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Creating Compassionate Cultures
FPMT’S CHILD-FOCUSED ACTIVITIES
As you think, so you are. As you dream, so you become. As you create your wishes, so they create you. – Wendy Garrett
This 100 percent works. My children teach me. – Paula, mother of two Tara Redwood School Children
By Amanda Bauscher
In the heart of Soquel Village, California, located on the Pacific Coast south of San Francisco, the old post office stands transformed as the new Elementary Campus of Tara Redwood School (TRS). Tucked away in the forest up the road, the Redwood Campus remains a refuge for Tara’s toddlers and preschoolers. These precious learning sanctuaries serve as epicenters for empowering children to make a positive difference in the lives of their friends, families and communities. By starting with children, who are just developing a sense of self, TRS acts as a “nursery” for the seeds of compassion to spread throughout the world.
Inspired by Lama Yeshe’s vision of “Universal Education,” Tara Redwood School has been developing this vision for more than 25 years by working with children to develop a logical basis for compassion. This begins with an empowered sense of self and critical thinking skills infused with an understanding of the inextricable interconnection of our outer and inner worlds. This unique and profound approach to “understanding one’s own physics, one’s own psychology” gives children the causes and conditions to explore what can bring about positive change in the world in their daily lives, as well as on a more grand and global scale. As children come to understand that our inner world is connected to and can influence our outer world, they come to see the power of their thoughts and feelings.
A classic example of the Tara children’s wisdom came from a mother who’s “road rage” lifted when her three year old introduced a little perspective. Driving home from school she complained, “Ugh! This traffic is terrible!” The child replied from the car seat in back, “Mommy, we ARE the traffic!”
An example of how another Tara student used the drive to school as a study in social psychology and communication was when he noticed the opposite of road rage. His mother was allowing cars to merge and smiles were exchanged, when he coined the term, “car connection.” In this way, TRS children bring their understanding to their everyday lives, transforming ordinary and seemingly mundane experiences like these, laying the foundation for larger visions of benefiting the world.
As the first educational program piloted to develop Universal Education, TRS embodies a wealth of curriculum and training resources from Creating Compassionate Cultures.
The Online Institute for Creating Compassionate Cultures began its inaugural training program this year with an inspiring online community. Some participants are working with foster and orphaned children, creating new possibilities for connecting children around the world who share the wish to be a positive influence in the lives of others. Delighted by the possibility of connecting with the other children in faraway places, one of TRS’s elementary students squealed with delight, “Really? Yes! We should send them some good wishes from our class.” Helpful actions begin with good wishes. All the Tara classes plan and actively engage in several local and global social service projects throughout the year.
Pam Cayton, founder of Tara Redwood School, a pre-school and elementary program near Santa Cruz, California, that “strives to develop the whole child: mental, physical and spiritual,” and Creating Compassionate Cultures (CCC), an organization dedicated to providing tools and training to help educators offer children a deeper, holistic education, shared this news with Mandala:
On Saturday March 22, Tara Redwood School held their annual fundraising auction. Each classroom creates a group art piece to raise money for the scholarship program and the school development fund.
This clock was created by the children in the kindergarten and first grade class. The teacher asked them what message they thought would be helpful for people to live a happy life. This was generated from their discussions and voted on as the message they all wanted to send. Each child drew their self-portrait and their artwork was placed under clear glass jewels, set into a circle around the clock face. This represented the potential we all have to bring those jewel-like qualities into every moment, affecting ourselves, our friends, family and communities, thus making this world a happier, more peaceful planet and home for all! The classroom projects are always the most popular items for parents to bid on and this is a wonderful example of one of them.
The classroom projects are also a great representation of the Creating Compassionate Cultures organization and curriculum, which officially launched their Online Institute for Creating Compassionate Cultures (OICCC) on March 31. The Online Institute offers a 12-course online certification course to educators and anyone interested in learning the CCC curriculum and its methodology – the Seven Steps to Knowledge, Strength and Compassion, the theoretical basis that helps the curriculum develop a child’s natural ethics, wisdom and compassion.
Creating Compassionate Cultures invites parents, teachers, psychologists, counselors and coaches to explore the Online Institute for Creating Compassionate Cultures (OICCC).
Mandala brings you news of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and of activities, teachings and events from over 160 FPMT centers, projects and services around the globe. If you like what you read on Mandala, consider becoming a Friend of FPMT, which supports our work.
Creating Compassionate Cultures (CCC), an organization dedicated to providing tools and training to help educators offer children a deeper, holistic education, has recently soft-launched the Online Institute for Creating Compassionate Cultures (OICCC). The Online Institute will offer a 12-course online training program starting March 31, 2014, to educators and anyone interested in learning the CCC methodology – the Seven Steps to Knowledge, Strength and Compassion.
“This comprehensive program engages the inner world of trainees,” explains CCC founder Pam Cayton, “and provides practical tools for implementing the CCC curriculum in a variety of settings. Participants throughout the world can come together in this new online venue and explore course material through original CCC content, contemplative practice, discussion forums and multimedia from some of the leading neuroscientists, educators and psychologists today.”
Inspired by Lama Yeshe’s vision for secular education, the idea for CCC began developing in 1989 at Tara Redwood School in California. Pam officially founded CCC in 2008. “I wanted to give educators a way to offer children a holistic education that addressed not only their academic needs, but their psychological, emotional and social needs, too. For example, the curriculum includes a component for children to learn how to identify emotions by associating them with colors and learning how to express them publicly in appropriate ways. The heart of all of this is the Seven Steps to Knowledge, Strength and Compassion, the theoretical basis that helps the curriculum develop a child’s natural ethics, wisdom and compassion.”
Pam hopes that the OICCC will give interested people more training with the material than could be done in a weekend workshop and expand the “classroom” to a global scale, meaning international students can work together to understand and experiment with the ideas discussed.
“I want people to understand that this program is suitable for parents, teachers, psychologists and anyone who works with children and families,” Pam says. “I believe lots of people can benefit from this and I’m so glad to be carrying on Lama Yeshe’s vision for education in this way.”
Creating Compassionate Cultures invites everyone to preview course offerings on the new OICCC.
Universal Wisdom Education is delighted to share with Mandala readers this exclusive interview with Pam Cayton, author of the recently published Compassion in Education: An Introduction to Creating Compassionate Cultures. The book is the first to present a comprehensive overview of The Seven Steps to Knowledge, Strength and Compassion, a teaching methodology developed by Pam Cayton and a dedicated team of teachers over the last 20 years at Tara Redwood School in California. Pam was interviewed by UWE’s Ana Aguirre.
In your preface you mention:
My belief was that if children could develop an understanding that the source of happiness lies within their own mind and not in material possessions and entertainment, this would become the seed for developing psychological and spiritual understanding.
Can you explain why you think this “inner knowledge” is relevant for children and educators in today’s world?
This is a relevant question no matter what era or time in history – the 21st century is no exception! I believe our true source of happiness is internal rather than external and due to the interconnected nature of all things, this understanding sits at the core of our very survival. As individuals, we depend on countless beings to sustain us and they depend on us. If our education systems taught children this and focused more on educating the inner knowledge of a child, then children would be more selfless, content, appreciative and compassionate. If cultures, governments, corporations and the media also adhered to these basic principles then there would be fewer problems and this world would be healthier, safer and sustainable.
We live in a fast-paced world. Politics, science, technology and the media drive change and affect every aspect of our lives. Alone and collectively, they offer many advantages, but they also bring challenges. In particular, media, in all its forms, is extraordinarily pervasive and seductive in selling one main idea through advertising and multi-millions of commercials, namely, that more equates with happiness. This constant bombardment creates such strong desires that we obsess with the need to have more possessions, more pleasures and to be more perfect. And the more we crave, the less satisfied we are because there is always more, more, more to have and to get. In turn, these feelings of dissatisfaction trigger other harmful emotions such as greed, anger, stress disappointment, jealousy and boastful pride.
What inspired you to write Compassion in Education and how do you think it can help teachers, parents and educators out there?
I believe many teachers, parents and people have a similar wish to impact the world in a positive way. When I began this work it was with the specific intention to plant the seeds that would grow and spread into something much greater.
For two decades we had been developing these principles and techniques through Tara Redwood School in California. However, I realized that if we put energy into just one location, one school, we could reach only a tiny percentage of children, families and teachers. At this point, I also knew if we published our ideas, created training programs and made them available to people everywhere, we had the potential to go out to the world, to reach and affect a multitude of communities and cultures.
Our purpose was to create universal education, not specific or limited to one particular social structure and setting. What we have created is an adaptable approach that offers a philosophical and practical framework, tools and curriculum to awaken and nurture knowledge, strength and compassion, in any environment. By doing so, we are contributing to the fulfillment of the wish of Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who continue to provide inspiration and guidance for this mission.
In the book you refer to the Seven Steps, can you briefly explain to us what the Seven Steps methodology is?
The Seven Steps is a philosophical and practical teaching framework. It grew organically, over 20 years of working with children between three- and 10-years-old. The steps take a secular approach to awakening knowledge/wisdom, strength/confidence and compassion/kindness. Although based on ancient Buddhist philosophy, the steps are universally relevant, secular and applicable to the world today.
The steps are circular, not linear as the word “step” may suggest. Together, they offer an insight into the nature of the external world, our own internal world (psychology) and the interconnectedness between the two. The philosophy and methodologies are not limited to school children, but rather, they are a framework and guide for living life to the fullest with integrity, wisdom and an open heart of compassion, and can be used in the home, work place or any environment at all.
Through the Seven Steps, scientific, logical reasoning and practical application offers teachers an alternative map on which to base their curriculum, without compromising the subject requirements of any mainstream learning programs.
The framework evolved from seeing a need to awaken a more wise and kind attitude in the minds of children. To achieve this, we guide children through logical reasoning, reflection and mindfulness to explore their inner world of thoughts and feelings. Through dialogue and simple questioning, the child’s ability to logically explore ideas allows their innate wisdom to quickly awaken. Children like things to make sense, and it is our job as parents and educators to guide children to understand their inner world and to nurture their empathy, compassion and wisdom.
Underlying all our actions is a seemingly unconscious need or wish to be happy in every moment. However, this intention, which lies beneath every action, mostly goes unnoticed unless we begin to explore the question, what do I really want? To answer this, we need to search within and as a result, we discover that the true source of happiness lies within our own mind.
Next is the question how can I find true happiness? Our utopian vision of the kind of culture we wish to create is no different from everything that exists in the tangible world, that is, it does not arise from nothing. Everything depends on causes and conditions and nothing exists independently. Therefore, it stands to reason that given the interconnected way in which all things exist – every action causes a reaction – we are all co-creating the cultures in which we live.
A great advantage is that everything in this vast interconnected universe is constantly changing. Change happens whether we like it or not. In fact, it is advantageous for us as it allows for infinite possibilities. Change supports positive attributes such as resilience, strength of belief in oneself, perseverance and patience. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience now show that the brain changes according to thought. Scientists talk about neuroplasticity as changes that occur to the brain as a consequence of repeated behaviors.
As we become more familiar with the way our mind creates our reality, we can change harmful habits. We are able to rewire our brains through mindful intention and the knowledge of interconnectedness and the impermanence of all things. To know that everyone really wants happiness and has his or her own perspective, enables us to see things from a wiser viewpoint and behave in ways that positively impact ourself and our surroundings.
The wisdom that awakens through the understanding of the first four steps – intention, interconnection, change and perception – naturally develops such attributes as respect, generosity, patience, flexibility, acceptance, tolerance and teaches us to question our assumptions. A major result of developing these positive qualities is a decline in conflict and arguments. Our mind opens to understand other perspectives and our heart opens, allowing for the transformation of emotion. We can see our feelings for what they are – not who we are – and know they are transient, like clouds in the sky.
Empathy develops along the way too. We awaken loving-kindness for our global family through the knowledge that we all want the same thing, we are interconnected, forever changing and creating our reality and subject to emotional and physical suffering. Even the animals want happiness and the absence of suffering. In this way, we extend our understanding to all life, our empathy deepens and compassion expands.
With the seventh step, we are reminded of the preciousness of others. We not only wish to relieve their suffering but also guide them to happiness. We take action, no matter how small and have the strength of belief in ourselves to make a positive difference and benefit others. It is through practicing service for others, again and again and again, and easing countless sufferings that we discover and experience the true source of happiness.
In the book you give some lesson plans, how could a parent or a teacher that is not familiar with the methodology use these ideas? What do you recommend?
Firstly, we developed the lesson plans to be accessible to teachers, parents or anyone interested in the philosophy regardless of cultural and/or educational creed. People can either implement the specific lesson or adapt it accordingly. Although the lessons were developed for children three- to 10-years-old, they can be adapted for younger and older audiences, including adults. The philosophical points are universal. They should not be limited by lack of available materials or age groups, but rather be adapted to meet the needs of every age, gender and cultural group.
Pam Cayton spent ten years in Nepal studying Asian philosophy and religion and teaching English to Buddhist monks. During this time, Pam also organized courses in Buddhist philosophy and meditation for Western students and co-founded The Himalayan Yogic Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal. In 1988, Pam moved to the United States where she completed her Montessori training at Montessori World Education Institute and the ECE department of Cabrillo College. In 1989, she started Tara Redwood School with the aim of educating the whole child: to convey the joy of learning and also to provide a foundation for the emotional and inner development of each child. The success of Tara Redwood School encouraged Pam to found Creating Compassionate Cultures, and organization dedicated to developing training programs, tools and resources and share them with educators around the world.
PRACTICING DHARMA IN DAILY LIFE
By Pam Cayton
There are countless meditation possibilities to do with children. However, one needs to consider the child’s age and interest. These meditation practices below have been practiced at Tara Redwood School, but can be adapted to various settings and for all age groups.
In more recent years, mindfulness practices have become very popular and have now entered into mainstream society in the fields of health care, business, and more recently, schools. Research validates what practitioners for hundreds of years have found, that is, meditation benefits the body and mind.
Tara Redwood School teaches several different levels and types of meditation. In general, they can be divided into three main categories:
- Centering (i.e., focus on the breath)
- Reflection (i.e., analytical thinking)
This article will focus on the first kind of meditation, the category we call Centering. The sound of the gong signals that it is time to center. We at Tara Redwood School begin classes each day by gathering in a circle. At the beginning of the day, a child whose turn it is that day, chooses a Morning Intention. The child makes up her own intention or may choose the intention from helpful emotion cards or stones with words written on them. The intention card is placed on the altar or it may be written on a sentence strip and hung on the wall as a reminder throughout the day.
Alternatively, the class uses a sand mandala that is the symbolic representation of the classroom and the intention can be written down and placed in a bowl in the mandala’s center. Each of the children in the class may then take a colored stone and state what way they can make that wish come true throughout the day and then place it in the bowl. When everyone has placed their “wishing stone” in the bowl, it is placed in a prominent place as a reminder of what everyone is creating together.
The teacher rings the gong periodically throughout the day. Every time the gong sounds, the children stop what they are doing, stretch their hands up above their heads as they breath in and bring their hands back down to their heart level as they breath out. They then focus on their breath coming and going for three cycles and remember their morning intention. The gong used in this way regulates the energy and sets the rhythm for the day. The children are naturally practicing the art of centering and regulating their energy. It takes time to accustom the children to the practice and it is an excellent training for the teacher as well: the class and the teacher are all practicing self-regulation together.
A practice we have done with children ages 5 to 10 is an adaptation from a Thich Nhat Hahn practice. Each child is given a blue square of felt and a white square of felt. They are given 3 to 10 white beans or stones. (It is important to consider the simplicity of materials so as not to draw the focus away from the breath.)
These are placed on the white felt in front of them. When the gong is rung, children close their eyes and focus on their inhalation and exhalation. At the completion of one cycle, they move one bean from the white square to the blue square. White beans begin on the white felt because, just as is with our breath, we don’t really take notice it is there until we focus on it. However, it becomes very noticeable with attention, just like the white beans on the blue square.
Once the children are able to focus their attention for 3 to 10 breaths, depending on how many they started using, they can continue to add a bean a day. This becomes a wonderful way for the children to practice and continue to extend their concentration. Children can make little purses or containers for keeping their beans and felt together. This adds a special element of care and respect to the materials and practice.
We recommend helping your child create a little shrine or altar. At Tara Redwood School, we call this the Peace Place. The bean purse can be kept there as well as a little gong and various other items that symbolize peace for the child. The child can use this space as their own precious place to have some time alone, center, contemplate, resolve conflicts, regulate their emotions or simply find solace in silence.
Pam Cayton has worked since 1989 to create, implement and research strategies for awakening compassion, wisdom and social responsibility in the minds and hearts of children. Her projects include Tara Redwood School, a school for young children in California, and Creating Compassionate Cultures, an organization dedicated to providing trainings and materials to support holistic education for children based off of Essential Education principles.
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In my mind, one of the beauties of Buddhism is that it offers us a practical training for our mind. It does not say, ‘Bodhicitta is fantastic because Buddha said so!’ Instead, it gives us the methods for developing such an attitude and we can then see for ourselves whether it works or not, whether it is fantastic or not.
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