STORIES THAT MATTER
Here are some resources that I have found useful with my own children or through teaching to support children and ourselves growing and learning. Some are connected to the podcasts and blogs and others aren't. Explore!
Samhain is here
As Covid spoils Halloween its the perfect year to reclaim the celebration it originated from: Samhain
This year we are having to improvise and change all our festivities. Covid, going into isolation, not being able to plan head, have all forced us to get creative. We’ve had to think about what really matters to us and what we are willing to give up.
By now most of us have had to celebrate our birthdays in this new context. Some people have been really happy to spend their birthdays on their own, doing something they love at home, others have felt that what’s important to them is being with friends so they have set up a zoom party to chat, dance and laugh together. I myself was so lucky to have gorgeous friends come to my door bearing gifts at different times of the day as well as joining in a daybreaker disco party with my immediate family at home, followed by phone calls and zoom calls from friends and family that I wouldn’t have normally chatted to that day if I had been celebrating out.
We all want different things and we area all being asked to think about what we do want. Let's see what we come up with for Christmas!
But for the time being, the next celebration is Halloween and as we are talking about today, it originated from Samhain. Samhain seemed to be more about going inside ourselves and our homes rather than spooking our neighbours and getting treats. It seems that going back to that is exactly what we need this year! So, how can we celebrate Samhain?
Honouring our ancestors
We have built an altar with candles in the entrance of our house for our ancestors. We have been thinking of them and bringing old photos out. We have told the children stories about the great grandparents that they didn’t get to meet. And the ones they met briefly.
You can try out family recipes that might otherwise be forgotten, I am going to attempt my grandmothers gnocchi made with semolina.
You can sing them old songs your grandparents sang to you. And tell them their stories.
My grandmother sang us a song about a stranger that would come into the house and take us away from our family, kills us and bury us in the woods!!! Can you believe that? It was actually our favourite song and we fought to go first on her lap and be the protagonist of the song.
You can play games your grandparents used to play. In my case I am bringing out the Spanish deck of cards for a game of Cinquillo, here’s the rules incase you can’t think of a family game of your own
Honour the earth and the last harvest
Go for a family walk in the woods to pick leaves, pines and twigs to decorate.
See if you can find food that is still growing that this time of the year. Chestnuts, berries, wild garlic is back out, nettles or other foraging. You could also find an expert mushroom picker and learn from them!
Carve your pumpkins and make sure you use the inside to cook something. So many years we have embarrassingly just thrown it out! Keep the pumpkin seeds in a paper bag to try to plant them next year. Feed pumpkin to the squirrels. Make a pie.
Cook the chestnuts in the oven. Is there anything more delicious and warming that that at this time?
Celebrating the celtic New year
Use this time of spookiness to talk about fears with the children. Draw what scares them, give them names and make up stories with them about those fears. We don’t want to try to talk them out of their fears, but rather find ways to face them and slowly make them smaller.
When my daughter was really little and the first set of children came to knock at the door in halloween masks she screamed and was petrified, I hadn’t anticipated this reaction. My mum was so upset for her and tried to prohibit me from opening that door again whilst holding the toddler in my arms but I knew I needed to. I opened the door and asked the children to remove their masks, my daughter was amazed! She had come to the door screeching but within a second that fear was shifted by dismantling it, she was belly laughing and asking for more.
To get ourselves ready for the new cleric year, we can write down the things we are ready to let go of from last year and burn the paper safely. We can also write down three things we look forward to in the new year and plant them in the ground.
I loved this little prayer i read today that can be said with the children when they go to bed:
Samhain prayer for children:
Samhain is here, cold is the earth,
as we celebrate the cycle of death and rebirth.
Tonight we speak to those through the veil,
the lines between worlds are thin and frail.
Ghosts and spirits in the night,
magical beings rising in flight,
owls hooting up in a moonlit tree,
I don't fear you and you don't fear me.
As the sun goes down, far to the west,
my ancestors watch over me as I rest.
They keep me safe and without fear,
on the night of Samhain, the Witches' New Year.
Pesty little sister
Meditation and mindfulness are useful to help us sit with ourselves, whatever we are feeling. We can see the frontal cortex of the brain as a muscle that has the ability to quieten the more emotional and visceral parts of the brain. However, we need to exercise this muscle through paying attention to what we want rather than letting it run away with our thoughts, as trails of thought tend to build up the difficult emotions to a point we can't sit with them. I just heard Gil Frondsal tell a short story that describes this well:
" Once upon a time up on one of the heavens of Buddhism, which was ruled by the great God Brahama, a troll took his chance when Brahma was away from his palace to hobble into the palace and jump onto his throne. The court guards were disgusted -an ugly little troll wasn't meant to be on the throne! "Get down! You can't be up there!" The troll wouldn't listen so they all start getting angry with him. “You are bad", "you are terrible" they shouted, they used all the kinds of ways to get angry with him. But as they got angry, the troll grew bigger, more beautful and more radiant. The court guards didn’t know what to do so they went to find Brahama to tell him what was happening. Brahama went back to the palace and stood in front of the big strong powerful troll on his throne. He said to him: "Dear troll, I am so glad you are here and hope you are comfortable up there. I am here to be your friend." and bowed to him, as he was respectful and kind to him, the troll shrank and shrank and got smaller and smaller until he disappeared. Brahma got up on his throne and explained to everyone, ‘that was an anger eating troll! The more angry you are the bigger it gets, you just needed to stop feeding it."
Daniel Siegal has amazing books that describe how the brain works and how we can explain it to our children. "The Whole Brain Child" is a brilliant start. If you want to get really deep into it, his book "Aware" explains the science of meditation in amazing detail.
Here is a 6 minute meditation by Tara Brach to help reduce anxiety and induce sleep. A great starting point. Let us know how you find it!
Old Man Capuchino
I recently heard Sadhguru talk about devotion, he explains that sitting in Devotion helps us function at our best.
He says "Whaterver comes your way, you will know how to transform it into something beautfiul" and so "when your being is soaked in devotion, even a piece of stone will become divine". Wouldn't it be amazing if we could develop this kind of devotion for nature around us?
Just as I was listening to this and trying to understand the concept, my husband and children went out for a walk in the park. My 11 year old daughter came back full of light because she had been lying on the ground looking up at the trees and words had fallen straight down from the sky into her paper. What she wrote was an amazing example of this concept I was grappling with:
"My notebook lies on my desk; I lie on the cool soft grass, the hot sun beaming down on me. I stare up at the clear blue sky, painted with the tall branches of magnificent trees, connecting themselves on their plain canvas. The luscious green leaves sit still in the calm breeze. My eyes search between the haze of blues, greens and browns until it spots a single acorn dangling off a low branch, reaching down to the ground in despair. Its polished shell shines in the sunlight and I can see every dent on its hood, every crack and point it owns. My eyes dart back to my painting and I focus them on the branch above me. It is an array of colours, black, brown, green; beauty. On every inch of it there is a new branch covered with leaves, each longing for more sunlight and water. I find a small hole in it and instantly wonder how many insects have travelled in and out of that hole. From the corner of my eye, I see a lonely leaf dancing and spinning through the sky. It sits at the very end of a long, sturdy branch and it seems like all the wind in the entire world is calmly strolling towards it and forming a tornado around it. From where I lie, it seems as if it were the biggest and most important leaf in the entire park, grasping all the sunlight before it is able to reach the other end of the tree. Leaves swirl down around me, landing on the cushioning soil. All around me I hear laughter, chatter, excitement, bewilderment all at once. The air is filled with a happiness no one can drown. My mind stops, the sun has moved and I realise I am lying in the shade. I pick up my notebook and pen and move to the nearest place with sunlight. I look up and find a whole new painting, waiting for me to describe it....."
Devotion came completely naturally to her! Kids truly come prepared for life, we just need to help them keep those amazing tools and skills they naturally have. I encourage you to go out and sit in devotion for 12 minutes in nature.
If this is a bit too abstract for smaller children, a good starting point to connect to nature and to self is Thich Nhat Han's very cute book "A Handfull of quiet" and of course go looking for The Old Man Capuchino so that they are aware, alert, respecting and enjoying what is around them. Do let me know how you get on.
Telling Mr Splat to "Just bounce back!" can lead to some confusion which I want to clarify. When we shout at Mr Splat urging him to just bounce back we aren’t asking him to maintain a ‘stiff upper lip’ and bounce back with the emotions undigested.
Remaining “resolute and unemotional in the face of adversity” as Wikipedia defines a stiff upper lip is probably the opposite of resilience. If he ignored his feelings and went with his own thoughts and judgements then he would resolve that the troll was horrible and he wouldn’t have learnt anything about himself! He may even start being nasty to the troll next time he sees him.
Instead to develop his resilience he can stop to look at his thoughts, get help from other people when needed and realise he is judging the situation and the poor old troll through his very narrow and subjective viewpoint.
In reality the troll was shy, he wasn’t thinking about Mr Splat at all. And even if it was actually true that the troll didn’t like Mr Splat, Byron Katie would argue that it isn’t the fact that the troll dislikes Mr Splat what is ultimately making Mr Splat unhappy, it is the fact that Mr Splat is thinking about that that makes him unhappy. So really he just needs to shift that thought! I know this is a mouthful but read it again if you need. Isn’t it amazing?
I have only recently been introduced to her work and need to play around with it a bit more but I think it can be another truly helpful tool. She has free resources for adults in her website and she has two great children’s books: “The four questions” is a bit simpler, I personally found “Tiger, tiger, is it true?” more complete.
Since my brain works in quite a child like way, I always find that books for kids are a great way to get introduced to new ideas even if you are an adult! So I recommend these for adults too.
Basically Byron Katie encourages us to connect with something that affects us emotionally, we then bring that down to one sentence and we follow her process of enquiry:
1.Is it true? (Yes or no? If no, move to 3.)
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who or what would you be without the thought?
Then Turn the thought around and contemplate what comes up.
Let me try to use “the Work” process for Mr Splat, but I am definitely no expert at this, I am just trying it out, her website has lots of advice and if you know her work and I have missed something out here do write to me!
Mr Splat’s Sentence/judgement is: “The troll hates me”
1. Is it true?
Mr Splat in anger says: “Yes!”
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Mr Splat a bit more humbly says: “No.”
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Mr Splat looking miserable says: “I feel rubbish and collapse into a puddle, I start believing the troll is right to dislike me as I am not very good looking or exciting, I think maybe nobody likes me, i just want to disappear down the drain.”
4. Who or what would you be without the thought? Mr Splat thinks about that and smiles: “I would keep jogging really happily down the road, I love jogging whatever the weather and I see lots of people I really like in the streets.”
Turn the thought around. Mr Splat thinks for a bit and says: “The troll doesn’t hate me”, his face lights up. “I hate the troll” he shakes his head violently. “I hate me” and his eyes open wide! Isn’t it amazing? it could be that he is hating himself at that moment, not the troll hating him. Wow! “The troll likes me”
Isn’t it is a simple and great tool?? I love it. I think Byron Katie would be proud of Mr Splat!