mindfulness

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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Inspired by one of my favorite features of the Oprah magazine, the very beautiful “Breathing Space” spread, I thought I’d give us all an image to meditate on today. My husband took this photo several months back, just outside Regensberg, Germany, on the Danube.

Looking at it, I feel, well, quiet. Which is unusual. My mind is seldom a quiet place.

Recently, I was reading an interview–Gwyneth Paltrow having a conversation with mindfulness guru-turned-author Andy Puddicombe–where a meaningful idea came together for me.  He points out that if we’ve always had a busy mind, we may wonder whether it could ever be any different.  He goes on to say that busy minds often dwell on the past or the future and as a result never access the freedom that comes from settling into the present moment.  I thought about that, about where my thoughts seem to go when they’re picking up speed.  And guess what?–guilty!  I’m habitually in the future, trying to goal-set, plan, project forward.  Not bad, except . . . what about the moment I’m IN?

May I jump to our children for a moment?  My happiest moments with my kids involve just sinking into joy, to borrow a phrase from the amazing Brene Brown.  Today, on my way to the library four blocks away, I had a daughter on either arm.  There we were, the three of us, walking together to the library, joined at the elbows.  For a moment, my thoughts leaped to the future, and I wondered, “Will we always be this way?  Just strolling, our arms linked, our strides matching?” and I felt anxious.  Then I smiled as a wise little voice inside me said something almost exactly like this:  “Think about the way this feels, these girls’ arms intertwined with yours.  Just be here, with them, on this street, on this bright fall day.”  And for a brief moment, I heeded that voice.

Back to rivers.  Happy, the Danube, no?  A good place to breathe deeply.

And happy us, when we’re able to knit ourselves into the present, a place where children often await.

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