“I can’t walk past it.” Josh announces as we pass a dyke with a discarded can floating in it. “It might hurt fish or birds.” I imagine myself trying to pull this tall ten- year- old boy out of the muddy water. We wait until his father has caught up and he takes the responsibility of leaning over the ditch to pull out the offending can.
Josh is one of the home educated children on a Mindfulness and Nature Day I have organised. Having seen myself as ecologically aware, I now feel inadequate in the face of such heartfelt determination not to ignore rubbish that can endanger life.
We started the day with meditation. I ask the group of children what good feelings they have about being at home, perhaps when they come back after a day out or a holiday. ‘Relaxed, happy, peaceful,’ are some of the words they offer. So I suggest that paying attention to breathing in and out and sitting straight can take them to a home within themselves. I invite the bell to start the meditation. The singing bowl sound is the voice of the Buddha, the voice of someone who loves them and wants them to be peaceful.
The song we sing and the meditation we do is about feeling fresh as a flower, solid as a mountain and firm as the earth. We continue singing: “I am water reflecting, what is real and what is true and I know there is space deep inside of me. I am free, I am free, I am free.” Hand movements accompany the song.
The children draw their own flower, mountain and water and their idea of space (mostly rockets and stars) and I put their pictures on the wall. I ask them when they feel like a mountain. Amelia, aged seven, says:” I feel solid like a mountain, when someone is being mean and I say No.” She moves her hand to push away the meanness. She says this in a non-aggressive way, reflective, clearly valuing herself. I am awed by her inner strength. How many of us could say that with such ease and clarity?
Later we consider The Two Promises which are part of the programme offered to children by Zen Buddhist monk and educator, Thich Nhat Hahn and the Plum Village Community. They are: I vow to develop UNDERSTANDING in order to live peacefully with people, plants and minerals.
I vow to develop COMPASSION in order to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals.
The children give examples of how they understand their cats and dogs and are aware of what they like and dislike. In discussing compassion they talk about loving their own and other animals, loving mum and dad and their friends. There is no cynicism here. No adverse comments are made when love is mentioned. These children are open, emotionally aware and not afraid to express tender feelings in front of the others. Amelia draws a blackbird to illustrate understanding and tells me that she wants to understand its song, indeed she longs to understand all birdsong.
Before lunch we consider everyone and everything and that is involved in creating the food we will soon consume. Farmers, bakers, lorry drivers, factory workers are mentioned as is rain, sun and the earth. The conversation moves onto the theme of pesticides. One of the children says:” Pesticides are not only bad for the animals, but also they are bad for us.” Gabriella tells us that her mother always bakes the bread at home. We focus on feeling gratitude for all those who have contributed to our food and on recognising the interconnectedness of everything in our world, interbeing, as Thich Nhat Hanh calls it.
After lunch we walk through the village to the Broad. This is Norfolk where the lakes dug by the Romans are known as Broads. Amelia tells me:” I love nature!” As soon as we reach the car park leading to the Broad, she rushes to the nearest tree and embraces it as if she has met a long-lost friend.
Developing understanding, compassion and gratitude through mindfulness seems vital in our world today. More and more children and teenagers suffer with mental health problems, buckling under the stress of our consumerist, appearance and achievement oriented society.
Once we have reached a hill overlooking Salhouse Broad, the children reflect with me on Mother Earth and her bounty. We do a walking meditation to kiss the earth with our feet and notice our breath as we walk very slowly holding hands together.
Then the children ask to be allowed to roll down the slope and want to climb into a huge oak tree. I watch them fling themselves with abandon onto the grass and hurtle down the slope. After they have rolled, they climb into the old tree and experience its wide bowl. We do a meditation and breathe with the tree using the in breath to reach the topmost leaves and diving down into the roots on the out breath. To finish our visit, I invite them to lie down on the grass and experience gravity as the Earth’s love for us all. Without it we would simply disappear into space never to return. I read from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Love Letter to the Earth: “Walking in mindfulness, I can express my love, respect and care for you, our precious Earth…. You are my loving mother, a living being, a great being – an immense, beautiful and precious wonder. You are not only matter, you are also mind, you are also consciousness.”
Back at the hall we have a shortened session of Journey Dance, beginning on the ground, rolling and stretching, then becoming fluid as water, soaring like birds, expanding into the available space and building an imaginary shamanic fire to burn away all negativity, worries etc. Then we celebrate being alive before dancing with our hearts in the form of colourful scarves. All the children take part with gusto and move freely and unselfconsciously. Some of the parents also join in.
The day comes to a close and we sit back in the circle. I ask them to tell me how the day was for them. Fun, peaceful and good are words that emerge. One boy, aged 7, tells us that he has found a new best friend and the other boy confirms that he too has found a new best friend. Nothing negative or cynical is said about this. Both boys are very energetic and extroverted individuals. They have found a true resonance and that ends the day on a joyful note.
I am exhausted and uplifted, marvelling at the freedom and positivity these children display. They are self-aware and feel connected to nature and all living beings. They are ready to engage with life, unafraid of what others may think. During the whole day I did not observe any unpleasantness or unkindness. The children were polite to me and played happily together with boundless energy. The parents of these children have committed themselves to educate them in a way that gives them greater freedom. They have enabled their children to flourish, to be who they are, mindful of the web of relationships they live in. Home education is not an option for every family, I understand, and many families cultivate emotional intelligence and a love of nature in their offspring.
As I reflect on the day I realise I have learned so much from the children, and above all, I feel a greater hope for the future. I can only hope that our future leaders will not emerge from Eton or other public schools but will be free spirited, eco-minded individuals who have perhaps successfully avoided the constraints of our educational system.
Note: All the children’s names have been changed to preserve confidentiality.
Sue is a holistic therapist, engaged grandparent, trainer, priestess in training and wellbeing consultant. She runs workshops for home educated children to enable them to deepen their connection to themselves and to nature and the Earth in its sacred beauty. You can visit her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Sue-Bayliss-Pathways-to-Wellbeing-915403651863965/ and her website: www.sulisconsulting.com. She is writing a book entitled The Hero’s Path, reclaiming our true selves and Changing the Story of the World. Her passion is to enable adults and children to find their soul purpose and dare to be their authentic selves.