Mother’s Day 2014: Resolutions for The Great Turning

May 12, 2014

J&S@beachnbobaMother’s Day has come and gone once again — an occasion to appreciate and thank our mothers, or celebrate our children, or spend time with family, or take a break from family and care for ourselves, or be grateful for a reconciliation, or sometimes grieve the loss of a mother, or a child, or mourn a damaged bond. Whatever your experience with the day is, it can inspire a moment of reflection on the nature of the relationship between mother and child. And provide an opportunity to observe the health of our hearts in this area.

The greatest mother of all is our planet Earth — our very home, hearth, womb, and provider of all we need to survive and thrive. We transition from mother’s womb to Earth’s womb when we are “born”, but we are as dependent on this bright blue ball for survival as we were on Mama’s fertile haven. We share air, sunlight, water, and nutrients with this beautiful and generous planet. We receive and return. We are, fundamentally, inseparable.

The Earth Mother meets us always with infinite care and unconditional offerings of self. And yet we are failing miserably in our part of the equation — to protect, care for, honor, cherish and heal this earth body. Yes, WE. For while the most massive environmental and human rights assaults are committed by governments and corporations that seem outside of us and beyond our reach, we in fact are the very components that make up and support all the forces creating our future, even these seemingly external and untouchable ones.

Yes, when we are honest with ourselves, we know that our daily choices are contributing to this mess. We call it Climate Change, but, as we well know, the ramifications are far more vast than a simple transformation in the earth’s weather. In my darkest moments, I’m tempted to call it something more foreboding like The Beginning Of The End, but I ultimately prefer how beloved Buddhist teacher and social/environmental activist Joanna Macy reframes this era as The Great Turning:

“The Great Turning is a name for the essential adventure of our time: the shift from the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization.

The ecological and social crises we face are inflamed by an economic system dependent on accelerating growth. This self-destructing political economy sets its goals and measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits–in other words by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.

A revolution is underway because people are realizing that our needs can be met without destroying our world. We have the technical knowledge, the communication tools, and material resources to grow enough food, ensure clean air and water, and meet rational energy needs. Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning. It is happening now.

Whether or not it is recognized by corporate-controlled media, the Great Turning is a reality. Although we cannot know yet if it will take hold in time for humans and other complex life forms to survive, we can know that it is under way. And it is gaining momentum, through the actions of countless individuals and groups around the world. To see this as the larger context of our lives clears our vision and summons our courage.”Ref.

There is so much scary truth but also sublime inspiration in these words. She goes on to recommend Personal Guidelines for The Great Turning, for this is both a personal and collective journey, an awakening of heart and mind we must go through, working with our fear and overwhelmth and apathy and guilt and shame and helplessness to get to the other side — the place where we can actually DO something about it.

Last year on Mother’s Day I wrote about Lovingkindness and the Beloved Community and our responsibility as members of this human family to practice love and goodwill toward all beings, even those we believe are “the problem” (including ourselves!), with the inspiration that this practice is at the heart of ending violence in our world.

This year, I want to share with you some of the Mother’s Day Resolutions I’ve made over the past several years. I’ve committed to these resolutions specifically with the intention of healing the earth and my relationship with her. They always begin with a behavior I want to shift in order to contribute to the healing of the earth and to lessen my impact, and come from a place that is unshakable, and rooted — literally — in our interbeing with this precious planet and all her inhabitants. And it turns out that this act of love seems to survive in my heart more successfully than something I decide to change for me alone.

I make them at this time of the year rather than on Jan 1 because my deep and sacred love for the earth and humanity feels immediate and real, in a way that the concept of an arbitrary date on the calendar does not. Besides, the origin of the Mother’s Day holiday has at its soul the grandest intention and inspiration of all — working to create peace and end violence in a world gone mad. Now that is a resolution I can really resonate with.

So if you care about the earth, if you want to remain awake and engaged during this scary time, if you want to do something positive for the planet and future generations, I suggest considering some of these changes. In my own life, they have worked magic as daily practices of love and goodwill toward the planet, increasing my capacity for kindness and authenticity and shrinking my store of guilt and fear and helplessness.

And while they’re not always easy, that’s part of the practice, too. Who ever promised there would be no effort or sacrifice required on our healing journeys? And even the act taking a good hard look at any resistance you might find can be a valuable exercise, and possibly the first baby step in shifting something, however incrementally.

Resolutions for Loving the Earth:

  1. Go vegetarian. Whatever your spiritual, political, or philosophical opinions are on the topic of vegetarianism, it’s a mathematical fact a meat-based diet uses far more of the planet’s precious resources than a plant-based diet. So in a world where people are starving and we still tear down rain forests and destroy native habitats and abuse and incarcerate animals to support our addiction to meat and animal products, it makes common sense to stop eating it, or at least reduce consumption drastically. (And the same resource math also applies to “happy cows”, by the way.)
  2. Go vegan. See notes on #1 above, as they all apply. And veganism will shrink your carbon footprint even further.
  3. Divest from fossil fuels. This could mean putting your retirement savings in sustainable investments like green mutual funds, impact CDs, or solar projects. It could also mean identifying one place per week you could ride your bike or walk or take the bus rather than driving your car. It could also mean buying less stuff, almost all of which is produced, packaged and shipped using some form of fossil fuel.
  4. Meditate every day. This is the surest way to love yourself, wake up, see more clearly, build emotional resiliency, remove obstacles, feel a little more happiness, make more ethical choices, and find equanimity in the face of the enormous and potentially terrifying challenge we currently face. And when we inhabit these realms we are kinder to everyone around us, including the planet. See my last blog post for some more reasoning behind this one.
  5. Take care of your body every day. This can mean 20 minutes of yoga. Or a mindful walk through your neighborhood. Or the bike ride in #3 above. Whatever works for you to make a practice out of being in your body. One side effect is obviously physical health. But the result I’m even more interested in is the joy of reconnecting with our physical bodies, as metaphor for reconnecting with the Earth. How we treat our own body — with love and care, or abandonment and abuse? — will directly influence the kind of energy we are capable of bringing to our planet’s body.

If something resonates, go for it. If you have a better idea, go for it. If you find resistance, sit with that. We have to start where we are. And it takes an immense amount of courage to face our contribution to another’s suffering, including that of the planet — and especially if we are complicit in it — without just sticking our heads back in the sand. So we are brave, we are strong, we are full of love, and we are waking up!

I’ll end with a jarring yet accurate reminder from the past and a people who understood interbeing in a way we have sadly and clearly forgotten:

“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” — Cree Prophecy

Let’s remember our responsibility, and the fact of our interconnectedness. Let’s relearn how to care for this planet, our collective body. Let’s start with a deep heart-analysis of our current relationship with the Earth — the ways in which we harm her in our daily life, and the baby steps we can take to repair all of this.

She loves us, unconditionally. Let’s return the favor.

And as always, I’ll leave you with a song. This one was a love song for my babies, Jasper and Silas, back when they were little and sweet and still sat on my lap for stories and mixed magic potions in the mud and wore capes that really gave them the power to fly. They’re still sweet, and they still constantly amaze me with their wild and deep spirits and infinite capacity to give and receive love. They have taught me almost all of what I know about love and life. And they are of this earth as much as they are of me. Here is a moon hug for all of you, your mothers, your children, and all beings.

Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.

charity_signature

 

brothers_littleMoon Hug

come here
I’ll give you a moon hug
hug you all day long
and all night wide
while star kisses
rain down around us
we’re catchin’ ‘em here in our hearts
now we’re shinin’ inside

like the mountains
climbing tall
like the ocean
waves that fall
like the wind
breathing through
that is how I love you

like the sun
huge and hot
like the tiniest
raindrop
like the buds
opening new
that is how I love you

like the roots
diving down
like the branches
reaching ‘round
like the forest
standing true
that is how I love you

like the earth’s
gentle turning
like the stars’
fiery burning
like the moon
round and blue
that is how I love you

from Party Like a Twinkle Star, released 01 January 2010

All content copyright 2009-2014 Charity Kahn.


Earth Day 2014: The Morning After

April 23, 2014

It is an uncommonly peaceful morning. I’m sitting in my sunny living room which is clean for once, walls joyfully papered with the marker-and-crayon musings of my own children and those from JAMcamp. My glowy-green matcha is the perfect temperature and especially yummy. I hear seagulls singing while they fly and little birds chirping on the wire. A mellow incense fills the air — a gift from a long-lost college friendship recently restored. This is a rare calm and happy moment, and I am appreciating it.

But despite appearances, all is not right with the world.

motherearthtree_cropEarth Day received a lot of press yesterday. Many scary and earnest emails and articles made their way around the internet, pairing the ways in which we are in climate-change-related dire straits with recommendations for doing our part to clean up the mess. It feels good to see the most important topic of our time finally discussed in a wider way and with the urgency required. It is heart-breaking to open up to the reality it describes. It is terrifying not to really understand how we as individuals can help turn this ship, the ice berg now so close we can taste it. We are humans, parents and citizens of the most resource-intensive country in the world. We care, but we also contribute. We don’t want our children to suffer. We don’t want anyone’s children to suffer. We don’t know what to do.

The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“concluding four years of intense scientific collaboration by hundreds of authors from around the world”) finds that “the world has only about 15 years left in which to begin to bend the emissions curve downward. Otherwise, the costs of last-minute fixes will be overwhelming.” Yet, as the New York Times states, “However compelling the science, global warming has not generated the kind of public anxiety and bottom-up demand for change that helped win the big fights for cleaner air and water in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

We are being silent. We are being small. We are not really talking about it. Biking more and replacing our lightbulbs and signing petitions against Keystone XL are all important, and we should all absolutely be doing all of that. But something more drastic and immediate and powerful is additionally required, certainly from our governments and corporations, but also from us, individually.

Of all the analyses I’ve read, the Buddhist view and approach is the only one that gives me any real satisfaction; the only one that truly gets at the ROOT of what’s going on, how we got here, and how we can move through it; the only one that describes a path that feels possible, holistic and sensible; the only one that tells the whole truth. If you have a few minutes, read this article by One Earth Sangha in its entirety, and see if you agree: “The Earth as Witness: International Dharma Teachers’ Statement on Climate Change”. Here is an excerpt:

“The Dharma (body of teachings from the Buddha) informs us…that craving, aversion, and delusion within the human mind are the root causes of vast human suffering. Just as these mental factors have throughout history led to the oppression, abuse, and exploitation of indigenous peoples and others outside the halls of wealth and power, craving, aversion, and delusion are also the root causes of climate change. Climate change is perhaps humanity’s greatest teacher yet about how these mental forces, when unchecked in ourselves and our institutions, cause harm to other people and the living environment. Led by industrialized nations, the desire for evermore material wealth and power has resulted in the reckless destruction of land and water, excessive use of fossil fuels, massive amounts of solid and toxic waste, and other practices that are disrupting the Earth’s climate. However, by acknowledging and addressing these internal mental drivers, we can begin to resolve the external causes of climate change.”

The statement goes on to discuss the importance of engaging in ethical conduct which honors all life and helps to restore the Earth’s ecosystems. This includes making healthy and loving choices when it comes to our own consumption and behaviors, and also speaking truth to power and standing up to those interests that block the path to putting the same forces of love and peace in motion on a more global level. It requires ENGAGING, both in our own process, and in the processes at work in the world that threaten to destroy our planet and its inhabitants.

The statement also reminds us of the path and practice of mindfulness, which will make all else possible, and without which, I increasingly believe, we are lost. When we regularly employ some form of mindfulness practice, we are strengthening our ability to pay attention, to rest in kind awareness, and to gain understanding and insight. We begin to SEE the greed, hatred and delusion in our own being. We begin to notice when our thoughts, words and actions may cause harm to another, while simultaneously growing our capacity to choose a more ethical approach. And we get deeply in touch with the lack of separation between ourselves and each other, and between humans and the earth. When we are in connection with the truth of interdependence, it becomes much more difficult to stay asleep, wear the veil, and just say, “Whatever.” Apathy and denial become more painful than the alternative. And we awaken.

So my recommendation for “Earth Day 2014”, for whatever it’s worth, is to meditate. Every day. For even 1 minute. Sit in your body. Relax your shoulders and your belly. Find your breath. Come into this moment. Drop the worries and stress and fixing and planning and remembering and regretting and blaming and judging. Stay with the breath. Listen to the breath as if your life depended on it, because it just might. Do this for a few moments every day. This practice plants seeds. They begin to sprout. More practice waters them. They grow stronger and taller and sweeter. They are made of love and kindness and joy and healing. This is the garden our earth needs.

Do this alone, and do it with your children. As the Dalai Lama famously said, “If every 8-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world in one generation.” Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. But it certainly cannot hurt to introduce our children to a practice that at its core nurtures compassion, kindness, mindfulness, awareness, and the reminder that we are all one. And it is certainly beneficial to teach our children how to tune in to themselves, so they have the opportunity to learn first-hand that true and lasting happiness comes from within, rather from something or someone external.

And what to do about the fear? The bottomless, overwhelming, vibrating anxiety and terror that can come up when we really dive into the truth of what we are doing to the planet, and what this might mean for ourselves, for our children, for all children, for all beings. Meditate with that, too. Sit with the fear. Feel it in your body. Name it. Acknowledge it. See it. Hear it. Embrace it. It is beautiful. It is an echo of your true self speaking out, screaming that something is out of balance. Stay with it. Love it. Heed its message. Certainly, this way, you will have a better chance of moving through this difficult emotion to whatever’s on the other side (ethical action? acceptance? equanimity? love? insight?) than if you avoid, resist, push down, shut out, numb, medicate, or otherwise block it. It is better to face the truth, no matter how painful. For in the space created by the willingness to see things for what they truly are, we receive the healing.

And the final teaching in this moment — perhaps always — is the reminder of impermanence. We can meditate every day, we can drive less, we can be kind, we can buy organic, we can buy less, we can engage in political action, we can remember the breath. And this will all help — certainly it will help us be happier people, and maybe it will even help the world turn into love. But it is also just a FACT that everything changes. We will age. We will get sick. We will die. We will lose the people and things we love. And our unwillingness to accept these fundamental truths of existence is often the greatest source of our suffering. So put energy and time and intention into planting seeds of love and kindness within and without. And then let go of any attachment to outcome. This, too, is mindfulness. Purposefully being present for what is actually happening, in the present moment, without judgement, without the need to manipulate or control, without expectation. Sitting with discomfort and not running away. If there ever was a time to get good at this, that time is now.

We are literally, in this moment, on the brink, at the edge, under the gun, hanging in the balance. What will we choose to do about it? All may not be right with the world, but neither is all lost. We have our bodies, we have our breath, we have this moment, we have our love. Let’s put them to good use.

In the interest of providing support so this work doesn’t feel so isolated and lonely, I have created a FaceBook page called We Are The Ones where we can find each other and relate around these intentions. If you would like to join me in a commitment to start or continue a regular daily meditation practice, for the sake of our own sanity, and for the future of the planet, please visit me there. I will be posting daily, sharing quotes, resources, tips, observations, and opportunities to meditate in community, both virtually and in person. We can celebrate and support each others’ practices with our virtual Sangha (community), and embody our intention to meditate daily for the benefit of ourselves, all beings, and the planet.

SOTM_TheReminderAnd I will leave you with a song. It’s from the lullaby half of our double album Party Like a Twinkle Star, and is called The Reminder. You can download it for free, or just listen. It is a love song to our children, the earth, the universe, each other, ourselves. No separation, no beginning, no end. I bow to the light within you, for it is the same light that is within me.

I love you. See you on the cushion.

charity_signature

 

The Reminder (lyrics)

you are the sky
you are the mountain
you are the water
you are the fountain
you are the moonlit meadow moss
under my toes

you are the bloom
you are the butterfly
you are the sundown
you are the morning light
you are the proof
that something inside of us knows

you are the moon
you are tides turning
you are the galaxies
you are stars twirling
you are the road
everything comes, then it goes

you are the nugget
right at the heart of things
you are this moment
empty of everything
you are the song
that rises up
and forever grows
on and on and on and on and on…

you are the wind
you are falling leaves
you are the soul that shines
you are the heart that grieves
you are the raindrop
you are the ocean
you are the magic words
you are the potion
you are the message
speaking through everything
you are the sage who smiles
you are the child who sings
on and on and on and on and on…


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.

Love,

Charity


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!
Charity


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