Meditation and Children, Part 4: Seated Meditation and The Monkey Mind
Older children may be ready to sit down, rather than lie down, while they meditate. Regular practitioners find that sitting quietly two times a day is ideal. The best times are sunrise and sunset, so your child can begin and end each day with calmness and focus. Have him start with five minutes per session. Gradually, he can extend those sittings to 15-20 minutes a session or more.
You will find that as the weeks and months go by, your child will be able to enter deeper and deeper stages of meditation faster and faster. You will also be amazed at how relaxed and refreshed your child – and you – will feel after even a short session of meditation.
- Sit comfortably on the floor on cushions or pillows, or in a chair. Make sure the spine is as straight and elongated as possible. Though you want a straight back, you do not want to make yourself or any part of your body stiff or tense. Tell your child to imagine an invisible string stretching from his toes right through the top of his head, and to imagine gently pulling that string upward. Tell him to open his chest so he can breathe freely.
- To keep the mind steady and focused on one point, you must keep the body steady as well. Let your child know he should decide not to move any part of his body during meditation. This decision has to be very strong, and made clearly to his body, if it is expected to work.
- If your child wants to keep his eyes open, tell him to let his eyes settle on a point several feet in front of him at eye level. Some people find it easiest to focus on a blank wall; others prefer a visual form, such as the flame of a candle or a picture of an abstract shape that is soothing but not distracting. If your child prefers closing his eyes, you might try to have him focus on a point right between his eyebrows (some call it “the third eye”) so that his eyes look straight out or slightly upward, but not down. Tell him he is aiming to direct his attention inward.
- Next focus on breathing. Your child will want to take slow, deep breaths, making breathing as regular as possible. Follow the flow of air, in and out. You can say, “Feel how cool the breath is as you inhale, and how warm it is as you exhale. Pay attention to your breath and all other thoughts will recede.” Calm, slow breathing will relax the body and keep the mind steady and calm, as well.
- Your child may find that as he listens to his breathing, he may begin to hear a hum, a musical note within. Let him know that this hum or inner vibration is said to put one in tune with the rhythm of the earth. If he can hear it and feel it, he will find it very peaceful and comforting. Your child may start to feel a part of something larger than himself. Do not be concerned if he does not feel this way immediately, as this experience may take quite some time devoted to meditation.
- Your child might want to repeat a single syllable (or mantra). It’s easiest to use something that does not have associations with other things, so he will not be further distracted. Common choices (the universal syllables) are “Om” or “Amen” or “One.”
- When your child repeats a mantra or sacred word, have him start by saying it out loud but soon progress to simply repeating it in his mind, not out loud. Tell him to try to feel the hum of repeating the word or mantra that will carry over even when he repeats the word silently. He has to draw his mind inward to be able to achieve this effect.
- A word on the “monkey mind.” As you and your child proceed through the steps outlined here, you may find that his mind will wander. He may think about things that happened to him today or last week, he may start to feel itches or aches and pains that tempt him to move and adjust position. His mind may flit from one thing to another, like a monkey jumping from branch to branch in a tree. It is only human to find that despite our best efforts to concentrate, our everyday concerns (thoughts about friends, homework, dinner) pop up to distract us. It happens to everyone – it is so common there is a name for it in meditation: it is called the “monkey mind.”
What you must help your child do, each time he becomes aware of the mind wandering off down a distant path, is to bring himself back to the single point of attention. Reassure him: “Do not be disappointed if you find it very difficult to still the mind. Don’t chastise yourself. And don’t feel defeated.” Bringing the mind back, again and again, deepens concentration. The more he does it, the better he will be at stilling the monkey mind and increasing the periods of concentration.
It may help to have your child think of these thoughts almost as if they were uninvited visitors to into his room. Suggest to him: “If you get angry and tell them to “Get Out,” they may just stay out of spite. Or they may leave, but slam the door as they go. Either way, you enter into a struggle of wills that only further upsets your peace of mind. So it is better to simply acknowledge its presence and then go back to your peaceful focus on one point or your mantra. Soon that uninvited thought will realize that now is not a good time to visit, and it will leave.”
If, however, that distraction persists again and again, you might need a different tactic. Your child might try inviting the distraction into his meditation. Tell him to say, “Visitor, you are welcome to join my meditation.” Then there is no tension and his energy is not diverted; he can go back to his meditation.
In the next post in this blog series, I’ll share the importance of creative visualization in the meditation process. If you would like more resources to help guide you and your child through meditation, please visit my website, where you can download several audio recordings and read more articles about the benefits of meditation for children.