My parents watched the Late Late Show every Friday night and that show vied with the Riordans for top place in everyday conversation the following week. Both shows explored in their own way a changing Irish society. The whole culture of Irish society has changed in the intervening years, including the authority and influence of the Catholic Church. While there is much to be grateful for in many of those changes, one of the consequences has been a decline in regard for the spiritual nature of the human person.
There is an urgent need in society today for practices that awaken the person to their true nature.
Meditation is a universal practice that does just that, it awakens the person to an appreciation of who they are at the deepest level of their being. Thomas Merton spoke of the true-self as distinct from the egoist self and Richard Rohr describes the true self as “who we are in God and who God is in us”. John Main suggested that meditation opens the human heart as naturally as sunlight generates the opening of a flower. What is wonderful to behold, is the spread of meditation as a practice for children.
Since November 2012, Christian Meditation Ireland has been encouraging schools to adopt the practice on a whole-school level. Since then, 210 primary schools have introduced meditation to over 50,000 children. While meditation has become very popular because of the spread of mindfulness, the focus of the mindfulness movement is on its practical benefits. Our project goes deeper and stresses the deep spiritual fruits that flow from it. Our programme teaches the difference between secular mindfulness and Christian meditation without in any way denigrating the former.
Children love to meditate; they take to meditation like ducks to water. My doctoral research confirms that children experience such heart-awareness as they sit in the stillness and silence of meditation. My book, Meditation with Children: A Resource for Teachers and Parents, (Veritas, 2016), describes in the words of the children themselves how they experience the fruits of meditation. It demonstrates the incredible capacity of children to give metaphorical expression to its fruits in their lives. I summarise the fruits as expressed by the children under four headings: ‘Meditation helps you to be yourself’; ‘Meditation helps you to feel the goodness inside’; ‘Meditation brings you closer to God’; and ‘Meditation makes you a kinder person’.
In this short article it is possible to give just a flavour of what children say they experienced as a result of their meditation. For example, Pamela (11) said, “I think meditation brings out the real me, and I don’t have to pretend to be someone else … When I meditate, I can be myself.”
Very many children spoke of becoming intensely aware in meditation of their own inherent goodness.
Lucy (10) described it, saying “When you’re not doing meditation, you sort of… have a snap inside you. As if you are always getting ready to snap. But when you do meditation, the goodness comes out.”
Derek (9) offered: “When I meditate, I go on a journey down to God.” Another child, Alex said: “When I hear the chimes at the start of meditation, I imagine it is God ringing my doorbell and I open my heart to let Him in.” Many children felt their sense of being connected to God in meditation was strengthened by the fact that the whole school meditated together. Adrian (11), captured this well saying: “It feels like everyone is one. We’re all together and still it feels … as if everyone is where you are now. And God is in the presence.”
Many experienced meditation as a form of guidance, nudging them in the direction of acting responsibly and doing the right thing. Sophie (8) found meditation made her a kinder person: “When I let go of the things that are bothering me, it’s like I’ve become a kinder person.” Meditation seemed to give the children access to an inner wisdom by which they allow themselves to be guided.
As well as making them aware of the goodness within themselves, meditation also helped children to become more keenly aware of the innate goodness in others and to relate better with those around them. The children seem to recognise that the goodness in themselves and others is who they really are, their deepest essence, and their true-self. Jason (12) used a very rich metaphor to describe his understanding, saying: “Meditation is like a map and the destination is who you really are.” I was stunned by his capacity to express so succinctly the deep spiritual fruit of meditation.
I am convinced that meditation helps children to have direct, personal spiritual experience and that this is vital for their overall development. Every school is legally obliged to promote the spiritual development of all the children in their care. Christian meditation can be taught in an inclusive way to children from all religious backgrounds and none, without in any way diminishing the Christian understanding of the practice.