Zen and the Art of Childhood

Via Diana Mercer
on Apr 13, 2010
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The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment, wisely and earnestly. – Buddha

Children know this already. I am always amazed by their natural and effortless awareness. Watching a colorful mobile spin can be endlessly mesmerizing, and banging a spoon on a pot is pure noisy experience. The transition from meltdown to contentment might be as easy as a cheesy snack, and conflicts over ownership last for a matter of seconds. I can learn a thing or two here.

When my mind isn’t racing around lamenting my lack of discipline, regretting a glowering lapse in compassion, or planning supper, I might realize a blessed moment of stillness. Maybe I’ll feel the warm sun on my face, relax in traffic when I’m late for an appointment, or notice that i’ve already eaten plenty of chips. Maybe I’ve chosen to spend so much time with children because they are better at this than I am, and they  provide a little-fingered tap on the shoulder back to the present whenever they’re around.

I was lazing around in a hammock last Sunday, with my small friend Isabelle. While I was wondering if I shouldn’t be home cleaning the bathroom, she reminded me that we were having a very nice time by chanting “This is fun” at least once every ten minutes. With the effectiveness of a gong, I came back to the hammock and the bathroom faded away.

The learning doesn’t stop at mindfulness. Children are jolly good at reminding me of other precious nuggets too:

Curiosity: A child’s curiosity is natural and unbridled. Somewhere between asking “What makes it rain?” and “Can I borrow the car?” I lost my obsessive interest in the details. When I remember to pay attention, I begin to remember that I really do care about the spider in my bathtub and if she’ll survive in the flowerpot on my porch.

Joy: When was the last time you sang into a hairbrush pretending you were the only girl in the Beach Boys, did cartwheels in your underpants, or laughed so hard you snorted your beverage? For me, it’s been double-digit years. That seems like too long. I like to hang out with kids to get back in the swing of joy.

Creativity: Children don’t really get that there is a box, so it’s easy for them to think outside it. Trees can be purple, grass is sometimes orange and at least one of them has dreamt of launching a cardboard box rocket to the moon. I need to remember where I put those drawings…


About Diana Mercer

I've been delighting in and learning from children for almost 20 years as a teacher, and former owner of Clementine Studio: Art Space for Children. I love to watch a child's spirit emerge and develop through the process of art. I'm also a big fan of stilling my mind with yoga, meditation, and the art of mindfulness, cooking up a fresh, local and organic dinner from the Farmer's Market, making sweet music with my friends, and baking fancy birthday cakes.


6 Responses to “Zen and the Art of Childhood”

  1. Eliza Woloson says:

    Of course this piece was written by Diana Mercer. Diana has been spooning out creativity to children in Boulder for more than twenty years… from Friends' school teacher to founder of Clementine Art Space for kids in Boulder. I recently discovered Clementine natural art supplies in a Whole Foods in Chicago! Diana Mercer is one of Boulder's many treasures.

  2. Susanna says:

    A great reminder to those of us who are caught in the spin cycle of life. Thank you Diana.

  3. Judy says:

    Thanks for writing this reminder "gong" to help us stay in the present. You have helped a lot of parents experience the joy of being with their children as they express themselves through art.
    We love you.

  4. Diane says:

    Diana, you have beautifully and succinctly distilled the magic of the child artist in your piece– the joyousness that accompanies each authentic moment of creativity.The secret you’ve managed to uncover is that every moment for a chid is authtentic–I’m informed and inspired.
    Thank you–diane

  5. Candace says:

    Thank you Diana. As a new parent who often laments her lack of discipline this piece brought joyful tears to my eyes.

  6. Elise says:

    Thank you Diana.