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July 6, 2011

Planting Seeds

On July 3 at Green Gulch Farm, we came together with the children (and many parents, too!) for the monthly children’s program.

Walking meditation along pumpkin row planted by the Children's Program in June 2011

After we had hiked up into the hills and down on to the farm, offered incense at the farm altar, bowed in, sung songs, learned about the special way that we hold our hands in the zendo (known by its Japanese name that sounds like a sneeze … shashu) and shared a snack of apple juice and muffins, our group dispersed into the ten directions like one of those fat dandelion seedheads taken by a burst of wind up the hillside above the Green Gulch valley. I wouldn’t see the children again until the first Sunday of August. Our time together always feels short, concentrated, and intense.

The program starts at 10:15 with a 10-15 minute Dharma talk for the kids. We leave the zendo by 10:30. It’s then down to the farm or garden for an activity to bring the children in a little closer to the place and to the practice which grounds the day-to-day intention of sangha life at Green Gulch. We wrap up our activities by 11:30 with a snack and parents return fresh from the Dharma talk to pick up their children.

Our family days which happen only a couple times a year have a very luxurious feel to them, compared to our monthly program, as we have a whole day to spend together in the zendo, out on the farm, lunch together as a group, and usually wrapping up the day full circle back in the zendo. The monthly program is much more condensed and I wish I had more one-on-one with the children and the parents as I am usually holding the whole group (with invaluable assistance from our dedicated volunteers).

Last Sunday I asked one of the fathers, who has been bringing his 6-year-old daughter Lilly to the monthly program on a regular basis, if he would mind my interviewing him for this week’s newsletter. Alf was willing and I welcomed the chance to see the children’s program from a parent’s perspective.

Alf: She has such a good time when she’s here. It makes me so happy.

Nancy: What first brought you to Green Gulch?

Alf: Well, I’d had some experience at City Center with their Saturday program, and I saw there that they have a children’s program at Green Gulch on Sundays. I went to City Center to do the introduction to meditation and hear some Dharma talks there, and sit in the zendo. I really enjoyed it and thought, boy, this would be a great thing to share with my daughter. I was really happy to see that there was a children’s program. When we came to Green Gulch for the first time, I was incredibly happy to see what a beautiful place it was for kids and parents to spend some time together.

Nancy: So you found out about the Green Gulch children’s program through City Center?

Alf: I’m pretty sure it was through the website. I was doing some research into all the services and programs Zen Center offers across its different practice places. I’ve always been curious about Zen and I’ve considered myself a Buddhist for probably the last fifteen years or so—since I was eighteen—I’m totally dating myself. I came to a point where I was tired of calling myself a Buddhist but not practicing, so I wanted to get involved and find a place, find a sangha to join.

Nancy: So you were really looking for a sangha when you came to Zen Center. You had already been studying on your own.

Alf: Yes, absolutely. I’d had a little experience with some other Buddhist places around the Bay Area. And this was the only children’s program I found. I was happy that it was aligned with my interests.

Nancy: When you bring Lilly here, is there anything that you hope that she gets out of the program?

Alf: Mostly I really just want her to come and enjoy the garden and the farm and get some time away from the city and have a group of friends her age to interact with. And, you know, I’m so happy every time we come, there’s a new, a little form, introduced. I’ve had an opportunity to see Lilly express those in other places in our life, and that’s been very rewarding. So it’s kind of a two-for-one deal, right? It’s wonderful to have this place to come and bring the kids. And it’s also great to see them embracing the forms a little bit and the practice and learning about what it is that goes on here.

In the rest of our interview, Alf told me that a couple of weeks ago he and Lilly headed out to the Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. As she was zipping around the gardens she passed a seated buddha statue. Immediately she put on the brakes, reversed her course, and gave the buddha a deep gassho. Later he saw her helping her teddy bear with a gassho to the same buddha.