It started off as a way to calm my toddler down. Three years old, with a new baby brother and a fiery temper, she would become frustrated (or over-tired, or bored, or desperate for attention… you know how it goes with toddlers) and positively melt down. Not a bratty, “I want it my way, mom!” kind of meltdown, but a screaming till her throat was hoarse-sobbing-body flailing- totally out of control kind of melt down. For my sanity and hers, I needed a way to help us both.
I read parenting books. I talked to my mom, friends with kids, her pediatrician. We practiced taking deep breaths whenever she seemed on the verge of losing it. I set aside a special time for simply listening to and playing with her each day, and it helped. It did. But there was an underlying anxiety that remained in her, the way she chewed at her lips and bit at her nails, and it was a hard thing to see in a three year old.
Meditating: The Way to Peace…But How?
I was relaying some of these thoughts to a friend on the phone one day, and she said “Speaking of anxiety, I need to get back into meditating. It always helps.” And something clicked. The best thing I could do to calm my daughter down, to relieve her tiny mind that was clearly filled with too much, would be to help her learn to calm herself down. Meditation seems like the ultimate way to quiet a mind, a practice that can be undertaken anywhere, costs nothing, and brings peace. The only problem was this: how was I going to guide my daughter toward meditating when I was so lousy at it myself?
I’ve tried. Oh, I have tried. And every time I have tried to sit calmly and not think, it’s all I think about. I sit quietly, breathing deep, relaxing my body, and attempt to focus on one word, one idea, to keep the other thoughts that run through my head every second from taking over. No matter what, they just keep pushing their way in. Not thinking, not thinking, not thinking…to do list…no! No to do list, no thinking! Not thinking, not thinking about to do list… No! and so it goes.
Clearly, I was missing something. The only times I feel I’ve come close to having my mind be clear, yet at peace, is at the end of a yoga class, when my body feels strong and relaxed, and listening to the teacher’s soothing voice, I let go of my own self and just relax into my breathing. That’s what I needed to bring to my daughter, but in a way that wouldn’t require a yoga mat, dark classroom and teacher, because with a newborn, a limited budget and a fidgety three year old, that was just not happening. So I did what most of us do in this day and age, and turned to the internet. I Googled ‘guided meditation for kids’, printed out some pages that looked good and gave it a shot.
The Meditating Game
It was probably the goofiest, most un-meditative meditation session ever, but it was fun to put the baby down for nap and play a “meditating game” with my daughter. She fidgeted, she giggled, she flopped over, but as I read slowly and calmly from the pages, she began to relax. Her breathing slowed. A slow smile crept over her face. When I finished reading, we sat taking deep breaths and after she opened her eyes, she said “Mmmm, I want to lay down and stretch” and proceeded to stretch out her limbs on the bed, carefully and consciously working her muscles, before telling me she had had fun and bounding off to her room.
She doesn’t always want to play “the meditating game” and I certainly don’t force it. I have noticed that when we do meditate for a few days in a row, she seems happier, more at ease, less clingy. I have also discovered something else.
Meditating For Mamas (and Dads, and Grandmas, etc…)
When I read out loud to myself from the pages (which I started doing as a way to interest her in joining in when she claimed she didn’t want to), I find myself relaxing. My breathing slowing down. My mind…clearing. I don’t worry about focusing or not focusing. I don’t worry about thinking or not thinking. I do what the words tell me.
I imagine that waterfall of white light spilling down over my head. I feel my head relaxing. With my eyes closed and my breath even, I see the light, radiant and white, splashing over my shoulders and feel them release as well. It washes over me, my chest, my hips, my legs. I know the words well now; I don’t need to look at the paper, but still I say them aloud, to guide myself, to ground myself in the image. I feel massaged from the inside out. I feel filled with the same light I am imaging all around me. I lead myself through another activity.
Sometimes I am a lotus flower, pushing up out of a muddy pond. Sometimes a candle on a table, shining light out to the room, the world, the universe. Sometimes, my favorite, I am different colors, shining their virtues-peace, joy, intelligence- out to everything around me. Some days my daughter comes and sits quietly beside me, listening, breathing deep. Sometimes she doesn’t, and I am vaguely aware of her voice chattering to herself as she plays, but it doesn’t disturb me. When I finish my activity, I breathe deep. I let myself stay filled with white light. I don’t think or not think. When I finally open my eyes, my mind is calm. I am deeply relaxed, like I’ve woken up from a good nap, but I am not tired.
I can’t imagine how silly I look, sitting cross-legged in our oversized chair, eyes closed, back straight, talking to myself from sheets I have memorized, words aimed at little kids. They work for me as well. I’m not sure what that says about my mind, or what a practiced meditator would have to say about me guiding myself by speaking out loud, but who cares? It makes me feel good. It makes my brain feel good, it makes my heart feel good. It brings a small oasis of peace to my crazy days. And when mom is relaxed, the whole family is relaxed. Toddlers (almost always) included.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net