My regular meditation teacher is on vacation and so yesterday when I went to class we had a substitute teacher. Our substitute was someone who regularly sits in our class, but none of us knew that she volunteers at a women’s shelter and at the palliative hospice – where she teaches meditation classes to children and youth – sessions for children who find themselves in a lonely and scary place.
We are immediately open to her comments that teaching children how to sit still and just listen to their inner selves, especially under such difficult circumstances, is truly worthwhile.
Of course, they are often too young to sit still so she makes crafts with them to help them understand. In meditation, we sit still and quiet our thoughts…our thoughts that fill our minds – endlessly. As adults this is not an easy feat – it takes practice, so we are fascinated by her comments.
She shows us a simple water bottle. She has filled it with water and added a few ounces of sparkles or glitter – the same glitter that is sold in tubes in the dollar store or craft store. She has taped the lid securely; a few pieces of masking tape wrapped around for good measure.
When she shakes the bottle, the glitter sparkles and falls slowly in the bottle much like a snow globe. And just as if we are all children in her class, she sends the bottle around our circle for show and tell. I find that I am fascinated by the sparkles and stare at the falling of the glitter. I realize that we are all speechless.
Our meditation teacher has made her point. She places one of the bottles in the middle of the floor in front of us and we slowly realize that we are silencing our thoughts – that internal chatter of our minds – and instead, we are just staring into the glitter, watching as the shiny bits circulate and fall slowly, so slowly.
Good. Point made, our teacher announces.
She has a second craft to teach us, she tells us. And we are all to take part. She distributes a short, thin piece of rope to each of us and plops a big bowl of brightly-coloured beads in the centre of our circle. Oh, she wants us to make bracelets, we think.
But first, she gives each of us a piece of paper and a pen. On the piece of paper, she instructs us, please write ten things that you are grateful for. Not big things. Just something small. She reminds us that when she makes this craft with young children, they might be under a lot of distress, so she wants them to focus on the small things…perhaps a beloved pet, favourite teacher, a favourite toy, candy, movie, cartoon character.
The example she gives us: pumpkin pie. She loves pumpkin pie. So, the first item on her gratitude list is pumpkin pie. The second item is her grandmother who gave her the recipe for pumpkin pie. The third item is the store where she drives to buy the ingredients for the pie. She is grateful for farmers, the fourth item – farmers who grow the pumpkins. And five, six, and seven are spices: nutmeg from Indonesia; cinnamon that comes from Ceylon; ginger from China; the eighth item is the delivery truck that brings the spices, the pumpkins and the other ingredients to the store; and the ninth item of gratitude is the sun – the glorious sun that grows the pumpkins and the spices. And lastly, the tenth gratitude item is that she is still here…to eat her favourite pumpkin pie. She inspires us to think about the pumpkin pie and its connection to countries all over the world; we, too, are interconnected to everything in the Universe.
Next we are instructed to choose a bead for each gratitude item and then we make our key chain/bracelet. Lastly, she gives each of us a small bell to string onto our bracelets and then we tie the ends. When we hear the bell, we are to remember that we are grateful, yes; interconnected to all things, also.
Then we meditate.
I am really quite moved, in spite of the simplicity of the craft. I have often listed things that I am grateful for and in fact, I once saw fireflies in my garden one evening last summer that prompted a spontaneous gratitude list that filled a couple of pages. I am big on gratitude!
But when she reminded us that all things begin with gratitude, I got it!
As I drove home from my class, I thought of a simple prayer of a Zen master:
“Thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever.”