Monday, October 17, 2011

ensō meditations with children.

My approach to meditation both in my own individual life and the lives of my kids has been to think of many things as an opportunity to meditate. I know meditation has a specific meaning in Buddhist context, or new age context, in a recovery context and still in a psychotherapy context. For me, I think of meditation as an intentional practice, to clear of the mind, remain present, train the brain to sit in quiet. Many times that involves me pulling out my meditation cushion, lighting candles, incense and sitting still. I focus on my breath, or an object, or a mantra. I don't always just sit to meditate, though. I practice meditation when I do the dishes, walk, paint.

Teaching my children meditation, I hope, will be a gift for them later in life. A way of coping that I just simply never learned. I teach my children that meditation can take place in all kinds of ways. We do sit and chant together. I do many guided meditations. We do spirit animal meditations, which I know sounds hokey and new age-y, but is a really wonderful way to connect children to nature and other sentient beings. We often go on walking meditation where we try not to speak for a few minutes and just take in the present moment. We focus on our breath and steps. The other way I have done this is to teach them about painting meditations. Since Beezus was two and since Thor's birth, I have done painting meditation, so they are very aware of the interconnectedness of painting and spirituality for me. They also respect the serenity and austerity of the moments I paint for grieving women and men. It is pretty cool.

One meditation practice I have cultivated in the past few years is doing ensō meditations and paintings. I actually do ensō painting meditation a few times a week these days. It is one of my main practices. I paint them onto watercolor cards and use them for all kinds of things--anniversaries, birthdays, sympathy cards. I first painted an ensō because a client requested it on her mizuko jizo painting. I did a lot of research after that, looked at and meditated on many pictures of ensō painted by monks and enlightened beings. But that simple request started a journey in this ancient zen artist meditation. I first wrote about that practice here.

This is an ensō I painted in acrylic on canvas paper. It hangs in my studio.
Ensō represent both everything and nothing. The beginning and the ending. It is a symbol of enlightenment, and imperfection. Actually, the open ensō and the closed ensō mean different things. The closed one means the "totality of experience and life" while the open one represents the imperfection in all things. I think it embodies the Zen concept of wabi sabi, or the feeling that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be--imperfect. I use it as a mediation on imperfection, even though I generally close my ensō. Basically, it is an expression of the moment. One brush stroke. One circle. And though we strive for its perfection, its expression at its core, is always imperfect. And so the wisdom is simply that the ensō is a denial of perfection and in that way is exactly as it should be.

And making circles is a wonderful way to teach children about imperfection, your own, theirs, without challenging them to be perfect. I think a good tie-in to an ensō meditation with children would be to read the book Dot. Dot is a beautiful book about art and self-doubt. Ish, also by Peter Reynolds, is a lovely book about, essentially, accepting the imperfection of your art as the beauty.

At any rate, a few weeks ago, Beezus asked me if she could join me for my ensō meditation, and it occurred to me how absolutely perfect ensō painting is to teach children about working meditation and incorporating mindfulness into every activity. And so, we did a meditation session, lit a candle, incense, sat still, imagined the circle. We talked about its meaning and how we will spend our lives making absolutely beautiful imperfect circles. And we painted ensō after ensō after ensō.

She got pretty good.


Nerissa said...

I think I need to read those children's books you mention for myself. My blog sits neglected. I feel so blocked. I just don't know where my creativity went. AND I am such a perfectionist. I think that is my biggest block. I'm afraid of screwing up.

Paula said...

I think I might have missed the mark with my oldest, God love him but he never just has a quiet moment of reflection. I am thinking that I need to visit this idea of meditation with my 7 year old. I hope that I am not too late. I like the idea of meditation walks, I think that will be our fist attempt. I do believe that we learn to connect better with ourselves and the world around us when we locate our inner peace and just listen for a moment.
Thank you for the inspiration.

Ya Chun said...

beautiful post.

Renel said...

This is awesome! I have been painting enso's too. It feels so good. I love what they represent, it really speaks to me. I prefer the open enso. I have even considered a tattoo. Sometimes I use one brush stroke, sometimes two but when I want to make a picture for pretty sake I use as many brush strokes as I want. I do a lot of artwork with Kai. I think it is such a good form of expression. The perfection in the imperfection. My mother is a professional artist and I grew up in a house where our kitchen table was also our craft table. We had a dresser in the kitchen filled with art supplies and we were always creating. Paper mache, pottery by hand or on a wheel then firing it in our kiln, painting china, oils, watercolors, pastels, marionette puppets, painting wood and then using a ban saw to make it into a jigsaw puzzle...etc. I have another suggestion for a childrens book for you about imperfect art and my son loves it and has it memorized. It is called "Beautiful Oops" by Barney Saltzberg. It is about how "mistakes" can be turned into something beautiful. About perspective and imagination. It is a great book. Also it is a tactile book with folds, tears and pull outs.

Kai really likes meditating and asks to do it regularly now. At 2.5 it is so cute to see him already ingraining the concepts and words into his vocabulary. We were at a Zen store the other weekend and he saw a Buddha statue and Kai said "look mama, this guy is doing Namaste too. He was so excited. Also one day I heard him in his room saying "oooommmmmmm" He has also wanted to participate in doing yoga with me.

I love how children emulate us as parents and how much we can learn from them in return. Kai has been so upset after the car crash, complaining of stomach aches multiple times a day. His pediatrician said he thought it was a physical manifestation of stress. I swear the meditation has really helped decrease his stress. I try and talk about being peaceful and calm but sometimes he is a little wound up during meditation so I try and keep it short and always integrate some of the same components for him as ritual. He likes to exageratedly blow out his "badness" and always asks for more love to be sprinkled into his hands which he smashes with sound effects into his heart or head :) The baby Buddhas book you recommended has been great. Another book Kai really likes and is a great topic of conversation is "Peaceful Piggy Meditation" by Kerry Lee Macclean.
Thank you for sharing ideas. I still haven't done a walking meditation with my son but I know just where I want to go. I think practicing mindfulness doesn't necessarily require a beautiful nature environment but I think it may prompt some more peaceful reflection. Your artwork as well Beezus's is beautiful.

still life angie said...

Paula, I don't think it is ever too late to learn to meditate. I didn't learn until my twenties, and now it is part of my daily life. It is such a gift to give our kids, the lesson of quiet.

Renel, So cool to read about your childhood with an artist mama. I try to do my enso meditations in one or two strokes, but that acrylic one is many strokes, more like one stroke per color. It started with every color--red, yellow, blue, orange, green and purple in color order, then it got muddy. I hated the way it turned out, but as it sat for a while, I began to love it.

I think kids take to meditation so naturally, because they don't see it as a punishment or something hard, like adults do. I think we have so much to learn from our little ones about sitting and perfection and imperfection. We have those books too--Beautiful Oops and Peaceful Piggy Meditation. Both terrific books. I posted a while back about the mind jar, which is a project we found from Moody Cow Meditates. That is a great book. There is a book called Baby Buddhas, which has guided meditations for kids and tips on how to meditate with children (and hard to focus adults). When I am feeling particularly rammy, I use it for myself and the kids.

Long comment, but wanted to thank y'all for your comments.

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