Song Story: Pebble Meditation Song

May 17, 2016

Today’s Song Story is for “Pebble Meditation”, track #9 on our album, “EARTH”.

We all need a break. We all need to pause more. We all need to slow down. We all need help returning to the here and now, to the moment, to reality. We all help being more present for what is arising.

One of the most beautiful tools I’ve found for helping children practice slowing down, remembering to breathe, pausing, and staying present, is the practice of “Pebble Meditation”, created by Vietnamese Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community.

This wonderful practice is a reminder to return to the breath, with helpful phrases you say in your mind on the in-breath and out-breath to help keep the attention focused there. It’s also a visualization exercise, during which you imagine yourself as different aspects of nature which evoke certain qualities.

Here are the words to the original practice, excerpted with permission from the fabulous book, “Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children.” (Parallax Press)

Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.
Breathing out, I feel fresh.
Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.
Breathing out, I feel solid.
Breathing in, I see myself as still water.
Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.
Breathing in, I see myself as space.
Breathing out, I feel free.

To practice with children, give each child four pebbles. Pick up and hold the first pebble, saying the words, “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh.” And then, take three conscious breaths, saying the word “flower” on the in-breath, and the word “fresh” on the out-breath. (You as teacher/guide say the words out loud; they say the words in their minds.)

Put the first pebble down and pick up the second pebble. And repeat the practice with the “mountain, solid” phrase. And then the same with “still water, reflecting”. And then, “space, free”.

Children love the practice, and they love the pebbles to — a little piece of Earth for them to hold on to while they breathe in and out, imagining themselves as flowers, mountains, still pools of water, and space. Beautiful. Be prepared for lots of dropping of pebbles. This is a normal part of it all, and gives us, as adults, the opportunity to practice patience, understanding and equanimity 😉 And of course you can also choose to practice without using pebbles at all.

After trying out Pebble Meditation for the first time with the children in one of my JAMcamps, a song immediately popped into my head to accompany the practice. As with my Lovingkingness song, I felt strongly about having a melody to offer children and families and teachers that could underscore these important phrases and concepts. We simply learn better when music is involved! And if you’re going to get a song stuck in your head, it might as well be a song about presence, or kindness, or beauty, or love.

My “Pebble Meditation Song” takes the listener through the guided meditation with the phrases and images, and then ends with a verse enumerating some of the qualities that can and do arise when we come from a foundation of open-mindedness, strength, clarity, and spaciousness:

Fresh, solid, reflecting and free
Patient, understanding, full of generosity
Peaceful and grateful, kind, awake and true
Full of love for me, and full of love for you
Joyful and mindful, remembering how to be
Fresh, solid, reflecting and free

I am so grateful to Thich Nhat Hanh and his community for this beautiful practice. I hope you enjoy both the practice and the song!

ACTIVITY IDEAS:

  • Make It Your Own: Have children come up with their own phrase combinations. Here are some the children in my camps have created: “Breathing in, I see myself as a tree. Breathing out, I feel Wise.” And, “Breathing in, I see myself as Love. Breathing out, I feel Peace.”
  • Dance: A wonderful add-on for older kids is to have them make up a meditative dance to the song and share it with their peers or families.
  • Make a Pebble Meditation Book: Have the children create a page for each “element” (flower, mountain, still water, space), drawing pictures to communicate the images and qualities for each. They can write in the phrases, too, and then put it all together (with staples or string) as their very own special Pebble Meditation Book.
  • Be the Teacher: Ask kids to teach the practice to someone else!

Here’s how to find the song:

Here’s how to find the books containing the practice:

To listen to or download our entire “EARTH” album, see the player below or go here.

Love,
Charity


Song Story: Shine

May 2, 2016

Welcome to today’s Song Story, “Shine“, track #6 on our album, “EARTH“.

As with many of the songs on the album, this one is a reminder of our place, as Earthlings, in this interdependent world, and the opportunity (responsibility?) we’ve been given to cultivate peace, joy, and love in ways that then afford us the possibility of contributing something positive to the world and other beings.

The song started out in my mind as a rhythmic, almost primal chant centering on the words:

Dance your love into the Earth
Dance your love into the Earth
Sing your love into the sky
Sing your love into the sky
Spread your love around the world
Spread your love around the world
Put your love into your life
Put your love into your life

The suggestion to “dance your love into the Eearth” is a somewhat mystical concept. But, in my experience, a child will have absolutely no problem believing it is possible or enacting it with her/his body. The direction to “dance your love into the Earth” speaks to long-forgotten rituals, Earth-based spirituality, and the practice of lovingkindness.

And the echo-response repeated after each line of the verse, “together, with each other”, is the reminder to do all of this together, with each other, in community — the time is now for us to break through isolation, separateness, and otherness and participate in healing work and practices, not only in our individual lives but also within our communities. It’s time to cultivate and strengthen our bonds of interbeing — together, with each other.

The verses go on to encourage the same actions (“dance, sing, spread, put”), first with our joy and then with our sense of peace, balance and equanimity. I practice lots of mindfulness with the kids and parents in my programs, and one of the most requested and favorite exercises is “sending love”. That’s really all we’re doing with this song!

And when it comes to children embodying these ideas, there’s a ready-made movement experience inherent here. All of our music has accompanying choreography, and this particular song appeared in my mind as a complete dance. I pictured the kids at our concerts and in my classes stomping, jumping, swaying and shining as they translated the words of the song into the visual dimension, literally dancing their love into the Earth.

The chorus gets to the heart of things — let’s shine our love, joy and peace EVERYWHERE, even (especially!) on the suffering in the world. For when we bring our suffering, or the suffering of another, into the light of our compassion, into the gentle yet fierce glow of our love, and begin to nurture, cradle, listen to and be present for it, true healing can begin:

Shine it on the mountains
Shine it on the sea
Shine it on the cities
And the trees and the green country, come on
Shine it on all beings
Those who walk and crawl and swim and fly
Shine it on the suffering
Bring it right into the light

And no one is left out or excluded from this shining love, this shining presence: Earth, cities, plants, people, animals, fish, birds, and any suffering that these beings might be experiencing — we send, share, and offer our love and presence to ALL, without exception. (Extra credit for catching the “Free to Be, You and Me” reference in the chorus ;-))

In the middle of the song there’s a mysterious, quiet bridge where we send the love in all directions (“to the East, West, North, South, Above, Below, Within, Without”), reminiscent of ancient rituals that honor and invite in the full dimensionality of the world. Shine it EVERYWHERE, in ALL directions, on ALL beings! The bridge builds into the “dance your peace into the Earth” verse, and finally arrives at the final chorus. We have undertaken a journey, through our love, joy and peace, through the earth, sky, world and very own hearts, arriving home to shine our best selves, our ever-present, enduring love and light, all around.

“Shine” is ultimately about what we have to offer to our world. Part of our job in this life is to cultivate positive qualities in ourselves — like peace, joy, and love — and then to reflect these outward, sharing our best selves with others and our planet. And, perhaps most importantly, to remember that suffering is also part of life, and that all beings suffer. When we remember this truth — that we all suffer, and we all wish to be free from suffering — we are then capable of true compassion.

For this truth blurs the lines between us, reminds us we’re connected, jolts us awake out of delusion and into awareness, shows us our sense of separation and “otherness” is false, snaps us out of judging, criticizing, comparative mind. And when we shine our love, our presence, on our own suffering or that of others, and hold and honor and witness this suffering, we are providing a healing service. Simply being present for another’s suffering (think “active listening”) is perhaps the greatest gift we can give another being. And the more we do this for each other, and for ourselves, the lighter we will all be.

ACTIVITY IDEAS:

    • Make up a family dance to the song!
    • Teach your dance to a friend or family member.
    • Practice listening meditation with the song. Lie down in a comfortable place and just listen to the words, to the music. Visualize yourself full of love, full of joy, full of peace. Pay attention to any feelings that come up. Sense yourself as part of the Earth. Believe in your ability to send love all around.
    • Can you remember a time when you felt sad or mad? Imagine sending some love and care to the sad or mad feelings or parts inside of you.
    • Do you know someone else who is sad or mad about something? Imagine sending some love and care to the person who is suffering
  • When someone in your life is having trouble, make them a Compassion Card. Simply draw a picture that shows you love them and are there for them, and/or write (or get help writing) a few words like, “I hear you. I see you. I love you.” And offer this to the person who is having trouble.
  • Enjoy our “Peace Breath” meditation to practice cultivating the energy of peace in your mind, body and heart.

I hope you enjoy the song, “Shine“. And scroll down if you’d like to listen to our entire EARTH album!

Namaste (the light in me bows to the light in you, for it is the same light!)

Love,
Charity


Song Story: I Am the Earth

April 27, 2016

Today’s song story digs into “I Am the Earth”, track #5 on our new “EARTH” album.

I’ve been a practitioner of Insight Meditation (Vipassana) for the last decade. I love this practice partly because meditation helps me manage stress, calm down, stay healthy (emotionally, mentally and physically), and put less toxicity into the world, and partly because I adore and am fascinated by the “insights” at the foundation of the practice — the truth of impermanence, the explanation of the causes of and antidotes for suffering, and the truth of interbeing.

Interbeing is basically the concept that everything is connected, and that there really is no such thing as a separate self. When we remember and then embody this fundamental truth of existence, we naturally cause no harm, because everything and everyone (people, creatures, plants, ecosystems, Earth) is inter-related, interdependent, interconnected — we “inter-are”.

When thinking about Earth and how we frame ourselves in relationship to her, and how we must shift from a power-over to a caring-for dynamic, the acceptance of the truth of interbeing is fundamental. For when we remember that we are literally part of Earth, that she absolutely is our body and we are simply an extension of her body, it is insanity to harm her, or her beings, or her ecosystems. For we are only harming our own bodies, hearts and minds in the process. Even our language becomes limited when we discuss interbeing — there’s no longer really any her, him, you, them, me, I…just, us!

When we in the womb, we literally do not know we are separate from our Mother’s body. Instead, we know that we are one with her. Then we come out, and the convincing sense of separation begins. It takes time, training, lots of experiences, and the development of the brain and senses to create the sense of “otherness” from our Mother and our surroundings that we characterize as reality. In some ways, growing up is the process of unlearning the fundamental truth of connection we are born knowing. But before all of that, we are immersed in and one with our world, not plagued by the fear, isolation, discrimination, and despair that eventually comes once we learn and decide we are separate.

But this separation is at some level an illusion. We truly are all interconnected. The air, the water, the soil, the sunlight…all of it is in us. We wouldn’t be alive without it. We are literally made of earth. The Five Mindfulness Trainings, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village, represent a vision for a global spirituality and ethic that really resonates with me. The first one, Reverence for Life, goes like this:

Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

Wow, do I love that! If we are seeing things clearly and accurately (Right View, or Wise View) we have the Insight of Interbeing, or the understanding of the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena. And when we remember and embody the truth of interbeing, it is an obvious choice not to harm other beings, or the Earth. All ethical behavior flows from this understanding. All unethical behavior — and our own suffering, too — is a result of forgetting this truth.

So this song, “I Am the Earth”, is a deep exploration of the truth interbeing, through a simple, repetitive chant exploring all the ways in which we ARE the Earth and all her aspects, and the Earth is also us!

I am the Earth and the Earth is me…

I am the rain and the rain is me…

I am the people, the people are me…

I am the love, the love is me…

The chorus underscores the theme:

It’s the truth of interbeing
All things near and all things far
All things seen and all things unseen
We all inter-are

The music for this song is basically just an electronic drum beat and piano…simple! We were originally going to add more piano, and harmonies, and maybe other instruments. But it ended up being very mesmerizing like this, so we decided to leave it straightforward and trimmed down.

ACTIVITY IDEAS:

    • Listen to the song and sing along in call-and-response format, by echoing each line after it’s sung. And make up a dance move to represent each aspect of Earth as you sing along!
    • Draw a picture of yourself “as” Earth.
    • Make up your own version: e.g., “I am the flower and the flower is me.”
    • Teach the song to someone you love.
    • Lie down on your back somewhere on the Earth (outside if possible, but inside on the floor is fine, too), put one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly, close your eyes if that feels comfortable, and listen to the song, imagining yourself as one with the Earth, your body as part of her body. And relax into that embrace.
  • Consider an item in your home, and explore its path from Earth to your living room. What is it made of? Who made it? How did it get here? Did the sun, rain, air, soil, animals, plants have any part in it? What about the people that invented, built, shipped it to you? What about the people who designed and constructed the roads it traveled on, or made lunch for the person in the factory who built it? Notice the almost endless chain of connection.
  • Listen to our “Meditation for Non-Harming” with your family and think about how it relates to the “Reverence for Life” Mindfulness Training.
  • Practice non-harming in your everyday life!

I hope you enjoy the song, “I Am the Earth”! You can listen to and download (“Name Your Price”) the whole album, “EARTH”, below. And remember…WE ALL INTER-ARE!

Love,
Charity


Song Story: Share Your Love

April 26, 2016

Today’s Song Story (and free download!) is for the song, “Share Your Love”, track 2 on our new album, “EARTH“.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what exactly “Love” is. Of course this word has different meanings in different contexts and relationships and for different people, but I’ve come to the conclusion that in its most distilled form, Love is Presence, and this presence leads to all the other qualities we strive to practice in life, and that we hope we can model for and pass on to our children — things like respect, truthfulness, generosity, gratitude, kindness, compassion, awakening, joy, open-heartedness, and, ultimately, happiness (or, at the very least, peace of mind!)

I have a daily mindfulness meditation practice that has informed my songwriting and my work with children and families for some time now. One of my favorite and most beloved mindfulness teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, expresses the sentiment “Mindfulness is Love” often in his teachings. This has stuck with me through the years. When we provide our listening presence to another (or to ourselves, for that matter), this is the purest, most distilled form of Love we can offer. So this song is a celebration of all the various aspects of “Love”, and (as so many sages, poets, and songwriters have proclaimed through the years) the idea that sharing our love is the answer to everything!

The verse lyric starts out with an exploration of a child’s magical world, referencing imagined (real to them?) superpowers like flying around the sun, and running as fast as the breeze. It then segues into an announcement about the most powerful, astonishing, amazing, and NECESSARY power of all, one we all possess, already living naturally inside of us, our birthright, if you will — and that is Love!

The music in the first part of the song is cute and bouncy. Then everything shifts, and the chorus follows, as a command, literally, to Share Your Love. The rock’n’roll energy and driving groove in this part of the song felt necessary and important — I really wanted to Testify to the importance of this practice of sharing love — learning how to be present for ourselves and others as a path to true happiness.

We really rocked this one out with a pretty classic power trio vibe, some scorching vocals, and also gave a nod to the very first JAM song ever (“jam, jam, jam, oh yeah, I say, jam, jam, jam”) with the “love, love, love, oh yeah, I say, share your love!” refrain in the breakdown.

How does all this fit in with the Earth theme of the album? I believe we are at a crossroads in human history, where we have the choice to either turn toward each other and work in community with open hearts, ears and minds, or turn away from each other in ever-deepening fear and isolation and separation. Because of the climate shift the Earth is experiencing, of which human activity is the cause, and all the catastrophic and cascading side effects this environmental catastrophe is creating for ALL life, we absolutely MUST call on our superpowers of Love, Presence, Mindfulness, Compassion, Generosity, etc in order to transform our collective consciousness and move things in a direction of healing rather than more harm.

So we need to apply this practice of sharing love with our beautiful planet and all of her ecosystems, as much as with each other and all beings. And while it is not always possible to discus the details of difficult topics like climate change and environmental or social crises with young children, we certainly can encourage and model and teach and cultivate qualities of compassion, kindness, generosity as we “raise” them. This is our biggest and most important job as parents and teachers and grown-ups in this precious time.

I hope that this song will provide a danceable, celebratory soundtrack for the reminder and practice that Love is Here, we have access to it, and it is time (NOW, and in every moment possible) to Share it! Because, as the song testifies…

Love is Mindfulness
Love is Heartfulness
Love is Wakefulness
Love is Generous
Love is Truthfulness
Love is Patience
Love is Joyfulness
and Love is Endless…
Love is Kindness
Love is Showin’ Respect
Love is Happiness
Share Your Love!
Share Your Love!
Share Your Love!

ACTIVITY IDEA: Listen to the song with your kids and dance around! Then come together for conversation and contemplation. Here are some guiding questions:

    • Can you feel love in your body?
    • Where do you feel it?
    • What does it feel like?
    • What are some examples of ways you could share your love with another person or being (family member, pet, tree, flower, etc?)
    • What does it feel like when you share your love?
    • What does it feel like when you receive love from someone or something else?
  • Image that your love is a superpower that helps you go through your life sharing kindness and generosity, helping others, and also taking care of yourself. Draw a picture of yourself as a LOVEHERO doing something loving in the world.
  • Listen to our Ball of Light Meditation with your family, and feel the love arise and grow!

I hope you enjoy the song, “Share Your Love”! You can listen to and purchase (“Name Your Price”) the whole album, “EARTH”, below. Have a love-filled day!

Love,
Charity


Sit Breath Love: Guided Meditations for Children and their Grown-Ups

January 3, 2015

SBL_9_600Dear friends,

In conjunction with the birth of the new year, we are very excited to announce the birth of a new JAM project:

Sit Breathe Love:
Guided Meditations for Children and their Grown-Ups

Listen + Download Here

Our intention is to share every month or so a new guided meditation you can listen to and practice with the children in your family or classroom. Click the “Follow” button on the download page to be notified when we add new ones.

These meditations will be in the mindfulness vein, and will touch on such areas as awareness of breath, cultivation of lovingkindness and non-harming, mindful listening, body scans, gratitude, joy, difficult feelings, and beyond.

Our January offering is called “Ball of Light Meditation”. You can use this guided meditation with your children when you’d like to cultivate a little peace and love. Try it at bedtime, or perhaps in the morning before leaving the house, to plant seeds of presence, calm and kindness. Listen, relax, and enjoy!

I use these meditations in my JAMcamps with children aged 4-10, but you can try with younger and older children, too, and see what happens.

Perhaps the most important thing is to model for your children your commitment to cultivating your own mindfulness. So do the practices with them as often as you can! You will show them, via embodiment, that it is important to you, too, and that you have faith in its value.

We would love to hear about how, where and when you use these practices, and how your children respond to them. So stay in touch!

May you be happy, healthy, safe and at peace in the new year and always 😉

Take care,
Charity


Lovingkindness Practice: Concrete Action for the Chaos of Our Times

October 18, 2014

elephant-metta-borderI am constantly struck by how many opportunities we have as humans to be more present and more compassionate. We have truly been given a precious opportunity to continue growing up into more wise and loving creatures. This is one fact that helps me remain in love with and committed to life despite its outrageous challenges and seemingly never-ending pitfalls.

I hosted one of my JAMcamps this past Monday for 14 children ages five through eight. Our theme for the day was “non-harming”. In addition to singing songs and making art and books related to this theme, we practiced a little meditation I call Finger Meditation. Basically, we “promise” or set an intention that “we will NOT HARM people, animals, plants, the earth, or ourselves.” We also “promise” or set an intention that “we will HELP people, animals, plants, the earth, and ourselves.” And we simply commit to doing our best in these areas, and to staying present for opportunities where we can choose non-harming over harming, and choose helping over doing nothing.

These little children understand immediately the power and relevance of these promises and intentions. They comprehend deeply the necessity of making them. They unabashedly want to follow through on them. They literally shine with light and love as we discuss things like why it’s important not to intentionally squash a spider, why it’s a worthwhile endeavor to respect the incredible complexity and intelligence of an ocean and its creatures, why it’s crucial that we treat each other and everything with respect, why it might be a healthy choice to shake off our hands after washing them rather than use yet another tree-born paper towel. The brilliance, intelligence and heart I continually witness in the children I share time with gives me more hope for the future of our planet than most things. They GET it.

It is important for us to find and nourish these sources of inspiration, lest we fall into the traps of apathy, depression, overwhelmth, and fear. For apparently we have been born into a time of great upheaval, change, chaos, even darkness. Most of our political, economic, social and environmental systems are desperately off balance and increasingly sick. If you are awake to what is actually occurring, you certainly feel at times overwhelmed, paralyzed, confused, angry and/or apathetic. Yet we are tasked with the seemingly crazy and impossible job of making sense of all of this, while somehow continuing on with our lives with a modicum of equanimity, compassion, joy and ideally also a dash of optimism and a dose of helpful action.

So what are we to do about it all?

Obviously, there’s no “top ten” list to answer that question. Yes, we should change our light bulbs, but that can’t be where we stop. Unfortunately there’s no single big “fix” we can make in our own personal lives (like moving to the land), or in the workings of the systems of which we are an inseparable part (like gaining control of the Senate), that will turn this ship around. But there is very important work to be done in the world, so we do continue to make choices that are healthy for ourselves and our communities and our environment — some of them big and radical and transformative — and we certainly must continue to vote. And there is VERY important work to be done on ourselves — to awaken to and shatter the forces of greed, hatred and delusion within our own hearts and minds. This has always been true, and it is perhaps even more true and urgent now.

There’s a wonderful Pali word that speaks to this moment we inhabit and how we feel about it: samvega. It basically means, “a sense of shock, anxiety and spiritual urgency leading to wise action.” Certainly one of the best and most effective forms of wise action for us as human beings in the face of today’s immense challenges and the associated difficult emotions that come up for us is to continue and deepen our meditation practice. For this practice has as one of its fruits the strengthening and fortification of our ability to bring more presence and awareness to everything — every moment, person, situation, emotion, thought, experience. And the better able we are to be present, non-reactive, non-judgmental and clear, the better chance we have of behaving in a way that helps rather than harms.

We need to practice (ideally, daily!) in order to strengthen these tendencies and habits — in order to water the seeds of kindness, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, and love inside of us, rather than the seeds of greed, hatred, fear, doubt and delusion which we all also carry within. Training our minds and hearts and changing ourselves in this way WILL ultimately change the “outside” world, for we are inextricably woven through with that entire world — all of its molecules, all of its energy, all of its beings and non-beings. There is no true separation we can actually measure. Inter-being is a fact. So the transformative effect of this work we do with and inside of ourselves in meditation practice is not something to underestimate.

Merriam-Webster defines crisis as follows: “a difficult or dangerous situation that needs serious attention” and “the turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever”. I just love this! For certainly, we are, here and now, alive during a time that “needs serious attention”. And certainly things are both “difficult” and “dangerous”. But notice the “better or worse” clause. It is as if the earth and humanity were infected with an acute disease, and we are right now at or approaching the height of the infection. In which direction will the illness go? Toward death, or toward life? Toward annihilation, or toward a great turning? I firmly believe we can do our part to turn this crisis in the direction of love and healing, starting from our very own meditation cushions.

One beautiful and effective way to fortify the mind and heart and create stability in your practice, especially during difficult times or when emotions are running high, is to practice Metta, or Lovingkindness, meditation, on a regular basis. There are some wonderful guided meditations available on the internet here and here and here, and you can read more about the practice here and here and here. The basic idea is to generate feelings of goodwill in ever-widening circles, beginning with yourself. The technique employed in the meditation is to repeat certain phrases over and over again, dropping them into your heart, cultivating this sense of wishing others well as you go along:

“May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be at peace.

May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be at peace.”

In addition to a very beautiful way of loving and caring for ourselves, this practice nourishes the heart, stabilizes the mind, and is generally a comforting place to land. Certainly, we can all use all the comfort we can get these days. And the odds of us being able to find and cultivate this comfort within, taking charge of our own suffering and our own karma, are a lot higher than finding it in any leader or system or anything external for that matter. Yes, we have to mother ourselves. And, in doing so, we mother the world.

So, we must find ways to act, and we must find ways to sit and do nothing. Start off be getting inspired by some human beings practicing courageous and dramatic action in support of the healing of our earth — the Pacific Climate Warriors’ recent efforts in the seas off Australia. And then spend some time on your cushion, loving the earth by loving yourself, being kind to the earth by being kind to yourself, cultivating the wish for ALL BEINGS to be happy, healthy, safe and at peace. This is certainly something we can do.

October Mindfulness Tip: Practice Lovingkindness Often!
Experiment with adding a short (5-minute) or longer (25-minute) lovingkindness practice to your meditation schedule. Perhaps 2-3 times per week for the next month, replace your daily meditation with a period of lovingkindness. Alternately, you can end each of your regular sits with a short period of lovingkindness practice. Or even expand your practice to add a lovingkindness meditation on a day you’ll also do your regular mindfulness practice (For example, when I can make the time, I like to practice Lovingkindness in the morning, and do a regular sit later on. It starts my day off in such a gentle way and sets the stage for kindness and a more open heart all day long). This is also a wonderful practice to do as a “last thing” before you go to sleep. Get cozy, release your the worries and anxieties and stress of your day into the bed/floor/earth, and give yourself a little extra love! Finally, if it feels overwhelming to do the whole practice (starting with yourself, moving to a benefactor or friend, then a neutral person, then a difficult person, then all beings), just stay with yourself and practice there. You’re worth it!

I will leave you with a song. It’s about lovingkindness and sharing our love, all around. Sing it in the shower. Sing it with your kids. Sing it to your partner. Sing it to the trees and the oceans and the rivers and the skies and the breeze. And sing it to your very own heart.

I love you.

charity_signature


Riding the Wave of Impermanence

September 23, 2014

autumn-leaves-on-branch-cropSummer has come and gone once again. My mind travels back to my Wisconsin childhood and fond recollections of this bittersweet time of year — the air shifting to crisp and cool, leaves turning color and texture, our steps crunching and crackling as we walked home from school, the earth emanating pungent smells of transformation, sunsets arriving ever more quickly each day.

A certain melancholy permeates these memories, for this season called Fall always brought with it a tinge of sadness, probably due to the outward sense of loss visible everywhere — the barefoot freedom and comfort of summer replaced by a slight shivery chill and now-necessary jacket; leaves abandoning the mother tree to return to the earth; black criss-cross branches standing stark and lonely against the sky where before there had been only a vibrant sea of green; geese flying by over head, taking leave in search of longer days and warmer nights; and all earth-rooted beings turning to browns, golds, oranges, reds, and yellows, going out together in a fiery farewell blaze.

The word “fall”, in and of itself, has a poignancy to it, and implies a sense of loss. We usually fall “down” or fall “from” a higher place to a lower, or lose time or distance, or perhaps even injure ourselves when it happens. We fall from grace, fall short, fall apart. Fall implies change, and, semantically and mathematically at least, not always in a positive direction.

But “falling” is our reality. We are always falling toward the earth, falling toward old age, falling toward death. This does not have to be depressing. It can simply be “the way it is”.

For impermanence IS our reality. Everything changes. Everything experiences injury, illness and old age. Everything is born, lives, dies. Nothing escapes this cycle. Not us. And not those we love the most.

We know this, but somehow refuse to accept it on a foundational level. Despite impermanence being the deep and resonant truth of existence, so much of our suffering is brought on by our denial of it — our resistance to change, our inability to find equanimity in the face of the fact of persistent transience, our unwillingness to accept that we don’t have control over the external circumstances in our lives. For example…

My 15-year-old son, Jasper, sustained a concussion at soccer practice five weeks ago. The last month has been an emotional and logistical roller-coaster — attempting to research and figure out the best treatment options, making decisions about how long to keep him out of sports and school so the brain has a chance to fully recover, managing my deepest fears and worries about his well-being and future.

Things had been going so smoothly for him up to this point in all aspects of his life — soccer, school, family, social life. And when his injury occurred and everything came to a screeching halt, I resisted. Every cell of my being fought back against the reality that change was afoot, and a deep, monstrous craving for his return to perfect health (and fast!) was born.

My personal work this past month has been to find a balance between this Mother Bear craving/fear/desire/wig-out and the acceptance that he is injured, and will take some time to heal, and that there is no quick fix, and that the study and treatment of brain injuries are still baby science in so many ways (frustrating!), and that hardly any clear answers are readily available. I have had to find some sanity underneath (and despite) my mind’s deep resistance to the fact that “this is really happening”.

This situation is one where suffering obviously will occur for everyone involved. But, as always in life, I have some control over how bad the suffering gets. I can choose to calm my mind and heart, and gather the strength to be Jasper’s advocate, the courage to believe he can heal, the patience to be present for the process, whatever it looks like, and ultimately the acceptance that much of this is out of my hands. The alternative is to completely lose it and become a tornado of fear and neurosis that is harmful to my son, my family, and my self. So I’m going for the first option. To the best of my ability. And that’s where the practice comes in.

We practice meditation every day so that when the crises in life hit, we have a foundation of sanity from which to act. We practice dissolving our beliefs in our thoughts, fears, stories and worries, so so they will not define us and drive our choices. And we practice acceptance of impermanence with an act as simple as watching a sensation in our body appear, transform, and disappear. This is happening all the time, with our breath, in our bodies, with our feelings and thoughts, and in our everyday lives. Rising and falling, rising and falling, rising and falling. All of it. All of the time.

One of my favorite quotes (attributed to Ian Maclaren) goes something like this: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Maybe a more non-violent phrasing is, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is falling apart.” It can be sad to fall. We feel it in the rawest recesses of our tender hearts. So we love, and we live, and we let go. We accept the reality of impermanence, and that “there’s nothing you can hold for very long.” (Hunter/Garcia, Stella Blue). And we try to do it all from a place of wisdom, clarity, sanity and kindness. And this is called being alive.

Here is a beautiful story from Thich Nhat Hanh (Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life), reminding us of the inevitability, beauty and even joy inherent in impermanence:

autumn-leaves-falling-bkgdI asked the leaf whether it was frightened because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. During the whole spring and summer I was completely alive. I worked hard to help nourish the tree, and now much of me is in the tree. I am not limited by this form. I am also the whole tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. So I don’t worry at all. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.’”

That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, knowing that I have a lot to learn from the leaf.

The leaf, our children, our own tender hearts — we have so much to learn from all of these teachers about impermanence and everything else.

Thankfully, Jasper is doing much better. He is on a healing path, back at school, still slightly symptomatic but improving every day. His mood and attitude have been amazing throughout. We are accepting the reality of his injury and also holding positive thoughts and wishes for his health and well-being and recovery. As always, he has been one of my greatest teachers throughout this process. Along with meditating on impermanence. I highly recommend it. Here’s how….

September Meditation Tip: Ride the Wave of Impermanence
Sitting in mindfulness practice provides a wonderful opportunity for improving our ability to notice and accept the ever-changing nature of all phenomena. We can see impermanence most obviously with the breath. The breath is always moving, in and out, in and out, no two breaths identical. Another place to look for and practice befriending impermanence is with sensations in the body. The next time you have an itch while meditating, don’t scratch it. Rather, bring your full attention to it. Watch it as it grows, or shrinks, or moves. Get intimate with the sensation in a way you never have before. And eventually, certainly, it will recede. Without you having anything to say about it. You can watch any bodily sensation like this: a pain in the knee, an ache in the back, tension in the shoulders, tingling in the feet. Whatever the sensation, bring all your mindfulness to it and just watch it transform. It may pulse, throb, shift, grow, shrink, move, etc. Nothing stays the same. Everything is constantly in flux. This, too, shall pass. Believe it, accept it, and watch your suffering decrease as a result!