Saturday, July 23, 2011

Zen Garden - Mindful Moments



“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.” ~ Alan Watts

A zen state is one where we simply exist in the moment, fully present, fully aware, simply content to BE. Children have their zen moments in the midst of their excited outbursts of childhood exuberance. Adults tend to lose their zen nature as they become involved in the daily to do lists and concerns over the past and future

Teaching children as they get older to take time to BE is very important. Creating opportunities for simple pleasures away from the high tech, fast paced lifestyles they are now used to can be a great gift. Taking a moment as you begin to eat to be mindful of the food, the preparation and how it nourishes us, and to offer an intention of gratitude is a very easy way to introduce mindfulness. To chew slowly and allow the sensations of the food to flow over us awakens new awareness. Showing the children, that as we do chores, we can slow down to just focus on the task at hand...to appreciate what it is we are working on...awakens a deeper awareness. Multitasking is a good thing, but as a perpetual way of life, it creates undo stress on the mind and body.

We find art projects are pathways to mindfulness for children and adults. The brain shifts in function and even in chemistry as it is allowed to just play. We're not talking so much about a project that has a definite desired result - this can create stress as we measure the finished product. Free flowing creative expression allows the heart to light the way.

With children on the Autistic Spectrum, we have often noticed, when left alone, they are quite Zen like. Very involved and deep into what has captured their focus. Sometimes, we see it expressed as a repetitive activity they use to calm and regulate their sensory systems as their minds try to filter and sort the onslaught of input. We will go to that place with the kids...share the flapping of hands, spinning plates, lining up of cars, the ripping of paper, the humming, the staring at lights through the window blinds, the fascination with the ceiling fans, the discussion of little known facts about a specific insect...somewhere in here is the beauty of being. As we engage, space is made for genuine connection. From here, we may find the child will engage further and shift into opportunities for us to teach or expand the activity. Art type activities of various types can invite a child on the Spectrum to connect with the activity and express. In turn, they connect with others, sometimes explicitly, and other times implicitly. The process unfolds in ways in which we see into one another and hear, even if words are not spoken. The art speaks, whether it was one brush stroke or a canvas full of incredible detail, one dance step or an elaborate routine, because the heart has spoken.

In this project of the Zen Garden, it is fun for the Spectrum child, siblings and friends to use a shoe box, some sand, some interesting objects and just play with their finger in the sand in a quiet relaxed way. Depending on the children, of course, use caution with the objects or watch for any inappropriate behavior with the objects, sand or box.

The girls in this example had fun creating their Zen gardens from stuff laying around. They did some yoga and then sat and "played" in quiet with the Zen Garden. They doodled their fingers in the sand. One used a quartz crystal to draw. A simple, gentle shake of the box allows the process to start anew. Arranging the objects, they found it had a calming affect. An easy, unplugged process of just being. A good stress release for the high strung moments.

For our Spectrum kids, the process is quite intriguing, each expressing and sharing. For the moms and dads, they are amazed how therapeutic it feels to just draw a finger in the sand.

So in the height of our summer heat, find a cool spot, a few supplies, BREATHE deeply, let go, and BE in a Zen state for a bit. Amazing what it will do for you!