May is the month of flowers. It’s that time when all is in full bloom and the world is alive and thriving. It is a time for celebrating mothers and honoring the life giving energies of the earth.
May Day is the half-way point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice and has been celebrated for ages as the holiday Beltane with crowns of flowers and dancing around the Maypole. The month itself may have been named for the Greek goddess Maia, who was identified with the Roman era goddess of fertility, Bona Dea, whose festival was held in May. (from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May)
This week we're launching a new mindfulness unit, May: Flowers of Loving-kindness. Loving-kindness, or mettā in Pali, is the cultivation of the kind of love a mother has for her children. It’s a gentle love -- a love without attachment and with an active interest in others.
Giving loving-kindness to ourselves and then radiating it to others is a tender practice that encourages awareness of our inner world. It’s a form of mindfulness practice that increases our capacity for compassion, can calm a distraught mind, quell anger, and even help us sleep better. Loving-kindness is a state of the mind and heart acting in concert for the altruistic benefit of the whole. Acharya Buddharakkhita gives this definition:
“Essentially metta is an altruistic attitude of love and friendliness as distinguished from mere amiability based on self-interest. Through metta one refuses to be offensive and renounces bitterness, resentment and animosity of every kind, developing instead a mind of friendliness, accommodativeness and benevolence which seeks the well-being and happiness of others. True metta is devoid of self-interest. It evokes within a warm-hearted feeling of fellowship, sympathy and love, which grows boundless with practice and overcomes all social, religious, racial, political and economic barriers. Metta is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love.” (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/buddharakkhita/wheel365.html)
While the term, “metta” may be unfamiliar, the actual feeling is one that every parent knows. Knowing this feeling ourselves gives us greater strength in teaching it to our children and helping them cultivate in their hearts this type of unconditional love for the world.
To begin our month of loving-kindness, we’re hanging a blank sheet of butcher paper on our classroom wall. At the top, in big, bold letters, I’ve written “Loving-kindness is…” As the month progresses, we’ll draw pictures and write phrases that represent our understanding of metta. I'll ask A. to think of people she loves and people that love her. Then, I'll have her hold a flower in the palm of her hand and imagine how a mommy loves her baby. That's metta.
Next, we’ll make a list of things – of noises and distractions that would usually illicit in us a reaction of annoyance or frustration... such as the phone ringing during school or the cat crying in the wee hours of the morning. For the entire month of May, we’ll use these things as our bells of loving-kindness and practice transforming our unconscious reactions into conscious responses.
When we hear the cat cry or the phone ring, we'll stop, take one deep breath, and picture a flower in our mind. Before proceeding as usual, we'll say, "I love you cat," or "I love you telephone." It’s here in this space that we can cultivate metta. Our awareness itself is the first seed in the soil.
We'll be sure to take plenty of mindful metta wildflower walks -- collecting wildflowers, tuning into the natural world as it blossoms and grows, learning about what's native to our area, and practicing experiencing the world around us with kindhearted interest. We'll make bouquets and let each flower represent someone we know, tying a ribbon on each and saying their name while sending them metta. When the bouquet is finished, it represents the whole universe wrapped in our loving-kindness.
Stay tuned for more exercises, stories, and ideas for sharing the practice of loving-kindness with your children. In the meantime...
A heart of loving-kindness is also one of gratitude. As a special thank you to Om School readers, Bella Luna Toys is offering 10% off though the end of May on "the highest quality Waldorf-inspired toys and playthings to nourish the senses and inspire the imagination." Just enter the code IMAGINE10 at checkout at http://www.bellalunatoys.com.
With gratitude, deep peace, and metta to all, C.