Thich Nhat Hanh writes on ‘pebble meditation’ that the Plum Village Community in France follows to practise mindfulness with children
Many years ago, we had a retreat for children in Santa Barbara, California. Many hundreds of children came for the retreat, and their parents came to support them. During that retreat, we invented pebble meditation.
You may practise pebble meditation at the foot of a tree, in your living room, or wherever you like, but the place should be quiet. You will need a small bell. You can elect one person to lead the pebble meditation session, and whomever you choose should know how to invite the bell to sound. Each of you can select four pebbles from nature.
If you are with friends, you may invite one or two adults to join you in pebble meditation. Sit in a circle. In the centre, you may put a flower. After bowing to the flower, sit beautifully in the lotus position (with legs crossed and both feet resting on opposite thighs), or in whatever position you like. What is important is that you find a position that is comfortable for you.
First Pebble: Put the four pebbles next to you on your left. Pick up the first pebble, look at it, and then hold it in the palm of your hand. You can rest this hand in the palm of your other hand.
The first pebble represents a flower. “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh — flower-fresh.” Breathe in and out three times, reciting “flower” with each in-breath and “fresh” with each out breath.
If during the practice you can see yourself as a flower and you feel fresh, then you have succeeded. When you are finished, place it down on your right.
Second Pebble: Now pick up the second pebble that represents a mountain. “Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid — mountain-solid.” Say this to yourself as you breathe in and out three times.
Believe it or not, there is a mountain inside each of us. You sit in a very stable position with your back straight and relaxed in a way that makes you feel solid. The best position for practising this is the lotus position or the half-lotus position because you are very firm. Even if someone comes and pushes you or provokes you, you stay solid; you are not carried away by your anger, fear, worry, or despair. You can stay calm, even in the face of provocation and threats. No one can make you afraid anymore.
Third Pebble: The third pebble represents still water. “Breathing in, I see myself as still water; breathing out, I reflect things as they are — still water, reflecting.” The surface of a lake that is very still, reflects mountains, clouds, and trees around it perfectly.
When you are calm, when you are still, you see things as they truly are. You don’t distort things and you are not a victim of wrong perceptions that bring about fear, anger, and despair. When you are not calm, you perceive things incorrectly and you are confused; you misunderstand people and yourself. If you are tranquil and peaceful, your perceptions will be more accurate. With the third pebble, I want to cultivate stillness and calm.
Fourth Pebble: The last pebble represents space and freedom. “Breathing in, I see myself as space, breathing out, I feel free — space, free.” Space is freedom, and freedom is the foundation of true happiness — freedom from fear, craving, anger, despair, from our projects and worries. The Buddha is someone who is utterly free. That is why his happiness is great. Breathing in, you bring a lot of space into yourself. Breathing out, you bring a lot of space to your beloved ones.
If you love someone, try to offer him more space within and around him and he will be happy. In the art of ikebana or flower arranging, you learn that each flower needs space around her to radiate her beauty. Human beings are like this also. Everyone needs some space inside and around us to be truly happy. If we love someone, we should offer him enough space, inside and outside.
If you have freedom and you can offer freedom, you are a true lover. You don’t imprison yourself and you don’t imprison the person you love. You love freedom in your heart, and you offer freedom to her. Pebble meditation can help children and adults cultivate more freshness, solidity, stillness, and freedom. It can be done anywhere, with pleasure and without difficulty. n