This post originally appeared on my blog still life with circles on april 25, 2011 called meditating with the childrens.
I don't usually do posts like this, but I write fairly often on here about meditation and Buddhism, and meditating with my children, and so, today, I was thinking that maybe I should do a post about my experience with teaching Beezus to meditate and what that has been like. Teaching meditation to my children has taught me more about meditation. I like what Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it." So, if you struggle with finding a moment of calm, maybe this can help you too. I frequently use the same techniques when I meditate that I teach my children.
When Beezus was a year, I bought a book called Baby Buddhas, which is meditation techniques for children. And it has been an amazing resource. I just didn't even know why anyone would teach children meditation. Or really how they could do that. Meditation is difficult for most adults. But now I actually think it is much easier for children. If we can set them up for finding ways to deal with their stress later in life, awesome. Basically, know this starting out, you are not meditating, the children are meditating. So, you will guide them. It is relaxing, but not your meditation. You are helping them stay in the moment. So, think of this as learning how to guide meditation for your children. If I begin meditating with Beezus, and she is unfocused, I just stop and ask if she'd like to try again later, or what we can do to focus.
I had an adult colleague, who used to use similar techniques on herself. Guided meditations, that is. She read them out of a book. She recorded them on her computer with her webcam, then made mp3s out of them, then put them on her Ipod and listened to them at lunch. I think she did the same thing with yoga workouts for the gym, since in the moment, she felt silly and forgot which move was next. I always thought that was an awesome technique.
Oh, right, the childrens. We sit cross-legged on the floor in a circle, or Beezus sits on my lap. She most frequently sits on my lap when we do guided meditations when she is upset, or exhausted and having a hard time. Sometimes I guide her on walks through the woods, to meet a spirit animal. I know it sounds hokey, but kids love that they can be a player in a story we create, and she turns the corner and tells me the animal she is feeling most like. That meditation is incredibly insightful into the place my daughter is at mentally and emotionally. When she is feeling like a giraffe, or a panda bear, or a tiger, I understand what she feels like a little better. Alright, totally hokey, but it works.
So, here is a basic meditation. We often start with a meditation gong, or bell. The meditation gong we picked up at the new age bookshop in Philly, and it was less than ten bucks, and well well worth the money spent. I try to make meditation fun, interesting, a time of finding strength and renewal, not a burden. So, I have the meditation gong, which both Thor and Beezus ring. I often catch Thor at the altar, ringing the gong on his free time. Children are attracted to music and beautiful sounds, so that helps to get them interested in this time. I change who rings it, and sometimes they both ring the start of meditation. One right after the other. Who cares? There are no rules, so make it fun as you go through it. What works for your family is most important.
Thor is a little young, but he likes to climb on us when we meditate and it is fun to try not to move or giggle when he is exploring us. That is a form of meditation and focus that is good and fun for kids to learn too.
The guided meditation I use most frequently is just guiding her breath and learning gratitude. So, first, we sit in a circle with the gong. And I say something like this, "Let's cross our legs, sit up straight, smile, wiggle our toes. We are having a fun meditation for compassion and to give thanks. First, let's imagine ourselves like trees, our back extend down down down into the earth, the spine, which is the hard bone in your back, goes into the ground, and sprouts roots, and soaks up all the goodness and strength from the earth, and then your head will move upwards towards to clouds, to capture the rain. We are a big tree. sturdy and strong, and ready to watch the world around us. Now, we start to mind our breath and slow down. We will breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in love. Breathe out madness. GONG. Breathe in love. Breathe out sadness. GONG. Breathe in love. Breathe out badness. GONG. I am so grateful we are here together in this circle, listening to this bell. Let's breathe quietly for a few moments, then when you hear the gong, you can open your eyes." And in about a minute, I ring the bell. That is it. You can go as long as your child can handle it, but I try not to overextend my daughter's patience. Short and sweet, and sometimes she asks to do it again, so we do.
Today, we created mind jars, from the book Moody Cow Meditates. It is about a cow who has a bad day and his grandfather comes to help him deal with his anger and mixed up feelings. So, they create a mind jar, and use it to focus on meditation. It is really easy to make. Basically, you get a jar--spice jar, baby food size, or even a mason jar. First, put some glitter in the jar. Little glitter is better than like star glitter (which is heavier), but either works. Fill the jar 3/4ths full with warm water, then the rest of the way up (with some room for shaking) with glycerin. You can get glycerin for really cheap at the craft store, or grocer. It is used in baking to brighten up icing color, so they sell wee little jars of it, which is perfect for this craft. After the glycerin, add four drops of liquid soap. Put the lid, tightly on the jar, then shake it. It is essentially like creating a snow globe, but you can help you little one pick colors, make it their own. The goal is that when they are feeling out of control, they shake the jar, then sit and watch the glitter settle in the water. It is like our minds when we are angry, frustrated, things feel impossible--our minds and emotions are all shook up. I help Bea stare and not stare at the jar, that middle gaze. When the glitter settles, we finish our meditation. This one is a really great technique to use in lieu of timeout. When our minds are shook up, we can easily get shaken up again, and that is what the jar is useful to show, how our emotions can be shook up and crazy, but we don't have to shake the jar. Beatrice loves her mindjar, and it works great to help calm a crazed kid.
Hope that was useful for someone out there. If anyone has any questions for me about meditation, or anything else really, just put it in the comment section here. I am trying to write more and could use inspiration.
*This post was edited to add to add some pictures. After I wrote this, I thought maybe you'd like to see what a mind jar looks like and the meditation gong. We made two yesterday. One for upstairs and one for down. The shorter one was shook up right before I snapped this picture. You begin meditation with the gong, but gently hitting the side of the bowl, the bigger the bowl, the longer the ring. And you stay quiet until the end of the bowl's sound.