Starting up “Families and Children in LA”

by Laura Burnham

Storyteller Angela Lloyd (with autoharp) is joined by an angel named Laila and Laura Burnham. Los Angeles Shambhala Art Day 2009.Storyteller Angela Lloyd (with autoharp) is joined by an angel named Laila and Laura Burnham. Los Angeles Shambhala Art Day 2009.

Four years ago at a large gathering of our Los Angeles sangha, one of the newer participants spoke from her heart about how much she regretted that there wasn’t any Shambhala program in place for her daughter. Five year old Maya was sitting on her dad’s lap a few feet away.

As a participant at this gathering, I was haunted by this appeal. A few weeks later I made a commitment to start “Family Sundays” child care every first Sunday of the month, in order that parents could join the regular nyinthun session and practice. I hoped that this would also mean that the children could get acquainted with each other. Parents would connect on those Sundays as well. There was no dedicated space to meet, so child care usually took place in one end of the community room, just outside the shrine room. Supplies consisted of a suitcase full of art materials and stuffed animals, plus a bag of children’s books.

Now, four years later, we still have regular Family Sundays. We also have an email list of over 30 families that are kept in the loop for family programs. In addition to Children’s Day, we usually have a half-day of children’s creative activities in the Shambhala Arts Festival. Midsummer’s Day has also been a time for families to come together with other sangha people in outdoor settings. At this point our “Family Groups” meet on the third Sunday of each month on a Sunday afternoon: children meet for their “Tiger Cubs” group with two creative long-time sangha women, and parents do “Present Parenting,” led by two of our newer, devoted moms. This fall at least 3 children will do Rites of Passage for 8-10 year olds. Maya will be among them.

Too often local centers cannot get a Families program going because those who want it the most are so busy with work and their own families that it’s just not doable. When this is true, someone else has to take the lead. As a newly retired elementary school and preschool teacher with just enough time to do Family Sundays, I was the perfect volunteer for this effort. I kept a data base of the new families who came those Sundays and invited them to everything offered for families. Last year I was joined by another committed sangha member. Several of our work-study people assisted with child care on an ongoing basis. We have also been fortunate to have master storyteller Angela Lloyd in our sangha. Angela’s interactions with children and their parents actually manifested the Shambhala teachings and drew people back again and again.

Now we find ourselves with a core group of five families, in which the parents are ongoing participants in adult Shambhala programs. Several other families are on the verge of becoming active Shambhalians. And then there are the many other families that come to us because they are searching for some kind of sanity, a community where their kids can grow up with similar values. These folks may come for awhile, disappear, and then reappear again a year later. And so it goes. It’s all part of the flow.

What we’ve learned is that children and their parents CAN have a place in their local Shambhala community. For starters, it takes at least one committed adult, a small space for Sunday morning child care to happen, and some simple children’s books, toys and art materials. It is important that the “committed person” is someone who can attract others over time to join in this endeavor. Ultimately, getting a “Families and Children” program started in local centres is about sharing the dharma well into the future, and ensuring that our mandala continues to grow and thrive.

At this point in LA we’re looking at how to further introduce the essence of the Shambhala teachings in a way that will resonate with both those who come for the first time, as well as those who have been engaged with our sangha for some time. We are attempting to formulate a View that answers: How can we raise children using fewer “shoulds” (hope & fear) and more basic goodness? Building such a curriculum is fascinating and essential. We welcome your input!

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