Children get a yen for Zen
Silence settles on Keenan Barrow as he sits in a meditative position with his palms folded together in his lap. He appears to have no trouble drawing smooth, deep breaths. Of course, Barrow doesn’t have the typical worries of a mortgage, job or bills to push out of his mind. He’s 9. Silence settles on Keenan Barrow as he sits in a meditative position with his palms folded together in his lap. He appears to have no trouble drawing smooth, deep breaths. Of course, Barrow doesn’t have the typical worries of a mortgage, job or bills to push out of his mind.
He’s 9. “I like meditating, and it’s not that hard,” he says matter-of-factly, his fingers toying with a round yin-yang charm dangling from his neck. “You just pick a spot on the floor to look at and concentrate on breathing instead of what you’re going to do today.”
It was Barrow’s enthusiasm for meditating that inspired his mother, Jacque, to begin a free program for children at Utah’s Kanzeon Zen Center, 1280 E. South Temple in Salt Lake City. “At first, Keenan just wanted me to teach him about meditating and Zen Buddhism at home on Sundays,” says Jacque
Barrow. “But I volunteered to do it at the Zen center to include other children who might see their parents meditating at home and want to learn more.” So from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Sundays, Jacque Barrow strikes a gong to gather the group of children — which now boasts a half-dozen regulars, ages 1 to 13 — around her. Together, they sit on round cushions, called zafu in Japanese, and flat, square mats called zabuton. The more supple children sit in the lotus position, with legs crossed and heels resting on their thighs, while others simply straddle the zafu.
The room’s volume plummets as the five- to 10-minute meditation session begins with arm stretches, three deep breaths and three rings of the gong. “When you have a group of 10 children, including really young ones, it gets so quiet, it seems almost unnatural,” says Jacque Barrow, who also supplements the morning with snack time, stories of the Buddha and field trips to a neighboring park.
Daniel Doen Silberberg, the Zen center’s chief executive, admits that meditation in Western Buddhism largely has been geared toward adults, and its introduction to children is a recent development. “Maybe children are already in more of a state of meditation to begin with,” says Silberberg. “Meditation is not sitting on your butt, which you can do at the movies or a ball game. It’s looking into your own mind, and children probably can do that in a more playful, natural manner than adults.”
Silberberg adds that many parents appreciate Jacque Barrow’s program because it allows them to attend the center’s Sunday lessons without being distracted.