This weekly column is designed to give support for grandparents and parents who may benefit from developing a regular practice of meditation and who are looking for daily inspiration for their journey with their children and grandchildren. Much of what is written about spiritual practices like meditation, focuses on techniques for teaching children how to develop practices. This column focuses more on a child's natural ability to be mindful and contemplative.
Our culture is geared to doing, going, and being part of the active communities we inhabit-school, family life, outside activities (sports, creative arts, dance, music lessons), and all manner of structured activity. We are probably more overstructured in the ways we are raising our children and grandchildren right now than we have been in the past. Much of what is available to us in this abundant and resource-rich community, is wonderful. However, if we fail to find ways to incorporate quiet, contemplative, mindfulness into our lives and the lives of our children, we will suffer in the long run. While some studies indicate that parents are likely to be spending more time with their children than parents of the 1960s-1970s (changes in work patterns, more parents homeschooling, increasing participation of fathers in childrearing), many children tend to be overscheduled. While this is not necessarily true of all children, it is an issue for many, especially those who live in large urban environments. Structured activities and day care provide a sense of safety for parents who work hard, and for parents who are looking to expand their children's experiences.
There are conflicting reports on this. On one hand, there are those like Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Overscheduled Child and Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a developmental and clinical psycholoigst at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. who says, "In our efforts to produce Renaissance children, middle-class children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no 'nothing time.' They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen," who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity." Others seem to feel this is not a major problem for many other children.
From my observations of life here in San Francisco, we could all use with greater amounts of time to be more mindful, contemplative, and reflective. Depending upon personality types, children have ways they can help us learn to slow down, spend some time in quiet meditation, and become more attentive to the simple pleasures of living more in the present. My concern is for children, but to a greater extent, I am concerned about both parents and grandparents who may be running themselves ragged meeting deadlines, living according to exhausting schedules, and having no time themselves to regenerate, rest, and connect with their inner being. In this column I will be writing about how developing a simple meditation practice might be useful not only for your children but also for you-parents and grandparents.
Last summer when spending time with my Granddaughter, I had the pleasure of just 'hanging out' with her. She wanted to create a meditation space on the back deck, and so we spent some lovely time preparing that space, getting some plants and repotting them to decorate the space, and then we spent time just being quiet. Both her parents and I practice some form of meditation and/or yoga, and we have regular practices of prayer and relying on inspiration to nourish and get us through our days and times of stress.
The adults in our children and grandchildren's lives-us-provide the first examples and models for our children. How we schedule our time, what we set as our goals and priorities, and how we use our time teach our children more than anything we might say to them or expect them to understand. You probably have already shown your children the practices that matter most and have set up many of the patterns that will affect their lives. In order to parent and maintain good health and well being, we need to take care of ourselves as well.
In the meditation groups I lead, parents and grandparents alike find time to refresh, reconnect with themselves, and find ways to cope with some of the struggles, conflicts, and demands of parenting and family life. One of the things I like to do is to introduce people to some basic, simple ways to create time and space for more spiritual practices in their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren. For those of us who grandparent within the home, we need as much support and refreshing as parents; for those of us who grandparent from afar, we need ways to maintain contact, create connection, and nurture ourselves. After three or four decades of teaching theology, spiritual direction, literature, and language, one thing I learned from the students I taught was that each of us is seeking meaning and purpose in life, and when we become parents and then grandparents, we seek to impart meaning and purpose to our children. Children who are raised with no guidance on spiritual and religious matters, will not necessarily be happy about what they didn't get. I've heard it over and over. In an effort to not 'shove beliefs down their throats', some of us impart no knowledge, no ideas, and nothing to connect with. Others whose faith life or culture may be strong may go to the opposite extreme and expect their children to blindly follow their belief. There needs to be space for us to share ideas, practices, and beliefs with our children, while still allowing that they will come to their own conclusions, ask their own questions (as they do from a very young age), and find meaning and purpose in their own ways.
In my home when I was growing up, my Mother shared ideas from all cultures, taught respect for and tolerance of all spritual and religious traditions, and still was grounded and grounded us in a faith tradition. Our spiritual ideas were an intricate part of our lives, were a vital and important way we solved problems, addressed issues, and found harmony in times of chaos or distress. I am thankful for my Mother for this, and tried to do the same thing for my own daughter. With my Granddaughter, there is a lively conversation that begins with her observations, the sharing of her ideas, and conversations that she engages us with. At each stage of her development, we have shared our ideas, beliefs, and some practices, and have allowed her to explore and find what speaks to her heart.
Living is San Francisco is such a gift for just about every spiritual and religious tradition can be found here, and it is easier than many places to learn about other traditions, share cultural and religious customs, art, music, and holy days, and develop friendships with people who come from diverse backgrounds.
When families who are interested in finding out how to learn about and share different religious experiences with their children ask me, I suggest the book: How to be the Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette by Stuart Matlins and Arthur Majida. While this column is not about religious education, occasionally I may include information for anyone who wonders about how to find ways to answer some of the concersn we might have when it comes to teaching our children and grandchildren about spirituality and spiritual practices.
Meditation is an ancient practice that is part of every spiritual and religious tradition. There are many types of meditation, and many ways of practicing it. Let's first begin with some of what has been said about meditation.
C.S. Lewis, Author of Mere Christianity, said of meditaiton: "We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship."
As French novelist and essayist, Marcel Proust said, “We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.” We have this wonderful capacity to discover the hidden magic, insight, creativity, truth, and connections, and all we need to do is be willing to sit, be still, listen, observe, and receive. What gifts await us when we are open to the Presence of the Divine within us, within one another, and in all Creation.
Teresa of Avila, in the Interior Castle, wrote that meditation was Listening in Love to the Divine. In Judaism meditation is the awakening of the heart, to be receptive to the experience that the "Divine Presence is the ground of All Being, and the ground of All Being is part of a singular interconnected web of All Being." In the Qu'ran it is said: “Verily, in the Remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility.”— Surah ar-Rad (Holy Quran, 13:28).
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.”- Sylvia Boorstein
"Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God." – Diana Robinson
“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.”
― Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
These are just some of the many ideas about what meditation is. What is meditation to you? What is your experience with meditation and meditating? What might be the benefit to you and to your children of doing some meditation?
In the end, whether or not you choose to learn to meditation, continue practicing a practice you already have, or reawaken a practice you may have set aside. The benefits of meditation are many. Consider spending just a minute or two right now, being quiet and still, focusing on your breathing, and being calm and silent. Can't hurt.
"Meditation is not a means to an end. It is both the means and the end." Krishnamurti
A good source of simple, basic meditations can be found on the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center.