8 ways to raise a mindful child

Parents are rightfully concerned about the capacity their children have to pay attention, express empathy, and cope with the stresses that infiltrate their lives. Should we then coerce our children onto meditation cushions? Impose artificial silence, stillness or philosophical indoctrination? Before you do that, take a closer look.

Children are exemplars of the art of being. Wherever they are, they are completely immersed: in mud, in make believe, in laughter, in tears or in spaghetti sauce up to their eyeballs. Without a bit of self-consciousness, they lose themselves in what they are; they literally throw themselves away. This is the kind of losing in which mindfulness is found.

Without making a big deal about it, parents can gently encourage everyday actions that nourish and grow attention, empathy and self-care.

1. Read picture books – Illustrated children’s books have fallen out of favor as parents push children into early reading as a competitive outcome. Mindfulness is perception, and the rich visual content of picture books nourish the capacity to see, explore and relate to what appears in front of us.

 2. Listen – When your children speak to you, turn your face toward them, meet their gaze, and listen. Your own non-distracted attention is a wellspring for theirs. We cannot extract from our children what we fail to give.

 3. Sing  – Encourage singing: at home, at play, in the bath, anywhere. Singing is breathing and breathing is the body’s natural calming mechanism. Hearing your children sing to themselves will release your own deep sense of well-being, and you will smile.

 4. Smile – Smiling is a silent song. For heaven’s sake, greet your children with enough presence of mind to smile at them.

 5. Brush teeth – The ritual of brushing teeth imparts subtle disciplines.  It is rhythmic and therefore soothing; attentive and self-managing; and it stretches our capacity to tend to what we’d rather put off. Then add flossing. You’re developing concentration and fighting cavities in a single stroke.

 6. Walk to school – If that’s not feasible, walk the dog. Walk to the store. Walk to the post office. Or just walk around the block. Walking is meditative and mood-altering. Moreover, walking in your neighborhood overcomes the isolation and alienation we can unwittingly breed in our lives. You might meet or make a friend.

 7. Handwrite – The mysterious art and skill of writing by hand is being shunted aside by the keyboard. Writing with paper and pencil takes time, practice and mind-body focus. Researchers say it enhances learning, memory and ideation. Our children will all learn how to type, but will they learn how to write? Take time now.

 8. Start now – The list of things we want for our children – and expect from them – seems endless. Where will we ever find the time? Until you know what it is to live in the present moment, you will never be able to relax. So relax! It doesn’t take long to be mindful. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your small children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but in free play and casual company according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give. Amply supplied, your children will return their love to the world through mindfulness.

Mindful children grow up in mindful homes.

***

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8 reminders for mindful parents

A cozy set of practical guidelines for parents who practice mindfulness:

1. Practice in plain sight. Place your zafu, or meditation cushion, in a conspicuous place in your home, such as on your bedroom floor. As you pass by, let it invite you to practice meditation daily. Even five minutes morning or night can turn your life around.

2. Live by routine. Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.

3. Elevate the small. And overlook the large. Want to change the world? Forget the philosophical lessons. Instruct your child in how to brush his teeth, and then do it, together, twice a day.

4. Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimulation. This begins with you.

5. Give more attention. And less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Use a timer to keep yourself honest. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.

6. Take a break. Before you break in two. Designate a chair in your home as a “quiet chair,” where you can retreat to decelerate conflicts. Or walk around the block and see how quickly your own two feet can stamp out the fire on your head.

7. Be the first to apologize. Practice the miracle of atonement and instantly restore household harmony. By your doing, your children will learn how.

8. Be the last to know. Refrain from making judgments and foregone conclusions about your children. Watch their lives unfold, and be surprised. The show is splendid, and yours is the best seat in the house.

***

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anthem of the empty room

jill_bedroomI’m cleaning off the desk today. Then I’ll tackle the drawers. By process of elimination, I’m headed for the floor.

I finished the manuscript for Paradise in Plain Sight, the book that New World Library will publish next spring. By finished, I mean I had the thought that I was finished. Every day I’m more finished than before. Soon I will gather the files and shoot them into a life of their own. I want my hands free to do simple things.

These hands. What will I do with them? That is the question that keeps coming around. Now what? Now where? What’s next?

My sister told me she has decided to retire next spring. She is younger than I am, and she has worked longer and harder than I ever did doing complicated things. She is at ease with her decision, the only ruffle coming when people kindly say, “I can’t wait to see what you will do next.” It is just small talk, but right there is the expectation that there’s got to be something great and interesting to show for ourselves.

All around, the year reaches crescendo: kids starting kindergarten, fourth grade, high school, and college. Everywhere, the firsts, which carry in them the lasts, and leave the emptiness of closets and chairs. It seems impossible to be finished. No less impossible to begin. But impossible things happen every day. Today.

My friend and dharma sister Jody Kujaku Glienke came to me after sitting zazen on Saturday. She handed me a pair of headphones and asked me to listen to a new song she’d written and sung about her daughter now grown and living in New York. She stood behind me like a good mother, so she wouldn’t intrude on my hearing and force a response. She was surprised when I turned around, sobbing at the end of her sweet song. She held me in her arms. Because I have a daughter still in her room, but halfway to New York, Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Don’t we all? Let this console you, let this hold your song: the empty room where we find ourselves alone and together again.

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come to California

“In the sun and in the weather, no one else has loved me better.”
Come to California
Beginner’s Mind One-Day Retreat
Sunday, Nov. 10
9 am-3 pm
Hazy Moon Zen Center
Los Angeles

Because we need to save ourselves and start again.

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so far so good

Giving away the moments of your life, and four free passes to the Boise Plunge retreat on Sat., Oct. 5. Send me send me a private message to claim your prize.

 

Moments from Everynone on Vimeo.

please come

LAKE_DOCK_Wallpaper_2pu3

After the kids return to school,
before the year is over and time disappears,
when patience is thin, and peace seems all but lost,
it’s safe to go back in the water:
Announcing the return of The Plunge workshop
healing weary hearts and minds
with the calming cleanse of deep compassion
a one-day mindfulness retreat
with the good people of Boise
and anyone else along for the swim
Saturday, Oct. 5
Register here.

If you can offer scholarship funds to waiting participants, please contact me.

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rite of passage

baby-crib-in-empty-roomGeorgia turned 14 today. When she woke up and got dressed, I called her over to my desk.

Do you want to see the photos of you right after you were born? You mean when I was all wrinkled and red? No.

Do you know the time you were born? 10:04 a.m.

Do you know who was the first one to see you besides Dad?

She knew; she knows it all. Then she sat up excitedly in the scanty new Brandy Melville shorts and crop top, a gift from a girlfriend. “My favorite outfit of all time.” She was up late last night fielding happy birthday texts. “Really long ones.” She was going to walk into our little downtown and spend the day with pals.

“I’ll be in touch,” she said, on top of the world.

Then it was clear: she’s reached the point where parents don’t give you a birthday. Your friends do. I have a familiar sense of where I am in this go-round. Precisely where I was 14 years ago. After her birth I was too sick to see her for several days. I was no more useful for the next, oh, seven years. Through feeding and teething, coughs and fevers, tears and terrors, night after night, I felt just as clueless then as now. But something spoke to me, coaxed me out of my fright and confusion, brought me solace, and one day the crib was emptied.

“Today is a day to celebrate,” a knowing friend said to me. What shall I celebrate? Coming this far, I suppose. Having far to go. Being upright, in comfortable shoes, with a good dog at my side, friends near and far, an empty road ahead, and absolutely no idea.

Absolutely no idea.

I’ll be in touch.

***

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Momma Zen, a rite of passage, published the year Georgia turned seven. Winner selected this Sunday, Aug. 18.

 

 

a daughter is turning fourteen

5625882690_66af0e601f_o_mShe wants balloons at the pool party, and I think a cloud of purple balloons would be just right. There is no such thing as too young or fun in these last days before turning fourteen.

I have thought lonely and long about how far beyond my reach you are now, how gone beyond my knowing. There is so much of me you do not need or want or like. That you cannot like just now, on the brink of turning fourteen.

We bought school supplies today. How few days like this remain—new ruler, pens, and notebooks, graph paper, pocket folders, pencil cases—a hundred dollars worth. I resented the trouble and money. But when you came home and loaded your backpack for next Wednesday’s bell, I cried over these lines.

Am I more frightened than at the start? I thought I’d break you then but it’s me torn in two.

I said yes, invite everyone to the party, twice as ever before, let everyone come for this last splash and  splurge—greasy pizza and pixie sticks—all our beautiful daughters, our hearts, our dreams, let them laugh and scream, be silly, be lovely, take the cake, claim the prize, the women we’ve never seen and might yet meet, our daughters are turning fourteen.

 

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your bed is your head

Foot of unmade bed with white and blue linensBefore your feet hit the floor you’ve already run through the reasons. First, there’s not enough time. It’s pointless. You’ll just have to do it all over again. You have more important things on your mind. It doesn’t matter. No one will see it. You don’t care. You’re not uptight about it. It’s a waste of energy. You hate it. After all, you’re not Martha Stewart.

The bed is a nest of egocentric attachments: our cravings and aversions. In the one minute it takes to avoid making your bed in the morning, you can observe the ways you battle the reality of your life all day, everyday. You might think it’s unfair to deduce all that from a tangle of sheets and pillows, but it’s not an exaggeration.

The state of your bed is the state of your head. To be sure, the bed and its adornments are a mirror of your psyche, a reflection of your thoughts and feelings, the locus of your dreams and nightmares. But more than that, your bed actually is your mind. Like all phenomena that arise within your field of perception, your bed appears within your own consciousness. How do you respond to what appears?

By habit, we respond with dualistic judgment, dividing the whole of our experience into the few precious things we like and the greater load of what we dislike, accepting the former and rejecting the latter. We thus move through our lives as if maneuvering through enemy territory, attacked on all sides by the overwhelming forces of displeasure. It’s no wonder that we have the urge to crawl back under the covers as if defeated before the day even begins.

Luckily, this one piece of furniture not only serves to diagnose our ills, but to treat them as well. Transform your reality. Transcend dualistic thinking. Face what appears in front of you. Do what needs to be done. Make peace with the world you inhabit. Take one minute—this minute right now—to enfold your day in dignity. Tuck in the sheets, straighten the covers and fluff the pillows. See for yourself if making the bed makes a difference in your head.

This article appears in the September 2013 issue of Shambhala Sun magazine.

***

These are the last three days for Early Bird Registration for the Boise Plunge, one-day retreat on Oct. 5.

 

 

beyond gone

flood-memorial-site-

This is the scene at Maezumi Roshi’s memorial site in the San Jacinto Mountains east of Los Angeles after recent wildfires and mudslides.

The stones still stand, but much work remains to restore and protect this hillside, which is in the canyon home of the the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. Volunteer crews defended the property from destruction by fire, but soon after, rains triggered floods that engulfed much of the property and destroyed its sustainable systems for water and power. It will be rebuilt.

This land is where Maezumi Roshi planted his greatest faith. He aspired to create a major training center—an incubator—for the seeds of Dharma in the west. But it was untamed acreage, and the conversion of rocky timberland into a peaceful dwelling took more time, work, and money than one lifetime could muster.

“Little by little,” he would say.

He brought in a geomancer to choose the most favorable locations for the Buddha hall and the zendo, and then he began to dig. The scale of labor taxed blood and tears out of his students at the time. They told stories of the endless excavations, the patience spent as Maezumi hauled and hoisted rocks into arrangements that were inexplicable to their tired eyes. Now, the work goes on.

Each rock had a face, Maezumi said. He lifted and turned each rock until it faced forward. Until you could see it straight on.

You can still see the rocks straight on. Although I no longer call this mountain my home, my practice still resides here with Maezumi. If you’d like to help out even a little with repairing the damage, please consider a gift to the Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center. It will go to immediate use, and we will all benefit from your selflessness.

gone weeding

arbai-prati11Empty handed, holding a hoe. —Mahasattva Fu

No matter how pretty it might look on a good day, paradise is just a patch of weeds.

What loyal friends, these undesirables that infiltrate the impeccable lawn, insinuate between cracks, and luxuriate in the deep shade of my neglect. Weeds are everywhere, thank heaven, reporting for duty every day. I have quite a bit of help around here but weeds are my most reliable underlings. Where would I be without them? I would run out of reasons to wake up every morning. I would lack motivation and direction. I might consider the job here to be done.

The job here is never done.

As if it isn’t obvious enough, I must confess that in these sixteen years of gardening I have not yet learned how to garden. Oops! By this I mean that I do not know the chemistry of soils or the biology of compost. I have not learned the nomenclature; I do not know the right time or way to prune. My most useful tools are the ones farthest from my hands: sun and water. I have not planted a single thing still standing. In all this time in the yard I have cultivated no worthwhile skills, save one that is decidedly unskilled.

I weed.

I offer this up as a modest qualification because I have noticed how reluctantly most people bring themselves to the task. Weeding is not a popular pastime, even among gardeners. Weeds are the very emblem of aversion. One spring I directed our revered Mr. Isobe to a troublesome spot in the backyard where invasives were spreading through the miniature mondo. He squinted to see what I was pointing to. Subsequently he did not share my alarm, but broke into laughter. “You want me to weed?” I suppose he felt the need to verify that someone of his stature would be asked to stoop to the occasion.  After that, I didn’t ask him again. The weeds were all mine. read more

value the child

Every now and then it becomes tragically important to remember the value of a human being.

My daughter went to a wonderful preschool that had a slogan on its brochure: Value the Child. I liked the sound of that, but it took me time to realize what it meant. It didn’t mean what I thought at the beginning. I’m not sure how many other parents ever got the gist of it. To them, the value might have represented the bazillion dollars we spent on the monthly tuition. We already valued our children so much that we wanted them to have the best, and the most, and the first, and the highest.

In other words, we didn’t value our children at all.

When I say that my daughter went to the preschool I really mean that I went to the preschool, because I did, for part of every day. Gradually, I learned what the devoted, loving and talented teachers were showing me: what it means to value someone else.

It doesn’t mean to prize.
Not to elevate.
Not to demean.
Not to impose.
Not to judge.
Not to expect.
Not to push.
Not to accelerate.
Not to withdraw.
Not to conclude.
Not to give up.
Not to coddle.
Not to do things for them.
Not to do things to them.
Not to do.

To value a child is to value them as they are. To support them where they are.
To show them the immeasurable and eternal value of love. It never stops growing.

Do not kill the child.

writer’s block

icebergThis old teaching is like a tall, cool drink to this blogger, increasingly reluctant to use daily life and family as a writing prompt:

The first thing to be remembered in character-building is to understand the secret and character of human nature. We must know that every person in the world has his own object in life, his own interest and his point of view, and that he is concerned with himself. His peace is disturbed when you wish to interest him in your object of interest. If you wish to force upon him your point of view, however near and dear he may be to you, he is not pleased with it. Very few consider this; and they wish to pour out their own troubles and difficulties upon someone near to them, thinking, “Everyone has the same interest in my subject as I myself and everyone has the same point of view as myself; so everyone will be glad to hear my tale.”

There is a story told that a person began to speak before a new acquaintance about his ancestors. He continued so long that the patience of his hearer was thoroughly exhausted. In the end the acquaintance interrupted the story by asking, “If I do not care to know about my own ancestors, what do I care to know about yours?”

There are many who are very keen to let their neighbors know about every cold and cough they may have; every little gain or loss, however small, they would be glad to announce with drums and bugles. This is a childish quality; this tendency shows a child soul. Sometimes it frightens away friends and helps the foes. People who work noisily accomplish little, for they attract by their noise ten more people who come and interfere and spoil the work which one person could easily have finished.

Noisiness comes from restlessness, and restlessness is the sign of Tammas, the destructive rhythm. Those who have made any success in life, in whatever direction, have done so by their quiet working. In business, in industry, in art, in science, in education, in politics, in all directions of life, a wise worker is the quiet worker. He tells about things when the time comes, not before. The one who talks about things before he has accomplished them is like a cook who is announcing dishes before they are cooked, to the whole neighborhood.

Hazrat Inayat Kahn
Founder, Sufi Order of the West

Courtesy of Naader Shagagi, my dear yoga teacher

 

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