meditating with children

in Salamanca, SpainPhotos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

So you’re starting a meditation practice. With a child. Yes, this is possible. And bravo to you! You’re in for a treat. And so is the child who’s about to benefit mightily from learning to quiet his or her mind.

Of course you’re wondering, But how will he/she sit still long enough? Ah, that’s the rub. Below are three keys for creating a successful meditation moment with your child. Likewise, I’d love for you to share yours, if you’ve got a few that work well for you.

First key. Create a quiet, comfortable, distraction-free space. This means no. Other. Noise. Literally. Goose and I do his meditation in the morning, early, before phones begin to ring or texts begin to arrive or other family members begin to be up and doing. Because kids are easily distracted anyway, front loading the experience so it’s interference-free can mean the difference between a profoundly quiet moment or a total bust. We also opt for early morning light rather than artificial light of any kind. Something about the time before sun-up works perfectly for us. Though I have a particular position I like for my own practice, with Goose, we simply sit side by side on the couch. He crosses his legs pretzel style and keeps his hands relaxed, palms up, on his thighs–a way to signal his openness to the creative energy he desires to connect with.

Second key. Breathing matters. Really matters. As his guide, I start the meditation by having him breathe in deep, right from his gut, then hold it for a couple of seconds, just to pull air deep into his body. Since I practice Japa, which involves making a slow “Ahhh” sound on the exhale, I’m teaching him to do likewise. As he breathes out, he simply says “Ahhh.” The sound doesn’t have to be generated with the voice; it can be whispered and still be a powerful lever for focusing and quieting the mind.  I’ve been surprised to see how quickly he falls quiet and still with breathing as the initial mechanism. I pause frequently throughout the meditation to guide his breathing.

Third key.  I provide the mental infrastructure for the meditation, and I do this by narrating a story–one of my own making. My objectives are simple. First, I want him to identify through an empowered ‘self’ (he’s the main character!) going on a brief but intriguing journey of some kind. Second, I want the journey to be vivid enough that he feels he’s there, experiencing it. Third, I want him to feel deeply empowered in both mind and heart once we conclude the exercise.

Our first time, I had him imagine that he was in a Redwood grove, where he free-climbed a giant Redwood tree. Could he do that in real life? Nope. Can he do it in a meditation exercise? Absolutely. Moreover, when we finished, he confessed to being amazed at how real it felt–how much like lived experience. But then that’s the power of a good practice: you can go places in your mind that you’d never be able to go otherwise. And the feeling of doing the impossible proves real enough, potent enough, that you’re transformed–maybe just the tiniest bit, but you are.

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Already, Goose describes the benefits of going deep into a quietly imagined moment in which he is both journeyer and hero. He says he feels calmer, that he trusts himself more. In these meditations, he is a kind of Odysseus, scaling mountains, seeing through the eyes of Bald eagles, diving deep as he searches for sea creatures, venturing into mountain caves in search of rare gems, and finding–wherever he wanders–that real power always resides within.

In a time when gadgets rule the day; when each new form of digital wizardry dazzles and distracts, the wisdom of going deep into oneself might seem like a less-than-impressive place to find the Answers. But one of the greatest benefits of any meditation practice is the way learning to empty your mind in order to refocus it in more intuitive directions actually connects you to the real locus of your power. For every practitioner, that locus feels a little different, but it’s there, and tapping into it unlocks hidden but rich reserves of very real strength.

Being a 21st Century Kid is a fraught business. Why not navigate it knowing how truly fit you really are to do so?

Jaén, Spain

Stay tuned for thoughts about how to craft the perfect meditation narrative!

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Silas happy with ballooon_5215 Photos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

Answering to the name of “Goose,” the youngest member of our family frequently struggles with a problem common to many otherwise healthy eleven year olds. I call it the I Stink At Everything Syndrome, and it manifests thusly.

One. Said eleven year old scores two goals for his team during a soccer game, let’s say. During the second half of the game, when he is put in as goalie, the other team scores two goals. The only post-game thoughts of which this boy is now capable include self-torturing variations of “It’s like I didn’t even score in the first half!” or “Gah!!–how could I have let those balls get past me??” or “I stink as goalie . . . WHY did coach leave me in for so long??”

Silas starts kicking the balloon_5150

Two. Said eleven year old is required to write an essay for a testing exercise at school, let’s say, an endeavor that results in an outbreak of self-doubt and accompanying self-flagellation likely to mortify even the most pitiable Dan Brown character (i.e., Da Vinci Code’s crazy monk).

Three. Said eleven year old notices that a couple of neighborhood friends have congregated for some outdoor playtime–without him. Ipso facto, this means that he has permanently fallen out of favor, that our doorbell will never ring again, that some vague conspiracy has begun whose stated goal is “Leave Goose Out Of The Fun, Forever.”

I ask you: what is a mother to do?

Well, I’ve pondered that question long and hard, and I’ll tell you what doesn’t work–like suggesting that such patterns (failing to catch soccer balls arcing over your head, for instance) are merely temporary. Wow, big mistake. All this does is reinforce a child’s certainty that his mother doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to be the victim of an unhappy fate. Another thing that never works?–suggesting that there might be some valuable take-away or learning that could put everything into meaningful perspective (completing an essay on a topic you loathe, for example, which then serves as a lever for teaching you that you actually can do hard things, and do them well). The fact that a mother has logic and wisdom on her side doesn’t make a lick of difference to a kid who has convinced himself that his is the Worst Life Ever. And finally, one thing that really doesn’t work is suggesting that perhaps the neighborhood chums aren’t deliberately leaving anyone out; they’ve just gotten something going, and now it’s, well, going. It happens all the time, I pointed out one day not too long ago. Nobody’s fault, I added. Go join the game, I urged. (Note: advice like this is often met with The Stare, which communicates a child’s contempt for motherly wisdom as surely as if he’d said, “Could you BE any thicker?”)

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And then, recently–maybe a month ago–I took up a meditation practice. I’d gone in fits and starts over the years–flirted with it, in other words. But I’d never been consistent. So it was with the most profound sense of humility and delight that I realized: If a mother can a) quiet her mind long enough to connect with her bliss, and b) do it for upwards of thirty days, why couldn’t she teach her eleven year old to do it, too? Stranger things have been attempted, am I right??

Silas ambling with balloon_5210

And so, maybe a week ago, I began in earnest, my primary objective being to stage a moment of effective meditation with/for Mr. Goose. Starting out, I had three very simple goals. One, teach him how to breathe and how to attend to his breathing. Two, help him experience the bliss of escaping from thinking patterns that sabotage healthy self-esteem and well-being. Three, like it well enough to want to do it again.

The good news. He not only liked it, he LOVED it! The equally good news. His sudden fascination with the art of quieting the mind promises to keep my imagination busy and my skills sharp for many weeks to come.

Tomorrow: three crucial tips for a successful meditation session with your child.

Silas walking along with balloon_5207

Check out the post from which these photos were taken, featuring Goose with an abandoned, yellow balloon in the town of St. Remy, in Provence, France.

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