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: 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


Embracing the Difficult as a Doorway to Love

October 21, 2015
Photo credit Mel Rabedeau

Photo credit Mel Rabedeau

Do you have difficult people or situations in your life? I can’t imagine a single human being answering “no” to that question. There’s no doubt that life presents us with challenges — some tiny and relatively inconsequential, some heartbreakingly large and overwhelming — in the form of people and circumstances.

There is a saying that goes, “experience is life’s greatest teacher.” And another one that goes, “relationships are life’s greatest teachers.” They are cliches because they’re true. We are handed, endlessly, opportunities to learn how to be more compassionate, how to set healthier boundaries, how to communicate more clearly, how to forgive and accept, how to stand up for our truth, how to do less harm, how to contribute rather than squander our gifts.

So life is clearly there just waiting to teach us. But what kind of students are we? How do we show up? How well do we listen? How much effort do we put in? How open are we to adapting or even letting go of our stories? How ready are we to wake up, shed old habits, and evolve emotionally?

It is not always obvious what path we should take in life when presented with complex scenarios and other people’s hearts, especially when we’re balancing taking care of ourselves with taking care of others. But if we set the intention that we will do what we can to be present, with an open mind and heart, for the lessons offered (in the guise of relationships and situations), we really can’t fail. As long as we are willing to show up and do the work, something powerful and valuable (no matter how small) will sink in, and we will grow, we will change, we will learn.

Sometimes these internal shifts (and their behavioral outgrowths) are so tiny as to be almost imperceptible and don’t become obvious until time has passed or many so-called “mistakes” have occurred. So we sometimes think we’re failing, or that it’s just too hard, or that it’s just not fair, and these stories we tell ourselves can become huge impediments to our ability to stay focused on the work of life, on the potential for integration and healing.

So we also need to cultivate, along with our willingness to show up, a sense of allowing ourselves to be imperfect, to learn in pieces or over time, to not interpret “set-backs” as failures, but rather as natural and normal parts of the growth process, which is almost never linear. And we need to embrace confusion as a stepping stone on the way to insight, rather than a debilitating energy that can provoke us to stick our heads back in the sand and simply run away from the challenge altogether.

Finally, we need self-compassion. Desperately. Thankfully, it is something we can cultivate and nurture in a very simple way. Sitting on the meditation cushion every day for 1, 3, 5, 10, 20 minutes is a deep form of self-compassion. When we commit that time and effort to a practice that is all about seeing what’s really happening, watching our thoughts arise and learning how to be less identified with them, exposing our self-destructive habits of mind, uncovering our deepest truths, and tending to our broken places, we begin to change, to wake up, to love and accept ourselves more fully. And we reap invaluable rewards.

We also have the opportunity to practice being compassionate with ourselves in every single moment — whether we’re walking, or washing dishes, or listening to our child or partner, or driving a car, or even paying our bills. As long as we are bringing in the energy, the power, of mindfulness — paying attention to what’s actually happening, in the present moment, on purpose, without judgment — we are doing the opposite of abandoning ourselves.

So, to truly transform, we have to care enough about the process to put in the effort, and we have to embrace the difficult and ugly stuff when it comes our way — welcome it as we would a friend, a teacher, a guide, a doorway to love. Maybe we can (on a good day 😉 ) open to the possibility of feeling grateful for all the darkness and challenges and defeats and breakdowns and dysfunction that come our way or that we wittingly or unwittingly put into the world. And feel thankful for the opportunity, every day, every moment, to learn what we may have never learned in school or from our society or even from our ancestors: how to remain present; how to allow our intuition to speak and be heard; how to find our way through this crazy maze with compassion, wisdom, strength and joy; how to come home.

Let’s go!


The War Within

August 25, 2015

Electrical-Storm_600“War, huh, yeah. What is it good for?
Absolutely nothin’. Say it again, y’all.”
     — Edwin Starr

Are you at war with yourself?

We tend to think of war as something that happens outside of us, involving weapons, nations, politics and the quest for domination.

But we are also at war within ourselves. At war with our feelings — when we ignore, numb, escape, sublimate. At war with our personalities — when we judge quirks and traits and characteristics we’ve decided are unacceptable. At war with the way we move and act in the world — when we criticize ourselves for choices we’ve made, “failures” we’ve brought about, or dreams or goals we still haven’t manifested. At war with our bodies — when we hate aspects of our physical looks, are angry with our bodies for not performing as we would like them to, or are frustrated with illness or aging. At war with our situations — when we refuse to accept that external circumstances change, or don’t change, and that we don’t always (hardly ever?) have ultimate control over outcomes.

Does any of this sound familiar? It is helpful to notice the places or times we are battling ourselves, to simply start to pay attention to this habit of struggle when it arises. As we learn more about these tendencies and bring awareness to all of it, we begin to have more choice — and we may choose more letting go, more peace, more acceptance, more love…rather than the fight.

Mindfulness practice is all about bringing every single bit of reality into the light — all the beautiful shiny joyful peaceful and happy parts, and also all the dark horrifying scary broken and sad parts. All of it. We bring our attention to whatever is happening, in the world and in ourselves, and we do our best not to judge it, but rather to allow it to be there in all its gorgeous glory or horrifying hideousness, whatever the case may be. We remain present for all of it. Only from this place of awareness can we see clearly and act skillfully. But when we fight ourselves, we do the exact opposite. We close the door on our reality, our experience. And we harm ourselves (and, ultimately, others) profoundly in the process. For who knows what wisdom and freedom might wait on the other side of that closed door.

The Buddhist tradition identifies three main poisons (kleshas) that “cloud the mind and result in unwholesome actions”: Greed, Hatred, and Delusion. They are also spoken of as Attachment, Aversion, and Ignorance. Certainly they are visible in our species — destructive, angry, insecure, consuming, confused humans in the process of destroying life on Earth as we know it. But keep watch, for these poisons are not just “out there” in others. We can’t just blame the government, or the media, or society, or Big Oil, or other people whose beliefs differ from ours. These poisons are just as surely “in here”, in our own hearts and minds. And it is our job in this lifetime to discover, uproot, and transform these forces within ourselves, to say, “no more”, and finally lay down our own angry fire.

This is why all the great Buddhist teachers talk about cultivating peace within as an solution for creating peace in the world. The cliche is true. We are basically little war machines walking around wreaking havoc, so often offering thoughts, words and actions that arise from ignorance, hostility, fear and denial. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can get a handle on it, start to learn about these aspects of ourselves, begin the work of healing our own internal conflicts, of crafting peace treaties with ourselves, of creating cease fires that save lives and hearts and make room for more and more love and kindness all the time. This is where meditation practice comes in. Sit. Every day. Watch, breathe, observe, learn, love, heal.

Hatred is War. Aversion is War. Anger is War. Judgment is War. Regret is War. Lack of Forgiveness is War. So where are you at war with yourself? As an experiment this month, start to notice when you have a feeling of judgment, dislike, aversion, disgust, or shame directed toward yourself. And then see if you can pause and just observe the feeling. Hold it gently, not feeding the story around it, but rather sensing the energy of it and where it resides in your body. And then from this place of presence, see if there is room for some love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Embrace the difficult, the sick, the old, the embarrassing, the weak, the shattered, the scared, the scattered, and breathe some love, some space, into that aspect of yourself. Make just a little bit of room for the possibility of healing, rather than hostility. And see what happens.

May you be happy, healthy, safe and at peace,
Charity

Retreat Reflections

February 25, 2015

IMG_0673_mosscoveredrocktallborderI attended my first week-long silent retreat at the end of January. It was powerful and scary and instructive and illuminating and difficult and heart-opening and confusing and insight-provoking and wonderful and sad and mindless and mindful.

A lot happened but here are some observations that I feel are relevant to our attempts to integrate this practice into our daily lives and hearts.

First, the level of mindfulness that entered my body as a result of that much slowing down was profound and welcome. I have not managed to retain the same level of attention and presence here in daily, busy, distracting “life”, but certainly some amount and understanding of it remains. I feel generally slower, and I’m working on being ok with that — no simple task here in our culture that pushes action, productivity, accomplishment, competition, speed, and more, more, more of everything, all the time!

The other big shift was having the time and space to open up to some very difficult emotions I don’t normally allow full expression of in my busy life, even with a consistent daily meditation practice for support. By repeatedly witnessing the feelings as they arose, and my desperate and methodical attempts to stuff them or push them away or obsessively problem-solve in order to fix (ha!) the external circumstances I associated with them, I learned so much about the particular habits, patterns and types of thinking I use (yes, use) to escape from these feelings and fears. So I’m watching all of that with keener vision and more compassion now that I’m “back”.

Finally, here is one of my favorite quotes from the retreat:

“There is suffering that leads to the end of suffering, and suffering that leads to more suffering. The less willing we are to experience the former, the more of the latter we will receive.”

I find this fascinating, profound, true, scary, and helpful. It’s a reminder that sometimes the way to freedom isn’t all easy, simple, clear, joyful and light. There is usually work, and effort, and murk, and pain and heaviness along the way. Typically when we “give up” or “let go” of something we know is not in the service of our highest good, we do suffer — we are faced with uncertainty, loss, fear, emptiness, loneliness, and all sorts of discomfort. And this suffering is not necessarily a signal that we are on the wrong track! Rather, it is potentially leading us to a release of some clinging or attachment that has had us hooked and miserable (the suffering that leads to more suffering!) and therefore, ultimately, to a lightening of our load. It is helping rather than harming. It is part of the end of our suffering, and, consequently, our healing.

As amazing as it was to dedicate a solid week to this work in a retreat context — and I am so grateful for the opportunity — this is not always an option. Fortunately, just as valid and important is the work we have the opportunity to do every day, every hour, every moment, here, in daily “real” life, within the containers of our jobs, our families, our communities, our hopes and dreams, our selves.

It’s the work of slowing down, paying attention, honoring what’s really happening, and gaining a deeper understanding of our relationship to our own suffering and that of the world. In a nutshell, it’s the work of mindfulness. And, thankfully, there are no barriers to entry.


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


Let Us Bend and Incline Toward Love

December 30, 2014

heartinclouds_IMG_0522“What a person considers and reflects upon for a long time, to that his mind will bend and incline. This is why we practice.”

This is one of my favorite statements from the Buddha. It’s a powerful reminder that no matter what is going on in our external environment, we do still have agency in our lives, in a very straightforward and meaningful way — we can train our minds to default to the path of love.

So often, we dwell on the negative, or practice judgement, or worry obsessively about the future or the past, or harbor anger and hatred or even simple irritation toward another. When we inhabit these mental spaces, we are carving deeper and deeper the pathways in our brain for this type of thinking, making it more likely that we will continue to think this way automatically in the future.

That’s why it’s called a “rut” — we are literally priming the neural pathways in the brain to have a particular type of response to the world, following the well-worn footsteps we’ve often unknowingly left in the sand of the mind.

So if we instead put some effort into cultivating forgiveness, lovingkindness, patience, non-judgement, understanding and love, we are strengthening THOSE pathways in the mind, and our thoughts are more likely to fall into THOSE ruts, trace those outlines, follow those stream beds. If we’re going to create ruts anyway — if that is what the brain does — we might as well carve them out of love!

Certainly, then, we would like to transition our thinking from defaulting more frequently to the negative side of things to defaulting more frequently to the positive. But we will never be successful at this unless we understand our thinking in the first place, and observe firsthand the suffering and patterning and habits we are causing and creating ourselves. This is one of the main reasons to practice meditation — to begin to know the mind, to befriend the mind, to start having enough space around our thinking that we can (at least sometimes) NOTICE we are going down an old harmful road, and, in that moment, choose a more healthy path.

This is NOT, by the way, a prescription for ignoring or avoiding our emotions or pain or feelings or reality. It’s also not the same as the law of attraction where one tries to magnetize certain experiences or things into one’s life using positive thinking. Quite the opposite, this is about looking squarely in the face of what’s actually happening, noticing what kind of thinking we are creating about it, and seeing if that type of thinking is something we really want to be “doing” to ourselves. This is like considering whether to choose a bowl of steamed kale or a can of Coke once we truly understand the health benefits/hazards of both (sorry if you love Coke!)

The questions are: What kind of life do we want to live in this moment, how do we want to feel about our choices in the next moment after they’ve been made, and how do we want our choices in this lifetime to affect others? So often, making healthy, helpful (to self and other) choices starts with awareness. When we are aware of our motivations and the workings of the mind, we simply have the tools and capacity to love better.

Perhaps something here resonates with you, speaks to you, calls to you. If so, consider setting an intention for the New Year around your meditation practice, or around some beautiful and healing quality of heart or mind you would like to cultivate this year, or around some harmful “thought rut” you would like to understand better and perhaps let go of or at least allow to have less of a stranglehold on you going forward.

Let us “bend and incline” our hearts and mind toward love, peace and freedom from suffering for all beings, this year and always.

May you be happy, healthy, safe and at peace!