breathing beauty into the world: a mindfulness practice for children (who are learning to see with eyes of compassion)

Each day I rise, waking to a world of possibilities.

I breathe and smile, happy and ready to learn, grow and share.

I see the sky, sun, clouds above me.

I see the earth, plants, water below me.

I feel the air around me.

I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.

I choose to see beauty in myself, my family, my friends, my neighbors, my teachers, my community, and all living creatures.

I choose to speak words from my heart that are true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind.

I choose to act from my heart in ways that are helpful, healthy, inspiring, and kind.

Even when I do not feel or act my best (whether I am sad, scared, confused or angry), I remember to place my hands on my heart and breathe.

I smile, knowing I can begin anew.
I can ask for help and comfort from those I trust and love.

Each night, I rest, thankful for all that I learned and shared.

I see the sky, moon, stars above me.

I see the beauty all around me. I breathe and smile, knowing that I am in the world and the world is in me.

[originally written Fall 2012 + published on dhamma4mama* 2013]

This writing has multiple sources of inspiration:
  • My experiences as an aunt, mother, and substitute teaching assistant for a preschool program;
  • My experiences as a practitioner and teacher of yoga and meditation, which is rooted in my practice of Zen Buddhism in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh;
  • My dear friend TaNesha Barnes, who asked me some time last year to create an affirmation for Beyond The Surface, the critical thinking and social justice academy she literally built in her own backyard!  A 21st-century embodiment of Wonder Woman, TaNesha is a mother, entrepreneur (t. barnes beauty), educator and social justice advocate with a clear heart-driven mission to empower students to become “global thinkers for equitable living.” When she recently posted the draft version of this piece (typed one late-night and stored as a memo on my BlackBerry) on Facebook, I was not only honored that she announced it would be recited daily in her upcoming program, Breathing Beauty Rites of Passages for Black Girls, but also compelled to add some long-awaited finishing touches! I am so deeply grateful to have lived, learned and grown up with TaNesha over the last 19 years and, on this 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (#MOW50), am excited to continue collaborating with her on programs that merge spirituality and wellness with social justice.


#TheSuchnessofSangha: on “sitting together” ~ thich nhat hanh

Sitting alone is wonderful. Sitting with a friend makes meditation easier.
There is a Vietnamese saying that goes like this:When you eat rice, you need to have soup.”
When you practice mindfulness, you have to have friends.
When we sit together, we generate a collective energy of mindfulness that is very powerful…
The collective energy is very supportive and effective in helping us gain insight and transform difficulties.
As a practitioner we can benefit from that energy to help us embrace our pain and our suffering.
You can silently say, “Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Sangha, this is my suffering. Please brothers and sisters, please help me to embrace this pain and this suffering.”

~Thich Nhat Hanh from “How to Sit”

embodied practice: “taking refuge in the island of self”

breathing in, i go back
to the island of myself.

there are beautiful trees
there is water, there are birds,
there is sunshine and fresh air.

breathing out, i feel safe.

~thich nhat hanh
Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go: Waking Up To Who You Are

zen in motion:
as a mountain,
half moon, waxing: open heart,
balancing: steady of body + heart + mind,
taking refuge in the wisdom of breath,
refuge in the self
~t scott


embodied practice: the healing power of community

The energy of a community of mindfulness can help us embrace and release suffering that we could not reach by ourselves…

father's day practice.13a

If we open our hearts, the collective energy of the community can penetrate the suffering inside us.

~Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Communicating

awakening the voice of self-love

Be careful how you are talking
to yourself because you are listening.

~Lisa M. Hayes

At the beginning of the month, Sangha decided our aspiration for study and practice in February would be (1) to dissolve the inner critic and (2) to awaken the voice of self-love.

We all have experienced the harsh self-defeating tones of an inner voice that chastises, doubts, belittles, and discourages us. We may struggle to hear the gentle voice of compassion that encourages, nurtures, assures, and reminds us of our strengths, gifts and possibilities.

This two-step process of dissolving self-criticism and awakening self-compassion invites us to first shine the light on the deep roots of that oppressive, self-defeating commander.

Can we see the seeds of fear, unworthiness, shame? Can we see all the hands that planted and tended them? These internal and external messages that feed and strengthen that critical voice?

To identify these embedded roots may also unveil a cycle of self-abuse that we easily trap ourselves in. As one practitioner pointed out, we recognize that we’re beating ourselves up and then reprimand ourselves to be better and nicer to ourselves! But how will such self-lecturing ever help us eliminate self-judgement when the critic thrives under abrasiveness?

Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to “cradle” our suffering (in the form of anger, fear, pain, judgement etc.) as a mother would a child. So when the critic begins its denigrating rant, we neither silence nor strengthen it. We embrace it with a gentle acknowledgment, “Ahh! I see/hear the suffering.” We do not abandon ourselves, convinced that we’re being weak or wimpy. We whisper words of kindness to soothe that wounded voice. I understand. I am here for you. You are hurting. I love you.

Receiving such tenderness, the raging critic begins to soften and relax—to exhale its relief at being seen, heard and understood. Now there is room to sow and water seeds of compassion. We keep exercising the voice of compassion by speaking to ourselves in a hushed and soothing tones. We retrain our inner critic by filtering its skills of observation and analysis through the four gates of speech (a Sufi and Buddhist practice I wrote about in a musing about mindful communication in motherhood) asking, Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it helpful? Is it kind? We learn to assess our choices and decisions honestly, using words that nourish and support rather than berate us. With skillful effort, we develop a booming voice of wise and compassionate discernment.

So practice gently, relentlessly, and lovingly to awaken and constantly feed the voice of self-love. What’s been helpful for me in moments of self-doubt is to remember what another friend in sangha shared. Inspired by a story she’d heard about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she echoed his words of encouragement in a tender lilting voice: “Don’t be afraid, you can do it.”

To stop and communicate
with yourself
is a revolutionary act.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week I shared a reading from Sandra Ingerman‘s Medicine for The Earth (a going-away gift I’d received from a friend when I left Brooklyn, NY  in 2003), which provides a template for the transmutation—or ability, as Ingerman defines, to transform poisons in the body and environment—of negative, self-destructive communication to healthy, harmonious self communication:

Words and thought forms create a vibration that goes far into the universe, creating musical notes. We need to look at whether we send out harmonious notes into the universe, which in turn create harmony, or whether we send out disharmonious notes, creating chaos and illness. We call down the powers of the divine and call into being with our words…The seeds planted will decide what kind of plant grows.

We rarely pay attention to the power of the words we use. In our ignorance we end up calling into being a great deal of chaos and pollution. We do the same with our thought forms. If the divine created us in its own image and the divine is perfect, then we are perfect. If we say things about ourselves that is against our perfection, we move out of harmony with the divine inside and outside us, which can cause illness. For example, if you say that you are not good enough or if you believe you are not worthy, your words are out of harmony with divine creation.

You must work on bringing your words and thoughts back into a song of harmony. Without this harmony there can be no union. Without harmony and union there can be no transmutation. The universe sings glorious harmonious notes. Is the song of your life and beliefs harmonious?

EXERCISE [an excerpt]:

Imagine your life as a garden. What seed words do you want to plant, nurture, and watch grow? Choose your seed words carefully.

As you begin to notice the energy and vibration of words, be more conscious of the words you use in your conversations with others. Think about what you are calling down for yourself and others. Think about what plant will grown out of the words you planted.

To heal the earth through transmutation, you must speak to yourself and others with words that create a vibration of love, harmony, and union with the divine. With words you can decree that pollution be reversed. Parts of the formula for transmutation used here: Intention: Words create intention to heal or create illness.

Love: Words that have the power to heal embrace the vibration of love. Love heals.
Harmony: Harmonious notes sent out into the universe will create harmony reflected back to you in your life and the environment.
Union: Where there is harmony, there is union. Union is the energy behind transmutation.
Focus: You must have strong focus to create the intention to use healing words.
Concentration: It takes a great deal of concentration to be aware of the words you use in your self-talk and your conversations with others.
Imagination: You must be able to imagine the energy and vibration that is sent out with the words you use.

Related Musing

On Mindful Consumption

on mindful consumption: magic of deep listening + skillful speech

essential food

nothing can survive without food.

everything we consume acts to either heal us or to poison us.

we tend to think of nourishment only as what we take in through our mouths, but what we consume with our eyes, our ears, our noses, our tongues, and our bodies is also food. the conversations going on around us, and those we participate in, are also food.

are we consuming and creating the kind of food that is healthy for us and helps us grow?

when we say something that nourishes us and uplifts the people around us, we are feeding love and compassion.

when we speak and act in a way that causes tension and anger, we are nourishing violence and suffering.

…nourishing and healing communication is the food of our relationships.

~ Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh
The Art of Communicating