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

If you’d like to support my work, please consider making a donation.

 

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

Dharma I’ve Learned From Children.

This is an article I wrote that was featured in the Rime Center Newsletter a couple of years ago. I really like it. Here it is:

 

“AH RAH PAT SA NA DI DI!” – my daughter Nissa, shouting the mantra of Manjushri, Bodhisattva of Wisdom

 

 I can’t believe how interested my daughter is in Buddhist practice. She seems more interested in learning about Buddhism than she is in learning about almost anything else. Taking her to the Sunday Dharma School at the Rime Center makes her very happy. She is thrilled that I teach her and the other children about Buddhism. However, like any young child, she does get distracted once in a while.

 

There are usually ten to fifteen kids, between the ages of 3 and 12. It’s hard to have lessons that can interest the very young kids and the oldest ones, but we do pretty well. I feel like I’ve learned as much from the kids as they have learned from me and the other teachers. I am in charge of Dharma School, but I have to admit it’s more something I fell into than something I earned.

 We chant mantras at the Rime Center. We chant them in a nice and relaxing way. When the children chant the mantras, they get excited. Nissa shouts the mantras and the other kids sometimes giggle. But it makes me wonder, why shouldn’t we be excited about chanting a mantra for greater wisdom or compassion? It is exciting, isn’t it?

 Buddhism teaches the interconnectedness of all things. Kids seem to understand that intuitively. Maybe as we get older, we accumulate more delusion. I’m not sure. And they are compassionate too, most of the time. Nissa saw some kids squishing bugs on the sidewalk one time and asked them to stop. I asked her why and she told me that she felt compassion for the bugs. They weren’t doing anything wrong. They were just outside living their bug lives.

 

With only a few exceptions once in a while, all of the kids in the Dharma School want to be there. But, some of them do have trouble focusing sometimes. They are excited about participating. They get to make offerings to the shrine and lead mantras. We all do prostrations together, with a child leading us. Letting them participate is important and they certainly learn more through participation.

 

But, it’s not all reciting mantras. We also do activities. Sometimes we do crafts and sometimes we read stories to the children. The kids usually enjoy crafts the most. My daughter has had the opportunity to make her own Tibetan Prayer Flag and her own Thangka. She was very proud of them and I have put them on the wall in her bedroom. I don’t know if the other children are as proud of their crafts as my child, but I suspect they are.

 

Then, we let all the kids play. There are a few games and toys in the Dharma School. I am very glad to say that in spite of their diverse age differences, all of the kids seem to play together very well. There are very few arguments and there is no fighting. They act like a community. That could be because of the very positive atmosphere of the Rime Center or I suppose it could be because they are being raised by their parents with Buddhist values. I don’t know, but it is a great thing to see.

I would like to see more parents get involved in the Dharma School. Very few of them come up to see what we do. Most of them are in a rush to go downstairs and participate in the Buddhist Service. Which is fine, but I think they would benefit from seeing how the kids do it once in a while. I think that practicing Buddhism with children is just as moving as practicing Buddhism with other adults, maybe moreso. Helping them learn is a very rewarding spiritual experience.