This is the season for cattail pollen! My three year old granddaughter, Fia, and I gathered the “flour” so she could bring it to her parents to blend with the all-purpose version and make golden Swedish pancakes. Fia beamed the words, “So ‘citing, Nana…we found cattail pollen!”, as she stepped out of the car with her treasure. My own grandmother used to say, “Give me the simple things in life”. I couldn’t agree more.
Last week “Loosie B. Goosie”, my children’s picture book was launched! It was so much fun to see the children’s faces as they listened to the story. Abby Stoner, a Rhode Island School of Design student whom I’ve known since she was born, created the most delightful illustrations. The book is based on a true story of a goose that was stranded on Shelburne Farms. It’s a story of kindness and empathy written for children ages 3-7. Following the reading, I, Grand-Mother Goose handed out white feathers and the children ran off to frost goose shaped cookies.
When a friend and I recently walked in the Adirondacks, I was reminded once again of the calming effect of nature, and specifically water. We couldn’t decide which was more soothing, the sight or the sound of the stream that paralleled our path.
Sitting beside still or moving waters or leaning against a tree can be all that’s needed to calm the mind. I recall a summer camp experience when we pre-teens were asked to find a spot in the woods to simply be quiet and alone with our thoughts. At first I thought the counselors were crazy. After the first day, though, I looked forward to my “sit spot” in the woods and the chance to simply “be”.
Sit spots are best outdoors but also offer solace when created in a busy home or school classroom in the form of a “Quiet Corner” or “Peaceful Corner” .
Photo courtesy of: Lynda Reeves McIntyre
My role as director of the Talk About Wellness initiative since 2004 had focused on inspiring contemplative and inner life programs in public schools. This year the new goal has been to bring the message of our book, Educating from the Heart, and the lessons of mindfulness-based meditation to wider audiences.
While still working in partnership with the South Burlington Wellness and Resilience Program and other school districts we have been offering workshops, lectures and in-service instruction to such organizations as:
The Mindfulness Center Conference in Norwood, MA; Vermont Association for the Education of Young Children; The Vermont Association of School Counselors; Champlain College; The Woodruff Institute Institute and soon Middlebury College, Dickinson College and the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference. My co-editor, Aostre N. Johnson received a Fullbright Fellowship this year and will be extending the message of the book to schools in Ireland.
Whenever possible, I bring another presenter, usually from the South Burlington program, who has been trained to use mindfulness practices for various grade levels in public school settings.
Talk About Wellness has funded instruction from Linda Lantieri, Daniel Rechtschaffen, Patricia Broderick and has connected to the work of Jon Kabat Zinn and Parker Palmer through retreats, lectures and/or workshops.
The goal of Talk About Wellness has been to bring an “inner life” dimension to education through contemplative practices such as mindfulness but still include other elements such as time in nature, reflective writing, art, music, friendship, play, gratitude, and kindness.
This week has been one of planning “mindfulness” presentations for audiences of early educators, K-12 teachers, college communities and parents in Vermont, Massachusetts and California. Having heard the Dalai Lama speak at Middlebury College last Friday, I’m reminded of the wisdom traditions of the world and how they might offer tools for navigating this new century. His Holiness spoke of the need for “educating the heart” and creating “secular ethics”.
While religions of the world have provided solace and moral direction, they have also brought conflict, pain and confusion. Meditation, through a calm awareness, has a role in helping us to see more clearly and beyond habits of the mind. Author and educator, Tobin Hart, found through research that “the wise” spent time in the wilderness; sometimes literally in the woods or on a desert, but always in the silent wilderness of their inner being.
In that contemplative way a certain sanctuary is created where one can feel inwardly safe and sure…able to open the heart and develop an ethical compass. Today we are all in such a hurry and there is so much “noise” that wisdom can be difficult to find.
Photo Courtesy of Lynda Reeves McIntyre
My three-year old granddaughter, Fia, spends Thursdays with me. She is occasionally too tired to go on our usual adventures. Her pre-school schedule is busy and it takes a lot out of her. She chooses instead to do really simple things such as filling her pockets with tiny pebbles. She then invites me to sit outside and simply do “projects” with her. (That is her word for it). She then proceeds to make little “gardens”. The gardens are nothing more than small rectangles or circles formed by rows of pebbles, sometimes placed for their color and sometimes not.
Because my energy, like hers, is not what it could be, I enjoy this simple activity. How wise of her not to over-reach, to know her little body so well that she chooses when and how to calm down and simply be.
It’s contagious. My days with her are like a long meditation. We often spend time just walking and listening.
One day, because she was transitioning from a crib to a big bed, it was helpful for me to lie down with her until she relaxed into a blissful nap. I lay there in quiet joy and gratitude, noticing her tiny hands with polished fingernails, and matched my breath to hers.
Photo courtesy of Heidi Thompson Webb
On one recent day there were at least three heartbreaking stories of harm done to children. Penn State officials had allegedly stood by while children were sexually abused. Two young girls, caught in the crossfire of gang wars, were shot and killed in Chicago. A Syrian toddler cried out for his missing mother as he suffered from stomach wounds.
What kind of world allows the vulnerable to suffer in these ways? And what does it say about our societies? It does little to simply wring our hands or to ignore these stories. It may be of some help to pray, meditate, light candles, volunteer, write letters, songs, and poems.
The Masai tribes of Africa, known as famed and intelligent warriors, greet one another with “Kasserian Ingera” or “How are the children?” This tradition reminds adults of their responsibility by giving attention and focusing intention on the protection of young people. How satisfying it would be if we could one day reply, “The children are very well indeed.”
Photo courtesy of Jada Webb
While having tea in the lovely gardens of Perennial Pleasures in Hardwick, Vermont, my daughter, granddaughter and her friend commented on the wisdom of tea time. Just as energy often wanes in the afternoon nothing is more delightful than sipping tea with good company.
Renewal can come in so many forms, including napping, meditation or fishing. The important thing is to find the time for those important pauses.
Photo courtesy of Jada Webb