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Main | The Peace Tent: Guiding Children in Creating Sacred Space, Discovering Calmness and Embracing the Power of Meditation »
Thursday
Feb022012

Peace by Example: Helping to Foster a Culture of Peaceful Warriors One Breath at a Time

by Joli Forbes

photos by planet swanCharlie was so excited. She had been awarded her first Peace Leaf at school. “What in the world is that,” I thought! So my 4-year-old explained, “It’s when we are good and kind at school and we get our name on a leaf on the Peace Tree.” (Which I came to find out is a tree painted on the wall of her kindergarten classroom.)

I was so proud of her.

This concept that a youngster had become so excited by the acquisition of a nature symbol signifying peace was genius. I began to wonder what it means to my daughter to be “peaceful.” Then I wondered how “peacefulness” is taught.  How do we teach our children to engage the world as peaceful warriors so they might come to create it as such in the future?

I started with definitions.

The Oxford Dictionary Online defines “peaceful” as “free from disturbance; tranquil,” and, “not involving war or violence,” and then also “(of a person) inclined to avoid conflict; not aggressive.”

Kids I know defined “peaceful” as “happiness,” “not war,” “no arguments,” “no angriness,” “quiet,” “relaxing and calm.”

Adults I know defined “peaceful” using the same words as the kids and as it pertains to children they added words like “tranquil,” “cooperation,” “sharing” and “not jumping on the furniture!”

I assume that if adults and their kids define it the same, then it seems parents are in fact teaching their kids what it is to be peaceful. Bravo!

I am a mother of two who lives in a house with five other humans and three dogs. Any lessons I can give to my kids to keep our lives peaceful would be very productive and appreciated! I wanted to know how other parents were doing it, so I could do it too.


I interviewed some women who are both caretakers and teachers to learn some real-life tactics on how to teach my children to be peaceful. What I absorbed from my interviews is that being peaceful also means being grounded, focused, active, creative, and being able to surrender and forgive.

 

First do no harm.” Socrates

 

Alegre Ramos is teaching by example. She is a mother and the founder of Green and Greener in Studio City, CA. (www.green-and-greener.com/).

Peaceful” means not multitasking,” she said about parenting. “[And] being fully present … as a parent that’s really challenging.”

Ramos is an entrepreneur who has created a consciously sound store, utilizing strategies aimed at achieving a peaceful environment, where only environmentally sound products are sold. The store is a place to learn through workshops and lectures as well as a place to feel connected to the community.

“Inherent in peace is assurance,” she says. “Knowing you are doing the right thing … I sleep soundly at night.”

Part of being peaceful is being focused, according to Ramos.  “Everyone is too distracted and our attention spans are too short,” she says. She is teaching her toddler to focus by offering her long-term attention span promoting activities and limiting distractions. She also limits her daughter’s contact with outside influences (i.e. no TV) so, as a parent, she can maintain focus on what her child learns about the world.

“We only bring out a couple of toys at a time and try not to interrupt her when she’s playing with something,” she explains.  “And we don’t have any toys that have flashing lights or sounds. They are all creative toys. They don’t just do things on their own. They require the child to interact with them.”

Children crave ritual and structure according to Ramos. Mixed with some flexibility, her family keeps their peace by honoring just that. They offer their daughter well thought-out activities and influences to keep her focused, giving her the building blocks of community and routine.

 

"If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace."
Thich Nhat Hanh

 

JoAnna Harper makes her living teaching kids how to be peaceful. She is a mother of two as well as a meditation and mindfulness teacher for youth and adults. She facilitates retreats for all ages often through Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society as well as UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. She focuses a lot of her energy teaching people in correctional facilities to find their way.

Harper defines being peaceful as “being calm on the inside; balanced, grounded and connected to roots or any home base that you like and [where you feel safe].” Her work is a reminder that for youth trying to live as spiritual, peaceful warriors it means they “are going against the norms.” She goes on to explain this classic struggle as “a battle to do the peaceful, wholesome, right thing versus going with the crowd.”

One of the lessons she teaches is how to sit with the feeling of discomfort and deal with that discomfort immediately when it comes. While this is a hard lesson for anyone at any age to master, it is an extremely harsh lesson for teenage kids.

Out in the world older kids often struggle to find peace within their culture, their school and unfortunately even sometimes their own homes. On the inside they battle self-worth and self-doubt. What helps them to find their own peace, according to Harper, is “learning how to sit with themselves and their discomfort and begin to trust that the feelings will come and go, but if they act out of the strong emotion, their unskillful actions can have long-term effects.”

 

"What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."
Mother Teresa

 

Photographer Planet Swan has two daughters who are eighteen months apart. There is mad potential for craziness in that house! But she has figured out several very useful tactics for keeping the peace while teaching her girls empathy and the power of forgiveness.

When the girls are having conflict with each other, Swan has them take a few moments apart and then sits them together, facing each other. She has them look into each other’s eyes, getting them to connect with each other’s humanity.

She wants them to find the peace between them in this moment. “It’s really hard to be angry with someone when you really connect,” she says. “When they can look into each other’s eyes, and one sees the other is broken, it turns into empathy from the eye contact.”

Then once they’re calm she tells them, “Okay, when you’re feeling it in your heart, whenever you’re ready, tell your sister how much you love her and how much she means to you. Swan believes the more you use the power of love and forgiveness, the easier it is to do.

Swan and her girls actively seek peace each evening after their homework is complete. 

“When I have a feeling, I go to art,” she says. So in her house they create things all the time (beadwork, plays, photography, painting, music, etc.). Utilizing tactile activities to bring quiet into their living room, the three girls sit working on their own creative projects, maybe with music playing maybe in silence and with the windows open. They are simply spending quiet time together taking in the end of the day before daddy comes home; a time to process the day and tranquilly sit with their thoughts.

It is equally as important that parents keep their internal peace as they go about their days. When Swan found herself a mother of two, she taught herself how to find peace in smaller personal accomplishments each day. My friend Rachel Hubbs calls this “lowering your expectations” and claims it is the key to parenting.

“[Just do] one thing at a time and it doesn’t have to be perfect,” she learned. “Nothing has to be perfect. And that’s okay. You have to let stuff go.”

 

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.

Buddha  

 

Beesh is a creative who doesn’t have any children of her own yet, however, she has been taking care of them for more years than she’d like to say.

“I have been put on this planet to be a mother,” she explains, “and I have been taking care of kids even when I was too young to be taking care of kids … I’m good at it!”

Her favorite toddler to take care of is her new nephew and she tells a tale of “Peace Time” with this 1.5-year-old baby.

“Peace Time is 1-on-1 time, reading or doing puzzles. We’re focused, we’re breathing, we forget other noise and take time to rest and relax in space of love [with] him [sitting] in my lap.”

As a yoga teacher, Beesh understands “taking it to the breath” as an action but also as a metaphor for quieting the mind and going back to basics. When asked how she finds peace, she responded with the words, “mediation, breathing, yoga, trust, release, and surrender.”

She teaches peacefulness by “taking everything that could be quick and making it slow.” When trying to quiet her nephew’s mind, “instead of letting him run around which he loves to do, we take stroller walks so his body can be still” in the hopes that his mind will also become still and he can just breath and observe.

Beesh teaches the kids she is a nanny for to stop what they’re doing and take a deep breath when they get worked up, which translates to them finding their centers and their peace. The kids’ parents break up conflicts by asking the children to sit quietly with their hands in their laps and just breathe for 30 seconds.  Time to cool down and let their egos deflate.

According to Beesh, pent-up energy causes chaos and can be rectified through movement and relaxation. Teaching kids to recognize they are stressed out and how to release the stress will save them from mental and physical ailments down the road.

“With an older child it’s easy to talk them through it,” she says, “but when feelings [make you] tense … you have to teach your muscles how to relax. A good way is to put on crazy, fun, loud music on and let [kids] dance crazy. Then change to mellow music and allow them to feel the musical change come over how they feel and how they relax.”

Sounds like Lamaze training: actively recognizing contractions and learning how to relax those muscles to bring relief! Makes sense!

The world is a tumultuous chaotic place for those of us who perceive it that way. If we can face the world as peaceful warriors—be peaceful and act peacefully—we can possess the privilege to teach our kids the priceless blessings of a peaceful way.

I lave learned a lot. Namaste.

 

Joli Selten Forbes is a freelance writer, photographer and poet based in Valley Village, CA. She is a mother, dancer, gardener and foodie who instigates change in her home and community for what she calls the “Revolution of Consciousness” currently underway. She holds a degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon who's professional bylines can be found at  yourdailythread.com, Flaunt, Shape, Bon Appétit, the LA Times, Press Democrat, Orange Coast Magazine, Minnesota Law & Politics, URB, and many other magazines and newspapers. She is also a regular volunteer for local organizations like Food Not Bombs and music/art festivals like Lightning in a Bottle. 

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