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Dec 19
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Children’s Day is Every day

by Larry Steele

Iliana the warrior-girl was afraid. Days had turned dark and everyone feared the sun would never return. But Iliana vowed to find the sun and bring it back to her family and community.

Seattle Shambhala children dressed up in warrior crowns and tiger stripes to perform The Iliana Story during our Children’s Day celebration, on Sunday, December 17. One of Shambhala’s four seasonal celebrations, Children’s Day includes chants, arts and crafts for kids, a color guard, a juniper-smoke lhasang offering, lots of food and drinks, and the Iliana Story.

In the story, Iliana followed a path into the dark jungle where she came face to face with a huge orange tiger with black stripes. Would it eat her?

“Afraid to cry and afraid to run, Iliana watched as the tiger walked toward her, moving as gracefully as a leaf carried on the breeze. She wished she could walk like that.” As the story goes, Iliana looked beyond her fear.

“She tried to make her movements like the tiger’s movements. But the harder she tried the more clumsy she felt.”

In meditation practice, feeling clumsy comes with the territory. We feel we aren’t doing it right. There are too many distractions. Our mind is like a child skipping from one thing to another.

With such chaotic minds, how can we hope to teach our own children how to walk gracefully, like a tiger?

Parents and families with children have a special awareness of everyday distractions. Diapers, runny noses, toys scattered everywhere, school lunch boxes to fill. When can we find time and energy to meditate? When, and what, should we tell our kids about meditation?

“You can’t figure out when and how,” says Anisha Prasad, a five-year meditator with Seattle Shambhala and a mother of two energetic sons, Aarush, 11, and Arnav, 6. “It’s very organic. You have to play with it and try different things at different times.”

That’s why Anisha appreciates child care offered during Sunday morning meditation at the Shambhala Center. While she sits in meditation with other adults and participates in the weekly facilitated discussion, Aarush and Arnav sit with other children. They start with art projects or quiet games. They practice lighting the shrine candles. And, when an adult volunteer rings a small chime, they settle on their meditation cushions.

In reality, on a recent Sunday Arnav used his cushions to build a cave, three other kids continued their own conversation, and one girl piled up five cushions and balanced on top, hands resting on knees with thumbs and index fingers touching. The children watched each other, experiencing their many individual ways of being. Then, with extraordinary skill and timing and without criticizing, the adult volunteer began gently guiding Arnav and the others back to sitting still.

“There’s no tutorial, but there is a discipline associated with it, like emphasizing that we brush our teeth every day, and sit up straight at the dinner table,” says Anisha. “They soak it up.”

Social interaction in a community is at the center of Shambhala children’s programs. Bodhi School, several Sundays each month, encourages children ages 8-12 in developing their own meditation practices. Family Camp, an outdoor summer retreat in the islands, special outings and community care projects all share the wisdom of enlightened society.

“It is not just about the mind. It’s also about how you relate to others,” says Hafidha Acuay. “It is bigger than yourself.” Hafidha and her non-binary child Artemis, age 9, began visiting Shambhala because child care was supportive. They attended Family Camp in September, and recently became members of Shambhala.

“Part of why we go is because the community aspect helps us create a family culture,” says Hafidha, a single mother. Shambhala opens a space where she and Artemis can develop friendships and share traditions with others. “It feels like there is a place for us. A foundation.”

Artemis gives Shambhala “all kinds of thumbs up,” says her mother. She loves meeting friends and knowing everyone in a smaller, more intimate group. “She always wants to come back.” Hafidha, who grew up in a Muslim family, appreciates the similarity between parts of Buddhist practice and the five daily prayers of Islam, like the use of prayer beads for making “dhikr,” short prayers of remembrance.

Shambhala children’s programs are “not just artsy-craftsy,” Hafidha says. “They introduce a practice.” During Bodhi School, for example, Artemis helped Children’s Program Coordinator Robin Willett during a tea ceremony. “She carried the teapot and sat beside Robin with such reverence.”

Wisdom that is shared and perhaps universal between cultures is something that Andy Maclean has noticed during years of sustainable development work in Latin America and Africa. His travels brought him in contact with nature cultures, shamanic rituals, and different religions. When he read Chogyam Trungpa’s book, “Sacred Path of the Warrior,” he thought, “This is not necessarily Buddhist, but also an ancient wisdom endemic to many cultures.”

Andy, who grew up in the Anglican church and whose wife is Catholic, says, “It is nice to have two traditions in the family. Our children must make their own independent investigation.” The Macleans have two boys, Elliott, age 4, and Arlo, 6 months. Elliott and Andy attended Family Camp on Orcas Island last summer. “We didn’t talk much about meditation,” says Andy. “He just loved the hiking, swimming in a lake, campfires, and Samba drumming. The feeling of community was fantastic.”

“It’s difficult to teach meditation to a child younger than five,” says Andy. “I just try to be as present as I can.”

Like most four-year-olds, Elliott sometimes challenges his dad’s patience. That’s when Andy’s own practice can help. “I acknowledge my own feelings when I’m talking to him. I try to notice thoughts non-judgmentally, without being critical. The Shambhala teachings have helped me be aware of polarizing duality.”

Andy guards his own meditative time, usually about half an hour each evening. “I don’t understand parents who say, ‘I haven’t got time to meditate,’” he says. “For me, I don’t have time if I DON’T meditate. Nothing recharges my batteries more.”

From exploring with new friends to sharpening our child-rearing skills, Shambhala families and children programming is about engaging as a community. Whether we have children or not, we can support the future of our society by creating a space for children and parents to connect to their own basic goodness, wisdom, kindness, and strength.

The Growing Brave Conference held in Boulder in October accelerated a movement within Shambhala to better support families and children. A new online Hub for Shambhala Families and Children includes video recordings from a series of talks during the conference plus links to Shambhala Times articles about families and children.

A version of this piece appeared previously on the website of the Seattle Shambhala Center.

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1 response to “ Children’s Day is Every day ”
  1. Lee Oatey-Crouse
    Dec 22, 2017

    Thank you for the article Larry. I learned more about my own center and share your assessment of Shambhala family and children programming as supporting our community and society. I am grateful we have it.

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