I sat, cross-legged on the round, blue cushion I had in tow and patiently waited for the clamor to die down in the small elementary school library. Children’s books, many of which I remember reading as a child, neatly lined the bookshelves and tiny chairs encircled the perimeter of the room. Perusing the height of these chairs made me feel much larger than I am (and I liked that feeling).
As I sat down, I peered at the faces of the 15 or so fourth and fifth grade boys, who observably anticipated my instruction. Sitting amongst them were 10-12 young professional, adult age mentors who regularly and passionately donate their time to impact the lives of these boys. This was all the fodder I needed to execute and facilitate the meditation. So here I was, preparing to guide a meditation with elementary school children, having no idea how this would go!
I pulled out the Tibetan singing bowl, a material item that the boys really liked. The lights were dimmed and I began the weekly meditation which is part of the regular ritualistic aspect of Engage the Vision, lovingly referred to as “ETV. Now that everyone was gathered, positive affirmations were vocalized and repeated, new mentors were introduced, and the guided meditation begins.
They Get It, They Really Get It
It has been a long time – I mean a long time – since I was in the 4th grade. I was a kid in the Midwest during the 70s and the 80s and Southern California, where I live now, is a very different place, as is the entire world a different place, today. Children are exposed to far more information, messages, and visuals at such an accelerated rate that it is really hard to determine what is appropriate and what is not. Our expectations of childhood has also changed significantly since I was in the fourth grade and, therefore, so must our approach change in order to equip young people with new skills for self-discovery, personal development, and emotional intelligence. These highly valuable characteristics of humanity must be maintained, passed on and shared with others. I found, although late in life, that meditation can be an effective tool for such endeavors. Contrary to to my fears of failing at this, the boys unequivocally “got it” and openly accepted this invitation to go inward and discover themselves more fully.
Channeling Boys’ Energies Inward is Possible
Boys are, and always will be, boys. People sometimes hate to hear that because it sounds like I am stereotyping gender expectation, but I stand in my belief – both having once been a boy myself and also as a behavioral scientist who has worked with children and youth for decades, that this is, indeed, true. Call it nature or nurture, it is really the result of a complex interweaving of the two, without any possibility of extrapolating cause from effect. Boys tend to have very high energy, especially within a group of other boys and can be very physical, and I mean running around, jumping, crawling all over each other.
However, they tend to be less self-expressive than girls and even when comparing cohorts of adult men and women, you’ll probably see the same trend. When it comes to emotional expression, boys are significantly hindered by the socialization process manifesting in their own sense of self, an identity that is shaped by repression and limitations. If this is the case an adult, with some great effort and time and commitment, this is something that can be worked with – but it takes work. From my own perspective, meditation is a portal to self-understanding – a necessary, albeit critical foundation for self-empowerment, growth, maturity, and balance. Like most things, what better time than right now?
Meditating On Basic Life Lessons
Sure, there are minor adjustments made to the meditation practice when instructing 4th and 5th graders that makes it slightly different than what an adult might experience. For one it lasts about 5-7 minutes from start to finish. This includes getting physically settled and ready for meditation – it can take a little longer for children. Secondly, the guided meditations are always focused on a specific concept, or topic, including self-control, approaching the unfamiliar, identity, etc. Whatever the topic, it is always something meaningful and oftentimes directly relevant to the curriculum planned for delivery that day and serves as a springboard for post-meditation discussions and activities. It grounds the mentoring session fully and it also allows me the opportunity to engage in my own practice, something many meditators struggle with.
Guiding Meditation Can Reinvigorate Your Own Practice
I’d like to think that I am pretty above average when it comes to my engagement in self- development activities. I attend workshops and classes and seek out and accept new challenges so that I do not get stagnant. However, consistency is always difficult for me simply because I tend to lose sight of the power that such activities have upon my general psychological state of mind when getting sucked into the vortex of the daily grind.
In this case, my role in this experience has been to truly felt like one of transference of knowledge in a way that is different from what they are used to or familiar with and one that I personally prefer over the rigid academic system that is in place. Guiding a meditation is very much like public speaking, except you are seated instead of standing, most people’s eyes are closed (perhaps this includes your own) and you must as you pace yourself in your message delivery to allow for moments of complete silence.
Passing the Baton (or Tibetan Singing Bowl)
You’ve probably heard it a million times and in a hundred different ways, but true power lies in the way in which you can stimulate and develop such “found” power within another. It’s true, but sustained effort and an approach that positively feeds both logic and emotion are required. Each week, before I began, I offered the boys the opportunity to lead the meditation themselves. I said they would need to prepare and write down what they were going to say, or at least outline their points.
There was one week, when I was not present due to a work obligation, and I was later told that several boys stepped up to the plate, having written down their ideas and read from a crumpled piece of notebook paper, with the passion and conviction of someone much older, much wiser and much more connected to the message in a visceral way. This experience has brought me many benefits, but witnessing the learning process, with content that was outside of the school’s curriculum, felt the most rewarding
With Every New Experience You Gain Something New
I really never thought that fourth and fifth-grade boys would have the focus or the stillness of body that are helpful for meditation practice, but, boy was I ever wrong about that! In fact, not only do they look forward to it, and even vocalized it as one of their favorite parts of the program, they have shared that they had meditated at home, outside the protected environment of the program. So, yes, I was wrong, and it feels so right!
Perhaps I have been wrong about a lot of things in life, perhaps even more than the things I have been right about. I no longer chalk this up as a deficiency, but see it as undeniable evidence that I remain continually engaged in personal growth even though it sometimes feels like I’m not doing enough. Some would such perceived deficiencies “failures” and then tell me how to transform it and redirect it. I simply see such challenges as successes from the very start.
Don’t put limits on what can and cannot be accomplished if you have never even tried it. I mean, we tell children that all the time, but we, as adults, should also role model such behaviors. We, as adults, show tap back into the wonder and curiosity that characterize that which is a universal childhood, regardless of what race, class or culture they derive from. The openness is still there, the eagerness, it’s all right there for the shaping.
I feel good, knowing that I planted some seeds that will grow beyond my years, when I am no longer here, and the ideas and experiences that I have shared will live on with a small piece of me in their cells. It is experiences such as these that are, for me, the “ magical moments of life,” from which we can cultivate the potential and live in a much more open way with an open heart, an open mind, and an open soul. Meditating with 4th and 5th graders will really give you a new perspective of how you view your own life because everyone can benefit from every experience that one has on this earth, not just children. That’s an elementary lesson for us all.
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