When is a child old enough to learn about meditation? At any age, according to Barry Long. Showing children how to perceive the good inside helps them to learn to stay in their bodies. He responds to a man who asks if he should introduce meditation to his three-and-a-half year-old daughter who had recently started coming into the room while he was meditating.
It is always good to include your child in what you are doing with your life. If you meditate, then it is certainly good for your son or daughter to participate with you, as much as he or she is able to.
At the age of three and a half, your daughter is only beginning to develop the memory and self-reflection that disturbs us when we are older. So there cannot be the same purpose in it for her as there is for you. But if she is able to join you in your meditation, just for a short while, and is familiar with it, it may help her later on.
In my teaching the idea is to keep unhappiness out by being constantly aware of the being or the good inside the body. That is meditation as a total way of life. The way to introduce this to your daughter is to show her how to be with the sensation of the good as the love or warmth in her body.
How can you do this? At her age verbal communication is limited and the attention span is brief. You can’t expect her to just sit still and be quiet. So it’s best to do it as a game and give her something positive to do.
If you see that she’s old enough and ready for this, begin by sitting down with her and telling her what you’re going to be doing together. Choose a time when she’s already relaxed and receptive.
‘We’re going to play a new game. It’s called meditation. Do you want to?’
‘Yes.’ (It helps if the child agrees and says ‘Yes’ out loud because this creates a sense of willing cooperation between mind and body. A reluctant or churlish mind will disturb the body.)
‘Sit down there on the carpet. And I’ll sit here, opposite you. Comfortable?’
Again, encourage her to actually say, ‘Yes.’ And remembering it’s a game, smile in response to her. Stay light and easy in yourself.
‘We’re going to find something together. Something good. And it’s inside your body. Ready? Okay. Close your eyes and keep them closed. But not too tight. Now first of all I want you to tell me whereabouts you feel that you love me or Mummy . . . Can you show me? Keep your eyes closed, and point to the feeling.’
She will probably point straight to her tummy. She is unlikely to point to her head (although older and more wily children may do so); but if she does you will see that this comes from trying to give you the right answer.
‘You can feel your love in your tummy, can you? I can feel my love of you there, too. A good sensation, isn’t it? Got it? Yes, it’s good isn’t it?’
Leave a little pause and then ask her what it feels like. Her spontaneous response is what you are looking for, not a consideration of the question or a habitual reply giving what she thinks is the right answer. The point is to encourage her to stay conscious of the sensation inside.
‘Now, how does it feel? Can you tell me?’
Listen for the word she uses (good, nice, lovely, warm). Once you have her term for it, you can use that word next time you play ‘meditation’ together.
‘Now, I’m going to do my meditation. Do you want to come and be with me for a little while? Good. Then sit down opposite me and shut your eyes like I showed you. Now, can you feel that nice feeling inside your tummy? I can feel it in me. Nice and warm isn’t it? Good. I shall just be still and stay here feeling it for a while. When you want to, get up and go and quietly play with your toys but you can come back and be with me any time that you want to sit and feel the good with me.’
The point is not to make the child sit still when she doesn’t want to, but to encourage her to discover the good as sensation and make the connection with it on a regular basis. Unless that sensation is discovered, made substantive and continually confirmed with practice, meditation remains an intellectual notion.
Published in byronchild/Kindred, Issue 4, Dec 02
© Barry Long – Extracted from Raising Children in Love, Justice and Truth by Barry Long ISBN 1 899324 13 5