Love is the strongest force the world possesses, yet it is the humblest imaginable.
Welcome to our Family Program. This is a 12-month curriculum designed for families of all kinds–whether in our homes or in our classrooms–where we get a chance to deepen our practice of nonviolence with the help of children. As Gandhi pointed out, love is as humble as it is powerful–and who is more humble in our midst than the children that surround us at every turn? They are watching our choices; learning from our behaviors; listening to what we do and contrasting it with what we say; all while trying to make sense of the world, their place in it, and harnessing the great and latent powers they have to contribute to life around them. Indeed, a goal of this program is to help children find their inner potential.
In its essence, nonviolence is the practice of discovering and putting that force of love to work in ourselves and in the world, and we cannot think of a more appropriate place to begin to explore that force than in the family. What you are engaging in throughout this project is more than helping your own family or helping your own children grow and develop into a force for nonviolence in our world; you’re helping the structure of family itself rediscover its purpose (dharma): to be a heart-centered space for the transmission of life-affirmation and constructive values that connect all of us into one larger, massive human family.
The program will follow two main books: Gandhi Searches for Truth: A Practical Biography for Children and The Search for a Nonviolent Future. A supplement will be Eknath Easwaran’s God Makes the Rivers to Flow: Selections from the Sacred Literature of the World.
We will share simple exercises, food for thought, and activities for the participants in this program to begin or else deepen what nonviolence looks like in the home setting. You are warmly invited to expand on any topic/activity or branch out in any way that you feel is right for you. We want this to be both flexible and engaging.
Finally, this project is a work-in-progress, so your constructive feedback along the way is very welcome. Especially, please share with us your positive experiments or other materials that you have found useful.
Stephanie Van Hook, on behalf of the Metta Center Team
Activities for Month ONE
The following activities are options for you to implement as works best for your family throughout the entire month. None are very demanding, but each one requires of us our full presence of mind and heart. You are invited to be creative with the activities: find your own way to make it work for the children with whom you participating. Invite each other to add to the activities in ways that add to their meaning and beauty.
Here’s a list of the activities for the month.
Find descriptions below.
Co-creating a Nonviolence Altar
Family Meeting about Values
Gandhi Searches for Truth, Reading and Discussion (for whole family)
Search for a Nonviolent Future, Reading and Discussion (for older teens and adults)
Mealtimes and Mealtime Passage
Passage of the Month from the World’s Wisdom Traditions
Activity in Relationship to Nature
Each person in the family who knows how to write (or draw) should obtain a nonviolence journal for this family program journey. You will be invited to write your personal reflections in it throughout the program. Begin with answering the question: If I had the power to heal the world of one problem or illness, what would it be? Why?
Co-creating a Nonviolence Altar:
This activity is an invitation to dedicate a special corner of a room of your home to nonviolence by creating a nonviolence altar. The purpose of the altar is to act as a go-to space for self-calming; reminders of one’s highest ideals; a corner for listening and being heard; and for working out our problems when we want to draw from the tools and principles of nonviolence. Be creative in the setting up of your altar: add a small table and cover it with a beautiful cloth. Put a picture of some peacemakers on it who inspire you. Add a notebook for self-expression or sharing inspiration. Add a bell, etc. Invite each person in the family to add something that they feel represents them. Add a piece of nature to the altar. While setting up this space, be intentional. Each time you add something, make it a special offering. Maybe you want to add a small pillow to sit on. Try to make it inviting. We’ll be visiting this space regularly throughout our family program!
Family Meeting about Values:
This could take place around your nonviolence altar. Or in a space that you create intentionally to hold this meeting. Begin the meeting with something beautiful. Maybe a short song or a poem or an inspiring quote. Allow time for quiet reflection. Then, invite each member to share their highest values. Ask and answer the questions: Who are we as a family and what is the purpose of our family? What do we care about in the world? How do we hope to treat one another? What do we wish for one another? Invite a conversation about how we have a deep power within us for peace as individuals and how as a family we can expand ourselves into our wider community as a force for goodness. Invite some creative expression to wrap up the family meeting, such as coloring, singing, dancing, etc. Take time to journal about the meeting. We will suggest building on this family meeting each month.
Reading and Discussion with Children:
Gandhi Searches for Truth can help grown-ups and children have important conversations about ideas related to nonviolence. It’s most effective when we take our time with the content. Each chapter is divided into a quote, a story, and a nonviolence principle. The quote is intended largely for the older child/adult reader, but feel free to read and then explain it, in your own words, to the children with whom you are working.
Start with Chapter One. Read it on your own first. Take time to consider how you would put the quote and the content of the chapter into your own words. Depending on the age of the child, you may be called on to simply show the picture, read it through, and then explain in your own words. That’s OK. If the child is able to engage with the material (and I believe, if you are patient and creative, that this is possible as early as three years), ask them to put what they heard into their own words too. Ask the child to “read” it to you–to teach YOU about Mahatma Gandhi when he was a little boy.
Chapter One’s focus is Truth. Nonviolence draws upon the notion of a “new story” about who we are: we are not merely physical beings who are destined to compete for scarce resources and fight endlessly to satisfy our never ending physical cravings. We are mind, body, and spirit. We are interconnected with the whole of life. We cannot become safe or secure by harming others or ourselves. We are nonviolent and everyone has the capacity to draw from this innate power within to resolve our own and life’s toughest challenges.
Questions that might accompany this chapter and help us to dig deeper into the concepts of nonviolence are: What does it mean to tell the truth? What does it mean to search for Truth? What does it mean to live Truth? What can get in our way?
You may want to make a copy of the chapter’s illustration (or have the child/children draw it themselves) as well as take the Gandhi quote, and write it out on a piece of paper, decorate it, make it beautiful, and add these to your nonviolence altar for the month. When the month is over, you can choose to leave them on the altar, or create a book where you post your journey together, something to look back upon.
Reading and Discussion for Adults:
Read Chapter One of Search for a Nonviolent Future. Over the whole month. Take your time. In your journal, take notes on key ideas that strike you, or key passages that move/inspire you, as well as any questions you may have. Talk about these ideas with the other adult working with you on this program, and/or write them into the Metta Center.
Mealtimes and Mealtime Passage:
Mealtimes are a wonderful place to bring families together to share gratitude, listen to one another, and encourage each other in our highest ideals, as well as a time to practice our skills in grace and courtesy! Here’s a passage that you could memorize to use at mealtimes. (Do you have one you already use? Please, share!) With enough repetition, I am certain that even three-year-olds can learn it, but even if that doesn’t happen right away, know that they are absorbing the still moment and the words:
One Heart Grace
By Norman Fischer
(slightly adapted by Metta)
As we make ready to eat this food
we remember with gratitude
the many people, tools, animals, and plants,
air and water, sky and earth,
turned in the wheel of living and dying,
whose joyful exertion
provide our sustenance this day.
May we with the blessing of this food
join our hearts
to the one heart of the world
in awareness and love,
and may we together with everyone
never stop making effort
for the benefit of others.
Perhaps, before or after mealtime, your child would enjoy drawing what they hear and see in the above passage.
Passage of the Month from the World’s Wisdom Traditions:
Gandhi believed that children should receive a “reverential study of the world’s religions.” To this end, each month, we will share one passage from a different wisdom tradition from the book God Makes the Rivers to Flow by Eknath Easwaran. You can choose to read the passage together at your nonviolence altar. Mention the religion where it originated. Wish people who practice that religion safety and peace, and extend that desire to all people regardless of their religion. Read the passage daily or weekly at your altar together. Find creative ways of incorporating it into new activities, such as writing it down, discussing it, or even memorizing and meditating on it together. (For instructions in Passage Meditation, visit www.bmcm.org/learn).
For Month One, here is one of Gandhi’s favorites hymns, The True Lovers of God, by Hindu mystic Narsinha Mehta:
They are the real lovers of God
Who feel others’ sorrow as their own.
When they perform selfless service,
They are humble servants of the Lord.
Respecting all, despising none,
They are pure in thought, word, and deed.
Blessed is the mother of such a child,
And in their eyes the Divine Mother
Shines in every woman they see.
They are always truthful, even-minded,
Never coveting others’ wealth,
Free from all selfish attachments,
Ever in tune with the Holy Name.
Their bodies are like sacred shrines
In which the Lord of Love is seen.
Free from greed, anger, and fear,
These are the real lovers of God.
Activity in Relationship to Nature:
Nonviolence to be nonviolence has to be applied not only to our relationships with ourselves and with other people–we have to include all of life: nature!
Take time to go into nature together to observe and listen. Find at least 30 minutes (a week, all month, or at whatever frequency feels right for your situation). While in this setting make an agreement to leave distracting objects turned off (if possible) and choose not to take any object out of the environment, no matter how beautiful, as a way to honor nature’s artistry. Find silence together, and seek out neat spaces to slow down and take a listen to what Mother Nature has to share with us.