“I really want my child to meditate. How can I encourage them when they don’t want to?”
Your child is probably expressing constantly a desire, a need, a craving to meditate.
It all rests on our understanding of the word “meditate” and where that comes from.
A lot of our ideas about meditation come from a historical context that has nothing to do with our own lives now and was never meant to apply to lives like ours. These meditations were designed by and for monks, to keep them veering from vows of renunciation of the energies of life in the world.
What is appropriate for a celibate male living centuries ago and who had no connection to the world is almost certainly not going to rock your child’s world – or yours for that matter. Nor was it ever meant to.
Maybe when your child hears you say “You need to meditate” they are filtering it into the same category as “you need eat to broccoli, do your homework, stop playing on your Ipad, go to bed earlier, take a shower”?
Ie. “You need to do something boring that someone else wants you to do and that has nothing whatsoever to do with your life of fun and play and adventure.”
This is not a great way to introduce your child to a practice which could be joyful, exhilarating and transformational all their lives long.
Your child is signalling a response to a spontaneous call to meditate…
…every time they sit at their desk and instead of doing homework start to daydream, fiddle with something or get distracted by an object, a thought, a sound that absorbs their attention.
…every time they come home from school, fling down their bag, and run outside to climb a tree faster than you can say “change out of your uniform”
….every time they get out their Lego and get completely absorbed in building an imaginary town of coloured bricks, while you are begging, pleading, negotiating, commanding them to take a shower, do a chore, study for a test.
…every time they play with the dog, get on Minecraft, jump on the sofa, turn a pile of cushions into a den, make up a song, tell a tall tale, rough and tumble with each other or the dog, stare into space, zone out or steadily lick down an ice block as if the ice block was the only thing that has their attention.
All these are healthy, instinctive ways children automatically re-centre from their lives of scheduled action so that their parasympathetic nervous systems can do their important renewing, restoring work.
To understand this, roll back the years to when you were a child, maybe seven or eight years old. What made you feel happy, peaceful and relaxed?
What things did you do spontaneously that made you feel joyful and vitalized?
Were you a star gazer, a cloud watcher, an artist, a dreamer, a fort builder, a puzzle-lover, a tree climber, a surfer, a rider, a quietly knowing soul?
Anytime our attention is spontaneously absorbed by something, we are in a state of meditative awareness. We are innately wired to experience these moments so that we can collaborate with the body’s intelligence – the work of our parasympathetic nervous system to rest and restore us by filling us with the healing energies of life.
Meditation works best when we recreate the conditions for this kind of spontaneous experience. As adults, we can unwittingly condition ourselves away from our natural spontaneity and what instinctively pleasures us. Our kids, however, have this one nailed. When we were children we were all closer to our natural, healthy instincts and indeed our natural healthy instinct was to keep ourselves as close to that state as possible. That is why we were drawn to wherever our attention found itself absorbed, that is why we engaged in pretend play, that is why we stayed in our bodies and climbed, jumped, danced and lived in any way we felt moved to do. Life seemed compelling then and we kept our vitality high. This is what we want from a meditation practice.
We have it the wrong way round when we want to guide our children into meditation. Our children are the best meditation guides around. When we meditate in their world, an alchemy happens, and we recapture our own. We find lost parts of ourselves again. It’s very powerful.
Here are some ways to start sharing some joyful and fun natural meditation practices with your kids. If none of these sounds good, explore your own and please join the conversation so that I and other parents can get to explore them too. It’s fun to play and great to journey!
Top Tip: Always start with where your children are (Tired? Hungry? Need to move and energise? Need to rest? ) and with what they love (Lego, video games, sport, art, music, dancing, reading and so on) and you can’t go wrong.
Go outside. Lie on your backs on the grass. Really feel the wide curve of the stable earth underneath you, supporting you. What does that feel like? Gravity can feel like it is drawing us down into a hug from the earth. Our muscles and bones relax. And then there is a slight push up from the earth, which holds us. This might be a good way to feel the embrace of life: to feel held, grounded, supported and on a firm foundation. You can spend some time sharing with each other how good it feels to lie on the solid earth. Then let your gaze drift to the sky. You may feel like you are breathing in the sky, drinking it in or watching the clouds make particular shapes. You may feel like you are floating away. The sky has its own moods just like we do – sometimes dark and stormy, sometimes bright and mild – but always in motion. You can watch the moods of the sky change, shift and pass and appreciate them as the different colours and textures of life. No mood is a “bad” one, but part of a tapestry which is continually showing new threads and colours. After a while, if it feels right, you can share where you went in your sky-travels.
Make some bubble mix from detergent and water and find or make something to blow through ( a simple wire bent into a circle is fine). Blow bubbles to your heart’s content. Notice where they drift, where they land, how they hold the light and how they burst. Surround each other with bubbles and get completely heady with bubbles and then sink down somewhere and imagine a bubble around you. A sphere of energy 360 degrees around your being which is luminous. What does it look like? How big is it? Is it close up to you or further away? Inside this bubble you are protected and nothing from the outside can penetrate unless you say yes. What do you want to bring inside the bubble right now and what would you like, for now, to leave on the outside? Many of the kids I teach say the first thing they want inside is chocolate! What pets, activities, loved ones, prized possessions? What qualities – such as peace, strength, confidence, joy? (This meditation is an adaptation of my dear teacher Camille Maurine’s meditation for claiming your inner sovereignty from Meditation Secrets For Women. HarperCollins)
This is a simple one. What games does your child most love playing at the moment? Young children might guide you to play a character in their imaginative world. Really go for it, enter into it, forget any other world exists. Countless clinical studies show that deep play is exceptionally healing and transformative. Older children might like to jam with you playing instruments and making music, creating a science experiment or some art, dancing or playing a sport. What makes this meditative is simply to be guided by their instincts without controlling, editing, judging or filtering their experience. Follow their lead and be willing to get absolutely absorbed in their world.
In our 21st century lives we are all very forward focussed, looking at phones and computer screens. And even when walking down the street, research shows we use the front of the eye almost exclusively. We tend not to lookg to either side. We have neurons and synapses in every part of our eyes, albeit fewer at the edges than in the centre, and if we don’t use them we lose them, dulling our experience of life and making us feel less alert and disconnected from the “big picture”.
This is a meditation to open one of the senses to literally take in more life. Rest your gaze lightly somewhere ahead of you where it is comfortable. You can blink, but try not to move your eyeballs. Start by steadily widening the periphery of your vision to the right and see how far you can see, how much you can take in from the right. When you think you are seeing as far as you can, try and go a little further. Do the same to the left. Then above you and below you. Then all directions at once. Then sit for a moment with all the new sensations and share what you are experiencing, if that feels right.
When we open at least one of our senses as far as it can go, we feel a stronger connection to be alive.
This is a nice one to do at the end of the day and is similar to a gratitude journal without the need to write. Many children do like to journal or draw their experiences but many others have had enough of that activity at school and we want to make sure we create a natural balance for our inner rhythms.
Try beginning with questions along these lines
“Was there anything that made your heart feel full today?”
“Did anything that happened today make you feel excited?”
“Did anything happen today that felt different?”
“That made you feel curious?”
“That made you feel in wonder or awe”
“That made you want to find out more?’
“That gave you an idea?”
“Did anyone do something particularly kind today?”
“Did anyone say anything to you that made you feel good?”
And so on. Notice all these questions guide your child towards their feelings. You can enhance this sensory embodiment by asking them where in their bodies they feel things when they have these memories from their day. See how they move their arms and other parts of their body while they talk and get them to repeat these movements or “mudra” establishing a muscle memory of the experience. Then suggest they breath the feelings through their body, as if breathing them in – like smelling a beautiful flower or a delicious meal – infusing themselves with this quality. Like our muscles, our cells have memory, and the deeper we make a cellular memory of a life enhancing experience, the more quickly we can bring that back when we need the resilience it provides. This exercise is an inner strengthening. It a great one to do before sleeping as once activated, the nervous system can keep bathing in these healing and renewing energies while your child relaxes in sleep.
I would love to hear your discoveries and ideas! Here’s something my 11 year old came up with when she was about seven. “Mummy, I have discovered if you say ‘excited excited excited’ over and over again you get this really incredible feeling that wants to burst out of your body…”
Try it – it works!
Photography by Juliet Wioland. Cannot be reproduced without permission.