This morning, Olive, Joel and I met a group of youth from our church to attend the monthly children’s program at the Green Gulch Zen Center and farm. We shuffled in, shoes off and creaky from the hour drive, taking in the incense in huge gulps of fresh Marin air, and found a seat at the front with our friends from Holy Innocents. The mood was somber, the place was packed, and the children were, for the most part, silent. Except for ours. Olive bopped in our laps, going from young person to young person, saying hello and pointing out to them some marvel in the Green Dragon Temple, which she was taking in with her eyes, ears, and voice. Some of them shushed her and tried to get her to sit in their laps, some gave in with big smiles to her urgent requests for high fives. Bells and gongs rang, announcing the beginning of the sit, but Olive continued in her small but surprisingly carrying voice, noticing everything and everyone around her. The abbot arrived and sat in the very front, led everyone in a Buddhist prayer (to which Olive loudly proclaimed “Amen” over and over at the end of, which got a laugh), then took out a guitar and taught us a song about young Buddha sitting by a tree and meditating, not being bothered by the distractions around him. He asked for suggestions from the audience, and that’s how Olive made her way in to the liturgy of the Zendo, as someone said “babies could distract the Buddha”, and we all sang along “Buddha was not bothered by the babies…”
The children only stayed in the temple for the first 10 minutes, which was good because it was about all they could handle. I set out with Olive into the farm, where there were more songs and a tour of the grounds. I saw many parents trying to corral their kids to participate, but I thought about the Buddha not being bothered by the babies and let Olive march to the beat of her own drum, following her as she explored the farm in all its Northern Californian glory. We did catch one snippet of information from the actual program, in which the leader was teaching the kids to get into their “quiet bodies”, which I loved, because I didn’t learn how to do that until I was 25, and it could have been very useful for me as a child. But then we were off again, climbing through reeds and hacking a path through fields, calling for papa (who was enjoying the abbot’s talk in the temple) all the while. And I practiced mindfulness as I went, noticing my body and feeling my feelings. I noticed I was tired from a week of caring for my husband, who has been sick, as well as my daughter, and picking up all the domestic duties that my husband usually does. I am really terrible at those things, so it was a stretch for me, and I am very tired. I also noticed my joy at being out in beauty on a warm day, the mountains pressing down in their favorite green sweaters all around us. I noticed my loneliness, being alone with a 17 month old once again, when I spend so much of my week solo with her. I noticed all of it, and actually was not bothered by it. I let it happen, and then after an hour we met up with the group and had tea and banana bread, which was probably my favorite part.