When I was a child, words like “mindfulness” and “meditation” were foreign to me.
“God” was laughable, and the idea that we’re all connected would have been totally over my head.
I remember once getting a Bible for Christmas (from a grandparent who meant well), and asking my mom to read it to me. I was about eight.
She kind of rolled her eyes and said something like “okay, if that’s what you want,” and grudgingly read a few pages.
In my household, God was like Santa: not real.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not retroactively asking for religion. I’m not the biggest fan of what has become of much organized “faith.” But it would have been nice to have a vocabulary, or a practice, to understand that something greater that I felt in my whole being when I climbed a tree, when I played with the dogs, when I ran, when I was being present.
But I didn’t. And for a while, it was okay. Because I was a kid, and for me, things were pretty easy. Until they weren’t.
When I was in sixth grade, my mom started drinking—a lot. It got better and got worse over the years, and through it all, I looked for something. And I looked everywhere outside of myself—to food, to booze, to guys, to drugs, to cigarettes, to working out, to starving myself. By the time I was 21 I was recovering from eight years of eating disorders and binge drinking.
And that’s when my therapist introduced me to meditation.
My life has not been the same since. I finally had language for that something I could feel in moments of silence (though they were few and far between). I finally knew how to tap into it. It was presence. That thing some people call God.
I call it Everything. The Universe. Magic.
And I wouldn’t change a thing, of course, because that’s what it took to get where I am. Now I write books for a living, and specifically, am beginning to focus on books for kids that deal with issues like mindfulness, body image, and alcoholic parents. Because they need it.
More than anything I’ve felt before, I feel sure that this is precisely why I went through it: so hopefully other children won’t have to do it alone.
The good news: as I’m publishing these books, people are freaking excited. Parents and organizations from all over the world are coming out of the woodwork, thrilled that I am doing this work. There is a global shift going on. It’s hard to see sometimes (especially post-election), but it’s there, I promise.
And you may be a part of it.
If you are a parent, educator, or spend time with children this is the information you need to know:
> This generation is fast. Children can process things quickly, they can multitask like crazy, but it also means that they’re impatient and have shorter attention spans.
> These are “screen kids.” Studies show that up to three hours a day of a child’s life are spent staring at a screen.
> This is the “information generation.” These days it’s all about knowledge. We have more immediate access to information than we ever have before. Which can be cool. It also might look like replacing emotion and intuition with facts.
> Children value communication. With so many ways to text and contact friends at their fingertips, they are more communicative than ever. But does this mean that they’re connecting?
Not necessarily. Studies show that this generation of children, so consumed with online presence, are more likely to feel depressed, isolated, and a lack of sensitivity to violence.
Of course we don’t need studies to tell us this. Just spend a couple of hours on social media yourself and see how you feel. Gross, right?
Our children need our help to develop a mindfulness practice of some kind.
If you’re around children, you must lead by example. If you don’t currently have a mindfulness practice of your own, start one.
Get creative. Whatever that means to you—if it’s painting, dancing, drawing, writing, washing the dishes, woodwork. Whatever it is that gets you into that “oh-my-God-so-good” state of flow. That state of this! This is living!
Put away the technology.
I recently went to Disneyland for my 30th birthday—still the most magical place in the world to me—and was saddened to see table after table of parents and their children eating and staring at their cell phones. Together, but not together at all.
I know it seems obvious, but only once you’ve walked the walk can you talk the talk. If you don’t have a meditation or mindfulness practice of your own, how can you expect your children to?
There are some mindfulness programs springing up in schools right now, as we undergo this global shift. You’ve probably seen the articles floating around with titles like: “Meditation Replaces Detention,” “Mindfulness in Schools,” “Teaching Meditation in Schools: An Investigation.”
Results have been…well, pretty much what anyone who has tried it themselves would expect: significantly reduced levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, fewer reports of bullying, twice as many students scoring proficient in English on the California Achievement Test, and reduced suspensions by 45 percent during the first year alone…and the list goes on.
Unfortunately, this isn’t (yet!) the norm. So, it’s up to us as parents, authors, and educators to give these kids the tools. Now, more than ever.
Start simple: introduce your children to a meditation practice early on. There are various child-friendly guided meditations out there to get you started. Deepak Chopra has some words of wisdom on the subject, and there are plenty of other resources out there.
We can listen to music with our children—really listen. Be present. Notice. Ask them, “Who is listening?”
More than anything else, though, we must lead by example.
If we’re not there with our children—really there—how can we expect them to be?
Author: Natalie Grigson
Image: @barefootfive on Instagram
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren