Posted in events

Paper Airplane

Last night I took my seven year old stepson to meditation with me. I don’t take kids to meditation unless they ask to go. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that would NEVER take a child to a meditation event and I do understand that. But I believe that, as mindful parents, we should share the practice with them if they’re interested. Some people believe kids can’t really get much benefit from meditation practice and I really disagree with that. A long time ago I used to teach meditation to kids. Sometimes I think about doing that again.

Anyway, he was determined to attend. I don’t know why. There are four children in our house and he’s the only one that seems interested. He has gone in the past and (to my surprise) participated in the whole meditation. An hour of sitting still is a long time for anyone, if we’re honest.

But, although he really wanted to go, he also brought some activities. He said, “Just in case I get bored.” He brought some Dogman books and a notebook for writing and drawing.

I wasn’t leading the practice. I had invited a zen monk named Thich Tam Cu to come lead for the night. He did a great job, by the way. So, I had the opportunity to just be a participant in the meditation practice, instead of leading.

Thich Tam Cu is someone I don’t know very well. He’s from the American South and many years ago he was in the United States Navy. He’s a Zen monk and hospital chaplain now. He’s student of Sunyananda Dharma who, a long time ago, was once my teacher. He’s been studying with him way longer than I did and is still studying with him today.

Whereas I decided a long time ago to take my teaching in a non-traditional direction, Thich Tam Cu did the opposite. He wore a yellow robe when he led meditation, because he wears robes when he teaches. He’s actually not as traditional as I thought he would be, but more traditional than I am. He uses humor just like I do, which I didn’t expect.

It seems like I swear and talk about memes, drinking, and how fucking hard it is to start and maintain a consistent meditation practice in all my dharma talks. Not traditional, a little different. I’d rather be your friend and inspire you than be your teacher.

Anyway, what I discovered was that his style is similar to mine. That time I spent training with his teacher may have had more influence on me than I realize. Who knows.

Maybe ‘traditional’ is just a word I’m attaching importance to that isn’t there. I’m probably not as different as I think. If I’m honest, for a second there I thought to myself, “Maybe I should get the robes out of the back of my closet…”

Anyway. I was there and we were sitting, doing a very similar practice to the one we do when I lead, presented by this monk in a very similar way to the way I present it. 30 minutes of meditation, just like we do when I lead.

My stepson sat with me a few minutes. Then he left to go across the room where he had his bag full of activities. It’s a big room, he was pretty far away.

We were sitting there doing the practice and I heard this ripping sound. Paper getting slowly pulled out of a notebook. Then, I heard some other sounds. He made a paper airplane and he was throwing it. He was, however, still being quiet, as quiet as one can be when throwing a paper airplane.

At first I thought, “Why the hell is he throwing a paper airplane? He knows what we’re doing here! He’s going to bother everyone.”

I was not mad, but I was irritated.

And I decided, since we were meditating, to bring attention to that irritation.

And I realized two things.

First of all: No one cared but me. No one even noticed.

AND
He’s seven years old. He far exceeded all expectations for a 7 year old boy, as far as not bothering anyone. Between the meditation and the discussion (which was a Q &A) we sat there for an hour. That’s a long time for a kid to be quiet and all he did was make a paper airplane. (!)

 

And that’s when I found equanimity. In truth, I was only irritated for a moment. A moment was all I needed. That’s what meditation really gives us, I think. A little extra space between thoughts, or between stimulus and response, or a chance to reflect mindfully and stop a growing irritation. This is something that happens to all of us often. Some nonsense thing happens and we make it a bigger problem in our minds that it really is. We get bothered by so many things. The poet Charles Bukowski said, “We are flattened by trivialities, eaten up by nothing.” I really like that quote.

Would I have found equanimity if I wasn’t meditating at the time? I don’t know. Everything was quiet so it was really easy for me to hear the crafting of a paper airplane. In a more active day-to-day situation I may not have even noticed, and I wouldn’t have had that expectation that I was putting on him to be quiet. And the expectation I was putting on the room to be a quiet place.

The truth is that in meditation we’re learning how our minds work. We’re learning to see those gaps between thoughts. And when we learn how to do it on the cushion, the hope is that we strengthen those pathways in our minds so we can also do it when things happen off the cushion. The training we get in meditation is supposed to help us when we’re not meditating.

Otherwise, why are we doing it?

So, that’s my story.

A real and personal lesson. The gaps are really important. The space between thoughts. If we can get handle on that, we’ll be a lot happier.

 

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You can listen to me on:  The Kansas City Meditation Podcast

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Posted in meditation

Things I Have Learned From Teaching Kids to Meditate

Girl meditating

 

Some people say meditation isn’t helpful to children. I humbly disagree.

A brief back story:

I created a meditation for kids from the ages of five to ten at the Rime Buddhist Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

This is really something I fell into because the people in charge of the children’s program left. While I didn’t create this program, I was in charge of it for several years now and I made plenty of changes to make it my own.

I’ve heard that most Buddhist temples don’t have programs for children. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but we have one. So when parents want to go to the Buddhist temple they don’t have to leave the kids at home. This is enormously helpful to them.

I remember being a child and really wanting to avoid going to church with my parents because it made me feel bored. I suspect that if the Rime Center didn’t have a children’s program, then the kids would be in a similar situation.

Below are some lessons I’ve learned from teaching meditation to children.

1) Meditation does help kids.

I was routinely informed by parents that their children had positive outcomes from meditation. These included: increased focus, ability to handle stress, overcoming insomnia, increased memory skills and many other things. More than once a parent of a child on the autism spectrum would tell me meditation helps their child. Anyone that says meditation helps adults and doesn’t help kids doesn’t understand. Kids suffer from anxieties and stress and fear, just like adults do. I had anxiety as a child and if I had had a meditation practice it would have helped me a great deal.

2) If parents don’t meditate at home, the kids probably aren’t going to meditate a the Buddhist temple.

I had to ask parents a few questions to really discover the significance of this. Once in a while a kid would come along who was just a natural—this isn’t a strict rule. There are plenty of exceptions. But for the most part, they learn it by watching you.

3) Some kids will simply not want to participate. It can’t be forced.

Parents would bring their children to my class, even when the child made it clear they didn’t want to go. Meditation classes are for kids that want to be there, but sometimes people do mistake a kids’ meditation class for daycare—a place to leave their kids while they meditate. I wanted the parents to have a chance to attend the Buddhist temple. Making sure they can without having to exclude their kids is part of the reason why I worked on this program. But I’m not a babysitter, I’m a teacher. So when the kids would stop participating because they didn’t want to be there, it would cause problems. The point is this: I can’t force someone’s child to meditate. No one can. They have to want to.

4) There will be disruptions. Patience goes a long way.

I’m sure this is equally true for any situation that involves working with kids. Children struggle sometimes. I have a lot of patience and that’s really important for teaching children to meditate. Children have trouble with getting distracted, just like adults do. An impatient teacher might get frustrated with a child who is struggling (and, I’m talking about kids that want to meditate and have trouble now, by the way). Now that I think about it, this is probably just as true for teaching adults meditation. Patience is part of a list of Buddhist virtues called the Six Perfections—a list of things we’re supposed to cultivate on the path to enlightenment. I think it’s on that list for a reason.

5) Given the proper instruction, children are good at it.

If you really think about it, children have an easy time being present in the moment sometimes. My daughter gets a total focus on cleaning her room (specifically on being upset that she has to clean her room) and just thinks about cleaning it, as though this moment of cleaning will never end. I don’t know if adults really view things in that way. So, what we have to do is help kids turn that kind of incredible focus inward. When we achieve that, it’s a wonderful thing to see.

If anyone has any questions about teaching meditation, feel free to send me a message.

But, I can’t stress this enough: don’t force them.

 

http://thetattooedbuddha.com/teaching-kids-to-meditate-things-i-have-learned/

Posted in rime center

A Chapter Ends

I am no longer going to run the Dharma School at the Rime Center.

I have enjoyed running the children’s program at the Rime Center very much. I have met wonderful Buddhist teachers of many traditions (Maezen was my favorite). My association with the Rime Center Dharma School has also helped me become friends with other Buddhist parents.

I’ve heard that if you want to learn something, try teaching it to someone else. That has been my experience. Teaching in Dharma School has forced me to learn a lot more about Buddhism than I might have otherwise. Planning lessons, reading stories, thinking of new and innovative ways to present teachings; I’ve had to do these things a great deal and it’s really given me a better grasp of Buddhist teachings than I had before I started.

For three years I’ve been teaching children how to meditate. People that ran this program before me didn’t put as much effort into the meditation part as I have. Children CAN sit still and meditate. And some of them actually want to.

I’ve also been teaching them values. The six perfections: generosity, virtue, patience, diligence, concentration and wisdom, have been my road-map for teaching.

The kids have helped me develop those values in myself too. (especially patience). And a seventh one: Adaptability. I have had to learn to be so adaptable in this position because many things don’t go as planned.

SO,

I’m writing this because I am leaving this position.

I have been doing it for three years, which means I’ve been doing it longer than anyone else has.

It’s not because I don’t enjoy it. It’s not because my time is precious and I don’t want to volunteer anymore.

It’s because it feels like the right time. It’s because I need to get out on a high note, before I get burned out and start to be bad at this. It’s because my daughter Nissa has told me she’s had as much Buddhist education as she needs. And it’s because I’ve found a replacement that I think will do a better job than I have. I think that’s the goal of any leader or manager. To find someone better to take their place.

Her name is Leslie and I wish her the best of luck.

This has been a big part of my life.

What comes next for me?

I’ll let you know.

Posted in Uncategorized

Accidentally Meditating with a Child

My three year old son James came and sat in meditation with me last night. I was sitting there meditating before bed and he came out of his room and looked at me, as I sat on my meditation cushion facing the wall. 

Without a word he went back to his room, grabbed a pillow, and returned. He put the pillow on the floor next to me and sat in the exact same way as I was sitting and faced the wall as well. We sat together in meditation for nine minutes.

He’s normally a hyper and loud child, so this was strange. I will let him join me any time that he tries. It was a good experience.