Saturday, August 14, 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.

Om Gnomes

Five little gnomes went out one day...
... over the hills and far away.
Mother Gnome said, "Om, Om, Om, Om."
But only four little gnomes came home.

 Four little gnomes went out one day,
Over the hills and far away.
Mother Gnome said,
"Om, Om, Om, Om."
But only three little gnomes cam home.
Three little gnomes went out one day,
Over the hills and far away.
Mother Gnome said,
"Om, Om, Om, Om."
But only two little gnomes came home.

Two little gnomes went out one day,
 Over the hills and far away.
Mother Gnome said,
"Om, Om, Om, Om."
But only one little gnome came home.

One little gnome went out one day,
Over the hills and far away.
Mother Gnome said,
"Om, Om, Om, Om."
But no little gnomes came home.

Mother Gnome went out one day, over the hills and far away.  
Mother Gnome said, "Om, Om, Om, Om...."

... and all of Mother Gnome's gnomes came home!

... a little shop for little people with big imaginations!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Wise Heart

We've been infusing our studies with the dharma since preschool.  Along with trips to Green Gulch Farm Zen Center and Spirit Rock Meditation Center we incorporate gathas, mantras, mindfulness exercises, the Eightfold path, the Brahma Viharas, and the Pāramitās into our studies.  We've worked out a pretty elaborate system over the years and it's been a real joy.  A. will be six on Thursday and she seems to truly enjoy this aspect of our home studies.  

At present, I'm writing a curriculum (based on our home studies) that follows the changing seasons and invites parents to engage in their child's inner-world.  Each month, we look at a virtue (compassion, loving-kindness, joy in others, equanimity, patience, generosity, wisdom, etc) and explore how nature is the best teacher.  I thought I'd share a bit of our routine here for all of you who are considering homeschooling or wondering how to incorporate your spiritual path into your daily schedule.

We start each day by lighting a candle and making an offering of incense in the kitchen. Then we listen to mantras and cook together.  A. sets the table and we eat quietly to set a focused tone for the school-day.  She either draws or plays while I clean up -- but not with anything noisy, digital, or electric.  I encourage stillness in the morning and have found that the less riled up she is before we start our day, the better.

Next it's Circle Time.  We sit on our zafus facing one another in the classroom and start our day with this gatha:

We are the leaves of one tree
We are the waves of one sea
The time has come for us to live as one

After the morning verse, I say a cheery little prayer such as, "Mother Nature, Universe, gods and goddesses, buddhas and bodhisatvas, ancestors, and fairies -- we're calling on all of the energies of the earth to be present in our classroom today... help our hearts grow wise so that we may know peace within and create peace here on the earth.  Blessed be, so be it, and let it be so!"

Then I say, "let us enjoy breathing together," ring our little gong, and we sit for a few breaths to focus and really arrive in the classroom.  I encourage A. to listen to all of the sounds, feel her breath in her nostrils, and notice all of her feelings.   Sometimes we'll lay on our backs with stones on our bellies and watch the stones rise and fall with our breath.  Other mornings, I ask her to listen to the gong and raise her hand when the sound has completely vanished.

Next, I invite A. to go to her "Creative Infinity"  -- the creative center of our being where the universe comes from.  Here, we look for a virtue in the form of an animal totem to "bring back" to the classroom and keep with us all day.  Some of A.'s favorites are the Cheetah of Loving-kindness and the Deer of Compassion.

After Creative Infinity comes Sharing Time.  We pass a basket of sticks and stones between us - each selecting one as a "talking stick" or a "stillness stone."  I invite A. to share anything she wants -- a difficult feeling, a story, or a favorite toy.  I usually share the calender and then use the rest of my share to introduce, review, or expand on a dharma or mindfulness unit.

Then it's time for the Main Lesson.  For Kindergarten we alternated between Language Arts and Math and I usually used an archetypal story to introduce new letters, words, phonics, numbers, or math concepts (i.e. King Plus and Queen Minus).  After drawing the story in her Main Lesson Book, singing the spelling of new words, or marching out the math facts, it's time for a little movement.

One of our favorites is a chant that we've added asanas (yoga poses) to:

Earth my body (mountain pose)
Water my blood (five pointed star pose)
Air my breath (standing prayer/pranam)
And fire my spirit (clap hands and wave them above your head)

Then it's lunch time.  While I prepare our food, she has playtime inside.  We usually set the table and recently started a new ritual of setting our food down by the kitchen alter for blessings before we eat (that's Saraswati, the goddess of creativity and learning, in the picture frame).  

Here's a great little gatha to make lunch more mindful:

Earth who gives to us this food
Sun who makes it ripe and good
Dear Earth, dear Sun
By you we live,
Our loving thanks
To you we give.

After lunch it's outside time.  I try to incorporate some Earth Science into our outside time but sometimes A. just plays.  After an hour or so, it's back in for an afternoon lesson.  I use this time for art, music, dance, yoga, science, or social studies. We alternate through these subjects throughout the week and I'm always amazed at how they integrate so naturally with the morning lesson.

We end each school day with a verse that I found in the Oak Meadow Kindergarten Syllabus.  I've expanded it and added yoga poses:

I can be as small as a small, small seed (child's pose)
I can be as tall as a tall, tall tree (tree pose)
As strong as a mountain (mountain pose)
As brave as can be (warrior III)
Because I'm a Goddess (goddess pose)
Can't you see!

One of the greatest things about educating at home is making it personal.  Incorporating our spiritual path into our studies with gathas, mantras, and mindfulness exercises has helped us strengthen our connection with one another (and with the earth) and deepened our awareness about the larger context from which our lives emerge.  What's more, this holistic method of incorporating core subjects with our spiritual path sets a framework for keeping our minds and hearts integrated.  I believe this is a path to cultivating more than intellect... it is a path to a wise heart.  

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Finding the Feminine

I was chatting with a dear friend recently, when she mentioned something about her personal deity, Artemis.  We follow similar paths and see the earth herself as a living, sacred, manifestation; however, I'm more of a pantheist and she's more of a polytheistWe don't squabble over the details though.  Instead we embrace what we share.

I had all but forgotten that she had a personal deity and my initial reaction was something like a five year old in a toy store, "I want a personal deity too!"

She went on to tell me about the process of discovering the goddess who would be her guide and the gratitude she holds in her heart now that she's found her.  In the days that followed, I decided to keep my heart open to the notion of discovering my own personal deity.  What mama doesn't need a little guidance from the divine feminine?  

To me, gods and goddesses are states of consciousness that we are all capable of becoming.  They are archetypes telling the story of the cosmic drama that plays out in our lives again and again.  They exist within us and beyond us as energies upon which we can call to be present in our hearts, in our minds, and in our lives.  They are sacred because there is nothing that is not sacred.  Every element of nature, every vibration, every thought is sacred.  Every beam of sun and each blade of grass is a sacred manifestation. 

In the days that followed our conversation, I kept my eyes open for signs of goddesses making themselves known to me.  I opened this month's Yoga Journal and found a mantra to the goddess of abundance and prosperity, Lakshmi.  Lakshmi is one of my favorite Vedic goddesses and I've actually been using her mantra all year.  Could she be my personal deity?  No, I don't think so... but I'm still calling on her just the same.

Then I thought of an article, Mothers of Liberation, that I'd recently found at Tricycle.  Here, Miranda Shaw explores "some of the many powers, symbols, and stories of the often overlooked and misunderstood [Buddhist] pantheon."  I discovered Vasudhara, Hariti, and Vajrayogini -- a divine yogini, compassionate, all-knowing, and supremely blissful. 

Could Vajrayogini be my personal deity?  Maybe.  She's my kind of goddess.  Still, I decided to keep my heart and mind open to the process.  I remembered Prajnaparamita, the Buddhist Sophia and compassionate mother of bodhi.  I remembered Prithvi, the Earth Goddess who rose up to witness Buddha attaining enlightenment under the bodhi tree.  Could Prithvi be my personal deity?  I love this idea because nature is the teacher I look to most. 

Later that night, I found myself on Etsy searching handmade items with the keyword, "goddess."  Amongst other pretty things, a silver necklace jumped out at me.  Taking a closer look, I realized it is an exact replica of the necklace I wear nearly every day -- a gift from my mother-in-law who described it as a Buddha.  Yet here, in an extreme close up view, I saw something that could mean only one thing -- breasts!  The necklace I've been wearing is not the Buddha... it is a buddha -- and a female buddha at that!

Over the next few days I searched though images and symbols on my bookshelves and on the internet.  The female buddha I've been wearing is the goddess Tara.  Tara is the mother of liberation, a bodhisattva, and in the Buddhist tradition, "Tara is actually much greater than a goddess -- she is a female Buddha, an enlightened one who has attained the highest wisdom, capability and compassion. . . one who can take human form and who remains in oneness with every living thing." [from:] 

As I told this story to my daughter, I remembered one of our favorite books, There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me by Alice Walker.  As it turned out, this entire time, there has been a goddess around my neck wearing me.

That's how it always is, I think.  Like in the famous poem, Footprints in the Sand by Mary Stevenson, we may not know it, we may be unconscious of it, but the goddess is always wearing us -- is always carrying us.  We are her, every bone in our body, every hair on our head, each flower, each tree, each beat of our heart, each breath -- all expressions of something sacred... all forms born from the creative energy of Mother Earth.  

I've taken this discovery back to my zafu and each morning I feel myself dissolving back into her.  She is Tara, she is Prithvi, she is Vajrayogini.  She's Mary and Artemis and Ostara too.  She is me and she is you.  She is our daughters and she is the very earth upon which we step.   

I'm still keeping my heart open to discovering an aspect of her to be my guide.  I don't want to be too hasty; although, Tara does seem like the obvious option.  More importantly, I'm remembering that to walk on the earth is to press our feet against the life-giving goddess herself.  This is why we must live skillfully and practice peace in every step.  All life is interdependent and flowing from the same source, rising and falling, constantly becoming.  Each of us is one element of a greater whole and beneath our stories and our habitual reactions exists a quiet observer dissolving back into the luminous nature of the One.
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