FULL Surrender

I bumped into a fellow flood-refugee at our adopted “local” coffee shop yesterday. She said she’s been thinking of us and the Surrender card which we have shared widely as one of the deck’s premier images. For her, the card recalls the St. Vrain River that defines the beauty and character of our town. For me, it evokes the collective, FULL surrender that the river has brought upon our community.

Exactly a year and a half after we started this blog (to the day), the river that has caught my tears, healed my wounds, served as my muse, and delighted my extended Lyons family was asked to hold more than she could bear along her typically gentle, meandering course. She unleashed her full power, reclaiming lands that had once been hers—canyons she carved, plains she smoothed, and lush valleys she blessed. My memory of how our beloved land has been shaped was clouded by human shortsightedness until I awoke to the sound of flashflood sirens in the night and the sight of waters rushing through local streets as day revealed a changed landscape.

My personal experience of the flood is just one of thousands upon millions of stories from this recent natural disaster and from all of human history alongside the forces of mother nature. As a mother, I have witnessed how vital community is for the survival of individuals and families. I have felt the fear of impending danger and the bliss of infinite gratitude. I have seen my worst side surface through waves of shock and stress, and felt empathy for mothers everywhere who muster strength and grace in the face of ongoing hardship beyond what I can even imagine. I have watched my high ideals wash away as our children run feral, fending for themselves as devoted parents shovel shit. I have renewed my faith in the essential generosity and goodness of people big and small. And, I have rediscovered my solid ground and expansive heart through layers of newly deposited mud.

Like the river, my typically gentle, meandering course cannot contain all that I have been asked to hold. I can only hope that my full power will arise in chorus with River’s timeless song of movement and change. The potential for creation in the wake of destruction feels palpable but still slightly out of my reach. For now, my work is to fully surrender to the unknown even as I rise to greet the call of transformation. As a wise women in town said, “Now the river not only runs through my home; it runs through my heart.”

Thank you all for your kind gestures of love and support. Elizabeth and I are both grateful to have dry homes to which we will return one day. Jenny has been an angel of generosity from her home in New Mexico (be sure to check out her new project Chai Pilgrimage). We all took some time off this summer to be with our families and were just returning to blog as the school year got underway. These plans have now taken another course as our energy moves to meet new challenges and creative endeavors. As we part ways, we offer you our blessings on this exquisite path of motherhood. May you love, may you grow, may you laugh, and may you fully surrender. 

‘The Mamas’ ~ Niki, Jenny, and Elizabeth

‘The Muses’ after a day by the river before the flood ~ Tulsi, Jordan, Oriah, Afton, and Haven

Imitation Worthy ~ An Interview with Kai Miller

Today you are in for a treat as Kai Miller shares her keen insight into the soul of a child and her experience in working with children in a Waldorf classroom. She offers a beautiful perspective on how teachers and mothers alike can be models of serenity and compassion for our beloved children.

What soul work has your vocation as guide and teacher to children entailed for you?

Kai: Becoming a Waldorf teacher has been a deep inspiration to become a better human being. Rudolf Steiner taught that the most important thing you can do to educate the young child is to become worthy of imitation. My soul work has included both becoming aware of my habitual patterns and striving to teach and live beyond them while expressing gratitude for their presence in my life.

The young child is very imitative making this a great responsibility for both teachers and parents. They are watching our speech, gestures, and attitudes and even feel our subtle energies. I strive each day to be aware of what I’m bringing and to leave out the door what does not belong with the children. Such awareness supports what I can offer in all aspects of my life.

How can we accomplish the soul work needed to enrich our lives and the lives of our children?

Kai: My practices have included meditation, yoga, contemplation and devotion. Through meditation we can access the true essence of who we are. That very essence is what young children still have in such abundance. Yoga as an embodiment practice assists me in moving energies stuck in my body. Contemplation or inquiry allows me to be curious about ideas, situations, and feelings both in the classroom and in life. Last, the devotion that teaching has brought to me is the truest gift of all. Devotion to serving in a way that brings us closer to that which is greater than all of us.

How do you tune into and honor the soul of each child as you meet them day-to-day?

Kai: Tuning into the soul of each child requires an openness of heart and mind. This attunement occurs in the present moment through observation and presence. But can also be worked on outside of the classroom in meditation. Observing a child is a gift. Watch without judgment or bias the words, behaviors, cries and laughs of each child therein lies much of the child’s soul as well as his needs.

What makes a Waldorf teacher unique is the practice of mediation and its ability to help us understand the soul of children. Taking our observations into this sacred time allows the essence and intuitions of the teacher to arise.

Parents too can adopt this practice. Before bed take just 5 minutes to remember the child’s face in detail, his actions, speech, laughs and cries. Notice what arises. Pose a question if you are searching for some way to support the child.

Last, the soul of the child is honored by providing them with a beautiful and soulful environment to dwell in, allowing them to express their imaginations, offering them rich opportunity for the arts and with natural materials, and not asking of the child what he is not ready to give. In this way, the soul can soar!

What do you see as the greatest gifts of working with children? Challenges?

Kai: The greatest gift of working with children is to be in the presence of their consciousness, their innocence and pure joy. They do not yet understand things like hate, prejudice and intolerance. They are pure and unconditioned. That’s is truly a daily gift. Other gifts are the being that they inspire me to become knowing that they will be taking in every part of me all the way down to how I blow my nose! I am a better person for that!

One of the greatest challenges of working with children is bridging the gap between the values in the Waldorf classroom and society. I believe that it takes a village to raise a child and consistency between school and home and community is key to creating security and health in the child. In this time we are faced with so many challenges like media, violence, busyness, and over commitment. Outside of the classroom (and home) life can lack rhythm, beauty and imagination. This contrast can prove challenging for both teachers and parents.

Reflecting on children and your presence with them, how does the quality of ‘Serenity’ speak to you?

Kai: Serenity is something that speaks through the environment created by the teachers, the state of mind of the teachers, and the quality of care and relationship between the teachers and with the children.

As I mentioned earlier, the most valuable teaching that Rudolf Steiner gave early childhood teachers was about imitation. So the question becomes “how can I cultivate serenity in my environment, in myself and in my relationships?” Most parents say that when they walk into a Waldorf classroom they can feel the peace and calming there. Even the color of the walls are intended to provide comfort and calming in the young child. You will often see candles and flowers abound. Creating beautiful things and touching beautiful things inspires serenity within the classroom. This can also be accomplished in the home. How each individual manages and maintains their state of mind is different. It should be the goal of every teacher and parent to understand themselves and how to best care for their physical, mental, and spiritual selves. When we meet the world from this space we can build relationships that are serene.

What words of wisdom about children and mothering would you like to leave us with today?

Kai: One of the most important things I want mothers here to be reminded of and that rarely gets mentioned is the idea of self-care and simplicity. In order to cultivate serenity in our families we need to cultivate it within ourselves first and foremost. Learn what makes you happy, what brings you rejuvenation and release of stress. Being a mother is one of the most important jobs on the planet. Take good care of yourself so you can be present, strong, resourced, and creative on a daily basis. This could be diving into a book, a yoga or meditation practice, and time with friends. You can be of the greatest service to your child when you are fully resourced. Take good care of you too! And remember in a time when overwhelm and complexity exists simplicity can be the healing our planet needs.

Kai Miller is a lead teacher at Applesong, a Waldorf-Inspired School in Lyons, CO. She holds an M.A in Environmental Education from Prescott College and completed her Early Childhood Waldorf Teacher training at Rudolf Steiner College. She is also the founder of The Institute for Culture and Environmental Education (ICEE) and a council member at The Integral Center in Boulder, CO. 

Her spiritual striving has led her to become a yoga teacher and to focus on her own personal development as a human being through meditation. In the classroom, Kai believes it is her responsibility to be worthy of imitation and create a space filled with love, joy and warmth. May we follow in her intentional and graceful footsteps.

 

 

Cultivating Serenity through the Heart

Ever in search of ideas to nurture inner quiet within myself as well as my children, I asked another gifted and much admired Applesong teacher, Perky Hubner, to share her approach to guiding children toward mindfulness through verse and body wisdom rather than instruction through the head.

Perky invites you to offer the following Enki verse to your children in concert with these movements:

On “scents so sweet” inhale deeply with a hand on heart, and on “blowing seeds far and wide” exhale slow and long with the hand gently pushing away from the heart.

April showers bring May flowers,

With colors bright and scents so sweet.

September chill brings October will,

With winds blowing seeds far and wide.

She continues:

You can encourage children “take a heart breath” if they need some direction engaging and then refer to the out breath as “blow your wind and let it go”.  I have lightly expressed that this heart breath will help you find your quiet, calm place inside. I believe that keeping this experience mostly in the body and connected to the heart through verse offers an entry point into mindfulness for young children that matches their developmental stage. By not explaining or discussing keeps this from becoming a contrived exercise and keeps it in the body and heart realm without over thinking.  If you notice your child needing some cool down or space, you can try supporting him/her by sharing this verse and heart breath with them. You may also want to try ending quiet time with sharing this experience together…keeping it brief with around 5 heart breaths. With this practice woven in naturally, perhaps we will see the children integrate heart breath into their own emotional-social strategies. Parents modeling heart breath during the course of their interactions and the day is a great guiding tool for young children too.

Heart breath is also helpful to me when I face challenges with the children in the classroom and at home. I do this by actually visualizing and feeling my heart filling with my breath, and then sending out my light and love, or positive energy, toward the challenge or child on my exhale, again intentionally visualizing and feeling that. Taking the time to do this calms my heart rhythm which can actually transfer to the child’s heart and it slows down my reaction so that it can become a response. Intentional practice of course helps it become a natural behavior. 

I am grateful to Perky for all she teaches the children and parents in our community. Thank you, Perky, for allowing me to share this with a broader audience as well. We hope it brings a little more serenity into all of your homes. And be sure to check back next week for our interview with Kaivalya Miller about nurturing your child’s soul and making space for Serenity.

 

Serenity: The Still Quiet Place

Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.  —Unknown

SerenityThis month, Lake beckons us into her calm waters in hopes that our expansive summer adventures may find their complement in the still quiet place that is ever only a few deep breaths away. The Serenity card always brings to mind the placid high mountain lakes of Colorado that are a favorite warm weather destination of mine. Though the requisite day hike is not always an option, I need only close my eyes to the conjure their tranquil waters.

In thinking of how to share this experience with you and yours, our beloved Waldorf-inspired kindergarten teacher Kaivalya Miller comes to mind. She is rather like a lake herself and can somehow mysteriously cast a deep calm over a spirited class of nine children. Her classroom is like a sanctuary. So that she may share some of her wisdom with us mamas, I have asked to interview her later this month. Be sure to stay tuned.

In the meantime, and as an enticement, she has offered a mindfulness practice for young children. She has been using this magical “Introduction to the Still Quiet Place” with the Applesong children this spring. It has been truly delightful to hear reports from the parents about how the Still Quiet Place is now finding its way into the children’s homes with comments like, “Mama, I think you need to visit your still quiet place. Its not a place you can travel to by boat, car, or airplane.” Perhaps if you share this practice with your little one, you too will be reminded of your inner tranquility when you have worked yourself up into a tempest.

“Introduction to the Still Quiet Place” by Amy Saltzman

I would like to share one of my favorite places with you

I call it the still quiet place

Its not a place you can travel to by boat, car or airplane

It’s a place inside of you and you can find it by just closing your eyes

Its like a treasure hunt and the most wonderful thing is that the treasure and map are inside you

So if you want to discover the treasure inside of you sit tall and close your eyes

Take a few slow deep breaths

Put your hand on your belly and see if you can feel your belly rise like a balloon when you breathe in

And shrinking like a balloon when you breathe out

Whenever your ready you can move your hand and let it rest in your lap

See if you can feel your breath move your belly without your hand filling you and emptying you

See if you can feel a kind of warm easy smile in you body

Maybe it’s in your heart or your belly

Can you feel it?

This is your still quiet place

It may feel simple, easy, and comfortable

Take some more slow deep breaths and really snuggle in

The best thing about your still quiet place is that it’s always inside you

And you can visit it whenever you like

It is nice to visit your still quiet place and feel the love that is there

It is especially helpful to visit your still quiet place if you are feeling angry, silly, sad or afraid

The still quiet place is a good place to talk with these feelings and to make friends with them

When you rest in your still quiet place and talk to your feelings you may find that your feelings aren’t as big or as powerful as they seem

Remember you can come whenever you want and stay as long as you like all you have to do is put your hand on your belly and follow the path of your breathe to the treasure of your still quiet place

Everyone has a still quiet place inside.

You can even help grown ups find the still quiet place inside them by inviting them to travel to the still quiet place with you

Thanks for traveling to the still quiet place with me!

The Wonder of the Familiar

Here we were, doing our typical weekend walk which we have done hundreds of times before. But now it was spring, the children were older, yarn bombers had invaded Main St. and the grass seemed very green indeed after all the recent rain and snow.

My recipe for the wonder we somehow walked into that magical Sunday: fresh eyes, a crowd of consenting dandelions, and a good camera app.

Where has wonder taken you? We would love to hear your journey…