4 Simple Steps to Teaching Meditation to Children

About the spiritual training of young, my view is a bit of the same. How you behave in your home is their spiritual upbringing. I think we have to be careful with all forms of ideological indoctrination, and that is what spiritual training is in children: the imposition of a set of abstract beliefs and ideals. Children will take these from of us, but I don’t think dogma serves anyone for long. After all, I was a very good Sunday School student, the star of my confirmation class, and yet I had my own spiritual crisis to resolve later in life. We all do.

I always remind myself that I’m not trying to raise a Buddhist child. I’m trying to raise a Buddhist mother, and it’s taking all my time! Not only my family, but also everyone everywhere will be served by my devoted discipline in my own training. Not because I’m self-important, but in recognition of the one true reality: no self. We are all interdependent, which means we are all one. ~ Not Teaching a Child to Meditate by Karen Maezen Miller

Children seem so in touch with the innate spirit of wonder and exploration that it seems a distinct shame to ruin it through active coersion and indoctrination.  Despite your best intentions for your children, attempts to indoctrinate or place a spritiual framework upon them only leads to containment of what we, as adults, wish to achieve.  It does not mean you don’t love them; it just means that in an attempt to set them early on the spiritual highway, you are inadvertently cutting off their legs.  Hobbling them to support your ego and your expectations.

In the end, we ruin magic with dogma and pepper joy with guilt.  Instruction takes the place of exploration.  We place children in gilded (or not so gilded) cages for years through this. 

Samsara toddler loves Christmas carols and Buddha statues and we let her explore.  She watches me meditate and go through yoga postures in the morning.  Without me realizing it, she sneaks up and imitates me.  She calls it “exercising” and in many ways she is so correct.  Eventually the time will come when she realizes that not everyone does what dad does.  Not everyone (or perhaps no-one) has a meditation cushion and does prostrations.  As Ms. Miller states above and in the rest of her wonderful post, we are working on ourselves to benefit our child and by manifesting compassion, exhibiting wisdom and exuding metta we provide a child with the most important tool of all…a role-model.  We raise a child with the self-awareness not to be a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jew or atheist because it makes them somehow better; we raise a child that brings benefit to each of those religions by their very nature.

To teach a child mediation, allow them to tap into your storehouse of experience while you attempt to see the world through new eyes.  Eyes without Buddha or Christ; without materialism or metaphysics; without apologetics and dogma.  In the long run, you can’t teach children shit.  You should be sitting and watching them and try to unlearn all that shit that got stuffed behind your ears.  Drop the labels and play.  Watch a caterpiller without the expectation of what it turns into.  Pick up a leaf without identifying it.

So here are your steps:

  1. Let your child reflect your practice by allowing them to benefit from your meditation.
  2. Take time to reflect their joy without labels or expectations.
  3. Don’t apply adult labels to a child’s mind.
  4. Let them be.

That way your child is the focus of your meditation and you are the best spiritual guide they will ever have.

 

  

30586_1323748930950_1147673869_30801610_350033_n

Home-Dweller Meditation

It is an old story ~ A practitioner wishes to meditate regularly but either can’t (or doesn’t want to) find the time to do it consistently. The limiting factor can be geographic, physical or mental reasons that prevent them from attending a larger, “proper” sangha.  For my situation, I am stuck between lack of time, massive leftover guilt from my Catholic upbringing and too few local resources to tap.  While my local grassroots Soto Zen sitting group is accommodating, it is still difficult to find time away from family needs and duties to attend regularly.  It becomes a mental battle between the want to practice with a group, my innate guilt for leaving for a time that may be better used and my want to spend some quality time with family.  The ropes tug back and forth.

So, except for some special occasions, my practice is a home-practice.  Which means that the motivation and diligence is squarely in my novice hands, slave to the ebb and sway of work, visiting family, depression and dogs…But luckily, after some trial and error, I was able to come up with a routine that I can stick to, and thought that it would be a good enough time to share a bit of it with the hope of benefiting those in a similar situation.

[Read the rest on Sweep the Dust Push the Dirt] 

4756429166_538a1c0d95

image via Japan Dave

Home-Dweller Meditation

It is an old story ~ A practitioner wishes to meditate regularly but either can’t (or doesn’t want to) find the time to do it consistently. The limiting factor can be geographic, physical or mental reasons that prevent them from attending a larger, “proper” sangha.  For my situation, I am stuck between lack of time, massive leftover guilt from my Catholic upbringing and too few local resources to tap.  While my local grassroots Soto Zen sitting group is accommodating, it is still difficult to find time away from family needs and duties to attend regularly.  It becomes a mental battle between the want to practice with a group, my innate guilt for leaving for a time that may be better used and my want to spend some quality time with family.  The ropes tug back and forth.

So, except for some special occasions, my practice is a home-practice.  Which means that the motivation and diligence is squarely in my novice hands, slave to the ebb and sway of work, visiting family, depression and dogs…But luckily, after some trial and error, I was able to come up with a routine that I can stick to, and thought that it would be a good enough time to share a bit of it with the hope of benefiting those in a similar situation.

First, set up everything the night before.  I am a morning person and rarely sleep past 6 AM and it is easier for me to stick to a morning meditation schedule and not an evening one.  But even a the brisk hour of 5 AM, I am still limited in time and discovered that my largest hurdle was laziness in setting up cushions/mats and altar that early in the morning. So I set out everything (mats, cushion, clothes etc), prepare incense and have an online digital timer ready to go the night before.  It has become a part of my meditation routine to include some ritual the night before.

Take a second to set an alarm for 10-15 minutes earlier than your planned sitting time but not so much that you will get caught up in some other task.  Oh my! Dishes need  washing and there is a hamper full of clothes, a litter box full of shit … posts need crafting and hair needs setting.  Since it is easy to become distracted with other bits of living I sit as soon as I come out of the bathroom.  The morning is fresh and my mind is not racing with the myriad of tasks for the day.  This is the best time.

I hate affirmations but…maybe a little something to get into the mood just as you wake up.  Something quick that will get you motivated. Perhaps a blog?  My personal favorites are John Daido Roshi’s “Invoking Reality“, Richard Baker Roshi’s “Minatures of a Zen Master“, Pema Chodron’s “Start Where You Are“, Master Cheng Yen’s “Jing Si Aphorisms” or I just run to Access to Insight and click on “Random Sutta”

Take it seriously and don’t consider it *just* meditation.  We are rotting from the first moment we are conceived.  Nothing slows down the process but this practice may help us deal with it.  I dedicate my practice to anyone that needs it.  Metta to my daughter.  Thoughts to my friends that are feeling the bite of samsara.  The dedication that by beginning to realize myself I can act in benefit for all other sentient beings.  Yeah, its lofty but it *is* that important. 

Laugh and loosen up.  In all this seriousness there is humor.  Sometimes it just won’t happen, accept it.  The dog will need to go out or you will get bum-rushed by a toddler.  All those sentient beings understand that you have a life too and that it affects your practice.  Strive but not to the point of self-defeat.

Start out small and build up rather than go for broke and beat your head against the zendo wall.  I started with 10 minutes and moved up to 15 and then to 25.  That is the peak of what I can do with my current situation and I am ok with that.  Purists will tell you that anything under 45 minutes is a waste of time.  Meditation is never a waste of time.  Any moment spent in the process of realizing yourself is time well spent.

Find a substitution for meditation.  There are times that sitting is out of the question for whatever reason and I have a back up activity.  In lieu of seated meditation I engage in walking meditation up and down a few blocks, yoga or try to do 108 prostrations.  I even had 108 push-ups as a possible replacement when I needed to get in a work-out and had too much energy to sit.  Often, I walk in the morning when meditation isn’t fitting into the schedule.  I walk either silently or listening to a liturgy (Soto, Seon or Shingon) recording.  Dharma talks didn’t work as well since I tended to focus more on the words than on the breathing and walking. 

Practice is more than just meditation.  Some simply don’t like meditation or can’t make it work.  Find a different practice.  There are plenty of Dharma doors that can be opened…they all lead to the same place.

Meditation is a process and not a goal.  Expecting a revelation on the first sit is like expecting to hit a home-run against a major league pitcher the first time you hold a bat.  Yeah, there is a slight chance but let’s be realistic, you are sitting against a trained and capable foe ~ your self.  And the most devious weapon in its repertoire is the idea that there is a “right” meditation versus a “wrong” meditation.  Rather, any moment of self-reflection is of benefit both to you and to those around you.  Don’t expect a good sit or a bad sit.  It is all the same.  When tired, we will have snatches of daydreams drift in an out of consciousness.  When stressed we will mull over problems and puzzles from work.  When angry we will seeth over the causes of our anger.   None of these things negate our meditation.  Just don’t let them dominate.

Meditation won’t make me happy.  It won’t.  It is simply not the purpose of meditation to make us happy.  What it will do is make you more receptive to being happy, content and compassionate in your daily life.  It isn’t a magical elixir that will solve all your problems or make your life a sea of bliss.  Just as brushing your teeth will prevent rot; meditation will prevent the corrosive nature of samsara from rusting your glimmer.  It ain’t much but it will keep you focused on how attentive you are through the day.  How equitable you are to family, friends and complete strangers.  How steeped our actions are in anger or in compassion.  How calmly we handle stress and strain.  How quickly are we to levy blame onto others or ourselves.

Our practice isn’t simply how we sit – It’s how we live our life.  It is the act of meditation that provides a template of how to express the subtle nature of the Dharma.  But that template is useless if not applied to our everyday life.

Point of Contact

Practice is the search for a point of contact.  A point of contact between wisdom and compassion; between action and still; between the heart and the mind; between this moment and the next.  This is the point that gets us through the pressure-cooker of this life.  I constantly repeat to myself “All I need is a moment of silence or some small time to think and collect my thoughts.”  But what I really need is that point of contact.  Why am I even bothering with ‘collecting’ my thoughts?

I first met and fostered my point of contact during walking meditation.  I continued to practice getting and finding that point so that it can be accessed it later, when needed, in all the noise and turmoil.  Bitch of it is that the point can become internalized and available but only after some time and perseverence – it doesn’t appear through magic but through sweat.

I don’t think this comes about solely through meditation or any technique; it arises for me when we balance our skeptical, thinking mind with our compassionate mind.  It provides the template to understand the precepts without clinging to them.  To understand and monitor mental and physical actions without being a slave to them.  It allows us to access the self rather than let it run free and wild.

When I hear other practitioners describe their practice, it seems that this is what they are describing – It matters little if they wish to chant the nembutsu, praise the Bodhisattva of Compassion, sit zazen, pray or practice the tantras.  It is all of the same substance. It is just defined and categorized differently.  What matters the most is what I we bring to the practice and not how the practice defines us.  When we focus on the intent and intensity rather than on the categories we focus on the point of contact between ourselves and those around us.

That way, when we look  for that point while swimming in the pressure-cooker, you simply realize that we are not the only ones cooking.

Cheers,

John

The Practice of Attachment ~ A Guest Post by Rev. Ishu Windwalker

Rev. Talon Ishu Windwalker, NHD, is an engaged, eclectic, Zen minister of the Order of the Boundless Way.  He serves as a hospice chaplain, bioethicist, and cultural consultant in Colorado where he is also an avid ultramarathoner, endurance cyclist, duathlete, snowshoer, and single dad of two boys.  He is currently organizing the Blue Lotus Sangha in the metro Denver area for those wanting to practice in a less rigid environment.  He may be contacted at bluelotuszen@gmail.com.

My spiritual journey has been a very diverse endeavor.  I remember when I decided to return to practicing Zen beyond just zazen, I searched for a sangha in my local community and found a Zen center.  I was thrilled and contacted them right away.  I was informed I would need to attend a mandatory class before I would be able to attend and sit with the group.  Thinking that was for people unfamiliar with zazen, I let them know I had been practicing meditation for a minimum of 20 years.  “It doesn’t matter.  You have to come to the class, and we aren’t doing another class for a couple of months.”  I wondered what could be so incredibly critical about sitting as to require such deep instruction.  Had I crossed into the Twilight Zone of Buddhism? I wondered.   Through the years I have heard similar stories from many frustrated zenners.  “I was so panicked about making sure I was doing everything just right that I couldn’t meditate!” 

I also remember the time when I was doing my chaplain training in a hospital in central Texas and was called for a “Buddhist consult.”  It turned out to be a pregnant woman who was about to have a C-section.  She was concerned because of the precept that “forbids clouding one’s mind,” and she was concerned that she would be “violating the precept” if she allowed herself to receive spinal anesthesia.

An attachment is more than an addiction, more than an unhealthy connection.  It is anything that inhibits our growth and progression.  When one is more concerned about bowing correctly, if they’ve faced the correct direction, if they’re in the correct order of entry than they are about being fully immersed in the moment, in zazen or kinhin, than I would call that an attachment.  Something the Bible summed up nicely as choking on gnats.

There can be too much of an attachment to the cultural trappings of the practice of Buddhism.  The Buddha, before his enlightenment, shaved his head as a symbol of releasing himself from worldliness and attachments.  Today some question why a monk doesn’t shave their head.  Some quibble that we are “watering Zen down” when someone dares wear a robe of a color other than black.  Others are so firmly attached to the concepts of lineage and dharma heirdom that they lose sight of the key components of Buddhist practice:  Compassion and wisdom. 

When Siddhartha Gautama sat beneath the bodhi tree, I highly doubt he worried about if he bowed to the earth appropriately.  He extricated himself from all that he possibly could and opened himself to this breath, this second, until he discovered how to unshackle all sentient beings from suffering.  If we look at the Eightfold Noble Path, we do not find instructions on the incense ceremony, on prostrations, on the correct pattern for walking into the dojo.  Practices, ceremonies, etc., are tools.  They can help us focus, help us settle into a special space, but when we place them above or equal to all other things, we tighten that which binds us to samsara.  This moment, this breath.  This is truly all that matters.

Buddhism & Bhikshuni Ordination: Why are religions scared of vagina?

I have another post up over at the everliving (much like MumRa from Thundercats) Elephant Journal.  Please feel free to follow the elephant and check it out.  Please comment and engage compassionately over in their comments.
 
Cheers,
 
John
 

“I think the Buddha was very revolutionary and radical to care about gender equality 2500 years ago. It’s nearly impossible for us to appreciate what an advanced thinker and compassionate person the Buddha was to work so hard in his lifetime to protect women. Out of respect and veneration for the Buddha, it falls on all of us to maintain that spirit of protection of women.”…

 

Awesome Thangkas for Easter!

As a  backwards Zen practitioner, these meditation tools seem sorta crazy to me but definitely full of awesome potential.  I thought I would give a brief introduction (abridged from the Wikipedia)  and some particular ones that I found fun.

A Thangka is a Tibetan silk painting depicting a Buddhist deity, event, or mandala. It consists of a picture panel which is painted or embroidered, over which a textile is mounted, and then over which is laid a cover, usually silk. Originally very popular among traveling monks because they were easily rolled and transported from monastery to monastery. Thangkas served as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and bodhisattvas. One popular subject is The Wheel of Life.

Devotional images act as the centerpiece during a ritual or ceremony and are often used as mediums through which one can offer prayers or make requests. Overall, and perhaps most importantly, religious art is used as a meditation tool to help bring one further down the path to enlightenment. The Buddhist Vajrayana practitioner uses a thanga image of their yidam, or meditation deity, as a guide, by visualizing “themselves as being that deity, thereby internalizing the Buddha qualities”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cheers,

John

[feel free to add any of your favorites in the comments. Or to mail me any extra you have lying around…those damn things are expensive.  My meditation deity is Manjushri and/or Henry Rollins]

What my mind does when I meditate Part 5

A classic and sure to get stuck in your head for an entire sesshin.  My apologies but it is necessary for your growth…

However, what is not necessary is when this tune starts to play in your head when reciting the Maka Hannya Haramita Shin Gyo – the rhythm of the first provides an eerie jubilance to the Heart Sutra.  It will annoy other chanters though…

Cheers,

John

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and Reflective Zen Practice

Any “zennie” can list numerous quotes from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and each one would be as penetrating as the last but the depth of his teaching seems to always allude me.  In my early days of practice I came across a free copy of “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” online and attempted a reading.  I mean, this is Shunryu Suzuki, right?  Between he and D.T Suzuki, they defined Zen Buddhist practice for an entire generation of Buddhists in America.  But the book didn’t speak to me.  I didn’t feel it and I didn’t know why.

Now I do realize what wasn’t present when I first read Shunryu Suzuki … practice and experience.  You need to bare your neck to read and digest these teachings.  You need to be humbled before you pick it up and in order to be humbled you need to have practiced and have seen the wall.  Until that point you think the wall is your entire world.  Practice lets you peek over.

I originally thought that “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” was an instruction manual to Zen practice but it isn’t; it is a reflective journal of your practice up to this moment.  It isn’t meant to teach you how to practice but how to relate to your practice.  The goal of the book is to put you in the proper context in relation to your practice and your life.  Suzuki Roshi was just slowly and consistently nudging you away from your self in these lectures and pages.  Small, gentle prods that were meant to show you your self and let you laugh at it.

I’m picking it up again, this book.  And I have what was missing before – a practice.  Not failures or successes.  Not wisdom and compassion.  Not ignorance and greed.  Just practice.  Inherit in each of these aspects form the evolving whole of this practice and this life.  This fear and this joy.  These tears.

So if you haven’t read it in a while, try it again.  Below are some lectures from Shunryu Suzuki that are equally stirring.  But maybe you should sit first and then come back to them. I don’t know.  You can listen to Shunryu Suzuki but to hear him you need to relate to the words … then maybe we can empty them of any meaning whatsoever.

Cheers,

John