Recently I’ve been spending time in schools as well as one to one with children, exploring their meditation space.
When it comes to meditation, kids know best.
Children are often so much closer to their natural, healthy, instinctive state than we are as adults, that they make wonderfully creative meditators and their meditation experience is rich.
It would be an easy trap to fall into, when offering children meditation, to offer it from the framework of what we as adults think they “need”. Usually this framework is more about what we feel we need. A lot of children therefore learn to meditate with quiet and stillness and focussing and this can work against their natural state. I don’t know about you, but most school aged kids I know are “in the office” 24/7. There can be a relentless vibration of being marched -or commanded – from task to task. “Get up, brush your teeth, put your clothes on, have breakfast, get your stuff together, get in the car…GET. In. THE. CAR”. And from this schedule into the school schedule – with a little time-capped “Play time”, and then into after school activities based around structured learning and performance – Martial Arts, Dance, Sport, and so on. And then homework, dinner, get-ready-for-bed and bedtime. And in the morning, it starts all over again.
How are we going to allow our children opportunities to get back into their own natural instinctive rhythms of being, doing and resting?
That’s where making sure their meditation space is a proper sanctuary for them – in other words, it is all about them and their needs, cravings, individuality, dreams and desires – is key.
Silence and sitting still and concentrating on breathing or following the teacher’s demonstrations of stretching, it seems to me, are the last things our children will be craving and won’t provide the opportunity to recover and restore that is needed. And if any of us aren’t getting what we crave in meditation, then meditating at all is a waste of our time and energy. More importantly, it could even be injurious – in the same way as forcing your body into a yoga pose that isn’t right for it would be.
We come to meditation to nourish our souls, restore our beings and come back into our bodies. If your soul had been subjugated to this amount of imposed-structure, wouldn’t it be craving a chance to be in a free space again of deep play and freedom to roam?
A child who has been sitting the majority of the day and supressing the natural urge to move that all children are intimate with probably isn’t going to want to sit. A child who has been asked to pay attention to a variety of externally imposed experiences might well be craving a spontaneous, individuality-affirming inner experience. Kids are close to their imaginative instincts. Daydreaming is refreshing, it takes us home, and about as soul nourishing as it gets.
Our children are great teachers for us on how to meditate. It’s a fun and rewarding space to explore with children and see what their ideas are. Here are five of the most popular among the children I work with.
At the start of any meditation time with children, cue them immediately that this is their space, their time and they are in their power here. Effectively, hand the baton back to them so that they know they can and should have their own experience in meditation – this is not another thing that’s going to be imposed on them from the outside – this is about them coming home to themselves. Let them know that they are already meditation experts and that when you were a child, you were too, but as an adult need some tips. Ask them” “if you could be anywhere right now, where would you be and what would you be doing?” This is a great pathway back into their beings. Ask them, when they are thinking and talking about their “perfect right now” what feelings of “things waking up” or “lights going on inside them” they have and in what parts of their bodies. This is a way of teaching children how to self tend.
2. Move & Groove
Get a few ideas from the kids on what music they like. Create a playlist and then get them to vote on which piece to play. Invite them to move in any way they feel…moved to! Moving or dancing to music can be a great way of getting bodily into one’s inner rhythms.
3. Shake It Out
Little do we know how much children’s emotions are responding, below the radar, deep inside them, to things which are happening in their daily experiences of life. Emotions like resentment, fear, frustration, disappointment and exasperation are all emotions expressed time and again by the children I work with. First, we bring the emotions into awareness – the healing state of attention alone. Then we affirm is good to know how you feel! Then we get them to shake it out in any way they like – with as much craziness as feels right to them. I have seen children just use their hands and arms and others use their whole body in a crazy dance. They love this one!
4. Voice It!
Taking it one step further. So often, children want to voice how they feel but are afraid that isn’t allowed. Energy then gets trapped in parts of their being to an uncomfortable degree – often their throats, chests or in their bellies. This is a practice to empower children’s voices, to release unhealthy blockages of emotion and to give the kids a chance to let it all out vocally. It is great to focus on feelings of vibrations when we use our voices in harmony with our feelings. Get them to notice words and feelings as they vibrate through their bodies. Singing, chanting, sighing, humming are all expressions of feeling the music of life. This is Mantra practice for kids.
5. Mythical Worlds
Probably the best gift we can give our children is simply to allow them their right to dream. And dream and dream and dream and dream. Dreaming is a deep instinct and like all our instincts, deeply connected to surviving and thriving. You can honour daydreaming by exploring together some of the great contributions made to our lives by “Dreamers” – artists, architects, songwriters, musicians, inventors, people who have transformed world situations from a dream of peace and harmony. We need to dream and we can’t be scrimpy with ourselves when it comes to dreamtime. After the movement and voice meditations, children will feel relaxed and in their beings – the perfect context for settling back into their inner world of adventure. You could even get them to tell stories of their day dream, or draw pictures afterwards, if they are inspired to share.
Above all: make it friendly, make it fun, make it about them, not you. Let them guide you, teach you, inspire you. I love this comment from a teacher whose class I went into recently: “They came so alive when you unlocked some things in them! It was wonderful to see them getting so much out of the session. Personally this session had a big impact on me, I went home and started painting again after a 5 year gap!”