Consumption Meets Compassion on Halloween

October 31, 2013

Halloween 2013 is here. Hello creativity, greed, magic, consumption, playfulness, unconsciousness, celebration, exploitation. Has there ever been a more complex tradition in the history of humankind? For parents, especially, the contrasts and the conflicts inherent in this holiday affect our families directly, and are begging for our attention.

So if Halloween is your favorite holiday and you don’t want to spend any time thinking about the associated problems, you might not want to read any further.

But if you, like me, have some anxiety about what we’re teaching and allowing for our kids and our communities on this day every year, maybe some of these thoughts will resonate, or be helpful, or inspire ideas YOU can share to shift things in a different direction on down the road. I’m all ears. This is not an easy one to figure out.

boysinwheelbarrowardenwoodfarmsLets’ start with some happy, grateful thoughts! Here are the things I appreciate about Halloween:

  • I love the magic and joy and excitement and creativity leading up to and surrounding the day itself.
  • I love seeing my kids and all kids get inspired about dressing up and taking on a persona for the day, and ideally making or recycling at least part of their costume.
  • I love carving pumpkins (or letting the squirrels carve them!)
  • I love discussing with my kids the history of Halloween, and its roots in and associations with Samhain (the ancient Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season and onset of winter) and Day of the Dead (the ancestor-honoring festival celebrated in Mexican and South American cultures).
  • I love walking around outside with my family and friends in the brisk chill of late autumn, while the sunlight fades from the sky and the candlelight shines from so many one-of-a-kind jack-o-lanterns, celebrating together a magical moment and memory-in-the-making in our children’s and our lives. Beautiful!

Shifting gears now! Here are the things I fret about:

  • Americans are estimated to have spent $2.4 billion on Halloween candy this year, with 75% of that being chocolate candy of some sort. That is an insane amount of candy! Some estimates say it’s about 600 billion pounds — of nutrition-free, unhealthy, non-food that rots teeth and guts and harms humans and the planet. What else could we be spending that money on? And I always wonder how much of it ends up in the landfill, after all that? The amount of waste and mis-used resources is overwhelming to think about.
  • Most popular chocolate manufacturers are not fair trade compliant and, despite ongoing pressure from communities and human rights organizations, have not evolved their policies to protect children and people in general. And the waste and environmental issues involved in candy creation are not insignificant. These are huge corporations not necessarily following good environment practices or holistic and sustainable business models. When we purchase and eat this candy, we are supporting their violent choices with our money and actions.
  • There are lots of nasty chemicals, artificial colors and dyes and otherwise unseemly ingredients in most of this candy. In addition, of course to the requisite sugar. What does this do to our kids and to all kids, both in the moment (can you say “bouncing off the walls”?) and longer-term?
  • Even if you participate in some sort of buy-back program (like Operation Gratitude) via your dentist or directly, you’re still sending the candy somewhere. Someone is going to eat it, and Operation Gratitude’s web site says that much of the candy sent to the troops is handed out to local children to “build relationships”. So it can rot their teeth and guts while we buy friendship with candy? I think we’re missing the point here. How about we bring the troops home instead, and offer humanitarian aid to impoverished communities world-wide in the form of healthy, nutritious food? We certainly can afford that, if we can afford to buy $2.4 billion in candy every year.

So what are we supposed to do about this dilemma?

If we let our kids eat all of their candy, it’s unhealthy for them, for other beings, and for the planet. If we don’t let them eat all of it, what do we do with the candy that’s left over, since its very existence is unhealthy for people and the planet, and just trashing it is so wasteful? And if we go to the extreme and refrain from allowing our kids to participate at all, we are potentially marginalizing them in a way that is hard on them socially and doesn’t solve the deeper problem anyway.

FThallMy response this year will be to let my kids have at their candy for a few days (within reason…no uber-binging, as my personal philosophy is just to not allow that, in any context), and then collect the remainder in return for a couple of delicious fair trade organic chocolate bars of their choice, to be eaten and enjoyed leisurely over time.

And accompanying that action will be perhaps the most important piece of all: a lot of discussion about all the topics mentioned above in the “fretting” paragraph…everything from why buy fair trade, to why eat organic non-GMO food, to why make choices not to consume more than we need, to what happens when corporate and human greed is allowed to go unchecked, to the biggest one of all: how do we, as individuals, families and communities, make ethical and loving choices in the context of a consumption-based culture that is constantly messaging, modeling, pushing and embodying the opposite?

Finally, after I trade in my kids’ candy for those organic fair trade bars and I’m left with a big pillowcase full of nastiness, what are we gonna do with it?

The best idea I’ve heard so far is to let the kids do science/cooking experiments and really get messy with it. Cutting, melting, freezing, soaking, mixing, blending, chopping, stirring…whatever! Another good possibility is to make art with the left-over pieces, maybe even inviting a bunch of families to pool their left-overs and make a huge collaborative piece — a community-based awareness-raising “collage of compassion” or “sculpture of sustainability”!

Or maybe we’ll just compost the insides and recycle/trash the outsides, making note of how much of the earth’s rare and beautiful resources went pretty much directly into the landfill as a direct result of this tradition. Quite often, the truth hurts. And feeling that pain is not a bad thing. For touching suffering with a tender, open heart is the beginning of being able to experience true compassion.

I am not interested in penalizing or punishing my children for being born into this culture or getting swept up in its hallowed traditions. And I don’t want them to feel bad or guilty about their participation and the joy they experience while celebrating it all.

But I do want to raise them in a way that allows them to open (and keep open) their eyes, wake up, and always be at least be aware of the consequences of their actions. I want them to understand that no matter what the cultural norm is, they always have a choice to act independently and from their hearts. I want them to remember that their bodies and the body of our precious earth and its plants, animals and minerals are deeply worthy of their love, protection and stewardship. And to know that it is well within their power to choose compassion over consumption, in small or big ways, again and again.

The word “hallow” means “to respect or honor greatly; to revere.” Let’s reclaim that definition, and insert as much respect and honoring and reverence for all beings and the earth as possible into our observance of this day. I hope you all have a magical night under the stars with your beautiful children. I’ll be out there walking around with you, knowing that we are together shifting and transforming and moving always closer to love, one tiny thought, word, action, or little piece of candy at a time.



Imagine What a Whole Day of Ceasefire Would Mean to Humankind

September 20, 2013

jamcamp_peacesign_0611It is the eve of the International Day of Peace — a.k.a. “Peace Day” — originally created in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly. Their goal was “to devote a specific time to concentrate the efforts of the United Nations and its Member States, as well as the whole of humankind, to promoting the ideals of peace and to giving positive evidence of their commitment to peace in all viable ways.” [*

Peace Day is also a day of ceasefire — both political and personal. Given what’s going on in our world — i.e., more and more violence rather than less as time and life pass and we hurtle around the sun — we could absolutely use a day devoted to political and personal ceasefire.

We obviously need more than just a day — we need a lifetime, an entire future, of moment-by-moment and ongoing ceasefires. But since that’s apparently not our reality right now, we have to start somewhere. So let’s start with a day, and let’s start with ourselves.

As the folks from the Culture of Peace Initiative put it, “imagine what a whole day of ceasefire would mean to humankind.”

Yes, imagine that.

From that spaciousness, who knows what healing and transformation might arise.

Here’s an easy and beautiful way to mark the occasion of Peace Day with your family, while joining with a worldwide community of peace-loving people: As part of Peace Day 2013 (Saturday, Sept 21), millions of people around the world will practice a global moment of silence at noon in each time zone. Let’s join this beautiful intention by doing our best to remember to STOP what we’re doing for a few minutes at noon tomorrow, and perhaps take four mindful breaths, calm our bodies, minds and hearts, find a bit of peace inside, and then breathe this sense of peace outward into the world around us.

I can’t seem to shake that old hymn from my head right now…”let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…let this be the moment now.” For it is as true a cliche as any: if we want world peace, we must start here and now with ourselves, and the violence that occurs right in our own hearts and our own minds, in the form of anger, greed, judgement, reactivity, hatred, jealousy, and all the many and varied forms of delusion we humans experience and indulge in.

So if we truly want peace, we must accept that part of our work here on this planet is to practice creating peace inside ourselves, and we must help our children learn how to do the same. The results of our commitment to and experiments with peace in our immediate sphere will certainly emanate outward and go a long way toward creating peace in our relationships and interactions with others, and, by association, in the world at large.

This is a beginning, and a very fine place to start.

Here is a very simple practice you can use to cultivate an energy of peace and calm any time within your self, or within your family. It is also useful as a grounding exercise after experiencing a period of wild emotions (tantrums, sibling fights, parent losing her/his cool, etc).

To set the stage, you might choose to have a little “peace chat” with your child(ren) exploring the meaning of the word, some examples of how it manifests (or doesn’t) in your daily life or in the world, and why it is an important value or quality.

Here are some thoughts on peace and possible inroads to a conversation with your child:

Peace is relaxed, calm, spacious, and the absence of tension or anxiety. Peace is relief — relief from conflict, turmoil, pressure, pushing, pain. Peace is harmony, and agreement.

You can think of peace as if it were a beautiful song in which all the parts resonate and blend together to make a lovely sound. Outer peace occurs when people get along, work together, collaborate, co-operate, work in harmony, behave with compassion, listen to each other, and refrain from judgement. Inner peace occurs when our mind takes a break from the drama it so enjoys creating — when we get the monkey off our backs, even for a moment.

Ask your children to describe some times where they felt a sense of peace, inside or out, and what that experience was like for them.

The opposite of peace is disagreement, disharmony, argument, tension, fighting, conflict, war — whether without or within.

Ask your children to describe some times where they felt a lack of peace, inside or out, and what that experience was like for them.

Now here is the practice.

Peace Meditation

Sit with your child and say:

It’s time to enter our quiet bodies. Our quiet bodies are always there waiting for us, like a cozy bed or comfy chair, to land into and relax. Your only job is to sit and pay attention to your breath. If you feel strong emotions moving around inside your body, that’s ok; just let them be there and remember your friend, the breath.

Now, take a deep breath. On the in breath, say to yourself, “Breathe in the peace”. On the out breath, just relax as completely as you can.

Now place your hands on your head and say, “I have peace in my mind.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

Next, place your hands on your heart and say, “I have peace in my heart.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

Then, place your hands on your belly and say, “I have peace in my body.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

Next, place your hands on your thighs/knees and say, “I have peace in my family.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

Finally, fold your hands together, or hold hands with each other, and say, “We have peace in our world.” Take a deep peace breath in, and out.

After this, it is nice to take four mindful breaths together in silence.

Relax and sit for a few moments noticing the sensations in your body. Smile at each other ;-)

May you be peaceful!

With love, Charity


All words copyright 2013 Charity Kahn.

I Got Some Time to Hear Your Story

August 20, 2013

ihearyouCan you remember the last time you truly listened to your child?

By truly listening, I mean doing NOTHING but listening. I mean stopping whatever you are in the middle of, sitting down with them, making eye contact, and letting them talk, or cry, or whatever. I mean having your sole intention be to hear and honor their words, and witness their pain or process, with no thoughts of fixing, advising, corroborating, controlling, lecturing or judging. I mean having the words “I hear you” as your inner mantra and outward energetic message.

This kind of listening is incredibly difficult to pull off. Therapists spend years learning how to do it well. Entire curricula have been developed to help kids in school and professionals in the workplace practice it. And it was and is not necessarily modeled for us in our families of origin or practiced by our teachers, mentors, bosses, friends, co-workers or partners, so we are sort of in the dark when it comes to implementing it in our own lives.

It rarely comes naturally to “just” listen. It can feel uncomfortable and weird, especially at first, and we might have the added anxiety that we’re appearing ungenerous or detached or disinterested if we’re not responding immediately and conversationally with our thoughts and observations. But the truth is, the minute we start formulating a response, we have ceased to be truly present for the other person. We are no longer “just” listening. It has become about us. And on some level, the other person is aware of that shift in attention.

As parents, we perceive, rightly so, that part of our job is to help our children navigate life, which seems to imply finding ways to relieve their current suffering and giving lots of advice about how to avoid more suffering in the future. But when we take this good intention too far — whether with our children or anyone else — and jump in with our advice or opinion, rather than allowing the other person to express themselves to completion, we potentially smother something extremely precious.

When we attempt to take away the pain with our solution or “fix”, we more often than not derail or freeze a necessary out-pouring of emotion that might have allowed the person to move through to the other side. So if we are instead able to “just” listen mindfully and remain present for what is arising in the other person, we provide a safe foundation from which they can potentially integrate what is happening, on their own terms, not ours. In effect, we are simply allowing enough space for true self-healing to occur.

We are ALL looking for a safe and loving place to share our story, our sorrow, our joy, our confusion, our pain, our wonder, our fear. We search for this on the meditation cushion and with our healers and therapists, and we hope to find it in our family and community as well. We are NOT always looking for a solution, a way out, or even corroboration. We are often just looking for a witness, someone there to observe us navigating our life, our emotions, our thoughts, without attempting to influence or control us. Basically, we want someone to “hold” us while we cry, or laugh, or communicate. And we want to feel anchored, so we might avoid drifting away on the tumultuous seas of our own story.

In meditation, we become our own witness, our own anchor. In the version of meditation I practice (Insight, or Vipassana), our job is to sit and be a container for whatever sensations, emotions and thoughts come up inside of us, and simply acknowledge them, without suppressing or clinging to them, and without judgement. Our job is to listen mindfully, patiently and lovingly — to ourselves.

One of the most compelling reasons to meditate, in my experience, is to practice this non-judgemental awareness in the laboratory of our own bodies and minds, so we can flex and strengthen those muscles for when we’re out in the world, dealing with other people. The idea is to become better at listening, TRULY listening, to ourselves, so we can also be that person for those we encounter “out there”. Because one of the most profoundly beautiful and potentially transformative gifts we can offer anyone is to listen mindfully, with our ears and all of our heart, to what it is they need to tell us.

[For fun, allow yourself for a moment to imagine how society at large might be positively affected if we as individuals felt truly heard on a regular basis.]

An act of mindful, conscious, present listening is one of the deepest forms of respect we have to offer another. But since it doesn’t necessarily come naturally, we need to practice it, in meditation, and in our day-to-day life. To that end, here is a simple ritual you can enjoy with your family. It’s about listening, and respect, and kindness. Which means it’s also about love. ;-)

Sharing Stick
A useful way to practice showing and receiving respect in a family or group setting is by using a Sharing Stick to symbolize and ritualize honoring someone else’s words, time and existence when speaking and listening. This is the same principle as the traditional Talking Stick used so successfully in many indigenous tribes in order to ensure democratic council meetings.

Go on a family walk to find a beautiful stick to use for this practice. It is also fun to decorate it with string, beads, feathers — whatever you like!

You can use the stick during a normal conversation (taking turns telling a story from your day, for example), or as a tool to help air out and possibly resolve a conflict (for instance, if your children have gotten into a fight and each thinks the other is at fault and has strong emotions around what happened). It is always nice to sit in a circle when practicing this ritual.

With the Sharing Stick practice, everyone has a turn to talk, and the person whose turn it is holds the stick while they are speaking. The rest of the family or group practices making a conscious effort to truly listen to the other person, without interruption or comment. The person gets to talk until they truly feel done and “heard” before the stick passes to the next person.

If an open-ended time period becomes an issue, you can use a timer. But do your best to stay with the concept of allowing everyone as much time as they need to truly feel heard.

Here is a little affirmation you can say with your children before beginning:

When I hold the Sharing Stick I share my truth.
When you hold the Sharing Stick, I listen with my ears and all of my heart.
When we speak our truth and listen with our hearts, we respect ourselves and each other.

Happy sharing, and happy listening!

All I Want for Mother’s Day Is a Limitless Heart

May 11, 2013

Limitless HeartThere is a concept often communicated in Buddhism that goes like this: “We have all been everybody’s mother before.” Whether your views lean toward reincarnation or not, there is much value in this phrase as a metaphor for how to be in the world. I like to reframe it in my mind as, “We are all everybody’s mother RIGHT NOW.”

People do horrible things. People do unconscious things. People hurt people, and animals, and ecosystems, and the planet. We ALL behave badly and unethically at times, whether on a grand scale (like the decision-makers at Exxon Mobil or the US Senators opposed to commonsense gun laws) or a teeny-tiny scale (think about the last time you gossiped about someone, or lashed out in anger and said something hurtful). We are all steeping in various depths of ignorance, delusion, greed and hatred, and our actions are proof of this reality of human suffering.

Given that this is how the world goes ‘round, who are we to judge, really, who is worthy of our love, goodwill and kindness?

Can you imagine extending the same goodwill you naturally feel toward your own children to every single person on the planet — all 7.1 billion and counting fast — no matter what their behavior or your beliefs about said behavior? Can you feel, in your heart, compassion even for those your mind has decided are evil, or not deserving of love, or beyond hope? Can you embrace the possibility that every single human being is worthy of kindness, and of your kindness in particular? And even the possibility that those who commit the most atrocious deeds are the most worthy — and the most in need — of our benevolence?

The Metta Sutta (Discourse on Lovingkindness) is the Buddha’s central teaching on this idea. There is a line in it that goes like this:

“As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings.”Ref.

The idea is that we could (and should) choose to generate and develop an attitude of goodwill toward every single being. And that we could (and should) protect this attitude, and commit to it, as fiercely as a mother would protect her own womb’s child.

This fierce protection of what is so deeply beloved is at the core of the radical and compassionate Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation, which birthed the very first Mother’s Day in 1870. Her proclamation is a call to end war and violence as a means to solve differences, an end to throwing our children into battle, and, at its core, the acknowledgment that every child — no matter which “side” he or she is on — is a child worthy of our love and protection. Every child is OUR child, and we must behave as such if we want peace in our hearts and in the world.

Here is the full text of the proclamation:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, Disarm!’

The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail & commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesars but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.Ref.

Though 143 years have passed since Julia’s grand and passionate intention, it’s pretty astonishing how relevant her words are today. We are still living in a world where violence and hatred and their side-effects and outgrowths often seem to dominate our existence, so there is obviously still work to be done. Serious work.

So, on this weekend where lenses and psyches are turned toward mothers and mothering in observance of Mother’s Day — thanking, pampering, honoring, acknowledging, gifting, missing, processing, letting go, wondering, loving, remembering, cherishing, all of it — let’s also devote a little piece of our hearts to practicing an even bigger, more encompassing kind of love: an intention to begin a conscious practice of directing kindness and goodwill toward all beings, no matter what, unconditionally, for real.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

We are ALL the Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is not a clique or a popularity club. It is not invitation-only. There are no dues or fees. There are no entry requirements and no one is excluded. We need only wake up to our power as lovers in order to see the Beloved Community all around us, within us, everywhere.

Let’s start now, with this day, to make our love a little wider, a little bigger, a little stronger. Let’s practice sending goodwill to someone difficult to love. Let’s open our hearts, our minds, our molecules to embrace the possibility (probability) that we are all one, even if we might not intellectually or scientifically understand what that means. We are all everybody’s mother (and father and son and daughter) RIGHT NOW.

We can begin with this simple paraphrase of the Metta Sutta:

May all beings be happy.
May all beings be healthy.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be at peace.

I will leave you with a poem/song I wrote for my children, from my mother’s heart. It is also for all children, and all grown-ups, and all beings. Put it on and dance, cry, receive, transmit, observe, meet, understand, and welcome your kindness, your goodwill, your love. Start with a place you know deeply: your love for your own children. And expand from there. This is how we save the world.

comes and goes another year
like the light that flies ‘tween us dear
listen to the dry leaf fallin’
through the air what do you hear
bodies earthy like trees growing
minds like ocean water flowing
hearts of love like fire burning
spirits breathing shining learning

we are stardust
we are shiny
we are huge and
we are tiny
we are ancient
we are new
we are me and
we are you
we are mother
we are father
we are son and
we are daughter
we are newborn
we are olden
we are stardust
we are golden

shine your soul upon your shadows
ask them in for conversation
hold it all in just this moment
can you watch it fly away
what is my love for you darlin’
sun or moon or ray of starshine
now the flower hears the mornin’
singing’ love songs to the dew

Happy Mothers’ Day! I love you all.

All content copyright 2013 Charity Kahn.

Gratitude Altar

April 22, 2013

Gratitude AltarThere is a mind-training (lojong) slogan the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that says, “Be Grateful to Everyone”. (There are 59 of these slogans, and they’re all inspiring and awesome!)

The slogan attempts to point us to the reality that nothing that happens to us occurs in a vacuum. We are all connected to each other on this planet — even the non-human “things” like air and water and earth — in an infinite variety of ways.

As an example, consider the pair of shoes you’re wearing right now, and attempt for a moment to imagine every single person or resource that ever had anything to do with the existence of those shoes and their eventual landing place on your feet: their invention in the first place and all the inventors of shoes they were based on; their manufacturing and everyone who had anything to do with the factory, even down to the person who cared for the child of the person at the supermarket who sold the food to the person who worked at the factory (you get the idea); all the natural and synthetic resources that went into their construction, and the people who cultivated those resources; all the marketing, sales, storage, transportation, packaging, and everyone who ever had anything to do with all of that, and all the people who enabled THEIR work. Whew! All this for a single pair of shoes we typically take for granted.

It is literally endless, and you begin to get a real sense for how we truly are all interconnected, and how absolutely nothing we “have”, whether it be an experience or a thing, comes to us without being touched by the hand or essence of other people or the resources of the earth.

And if you adopt the attitude (hard!) that even our most challenging experiences and interactions can be re-framed into something we can learn from, this gratitude extends even further. When we are able to find gratitude for even the people who “hurt” us, we are really getting somewhere: What lessons can we learn about establishing healthy boundaries, or our own victim identity? How we can use the experiences to help us “wake up” and “grow up”, drop our baggage, relax our triggers and minimize reactivity? Can we learn to forgive?

All of this is what “Be Grateful to Everyone” means.

Here is a family practice activity that revolves around the concept of gratitude, and tracing back the gratitude to as many sources and in as many directions as possible. The basic idea is as old as the hills: a found-object altar. You may already have one, but I’m suggesting adding the Gratitude twist for some depth and as an opportunity to explore the concept of inter-being with your kids. Basically, it goes like this:

Gratitude Altar
Create a special place in your home or yard for a Gratitude Altar. You can start with a natural object you find while walking in the park, but your kids will want to add “trash”, too, which is also instructive!

Each time you add something, take a moment to discuss what went into the creation of that thing. If it’s a pine cone, for example, talk about the seed that produced the tree and how it might have gotten there (carried on the back of a raccoon?); the soil, sun and rain that nourished the tree; the wind that shaped the tree and eventually blew the pine cone to the earth; the birds that sang near the pine cone (the pine cone must have enjoyed that!); the gardeners and rangers who cared for the park; the people that picnicked underneath the tree and moved the pine cone aside to the exact spot where you found it; your parent who took you for a walk; your strong hands which carried the pine cone lovingly home.

Express your gratitude for the web of people and resources and actions and magic that went into the existence of this pine cone, on your altar, in this moment. Then, if you wish to ritualize your offering, say:

I am grateful for this pine cone.
I am grateful for the earth, sun, air and rain.
I am grateful for the people and the animals.
I am grateful for the world and all it offers me.

I guarantee this altar will become a thing of beauty filled with both natural and “human-made” items (which all ultimately come from the earth, too). You can paint a sign that says “Gratitude Altar” and hang it up, or decorate the altar. Let your creativity flow and be magical with your children, with this project and all things, for they grow up even faster than you ever imagined they could.

I am grateful for you!

There’s an Ancient Tiny Place

April 1, 2013

I just found out that April is National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo for short) — an annual project encouraging poets to write one poem each day in April. What a cool idea, and why not give a try? Here’s a link to the NaPoWriMo web site for more info. If you’re inspired to join the project or are already part of it, please leave me a comment so I can follow your work! Here’s my 4/1 poem:

there’s an ancient tiny place

there’s an ancient tiny place
in the core of my heart
where the wind whistles low
and hollow are the walls
and the doorways

there’s an echo swirling round
but you cannot make it out
for its from another time and
something melancholy flies
beneath its shadow

I didn’t used to know
all this pain was waiting here
for I’d mastered how to live
and I’d learned a thousand ways
to do the numbing

I didn’t used to know
of the emptiness behind
all the patching and the pruning
and the silencing and smoothing
and the running

when I slow it all down
and stand and meet what’s there
the terror is just this: it will
engulf, control, abuse
obscure, delete, kill
survive and then forget me

but I sit anyway –
for there’s nothing left to do –
waiting for the stars to fall
and all the worlds to end
and I watch and I listen
to my heart

a little while goes
and on the very other side
I can feel more than see
an old sun shining bright and
something softens like a sigh and
for a time then I can hear
the choir singing

like I never did before
both the awakened and forlorn
hurling souls against the sky
that must gather all their voices
and shelter their illusions
in its bosom

so brazen with their screams
and so trusting with their keening
how I long to open wide
set my sorrow free to fly
and join their story

and then it’s there, exploding out
crashing round, smashing open
all the dead and dying walls
and the locks left over
from the brutal sad and barren
hiding times

and when the rising chorus kisses
on the cheek the olden sun
and melts back to my gaping heart
without a toll
without a threat
without a sound
I’ll be forgiven

Take a Joy Walk

March 21, 2013

Joy Walk on the BeachJoy: the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation.

Sympathetic Joy: joy in the basic goodness of all beings, and joy in the fundamental well-being of ourselves and others; the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.

We humans certainly are experts in the field of negativity. We are apparently addicted to our destructive and disturbing emotions (anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, stress, worry, judgement, etc), and forever swayed by the tricks our egos play on us in order to keep us afraid, weak, and separate. We spend lots of time and energy — consciously or not — practicing negativity in our thoughts, words and actions. We have put in our 10,000 hours, and do NOT need any more rehearsal.

But how often do we dwell on, immerse in, go on and on about, spend emotional and mental energy on, and generally nurture and cultivate our positive emotions like happiness, contentment and joy? Often enough to make a difference and strengthen these muscles, habits and brain connections? How many potentially joyful experiences are we either missing altogether, or even just minimizing and rushing through so we can get on to the “really important stuff”? How much joy are we letting seep through our fingers every single day, when we could instead be filling our cup all the way to the brim?

Given all the naturally-occurring beauty, magic and love in the world around us, we have access to a source of joy and well-being that is basically infinite and available at all times. Some go so far as to say it is our birth-right to be happy. But there is work involved. We have to remember to tap into what’s already there. To open our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to it. And to be willing to truly receive it. We have to PRACTICE.

I started to think about this in the context of children and what they learn from our modeling, and what we can learn from their pronounced ability to stay in the moment and feel things fully. Maybe we can help each other! So here is a simple exercise we can do with our families called Take a Joy Walk. I hope you will try it out with your family, and that in the mix of whatever life is bringing you right now, and whatever you are bringing to life, you are able to move toward more balance between the negative and the positive.

Take a Joy Walk – The Practice

Some time this week, set aside 45 minutes to Take a Joy Walk. 

Start by sitting with your child somewhere comfortable, either snuggled up or in one of your mindful-body spots (meditation cushions, cozy blankets and pillows, etc.) Talk to them about joy and happiness and take turns naming a few things that make you each feel joyful and happy (people, places, experiences).

You can also feel joy for another’s happiness (sympathetic joy). Come up with an example or two of a situation where you felt joyful or happy for someone else.

Talk about why all these things make you feel happy and joyful. Take a few deep breaths, smiling, and say together:

Joy fills my mind.
Joy fills my body. 
Joy fills my heart.
Joy fills my world.

Now go for a short walk in your neighborhood (it’s nice to do it close to home to establish Joyful Noticing right where you are, but of course anywhere will work.) As you walk, pay close attention and notice everything around you. When something makes you feel happy/joyful, call it out. Some examples:

When I hear the birds sing to each other, I feel joy.
When I see a flower growing through a crack in the sidewalk, I feel joy.
When I feel the warm sun shining on my face, I feel joy.
When I meet a cute dog and he sniffs my hand, I feel joy.
When I notice a tree reaching for the sky, I feel joy.
When I hold your hand, I feel joy.

After each Joyful Noticing, stop to really Pay Attention by focusing on your breathing while enjoying the experience. Breathe deeply into your belly three times and allow yourself to completely fill up with joy and wonder. 

Try to notice at least three things during your walk. Take your time. The distance you travel is not as important as the attention you pay along the way. 

When you return home, sit together and draw a picture of something you saw on your walk that filled you up with Joy. Save these pictures and make a Joy Journal with them that you can look at from time to time. Or choose a wall in your home to hang up Joy Art, creating an ever-changing Joy Gallery evidencing your basic human capacity for Joy.

And if you feel like dancing your joy after all this practice, Happy Fluffy will take you there!



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