Sometimes it seems that there’s an opinion out there that a person can’t be truly spiritual if they don’t meditate. Now, I know it’s not true – there are many paths for increased awareness and the expansion of Love – but, there is an undeniable mountain of scientific and anecdotal evidence that those who do meditate experience numerous benefits. From what I’ve heard, Deepak Chopra sits in meditation for at least a couple of hours early every morning and look how prolific and profound his work is. There’s definitely something in it and meditation could prove to be a practice that really suits my boys. So I recently decided to start introducing them to it.
The thing is, I don’t meditate regularly myself. I’m not even sure what meditation is exactly or why we do it. My working definition is “watching the mind & body to become aware of my true self as the observer”. But then, some meditations use a lot of imagination or deep contemplation around an idea, which is more than just “watching”. And some people do it purely for physical relaxation. Perhaps the purpose of a meditation session is simply the intention we bring to it.
Anyway, my big question was, how was I going to lead Jake and Thomas in meditation when I really had no idea what I was doing myself? I thought back to one of my early posts on introducing my boys to God/TheUniverse/Spirit and I remembered that I didn’t need to have all the answers. What I did need to do was let go of my ego’s desire to feel more knowledgeable about meditation than my boys and to join them as a learner. If they see me as a fellow explorer on the spiritual path, it shows them that no one of us is an expert – we can become experts for ourselves.
HOW WE GOT STARTED WITH MEDITATION
After accepting that I really didn’t know what I was doing, I figured I’d do the modern thing and use an app to get myself started. I’d heard of Headspace from a number of different people so downloaded it before going away on my trip to Barcelona & Dubai. Meditating poolside on the roof of a beautiful hotel was easy. I managed to do it every day while on holiday and my mind focussed pretty easily. It has proven harder since returning to the busyness of normal life as a Mum and the accompanying busyness of mind. But I’m approaching this with a light heart, I don’t beat myself up about missing sessions or spending the whole time thinking about what’s next on my to-do list.
I had done the occasional super-simple meditation with Jake (aged 6) previously, talking him through them myself so he had some familiarity with being still and focussed. One evening, I showed him the Headspace app and let him choose one of the kids’ meditations for us to try together. He chose the sleep one, since he was off to bed, and we did it together, Jake lying on his bed and me on the floor of his room. My plan was to creep out of the room once the meditation had finished and leave Jake to doze off but the novelty was too exciting for him and he wanted to do another one after it finished. I left his room that night pleasantly surprised by Jake’s receptivity and eagerness. I’m sure being allowed to use my phone (usually off-limits) had something to do with it. Now, when I’m tucking him into bed at night, he’ll sometimes ask to do a Headspace meditation together.
So far, Jake hasn’t asked me much about what meditation is, he’s just keen to do it. Presumably, as we meditate more, questions will arise but, also, more “answers” will reveal themselves to us. Right now, we’re playing and exploring. I’m meditating both on my own and with Jake. As time goes by, I think we’ll each better understand what kind of meditation we like (if at all) and what it means to us personally.
I haven’t yet started meditation with 3-year-old Thomas. I might try him out with the Headspace app but I suspect some of the language will be a little hard for him follow. He might be happy just to join in with Jake and I anyway, to be a part of our exploration. I can probably make up my own super-short meditations for him too, based on the ones I’ve heard.
MEDITATION AND “REAL LIFE”
Helping them to finding their own repertoire and routine of spiritual practices is only one of the ways we can nurture our children’s spirituality. Our spirituality is not just about specific practices that we do in a quiet space, removed from the rest of life. It’s also in the way that we go about all that we do. The usual activities of our day can offer us “meditative moments” if we look for them (just as it can spontaneously inspire prayer or gratitude, for example). Here are some meditative moments my boys and I have shared together recently –
eating the first mouthful of our meal with our eyes closed, noticing the smell, taste, texture and other feelings the food gives us. (Dessert is a yummy one to start with 😊)
watching a drip of rain or shower-water roll down the glass, all the way to the bottom.
colouring in (I like to join in with my boys using my own adult’s colouring book – it’s more inspiring for me than Bob the Builder).
sensory play eg. playdough, water play, painting, sand.
taking 3-5 belly breaths together to savour the moment.
stroking the family pet (have you noticed how easily we give them our full attention?)
IN SUMMARY – MEDITATION AS A SUGGESTION
I want to introduce my boys to many spiritual practices. I want them to have the chance to explore different ones, looking for what resonates, what feels good and useful to them. Meditation may or may not suit them and what works for them may be very different to what works for me. I wrote more about our children finding their own ways of connecting in my blog post Why We Can’t Pass Our Spirituality Onto Our Children.
I sometimes feel inspired to suggest to Jake and Thomas that we say a prayer or share something we’re each grateful for or, now, meditate together. But, if they’re not keen, they’re never made to join in. I simply give them the opportunity to experience the practices for themselves. I’ll let you know how we are going with our exploration of meditation in a few months.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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When I was expecting baby Jake, I imagined giving him an idyllic, carefree childhood. My visions were of bare feet and giggles, exploration and play. Once Jake was born, he and I began attending coffee groups for new mums and, as he got older, we also went along to baby activities, such as story sessions at the library and playgroup.
At these places, I often found myself surrounded by anxious parents, whose daily outing with their babies were not primarily for a bit of fun and to get out of the house but to fast-track their babies’ development. I met parents at playgroup who were there to “socialise” their babies and I watched parents at the library earnestly trying to get their 4-month-olds to focus on the letters and words in books as if it would give them a head-start as readers. At these young ages, our babies didn’t need any extra socialising or literacy instruction beyond what daily life with Mum and Dad provided – their young brains couldn’t even process some of the things we parents were keen for them to learn.
I realised that, already, many parents were caught in the hamster wheel of always trying to prepare their babies for the next stage of life. By “socialising” their babies at playgroup, they assumed their toddlers would be more prepared for early childhood education. When the time came, they looked for early childhood centres that would formally teach reading, writing and maths so that their children would be “ready for school”. And so it continues – each stage being merely a stepping stone to the next.
In this way, for many people, childhood has been reduced to preparation for adulthood. Parents fear that, if they don’t “start early”, their children will “fall behind” in some way, destined for unsuccessful, unhappy futures. My opinion is that, if we continue to sacrifice their childhoods for the sake of their adulthoods, both their years as children and as adults will be unsuccessful and unhappy.
THE PROBLEM WITH REDUCING CHILDHOOD TO PREPARATION FOR ADULTHOOD
When we are too focussed on preparing our children for adulthood, we are not respecting who they are. From a spiritual perspective, the real purpose of parenting is to honour and support our children in being the people they came here to be. In trying to prepare them for adulthood too early, we inflict on them our own ideas about what kind of adult they should become whereas, if we’re present with who they are as children, we enable them to be themselves.
Further, without some perspective, we begin to hold our children up against the adult we hope they’ll become and, being children, they will almost always fall short. We develop a deficit-approach to parenting in which we try to improve our children rather than value them as they are. Our impossible measures become messages to them that they are not good enough. I know I’m guilty of this myself. Sometimes, I expect my boys to be able to manage their emotions in respectful, controlled ways like an adult would but, developmentally, they can’t always do this. My disapproval of their outbursts gives the message that they are not acceptable when their emotions get the better of them. They’re only 3 and 6 years old!
WHY WE NEED TO VALUE CHILDHOOD MORE
Here’s my case for why we are better to value and be present with our children as they are now rather than pushing them into their future.
Children contribute in so many ways. When we take our children out and about with us, other people delight in them. Many stop to fuss over our babies, engage our children in conversation or smile at their antics. Just by being their childish selves, they are like little beacons of light scattered about the community. More personally, most parents feel that their children have contributed to their own lives in numerous ways – the tender moments between us, the memories we make together and the ways they make us laugh or help us to see things differently. Then there are the little souls who never became adults for some reason but still touched our hearts. The one I miscarried changed me forever and, on a more public scale, think of Matty Steponik.
Children have things they need to know now. When I was a teacher, we had meetings in which we speculated about what kind of future we were preparing our students for. Those discussions had a place but mostly I was thinking, “we don’t know what the future will be like but we know what the kids need now”. Part of the discussion was always around technology – its growing prevalence in our lives and how it will have changed exponentially between the time a child starts school and when they leave. There was almost an obsession to use technology in the classroom as much as possible for these reasons but sometimes I felt that a lot of rich, relevant learning was lost in order to be seen as progressive & relevant by using technology. My 7-year-old students needed to be able to read the books they loved, to count their pocket money and to negotiate with their friends more than they needed to know how to use the latest multi-media program.
Joy is found in the present. The childhoods we dreamed of for our unborn babies were joyful ones. Only available in the present, joy is lost for both ourselves and our children when we are mentally tied up in worries about the future and how our children aren’t yet meeting the expectations we have of them as adults. As I said in my blog post about joy, I think joy is essential to a fully-lived life. Do we want to teach our children to constantly be striving for the next thing or to find joy in every stage?
“We tend to think of childhood as preparation for adulthood and almost forget that childhood has its own value”. – Julie Louisson
BY TAKING CARE OF THE PRESENT, WE TAKE CARE OF THE FUTURE
All things in nature follow a natural progression. In its own time, a seed becomes a beautiful, strong tree. As a seed, it needed different things to what it needs as a tree. Some seeds can’t grow in the presence of light but, once they are trees, they need the light for photosynthesis. There is no doubt that we are sowing the seeds of our children’s futures through our parenting but we can trust the process, knowing that, by tending to our children’s current needs, their futures will take care of themselves.
IN SUMMARY – A NEW QUESTION TO ASK
Let’s stop asking children “what are you going to be when you grow up?” and instead ask, “who are you?” Our children arrive fully-formed, ready to enjoy an contribute to life now. Let’s love who they are and get excited, rather than fearful, about who they will become.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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I’m aware of a book called Joy is My Compass – Taking the Risk to Follow Your Bliss by Alan Cohen. Despite declaring in January that joy will be my compass for 2017, I’ve not yet read the book but the phrase joy is my compass captivated me. It reminds me that we are intended to live joyfully – not in the fearful, grasping way we are socialised to. It can be hard to switch from believing that sacrifice & sheer hard work are required to live a good life to allowing ourselves joy and, even, prioritising our joy. But my intention is to raise my boys with a different world view – to value joy, to seek it and create it in every moment. I want joyful to be our normal. For such a life, joy is the perfect compass.
HOW ARE JOY & HAPPINESS DIFFERENT?
Happiness comes to us in moments. It is dependent on external circumstances – like getting a particular job, partner or fashion item. Therefore, just as easily as favourable circumstances can come and go, so, too, can happiness. Happiness is high GI, causing spikes in our emotions. Joy is something quieter yet deeper and more stable. There is a sense of meaning in joy that there isn’t in happiness. It is always available to us, we just have to choose it. And there are so many ways to let joy in.
“Happiness is like rising bubbles — delightful and inevitably fleeting. Joy is the oxygen — ever present” – Danielle La Porte
My son Jake, loves eating ice-cream and he also loves building Lego. I would argue that the ice-cream makes him happy but, once it’s eaten, the happiness it brought dissipates quickly. On the other hand, building Lego is a fun & engrossing activity for him and the satisfaction he gets from it is nourishing in a way that ice-cream just isn’t. I would call this joy. Danielle says that “joy is the fibre of your soul”. It is the fuel for our lives. Joy is low GI.
THE VALUE OF JOY
Joy Indicates Spiritual Alignment
Joy is our natural way of being. It indicates to us that we are in alignment. By this, I mean that our mind, body and spirit are working together for the greater purposes of our soul. I think the experience of flow is actually an experience of deep joy. I wrote the following about flow in my post How Our Children Raise Us –
At times, I have watched my boys play and have recognised their feeling of full absorption & joy from my own childhood. I used to get it when I was swimming in our pool, singing along to music and writing stories. Scientists call this state “flow” and I think of it as allowing God to flow through me. Do you remember the healing quality of that feeling? How content and internally energised it left you?
Now, I still experience flow when I write and have found a way to use my writing to encourage other parents. What brings our children joy in childhood may be the same things that bring them joy in adulthood. Those things may end up being connected with the contribution they make in the world.
Joy Attracts More Joy
Have you noticed how a day that begins with joy often continues that way? Perhaps it starts with a particularly heart-felt “good morning” hug from your child which you take a moment to appreciate fully, right down to your toes. Then, as you go about your day, people everywhere seem to be particularly friendly & helpful to you and, in the afternoon, you receive a piece of good news then your partner arrives home in the evening with your favourite wine/chocolate/desert for “no reason”. It just feels that life is going well for you and you feel joyful. This is the law of attraction at work. We attract the feeling we are putting out. So, by deliberately letting joy in where we find it (and it’s always there), we cultivate more joyful experiences. Choosing what we focus on is key to utilising the power of this law – so let’s focus on joy!
Joy Supports Emotional Resilience
When joyful is our normal, our capacity to weather difficult experiences is much greater. No matter how much joy we cultivate, life is intended to grow us and no one is exempt from its challenges. With a joyful way of being, though, we know we have that joyful place to return to once we are through the difficult experience. My son Jake is easily joyful, something I am so grateful for. As a result, he moves through difficult emotions quite quickly. It’s not that upsetting emotions should be avoided – they have something to tell us – but they don’t need to keep us down. We can even feel that life is ultimately joyful while at the same time going through a major experience that deeply saddens or angers us.
CULTIVATING JOY IN OUR CHILDREN
Notice the activities, places and people who bring our children joy and create opportunities for them to spend time with these people, places and activities. For example a place may be anywhere by water and a person may be a particular friend who is on the same wavelength. I don’t think having things brings joy but the actual using of things may bring joy – such as playing an instrument or, as in Thomas’ case, the process of lining up his toy cars.
Help our children to recognise for themselves the activities, places and people who bring them joy. For younger children, we might point out “you seem to feel really good when you’re playing outside with a ball”. For older children, we might ask, “which of your friends do you feel most like yourself and relaxed with?”
Teach our children joyful habits of mind. Gratitude is a powerful place to start. Self-love is essential.
When we notice our children are in a joyless state of mind, perhaps whining for things they want or hanging on to a grudge after a sibling argument, remind them that they will get more of how they feel and help them to choose a more joyful state of mind.
When things are deteriorating for the whole family, stop for a joy break. Having fun with people we love is a joyful experience and can act as the reset button for everyone. Our family loves playing indoor soccer together.
Find a way to do the boring/difficult things joyfully. When my boys were younger, I used to sing a tidying song as we put away the toys. I find interesting ways for my son to practise the spelling words he’s learning for school. This shows them that joy is always there, waiting for us to notice it and to take it.
Be the example of joyful living. Our example is our greatest teacher. Be joyful for your children’s sake…and your own.
IN SUMMARY – NUTRITION FOR OUR SOULS
Joy can feel like a guilty pleasure at first, especially for those of us who have been taught that using our own effort is the only way to build a satisfying life. But, if joy is our compass, pointing in the direction of our purpose and giving our lives richness & ease, it is, surely, nutrition for our souls. Actually, there’s also a book called The Joy Diet by Martha Beck (and also on my “books to read” list). I’m putting my family on the diet now.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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