In this episode, Catherine Bailey talks about the characters in her children’s book Dinos Don’t Meditate and shares a 30-second meditation you can do with your kids. Then, author and Zen teacher Vanessa Zuisei Goddard talks about her children’s book Weather Any Storm in which the “Wildering Billies” are a metaphor for waves of emotion that create an inner storm, plus a short breathing meditation for kids.
Sandra Hannebohm: Welcome to the Lion’s Roar podcast from the publishers of Lion’s Roar magazine and Buddhadharma, The Practitioner’s Guide. I’m Sandra Hannebohm.
What do children, grownups, and dinosaurs have in common? Most don’t meditate. That’s why the author Catherine Bailey wrote Dinos Don’t Meditate, a children’s book which introduces us to two characters – Sam, who likes to chill, and Rex, who likes to play. When Sam wants to take a break from playing, Rex becomes curious. What’s so great about being still? Stillness. Something children and adults struggle to practice. Today, Catherine Bailey talks to Ross Nervig about teaching meditation to kids and shares a 30-second practice you can do with your kids.
Then, Vanessa Zuisei Goddard, the author of another children’s book titled, Weather Any Storm, talks to Buddhadharma deputy editor Mariana Restrepo about the characters she calls “the Wildering Billies” – a metaphor for stress, worry, and anxiety – waves of emotion that tend to cause quite a stir, or in other words, an inner storm. But as the book description says, by imagining yourself as a ship anchored by your breath, you can learn to ride through the storms of life to smoother waters. Plus, Zuisei Goddard shares a short breathing practice to help your children and yourself weather any storm.
Ross Nervig: So, Catherine Bailey is here with me today. Catherine is the award-winning author of multiple picture books. Prior to writing kids’ books, Catherine’s been a lawyer, sailboat deckhand, and an intern for Cartoon Network. She lives in Florida with her husband and two children. Welcome Catherine.
Catherine Bailey: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so tickled to be here.
Ross Nervig: So, how did you come to meditation? Any relationship with Buddhism?
Catherine Bailey: Uh, well, I wish I could say yes, that I was a good, calm person who practiced meditation since like, I came out of the womb. But no, I’m a very hyper person who came to it much later in life; much needed later in life. I really started doing it after I had children, and I was home alone with them, and I had given up. You give up not too much, but you know a lot when you become a parent. And I had friends who meditated and did yoga and I thought, now that could be something that I do just for me. I can do it anywhere. I can do it anytime for any amount of time. So it fit in really well; it tied in really well with me becoming a parent, to be honest.
So I probably started doing meditation semi-regularly about 10 or so years ago. But no, I certainly didn’t do it when I was younger. I wish I had. But I came to it late in life.
Ross Nervig: So, coming out via Sounds True, Dinos Don’t Meditate features two characters, the rough-and-tumble Rex and the serene sauropod Sam, as the most unlikely of best friends. Yet when Sam takes a break from play to meditate, his buddy Rex just doesn’t get it. Why would anybody want to sit still and chill when they could be romping and roaring all day?
So, what sparked the idea for Dinos Don’t Meditate? Why dinosaurs?
Catherine Bailey: Well, dinosaurs, I can totally blame my husband for this. When we met and started dating, I very quickly realized he is obsessed with T-Rex’s. In fact, for our wedding, people register for china and stuff, but he registered for a giant T-Rex head, which we still have mounted in our living room. If this was a video, I could go down there and show you.
But yes, so I wanted always as a children’s book writer, you mine what’s around you for inspiration. I always wanted to write a dinosaur book, and so it was my husband who gave me the idea for dinosaurs and turning it into dinosaurs plus meditation actually came from the publisher somewhat. I had already done a book with them called Dinos Don’t Do Yoga, and it had been received very well, and we were talking about a follow-up book, so I brainstormed what else would dinosaurs not do. And of course, dinosaurs, like every other character in a book are standing in for children. And children don’t like to do a lot of things, like eat vegetables and take naps. Especially not when you wanna take a nap. It’s so frustrating. But anyway, I thought to myself, well they didn’t wanna do yoga. I bet they wouldn’t wanna meditate either. No little kid wants to stop playing to take like a breath break. So that’s kind of how I blended the two. My husband’s love for dinosaurs, I’d already written a yoga book, and meditation just tied in so nicely with that. And again, it was something that most kids, a lot of kids, unfortunately, don’t think about doing.
Ross Nervig: So why do you think kids need to learn about meditation?
Catherine Bailey: Ah, well, having gone through, I mean, I’m on the, I’m, I like to call it the other side, you know, my kids are 11 and 13 now, but having gone through especially toddler years, which is what picture books are often geared toward, that, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, they are still learning about everything, you know, that their teeth fall out and they have to tie shoes and learn the alphabet, but they also have to learn a little bit, I think about self.
And that was another reason why I wanted to write this book. There’s a million books about how to brush your teeth and go to bed and be nice to your friends. But I don’t think there’s a lot of books for children that teach them how to take care of themselves. And like I was saying earlier, meditation was such a critical skill for me as a new mom to do something just for me.
I wanted to impart that to kids, because kids don’t, I don’t think you come out, most people don’t come out going, I should stop and take a deep breath. Like, who does that? Like, adults don’t do that. A three-year-old’s not gonna do that. So maybe, hopefully, this book can show some kids like, hey, there’s value to that.
There’s value to learning to take a break and step away. And it actually makes you stronger and better if you can teach yourself to do it. But to me, it’s a life skill that everybody needs. And yes, if we can get a hyperactive four-year-old who can do it all themselves and doesn’t need anything, to learn to do that, I think that’d be awesome.
Ross Nervig: Totally. I totally agree. I have a toddler myself, and he needs to take a breath every once in a while, so…
Catherine Bailey: And he’s not gonna volunteer to do it. You gotta teach him to ask for it. Yeah.
Ross Nervig: Exactly. So this book gets at a theme that I really appreciate – changing one’s perception of themselves. The world is full of people who probably think meditation, not for me. I remember I was quite resistant to the practice before I gave in. Did you have a similar experience? Are you more of a Rex or more of a Sam?
Catherine Bailey: Oh yes. I am such, I’m such a Rex. I am a go, go. I talk a lot. I am always moving around, so I am the total Rex. I did not want to ever meditate. And again, like I said before, I didn’t really do it when I was younger, and I probably should’ve. So I remember the first few times trying to do it, and you’re thinking I must close my eyes and cross my legs and be out in the backyard, and there has to be mist and maybe like a candle.
And you have all these misconceptions, but I had two toddlers, so I learned really quickly just to grab those moments, whether it was in the pantry with the door shut or in the morning in the shower. I kind of taught myself, and I looked online and got some tips like on how to do it.
But yes, in the beginning, it was not for me. It was a struggle. But you tap on a really important topic. Like if Catherine Bailey can do this, anybody can do this. Anybody, if a new mom can do it, if a busy dad can do it, anybody can meditate. But it is not something that a lot of people think that they can do.
Or they have these preconceived notions that you have to be wearing like leggings. And have like a pan flute playing in the background and like a water fountain. You don’t need any of that. And if I can communicate that to people and show them like I figured out myself years ago, that’d be a really cool thing to get across.
Ross Nervig: Why is it important for kids and the adults reading to them to receive this message?
Catherine Bailey: I think it’s important for people to realize that there’s value in taking time for yourself. There’s value in the pauses that we give ourselves. Because otherwise, you can miss stuff. You can go so fast that you are not present. That’s kind of more of an adult thing, but with all the social media and everything, we’re all trying to juggle so many things and our kids and all these lessons and making sure they eat these vegetables.
We miss the little moments where they are becoming people, and if you can learn to kind of slow yourself down as an adult, you’ll catch those things, you won’t miss as much, and the same goes for kids too. I also think they’ll get more enjoyment out of life if they can just take a break and step back and watch.
And sometimes meditation isn’t so much about having some deep revelation. Or again, it’s not at all about wind chimes and like communing with nature. Sometimes it’s just about like noticing what’s going on around you and learning how to stop and look around.
And I think that’s an important lesson for kids, because I don’t want them to miss things. Also, kids can really work themselves up where they don’t know how to work themselves down. Again, that’s a life skill that I think everybody should learn. And if we can teach it to little toddlers, all the better for us. I mean, it’s a little selfish. It’s a little selfish for us. You know? If we can teach ’em to calm down, that helps us.
Ross Nervig: Oh, so true. So like I said, I’m the parent of a rambunctious 4-year-old. What’s the best advice you can give me about teaching the little ones to meditate?
Catherine Bailey: Well, I doubt you need any advice. I’m sure you have this covered. But for somebody who might need advice, I have two little girls, and they were hyper like me, and I figured out pretty quickly that I like this meditation stuff and I wanted them to do it. And the number one thing I figured out by doing it wrong several times was timing was key.
So if they were in the middle of a tantrum and I was like, hey, let’s meditate, that was gonna go nowhere, right? So for me, I would wait until a time of day, a time in our routine where it felt natural to take a break, whether that was bedtime or maybe when I was putting them down for a nap, or even if they’re eating a snack. Well, my kids eat snacks every 20 minutes, but when they were already having a break in their day. That was the first time I tried to say, hey, do you guys wanna sit with me for a minute and maybe just count down and do some of these little, I made it kind of like a game, but if they were already in the middle of a tantrum, if they’re in the middle of an art project, if they’re in the middle of something on their, you know, some movie with a friend over, it’s just about timing is what I’m in a very long-winded way trying to say. So timing…
Ross Nervig: That’s great. That’s great. I’m gonna try that right before bedtime with him. At the end of the book, Catherine has added a few meditations listeners and their little ones can try. She’s going to treat us to one of those now.
Catherine Bailey: Oh, thank you so much for letting me do this. I do, I have a couple things at the back of the book. One is titled Meditation Rocks, and it’s just sort of, uh, an overview of meditation, and then it gives you an example. You were talking about doing something at bedtime. That’s a great one for bedtime.
But I also have these ones called mini-meditations, and you can do these in 30 seconds or less. I’ve had a lot of teachers say that they incorporate them into the classroom. And when you have many kids, you know, timing, timing is, again, important to keep it short. So, I’m going to do one, if we have any dinosaurs listening, big or small, I’m going to do one that I like to call the claw, a mini-meditation called the claw.
So I’m gonna ask that you hold your hand. It can be one or both, whatever you like. Put both hands out. Let’s do both hands. Stretch those fingers way out wide, and then relax ’em. Now holding just one hand out in front of you, like a claw, with your fingers spread out wide.
With the other hand, slowly trace each finger while you gently breathe in and out. In and out as you come down that finger and in and out, just really paying attention to how your finger feels touching your hand, and you’re just taking this breath slowly in and out. Now if you want, you can switch hands and repeat on the other side of you.
So we put one hand out, and then we trace each finger in and out and in and out. Feeling skin on skin, and finger on finger. And then, just like we started, we’re gonna put both hands out in front of us. We’re gonna squeeze those dinosaur claws into little fists, and with a big breath, we’re gonna release.
And there you go, all of 45 seconds, and you and your little one have taken a break and meditated. Sort of in a kid way.
Ross Nervig: Wonderful. Well, thank you, Catherine.
Catherine Bailey: Thank you so much. I have had an absolute blast, and I don’t think you need it, but good luck with your 4-year-old.
Ross Nervig: Thank you so much.
Sandra Hannebohm: Next, Vanessa Zuisei Goddard talks to Buddhadharma deputy editor, Mariana Restrepo about the characters she calls “the Wildering Billies” – a metaphor for stress, worry, and anxiety. Waves of emotion that tend to cause quite a stir, or in other words, an inner storm.
Mariana Restrepo: Welcome to the Lion’s Roar podcast. I am Mariana Restrepo, Deputy Editor of Buddhadharma, the Practitioner’s Guide, and I’m here today with author and Zen teacher Zuisei Goddard. Welcome Zuisei, and thank you so much for being with us here today.
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: Thank you, Mariana. Thank you for having me.
Mariana Restrepo: So today we’ll be discussing your new book, which is a children’s book titled Weather Any Storm. So to start, can you tell us about your book and what the book is about?
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: Sure. Some time ago, I put together a kind of visualization, I guess you could say, to simplify the process of working with the breath during meditation. To imagine yourself as a boat out at sea, the sea of your mind, and to use the breath as an anchor, anchoring you to the deep stillness and quiet at the bottom.
And so that no matter what storms are raging up on the surface, that, with your breath, you’re tethered, you’re grounded to that stillness and that quiet. And then, in the process of doing that, I realized, oh, I could really do this with kids. It would be a useful approach to introducing them to meditation.
And so, I developed it a little bit more and decided to try to do a children’s book, which I had never done before. But this was the result of that, the process of trying to find a way to express, to offer this meditation in a way that would be engaging and fun for kids.
Mariana Restrepo: Can you tell us about other ways that you had worked with children before and how they inspired this book? What was it that inspired you to write a book to help them with meditation?
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: I’ve worked with kids my whole life. I was a camp counselor, I tutored, I taught drawing, and when I went to live at Zen Mountain Monastery, I was one of the people leading what we called Zen Kids, a monthly program for children ages about three to ten. And, we really taught them about Buddhism in, uh, we, we used to call it the backdoor approach.
So, in the beginning, it wasn’t so focused on the teachings of Buddhism per se, but we really used play and the outdoors and a lot of art and things like that to communicate some of the principles of Buddhism, and we always taught them meditation from the beginning. I always felt that it was important to show to kids that stillness and quiet are both very powerful and very normal. That they’re not weird as they can often be perceived in our world. And so from the moment they came to the program, no matter how young they were, they started doing meditation. We did about, we did five minutes of meditation, but they sat completely still eventually through, throughout.
So I always thought that to share that with them early on was important and then that they could choose whether they decided to share that with them was important, and then they could choose whether to continue it as a practice on their own or not. But I saw our work as just planting that seed.
Mariana Restrepo: What was the process of writing about Buddhist concepts and meditation for children different than writing for an adult audience? Were there any specific challenges or unique considerations that you faced during writing this book?
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: Well, the main thing, of course, is that I wrote it in verse in rhyming verse because I want it to be fun, right? I want it to be engaging. I wanted it to be playful, and I love words. And so I wanted that alliteration and the imagery to come across.
Partly also to communicate that meditation can be fun, that it isn’t something that you do just because it’s good for you, and that it’s not all about being quiet, although that is at the heart of it. But that the way that I communicated this could, um, if I did my job well, that it would show that other aspect of it, the playful aspect of it, which I think, of course, the illustrations that Patty did for the book really help with that. They show that, um, in a visual way.
So the main thing was that, that I was really playing with words and with the rhythm of the writing to communicate what is at heart a simple concept, although it’s not an easy practice, but it’s simply to be with your breath, to let your mind settle down naturally.
Mariana Restrepo: I think you did a great job. I had a chance to read the book, and I read it with my son, and, even when I read it by myself first, before I read it to him, just kind of, yeah, like the rhythm of the words just kind of really got you into, into that rhythm, into that motion of like settling down and just kind of settling into your body and breath. So that was really wonderful.
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: I did have a chance to read the book to my son, and he had a question for you. Let’s see if you can, if I can play this for you, and you can hear well…
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: Oh, wonderful.
Mariana’s Son: Who are the Billies? Why do they make trouble all over the place?
Mariana Restrepo: So he wants to know who are the Billies and why do they make trouble all over the place.
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: That is an excellent question. And yes, this was part of what I, myself, was reflecting on after reading the completed book. Um, cause I don’t know that came across as clearly.
I see the Billies as that part of us that makes things worse when we’re upset. Those thoughts that just are sticky, right? That we can’t let go of, and that make us feel more overwhelmed. So it was like taking that little, those little bits of our minds and giving them shape, creating them, or turning them into creatures. And so the Wildering Billies are those parts of us that kind of get sucked into the chaos, that get sucked into that feeling of overwhelm and that need taming.
As the practice at the end says, that is part of the work is to recognize that we’re stuck in a, in an emotional storm and in a mental storm, and that then we can make it worse by the way we use our minds. But if we use our breath to calm the Billies, to tame the Billies, then it gets easier to ride those waves without getting thrown off the boat.
Mariana Restrepo: Yeah. And that leads me to my next question. So how can the breath help children and, you know, adults alike regulate the difficult emotions?
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: Because it centers you in the body first and foremost. So when we’re upset, we immediately go to our heads, and we start telling ourselves stories about what is happening, what we’re thinking, what we’re feeling. And so putting our attention on the breath grounds us, embodies us, reminds us of our physicality.
And so I think, first and foremost, it just connects us with our physical being. And as we know now from all the various studies, both in the fields of psychology and neurology and physiology, that what is happening with the body is not just intimately connected. I mean, in Buddhism, we would say it’s unified. It’s one thing with what is happening in the mind.
And so here we’re using this most fundamental aspect of the functioning of our bodies to get out of our head and into that quiet. That natural quiet, I feel that all of us gravitate towards if we give ourselves a chance. It’s just that so often, we’re talking so loud to ourselves mostly, right? And we’re moving so fast and so slowing down and really being with the breath brings everything, strips everything to its fundamentals. ‘Cause you can’t breathe wrong.
Mariana Restrepo: Right. Yeah, that’s, that, that, that is really helpful. And that’s like one of the things that I’m constantly trying to teach my son. Just like, take a pause and breathe. You know, when anything comes up, let’s take a pause and breathe. So, we’ve really been using your book to kind of get that point across to him.
So, as parents, it’s also important to tame our Billies, and sometimes it is really hard to remain calm as we try to help our kids through a tantrum or a difficult emotion. What advice do you have for parents in taming their own Wildering Billies?
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: To acknowledge because we have a little bit more capacity than a 4-year-old, for example, to see what is happening as it’s happening. And so to first of all, acknowledge the storm. Acknowledge that it’s there. Acknowledge that we’re in the midst of it, and then to remember that we don’t have to get thrown off once again.
But there’s nothing wrong with the storms. They’re just a normal part of life. To be calm, to be stable, doesn’t mean that the ocean is always flat. it’s not a swimming pool. It just means that we know how to ride the wave. And so, in my mind, the first step is just to acknowledge I’m in a storm, I am feeling unsettled, and there is something I can do to help myself ride this more smoothly.
Mariana Restrepo: In one part of the book, you ask the reader to kind of picture what kind of boat they are. So he had a final question for you…
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: Okay.
Mariana’s Son: What kind of boat are you?
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: What kind of boat? Um, I would be a sailboat. I live in a place where I actually see sailboats floating by, especially on the weekends, and I just love how smoothly they glide. So I would definitely be a sailboat.
Mariana Restrepo: Well, thank you, Zuisei, for being here with us today. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure, and please thank your son for me. He had wonderful questions.
Sandra Hannebohm: Now enjoy Zuisei Goddard’s seven steps to tame the Billies.
Vanessa Zuisei Goddard: When we’re upset, it can really feel as if we’re tiny boats in the huge ocean of our minds, and it can feel as if there’s a storm raging all around us and as if from one end of our deck to the other is a hoard of the Wildering Billies, and these are these weird and wooly creatures. The representation of our thoughts, of our feelings that make the storm feel worse. That part of us that feels that it’s just all too much. It’s too much to hold.
But we can tame the Billies. We can use our breath to tame the Billies and to ride these storms in our minds, in our lives. And the meditation is very simple. It has seven steps.
The first step is to stop. When you’re upset, stop. If you’re talking as it’s happening, stop. If you’re walking or you’re running, stop. If you’re arguing with someone, stop. So whatever you are doing, you stop, and you take a moment to get very quiet because this confuses the Billies, and there’s no creature quieter than a confused Billy.
Step two. Imagine. So here you close your eyes, and you imagine yourself as that boat out at sea, and you see in your mind’s eye its size, its shape, its color. You can decide how many sails it has or if it has a motor. You can imagine the waves floating under you. You can imagine the clouds floating above you. You can feel the breeze blowing around you. You want to make a detailed picture of this boat in your mind. And then, when you have it, imagine all the Billies huddled on deck, yelling and screaming.
Step three, breathe. Breathe in. And imagine your boat going up a wave. Breathe out and see it. Float slowly down. Breathe in and out, and see if you can match the rhythm of your breath to the rhythm of the waves. So your boat rises and falls in the great ocean of your mind.
Step four, anchor. Now, see your breath as a rope with an anchor at its end, and you throw it overboard. And you see it go all the way down to the bottom of the ocean where it just holds fast in the sand, and all the way down there, it is quiet. It is still. There are no Billies at the bottom of the ocean. There are no waves.
Step five, breathe once again. So you go up a wave, down a wave, and just feel how your mind starts to quiet, starts to settle. Remind yourself the Billies like chaos. They don’t like quiet, but as you breathe slowly and mindfully, the Billies get bored. They don’t have anything to do, and so they just quiet down as swell. Breathe in. Breathe out. And feel your belly going up and down with those waves.
Number six, wave. But this is a different wave. Now you’re waving with your hand, you’re waving to the Wildering Billies as you leave them behind. Now they’re huddled on a rock, and they’re staring, sadly, out at sea without anything to do as you float away on your quiet boat. And there they are behind you, just waiting for another boat to float by so they can mess with it, but they can no longer mess with your boat.
And step seven, share. You can share this meditation with your parents, with your siblings, with your friends. Tell them about the boat. Tell them about the ocean. Tell them about the Billies that make things so hard. Tell them about your breath, the rope, and the anchor, and remind them that when they get upset, they can use their breath to quiet down. Because no matter how tall the waves, no matter how big the storm, there is no storm that your breath cannot weather.
Sandra Hannebohm: Thanks for listening.
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