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

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:

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:

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. 
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