Dr Noel Keating
Meditation brings considerable practical benefits to those who take up the practice and persist with it. But it also gives rise to deeper, spiritual fruits – it promotes human flourishing and an attitude of compassion and service to one another and to all of creation.
The practical benefits of meditation are very well documented. Meditation gives rise to a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both overall health and emotional well-being. Research on adults and children has shown that meditation benefits physical and mental health, enhances emotional well-being and improves how we think.
The positive effects on physical health include reduced blood pressure, a positive impact on cholesterol levels, reduced anxiety, and less stress. Meditation leads to a heightened sense of emotional well-being, enhanced openness, and improved self-esteem. It leads to greater emotional stability and to a reduction in negative emotions.
Meditation also enhances our capacity for attention and problem-solving. It helps to develop improved attention and leads to better reasoning, creativity and insightful problem-solving.
Children I’ve worked with say that meditation enables them to let go of all the drama; calms and relaxes them and restores them to a sense of well-being; generates energy and confidence in them; and improves their capacity for decision-making.
It was Leanne (9) who said that meditation helps you “let go of all the drama”. That phrase captures in a very succinct way one of the key benefits experienced by adults and children alike when they take up meditation.
Because he worries about his spelling tests, Frank (9) meditates before school on Friday mornings and others meditate before important competitions. Children say that meditation is very calming; Emelia (9) said: “You can do it at any time so you can feel relaxed and not be angry, or sad, or worried about something.”
Children also say that they feel more energetic, focused and confident when they regularly practiced meditation. For example, Norah (10) said, “Every time I do meditation, I feel I’m more bouncy, like I have more energy inside me”. Derek (9) commented that sometimes other boys will taunt him about his ability to do something; when that happens, “they pretty much dissolve my confidence and stop me from doing it. But when I meditate the confidence rises up inside of me and it helps me. And I go and do it.”
Children take very easily to meditation. Madeline Simon says that children take to meditation ‘like ducks to water’ because “they have not reached the stage of logical thought and are able, in their simplicity, to catch and hold God by love”. Because it is such a simple practice, it can be undertaken anywhere – in a bedroom, a living-room or outside under a tree. It does not require any special ability to sit in silence and all children can do it equally well. It is non-competitive and there are no levels of achievement, no tests to measure progress.
When you are sufficiently comfortable meditating yourself, you might like to introduce your child(ren) to meditation. It is important that you invite your child to meditate. This is not something you can insist upon – it must be invitational. They will join you when they are ready.
You might start with 30 seconds of being still in body and mind to help them to understand that thoughts inevitably arise when we choose to sit in silence; they arise and easily capture our attention.
Explain that we meditate by giving our mind a special word to focus on and every time we find we are caught up in thought we return gently to our word. Have the word ‘Ma-ra-na-tha’ written on a page for them. Begin by meditating for just a minute or two and start the meditation with the following words:
“We begin by closing our eyes and placing our feet firmly on the floor. Check that you are sitting up straight in your chair with your hands on your lap or your knees. Become aware of the sounds in the room, then let them go. Become aware of the sounds outside, then let them go.
“Become aware of any thoughts arising in your mind, then let them go. Happy thoughts or sad thoughts, kind thoughts or angry thoughts, calm thoughts or worried thoughts, just for now, let them go. Imagine placing them on a leaf in a stream and let them drift away.
“When you meditate you open your heart to God, who fills you with his love. When the meditation bell rings three times, begin to recite your word. Say the word Ma-ra-na-tha as if it were four short words. Say it silently in your mind so no one else will hear a thing. Say it slowly and lovingly: Ma-ra-na-tha. Keep saying your word until the bell rings again.”
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