When we think of a meditation class we generally think of a group of adults sitting quietly. But is it possible to make meditation accessible even to young children? Bodhipaksa has been taking lessons from Lisa Desmond’s book, Baby Buddhas, and finds that he’s learned, or perhaps relearned, a new language.
I taught my first meditation course almost 20 years ago now, and yet I’d feel at a loss teaching meditation to children because my entire experience of acting as a meditation guide has been with adults.
True, when I was the director of a Buddhist Center in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, we’d sometimes have groups of schoolkids as young as 11 or 12 come for visits, and I successfully taught them a stripped-down version of the mindfulness of breathing practice. But in essence I treated them as young adults. Incidentally, that worked for most of the girls, who were generally pretty mature and who got a lot out of the short sessions of meditation we did, but for many of the boys a five minute period where everyone had their eyes closed was too invaluable an opportunity for mischief to be overlooked. Clearly, my grown-up style of teaching didn’t appeal to those below a certain level of maturity. How would I have fared with a class of five-year-olds? To be honest, I think I wouldn’t have tried meditating with them at all.
In essence I simply would have no idea where to begin teaching pre-school age children how to meditate. I just don’t speak the language. And that’s a shame, since I have a daughter who’s now almost 15 months old and who’s growing up rapidly. At some stage I’ll want to teach her how to work with her mind. Thankfully, I now have some tools available, thanks to Lisa Desmond’s excellent book, Baby Buddhas.
Desmond understands children. She understands how they learn (“The children will mimic you — the way you speak, how you breathe, how you sit and hold your head, how you fold your hands — so be a good model”). She understands the importance of ritual and reverence (“Store your sacred items on your altar and let the children know that they may not play with them — these objects are not toys”). She understands children’s sensitivities (“Do not comment on the way the children breathe”). She respects and trusts the adults who may attempt to teach meditation to pre-schoolers (“Trust your intuition”).
All these gems, by the way, are from just one two-page chapter of Baby Buddhas. Those two pages (five and six) contain so much practical wisdom that reading those alone will give you at least half of what you need to know in order to start teaching meditation to children. The other half consists of the specific meditation techniques that she outlines. The “third half” (if you will allow me such an indulgence) is experience and the learning that comes with experience. And that is something no book can give you, although this book will help you to take the plunge and gain such experience.
Baby Buddhas is laid out in a very attractive style, with some delightful photographic illustrations of children (and adults) joyfully meditating, and with some practical illustrations of useful equipment and how to use it.
The instructions are clear, and could be followed by any interested adult and not just by an experienced meditation teacher. Each meditation includes a list of materials, suggestions for evocative and useful terms that can be used, suggested uses for that particular meditation, and space for noting your own creative ideas. There then follows a step-by-step guide to the meditation that covers everything from how to arrange the cushions, to a suggested script that includes not just the words that one might say (“We are going to sit with our legs crossed, our backs straight, and our heads held high”) but also stage directions (“Long exaggerated breath in, long exaggerated breath out”).
The meditation exercises covered include the “Sunshine Meditation” (a simple form of metta bhavana, or lovingkindness meditation), an “OM Meditation,” a “Cleansing Breath Meditation, a walking meditation, and several others. Also included are two meditations for adults — one a way for adults to honor each other and to understand that we all wish to raise our children to be at peace, and another for sending love to a child in a time of need.
I can’t imagine a better book on meditation for children of pre-school age. Desmond’s book achieves the goal of teaching meditation in a language that young children can understand — a language, moreover, that I am pleased to find that I recognize and resonate with.