such as this one at home, I say something like, “let us enjoy breathing together.” Then we sit together and cherish the moment.  Before blowing out the candle, consider saying, “Now we go forward with balance.”

Remember that this exercise is also about cultivating wisdom.  Developing awareness of when equanimity is absent helps us learn how to reclaim our balance.  We cannot expect to eliminate the darkness; however, we can bring light to it with our awareness.

This (2010) equinox is also a full moon, so we've been planting intentions all week.  Try sprinkling bird seed in your garden or even on a candle plate like the one shown above.  As you release the seeds, state your intentions with a strong, clear voice. "My intention is to listen deeply and use loving speech," or "My intention is to bring balance into my home." As the moon becomes full, her energy helps bring our intentions forth from the depths of our consciousness into the tangible world of our everyday lives.

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equinox

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Equanimity for Equinox

We've been counting down the days until autumn, enjoying some cool weather, and watching the moon as she grows more and more full each night.  This morning we had some fun with a leaf printing project and now we're making a double batch of Roasted Red Pepper Potato Soup with goodies from our CSA and potatoes from a friend's garden.  The windows are open, the breeze is cool, and the the smell of onions, garlic, and peppers roasting in the oven has filled every corner of the house.  

With equinox approaching, we've been discussing how, like us, the earth must rest -- and that autumn is the beginning of her resting time.  We made a big, red, autumn tree and hung it in the classroom with the title, "Equanimity Equinox."  On one side of the tree we've written, "give, rest, dark, serious, sad, night, quiet."  On the other we've written, "receive, play, light, silly, happy, day, loud."  We can't have one without the other.

I've also been reading up on Michaelmas lately.  Michael is the "greatest of all the archangels and is honored for his defeat of Lucifer in the battle for the heavens in the Bible." (from Wiki).  Waldorf schools also use Michaelmas to teach students the importance of using courage to prepare for the colder, darker, winter months.  I'd like to give this a sacred feminine twist.  Maybe we'll tweak it into a goddess subduing a dragon.  Maybe we'll just forgo this festival altogether and have our own celebration to honor Persephone's return to the underworld.

"Greek mythology tells us that, each year as Persephone left to join her husband in the underworld, the goddess Demeter would begin to grieve, bringing on the cold, barren winters.  But a few months later Persephone, the goddess associated with awakening, would return to bring spring and its verdant growth in her wake . . . thus were the seasons established."  (read more here.)

This is the beauty of archetypal stories.  The names and places change, but the message is the same.  Each of us must, for a time, plummet into darkness and face our demons.  In the darkness, we find the light.  No life can be without a measure of darkness and without it, the light would lose meaning.  In autumn we begin our descent into the dark half of the year.  We can't stop it.  All we can do is make it conscious and trust that spring will come again.  This is the how balance is created.

Still, I think it's important for our daughters to hear stories that speak directly to their experiences.  Hero stories greet us at every turn... but what of the heroine?  Persephone's story seems more fitting for us, I think.  

I guess I'm still undecided about Michaelmas.  For now we're just experiencing the change of seasons, watching the moon grow, and seeing ourselves reflected in each autumn leaf.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Finding Center

When my little one started talking at eight months, I was mesmerized and quickly got on the "more-better-faster" cultural bandwagon of early childhood education. 

By the time she was one, I'd filled the bath tub with foam letters and began forming three letter words during bath-time.   At bed-time I'd read slowly while pointing to the words on the chunky cardboard pages -- emphasizing the sounds of the letters and their place on the page.  I made everything I could into a learning game, "one ladybug plus two ladybugs equals three ladybugs!"

Before she was two, I'd bought mountains of books and and turned "playing school" into a game.  I prefaced everything with it's color, "hand mommy the green ball," "I like Daddy's red shirt," "that's such a pretty brown dog."  I mentioned numbers everywhere I saw them, "look at the five-petaled flower," "see the four birds on the fence." I counted the beans on her high chair tray as she ate them, "seven beans minus one bean is six beans!"

When she learned her shapes and colors before her second birthday, I was thrilled by her capacity for learning.  By the time she was three, she was reading and our homeschool was taking form as more than a game we played.  Learning together had become our way of life.  Each new day was an adventure in learning. 

We went on like this for some time.  The more she learned, the  more work I gave her. 
(In hindsight, I think this is where we went wrong.)  I bought all of the workbooks I could find and sat her down at her desk each morning with phonics and math worksheets while I made breakfast or did dishes.  Before she was five, she'd completed all the workbooks for Kindergarten and First Grade phonics and math.  Before Kindergarten was through, she'd mastered the entire Fry's 300 sight word list and was, according to an assesment tool at Hoagies, reading at a fourth grade level.

But at the same time, I couldn't help but think that this wasn't the the best path.  As Kindergarten pressed on, I began to slow down... I began to ask myself, "where does this path lead?"  What was I really trying to accomplish here?  Isn't there more to nurture in a child than their intellect?  How much stress is this causing her?  And do I really want my girl sitting at a desk filling out worksheets all of the time?  I thought back to the fun we had when she was a toddler -- learning as we went about our day... rather than sitting at a desk with her tiny fingers cramped around a pencil.  It was about this time that I really got down to reading about different methods of education and discovered the wonderful world of Waldorf.

Waldorf's hands on learning approach seemed similar to what we'd been doing in the early years.  I liked the "how" -- the method of learning -- but I wasn't sold on the "when."  (Waldorf asks us to hold off on the academics until the child is six or seven years old.)  I was certainly ready to give up the worksheets -- but I wasn't completely ready to give up on the standards.  Waldorf asks us to do just that -- to let go of our pre-formed ideas of how, what, and when our children should be learning and, at least in the early years, embrace a softer, slower pace.  In this fast paced world, how does one let their child "fall behind" their peers in school?  To answer that question, I had to take a long, hard look at the system and the standards.  I had to question why traditional schools were teaching what they were teaching and how they were teaching it.  What I found was a strange history and a barrage of voices crying out for an education revolution...

Voices like
John Holt, an early proponent of homeschool who argued that children do not learn in school because they are afraid of failing... voices like John Taylor Gatto who writes, "school often acts as an obstacle to success. To go from the confinement of early childhood to the confinement of the classroom to the confinement of homework, working to amass a record entitling you to a “good” college, where the radical reduction of your spirit will continue, isn’t likely to build character or prepare you for a good life..." 

... voices like
Sir Ken Robinson who argues that the absence of music, art, and dance in our institutionalized schools is educating the creativity right out of our kids... and voices like Lawrence Williams who writes, "We continue this sad charade generation after generation, crushing the boundless potential of billions of children, yet we never consider trying another approach, an approach which would permit those infinite resources to flow abundantly into the world for the healing of us all."

When I look back at these six years, I regret pushing the worksheets and putting so much emphasis on keeping ahead of the standards (without first questioning the origin of those standards).  Those were the things that caused tears, worries, and took the fun out of learning.  Those were the things that I think disrupt a child's balanced growth by forcing the intellect too soon -- and this quickly became apparent to me.  But the other things we've done (looking for organic learning opportunities in everything we do together, immersion in archetypes, mindfulness, yoga, etc.) worked.  I think it's time for all of us to re-evaluate the "more-better-faster" model of education.  We should take care not to push too hard or neglect the arts in favor of strict academic achievements.  Our pendulum needs to swing back to the middle.  

For First Grade we've gone beyond the standards, beyond the books, slowed down, and embraced childhood more fully.  We're using the Oak Meadow curriculum, keeping it fun, looking at the big picture, and giving A. every chance to express herself artistically in an environment that nurtures more than her mind.  Our first nine days have included finger-knitting a dress-up scarf and headband, wet-on-wet watercolor painting, learning Mary Had a Little Lamb on the soprano recorder, beeswax crayon drawing, an array of archetypal stories, a review of the four processes of math with a story about The Four Gnomes (named Plus, Minus, Times, and Divide), nature walks and setting up a nature table, pressing flowers, watching the moon and learning about its phases, making a September calendar for our classroom, playing memory games with the contents of our CSA Veggie Box (while learning about eating locally, organically, & seasonally), and making time for plenty of imaginative play with natural toys and playsilks.

With the Autumn Equinox taking place this year on September 23rd, our mindfulness unit this month is Equanimity (or upekkha in the Indic language of Pali).  Equanimity is the capacity for experiencing whatever is happening with composure of mind and heart.  It is the ability to resist extremes and balance gracefully in the middle-ness.  As the days become equal to the night, we are practicing becoming aware of our own dark and light moments and learning how we can experience both with equanimity.  

I hope to make time for writing more about our Equanimity Unit  soon.  In the meantime, I'm continuing to find my own center and come back to it again and again.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day Fourteen {Meditation Challenge}: Lovingkindness

Becoming a parent has the power to transform us completely.  Our heart opens to a real unconditional love.  We gain strength from caring for our children and from loving them so completely -- so freely, without judgment, and with a boundless heart.  Before becoming a mama, I didn't know that my heart was capable of loving like this... of supporting so much and wanting so little in return.  This human heart is an amazing thing.

If the breeze just brought you by, today is the last day of our 14 Day Meditation Challenge.  I hope you'll enjoy the posts now archived here.  If you've been with us all along, thank you!  Sharing thoughts and reflections here has been a real joy.  

Today's practice is my absolute favorite.  I hope you'll try this one and consider sharing it with your kids.  It asks us to visit that place that being a parent sparks... that place where we love with our whole heart.  

To begin, sit comfortably with your eyes closed.  Breathe gently and imagine yourself sitting between two people who love you.  Visualize yourself receiving this love and recite a few phrases such as these:

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.

As you repeat these phrases, picture yourself as you are now and hold that image in lovingkindness. 

Next, imagine someone you love -- your children, your spouse, or a dear friend -- and radiate this lovingkindness to them.  Repeat the same phrases, 

May you be filled with lovingkindness.
May you be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be at ease and happy.

Then picture a neutral person - someone with whom you have few associations - and repeat your phrases for them.  Next, bring to mind someone with whom you've had difficulties.  Picture this person in your mind and hold that image in lovingkindness while repeating your phrases.  Jack Kornfield writes, "as your heart opens, first to loved ones and friends, you will find that in the end you won't want to close it anymore."

The next step is imagining all four -- yourself, a loved one, a neutral one, and a difficult one -- and radiating lovingkindness to all four.  Finally, allow your heart to open completely and radiate this love to the whole earth.  Something that I've really enjoyed is holding a picture in my mind of the Earth as our mother and giving her and all of the children who have grown from her -- all plants, animals, & people -- my lovingkindness.

In the three-minute video below, Sylvia Boorstein, a co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, gives a beautiful demonstration of lovingkindness mediation.   

For a seven minute long mediation with Sylvia, click here.  For more information, also see Sharon Salzberg's website and pick up her book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.  For more on Loving-kindness Meditation for Children, visit Gregory Kramer's site at http://www.buddhanet.net/metta_k.htm

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Day Thirteen {Meditation Challenge}: An Invitation to Tea

To honor the close of our summer vacation, we had a flower fairy tea party at sunset last night.  We made offerings of incense, lit a candle, and set the table with a dainty porcelain tea set.  I love honoring the special moments in our lives this way.  It draws us more deeply into the present and gives us a chance to really experience whatever it is we're feeling.

Last night I was feeling a mixture of emotions -- nostalgic about the end of summer and both excited and nervous about the new school year.  While A. poured tea, I noticed my fears and worries arising.  Then I remembered one of my favorite stories of the Buddha. It's a story about being present for all of our experiences and befriending ourselves through it all.  Tara Brach tells the story in her book, Radical Acceptance, excerpted below.   

Whether you're just joining us or if you've been practicing with us through the 14 Day Meditation Challenge, I hope you'll enjoy this story.  You might even consider putting a kid-friendly spin on it and re-telling it to your kiddos.  Enjoy!

“One of my favorite stories of the Buddha shows the power of a wakeful and friendly heart. On the morning of Buddha’s enlightenment Mara, the fearsome demon who symbolizes the shadow-side of human nature, fled in defeat and disarray. In Sanskrit “Mara” means “delusion” – that craving and fear that obscure our enlightened nature.  

But it seems that he was only temporarily discouraged. Even after the Buddha had embarked on his teaching career and become a revered figure throughout India, Mara continued to make unexpected appearances. Instead of driving him away, however, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge the demon’s presence saying, “I see you, Mara.”

He would then invite him for tea and serve him as an honored guest.  Offering Mara a cushion so that he could sit comfortably, the Buddha would fill two earthen cups with tea and place them on a low table between them. Mara would stay for awhile and then go, but throughout, the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.

You see, when Mara visits us in the form of troubling emotions or fearsome stories, we can say, “I see you Mara,” and clearly recognize the craving and fear that persists in each human heart. The objective is to see what is true and to hold what is seen with kindness. Our habit of being a fair-weather friend to ourselves – of pushing away or ignoring whatever darkness we can – is deeply entrenched…. We truly befriend ourselves when, rather than resisting our experience, we open our hearts and willingly invite Mara to tea.”

For more from Tara Brach including tips on meditation and Common Issues for Meditators, visit her website at: http://www.tarabrach.com

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day Twelve {Meditation Challenge}: Gratitude and Joy

Gratitude & Joy
It's day twelve and I have to say that I've really enjoyed sharing thoughts about meditation and mindfulness here at Om School.  Coming to this place each day reminds of the gifts in my life for which I am grateful... and that gives me joy! 

Gratitude and joy are actually closely related.  What follows is an excerpt from The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield.  It's a guided meditaiton that could easily be adapted to share with your kids.  Enjoy!

A Meditation on Gratitude and Joy
"Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:

With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.  With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations if elders and ancestors who came before me. 

I offer my gratitude for the safety and well-being I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the blessings of this earth I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.

Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.  Now shift your practice to the cultivation of joy. Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, happiness, and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:

May you be joyful.
May your happiness increase.
May you not be separated from great happiness.
May your good fortune and the causes of your joy and happiness increase.

Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the joy and well-being of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart's intention.

Then gradually open the meditation to other loved ones and benefactors. After the joy for them grows strong, turn back to include yourself. Let the feelings of joy more fully fill your body and mind. Continue repeating the intentions of joy over and over, through whatever resistances and difficulties arise, until you feel stabilized in joy. Next begin to systematically include the categories of neutral people, then difficult people and even enemies until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.

Practice dwelling in joy until the deliberate effort of practice drops away and the
intentions of joy blend into the natural joy of your own wise heart."

For more from Jack Kornfield including a Walking Meditation, visit his website at: http://jackkornfield.org/home.php

Monday, August 30, 2010

Autumn is Calling

We've had beautiful weather the last few days -- cool and breezy with the scent of autumn in the air.  The leaves even sound different now... more crisp and crackly as the days grow shorter and summer comes to a close.

I love this time of year.  The cooler temperatures pull me into contemplative mode.  We're starting school on Wednesday and while I'm eager to hit the books, instead we're taking it slow.  Our first week back will be a short one -- just welcoming the school year and setting up the classroom with warm colors and textures, natural materials, and symbols of the season.

I'm delighted to announce that Oak Meadow is sponsoring Om School this year.  We're using their full First Grade curriculum (check out a sample here) and I'm looking forward easing into the year with artistic projects including knitting, drawing, painting, music, and cooking.  As always, we'll integrate our studies into the natural flow of daily activities... but this year I'm less eager for A. to display her mental talents -- and more excited about giving her opportunities for expressing herself artistically.

Like a lot of parents, I accepted the idea that an early start at education was the best thing for my child.  I rushed into reading and writing thinking that stimulating her mind early on was a healthy developmental choice.  But as time went by, I began to see that just because she could grasp the phonics and early math didn't mean that she should.  In the last year, I've come to agree with the sentiments expressed by OM, "a child is more than an intellect... and it makes a great difference in a child's balanced growth if the mind is forced into development too early." 

As always, our objective is to cultivate a wise heart.  This year I'm hoping to honor that pursuit in an even more nurturing environment -- one that supports an imaginative spirit and is "closer to the heart of a child than a more intellectual approach."  I'm grateful for the support we've found on our journey and looking forward to sharing our adventures with you here.  Autumn is calling!

Day Eleven {Meditation Challenge}: Training the Puppy

If the wind just brought you by today, we've been enjoying fourteen days of meditation practice together.  I hope you'll join us!  

Today on my pillow, I felt a little distracted.  Between the blue-jays, my daughter's music, the neighbor's dog, and my own mind, my inner world felt a little like the inside of a circus tent.  More than once, I felt myself becoming frustrated.  Then, the wind would blow and the touch of that breeze on my cheeks would remind me to focus on my breath and hold myself in compassion.

Training the mind is a bit like training a puppy.  The nature of the puppy is to explore and get into mischief.  We can't deny the puppy's nature -- and getting mad at it certainly doesn't help the puppy learn.  All we can do is practice with the puppy, be gentle with the puppy, and when the puppy wanders, we just bring it back.  We have to hold the puppy in compassion.

There are two methods of working with puppy-mind that I've found helpful.  The first is counting with my breath.  Breathe normally and feel your breath in your nostrils.  Inhale, exhale, count "one."  Inhale, exhale, count "two."  Keep counting through ten and then start over at one.  I've found that my mind can wander WHILE I'm counting.  On plenty of occasions, I've found myself at "twenty-one, twenty-two..." before I realize that my mind is wandering!  If this happens to you, just smile at the puppy and bring it back to sitting.

The second puppy-mind practice I like is naming my thoughts.  I'll either give them general labels like "planning," "worrying," "relationships," -- or more specific labels like, "lesson plans," "piano practice," "menu-planning," etc.  While both methods help focus the mind, the second method has a wonderful by-product.  In time, you'll begin to know yourself very well and the work you need to do will become clear.

There is no one "right way" to meditate.  Just the intention of quieting the mind will help bring more mindful awareness into your day.  In time, the puppy learns to sit.  The best we can do is to honor its nature and hold the puppy in compassion. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

This Moment

{this moment} – A weekly ritual.  A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week, inspired by Amanda Soule.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment.  A moment to pause, savor and remember.  If you’re inspired to do the same, join in over at SouleMama.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Day Seven {Meditation Challenge}: Our Nature

Mama Cottonwood at Little Beach (one of our favorite trees!)
Like the outside world, our inner-world moves in cycles rising and falling, growing and fading, always transforming and becoming.  When we take time to connect with each turning season, we begin to notice our inner-seasons... and we begin to see that everything is connected.  

For this mindfulness practice, you'll need to pack some paper, colored pencils or some crayons.  Then take a walk with your kids.  Invite them select a tree -- one that speaks to them... one with distinct characteristics that they find appealing.  

Sit beneath this special tree and take a few deep breaths.  Invite your child to notice the different qualities of the tree.  Are they like this tree in any ways?  Stay here and enjoy breathing together (with the tree!) for a few moments.  Consider using this time to discuss how trees create our oxygen.  

Next, ask your child to turn so they can't see the tree and then draw it including as many details as they can remember.  Ask older children to write one or two sentences about what they like about this tree.  An example might be, "I like this tree because it's strong and proud."

Now, have the younger children turn around and discover new things on their tree that they omitted in their drawing.  Invite older kids to re-write their sentences substituting their own name.  So, "I like this tree because it's strong and proud" becomes, "I like Amelie because she is strong and proud." 

By seeing ourselves in nature, we realize that we are connected to all living things -- we see that, by nature, we belong to one another.  If you try this practice with your kids, be sure to come back and tell us about it here.  Much peace to all.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Day Six {Meditation Challenge}: Buddha Moon, Sacred Refuge

Buddha Moon, by Nicole Whitty

After my family was tucked in safely last night, I spent a little time outside under the full moon harvesting rosemary, snapdragons, and marigolds... and soaking up some of that delicious moonlight energy.

I've been listening nonstop to the Tara Mantra by Gabrielle Roth and the Mirrors these days, and as I collected my herbs, the words came easy.  "Om tare tutare ture soha."  In Tibetan Buddhism, this is the mantra of Green Tara.  Om represents Tara's sacred body, speech, and mind. Tare means liberating from all discontent. Tutare means liberating from danger - both external danger and the internal danger of delusions. Ture means liberating from duality.  Soha means "may the meaning of the mantra take root in my mind." (See this Wiki for more info.)

I've been reading that rosemary, snapdragons, and marigolds all have properties of protection.  Once inside, I made two little bundles while repeating the mantra.  I hung one in A.'s window and put the other on the meditation table in my bedroom.  Little rituals like these remind me that my home is a sacred place of refuge. When we practice holding ourselves and others in compassion, our heart becomes a sacred place of refuge too. 

For Day Six of our meditation challenge, try thinking of your heart this way -- as a place of security and compassion.  When you meditate today, sit with dignity and hold yourself with acceptance.  Forgive yourself for anything you're holding onto, picture yourself receiving love from your friends and family, and let that love radiate in your heart.  See your heart as a sacred chamber and go there.  Rest here for a while.  Breathe.  Take refuge.

Here's a quick guided meditation to help you share this practice with your kids.  Begin by having them sit cross-legged on the floor and taking a few normal breaths.  Ask them to feel their breath in their nostrils, then read:

"Imagine sitting between two people who love you.  One might even be an animal!  Feel their love flowing into you and filling up your heart.  You, as much as anyone in the whole world, deserve this love.  This love makes your heart a special place.  You can visit this place anytime you want.  Just close your eyes and breathe.  You are safe and you are loved." 

Be sure to share your experiences with us here.  I love hearing from you and hope your practice is going well.  Much love & light. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day Five {Meditation Challenge}: Being Present

For today's inspiration, I'm sharing the twelve minute dharma talk that I listened to this morning.  It's about being present -- being attentive and mindful to what's happening in the present moment.   Gil Fronsdal is a leading American Buddhist teacher; however, you certainly don't have to be Buddhist to enjoy this talk!

Being Present from Insight Meditation Center on Vimeo.

Gil has practiced Zen and Vipassana since 1975 and has a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Stanford. He has trained in both the Japanese Soto Zen tradition and the Insight Meditation lineage of Theravada Buddhism of Southeast Asia. Gil was trained as a Vipassana teacher by Jack Kornfield and is part of the Vipassana teachers' collective at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He was ordained as a Soto Zen priest at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1982, and in 1995 he received Dharma Transmission from Mel Weitsman, the abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center. He has been the primary teacher for the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California since 1990. He is a husband and father of two boys.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day Four {Meditation Challenge}: Devotion, Monkey-Mind, & Cooked Spaghetti

I woke up this morning thinking about what it means to be devoted.  My morning was pretty chaotic yesterday and I missed my time of the zafu.  Then we rushed out of the house for the day and didn't get home until after dinner.  By the time I got my little one bathed and in bed, I was feeling more like sleeping than sitting.  But the house was so quiet and the smell of sage in my kitchen was drawing me into myself.  So into the classroom I went, sage and all, to sit. This isn't my usual meditation spot, but last night it felt like my own private zendo.  

The dictionary definition of devotion is: "profound dedication; consecration."  The etymology of the word is more revealing... (from the Latin) "de" means "all the way down" or "completely," (see de-) and "vovere" meaning "to vow" (see vow). So, we might say that being "devoted" to our practice means that we've made a promise from the bottom of our heart to sit each day.  It means that we are dedicated and motivated to waking up, to seeing our lives with more clarity, and to bringing peace into the world be creating peace within ourselves.  What does "devotion" mean to you?  Consider journal-writing about this question as a contemplative practice.

If you fell off of the pillow yesterday, today is the day to get back on.  If you haven't signed up for the challenge, there is no time like right now!  If you are still feeling uneasy about a busy mind, check out this article at Intent.com, Quiet Please! Taming Monkey Mind in Meditation. 

For the kiddos today, check out this exercise,Cooked Spaghetti, from Donna over at Yoga In My School.  Be sure find them on Facebook for more great tips on practicing with your kids


Please don't hesitate to ask a question or share your experience, mamas.  I'd love to hear from you!!  Much love & light.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kids Meditation: Creative Intentions

Amelie & the dolly of loving-kindness
I've had a slew of emails and comments lately from mamas who would like turn their kids onto a meditation practice.  Something I've discovered is that keeping it fun, short and on their level is absolutley essential.  It also helps if you bring a little creativity to the zafu. 

Try this exercise with your kids to nurture their creativity while setting an intention for the day.  Ask your child to sit with his or eyes closed and take a few normal breaths.  Encourage him to listen for all of the sounds he can hear and notice all of the things he feels.  Keep in mind that kids can usually sit for as many minutes as they are old -- but don't be too rigid about this.  Then invite him to look within for a totem to "bring back" and keep with him throughout the day.  Some of our favorites have been the love-bugs of compassion and the dolly of loving-kindness.

Younger children might enjoy creating a story with his or her totem and acting it out using natural toys and play-silks.  This totem is a useful tool for reminding us to act mindfully. 

If you are participating in our 14 Day Meditation Challenge, consider adding this exercise to your daily routine.  If you are a homeschooling family, consider adding this to your morning circle.  If you try this practice with your kids, be sure to come back here and share your experience with us.   Much gratitude and peace to all.

Day Two: Meditation Challenge {five tips for supporting your practice}

Because everything is connected, everything we do off of the pillow effects what happens on the pillow.  Here are five tips for supporting your practice.

1.) Create an environment of calm.  De-clutter the counter-tops, tidy your bookshelves, and organize your closet.  Encourage your kids to play with only one toy at a time.  Unplug the television.  Resist the urge to check emails and social networks first thing in the morning.  Consider these two weeks an at-home meditation retreat.

2.) Enlist support.  Tell friends and family about your meditation challenge.  Ask them to support you by contributing to your environment of calm. 

3.) Eat mindfully.  Enjoy whole foods, raw fruits and veggies, and organic grains.  While you are cooking, consider the long journey your food made to get to your kitchen.  Set the table with cloth napkins and tablecloths.  Consider saying a verse before eating such as, "the meal on my plate is the work of the universe."  Chew only your food - not your ideas or projects or worries.

4.) Exercise.  When our body is restless, so is our mind.  Try starting your day with a few rounds of Sun Salutations.    Get to a class, go for a walk, or exercise right at home with one of these award winning yoga DVDs from Gaiam.

5.) Connect with nature.  Noticing what is happening outside helps us notice what is happening within.  Watch the sunrise or the sunset.  Walk barefoot on the grass.  Have a picnic lunch.  Get to know the native plants in your area.  Create a nature table with seasonal items found on walks.   

It's not too late to join our 14 Day Meditation Challenge.  Sign up here and let your fourteen days begin today.  Much love & light to all.
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