I live in a house in the hills of Far North Queensland, Australia, with my wife and four-year-old daughter, Clara. My daughter is the brightest spot in my life. Like all children, Clara sees the world in her own peculiar way, and my strategy as a parent—if I have a strategy—is to help her see the world more clearly through her own eyes, rather than teaching her to see it through mine.
After Clara’s first day at preschool she told me she couldn’t remember the names of all her new friends, but she could remember their colors. “Their colors?” I said. “Yes,” she said matter-of-factly, “their colors.” I asked her if everyone had a color and she said of course they do. I asked her what my color is, and she said that when I’m happy it’s purple. I asked her what mummy’s color is, and she said it’s normally yellow.
The next morning we did an experiment. Just after waking, we sat on the sofa in the living room, closed our eyes, and watched the colors. Clara sat as still as a statue for ten minutes before she started to fidget. We opened our eyes and I asked her what she’d seen. She said she’d seen colors on the inside of her eyelids, mostly purple at first, then other colors, dots of color and sheets of color and fireworks and waves. Some of the colors were gooey like caramel. Some of them trembled and hummed. Then Clara announced it was time for breakfast, and we evacuated the living room immediately. That was the first of our meditations. We have come up with many since.
See also: Tips for Teaching Kids Meditation
Learning to meditate on birds and trees
Sometimes we sit outside with our eyes closed, listen to the birds (we live in the tropics so there are thousands of them), and imagine that they are singing inside us. Clara often uses birds now to describe her emotions. For example, when she’s happy, she will say the bird in her chest is singing. And when she’s nervous, she will say that there’s a bird flying around in her body, trying to get out.
Another of our meditations is to sit with our trees and do breathing. Clara asked me one day where air comes from and I tried to explain that, to the best of my knowledge, trees breathe out the air we breathe in, and we breathe out the air trees breathe in.
Clara took this to mean that everyone has one tree assigned to them, with which they have a kind of symbiotic breath relationship. Naturally Clara’s tree is the biggest tree in the garden: the old flame tree that blossoms each September. My tree is the dwarf apple next to it. Sometimes we sit under our respective trees—Clara under her majestic flame tree, me under my shrub—and we breathe. When we breathe in we receive air from the tree, and when we breathe out we give air back to it. It helps to imagine the tree meditating with us.
Another simple meditation is to take a couple of Clara’s mother’s crystals, hold them in our hands, and imagine how it feels to be a crystal. Or we lie on our backs on the living room floor and listen to music. There are thousands of meditations we do, though perhaps meditation is not the right word. They are really just ways for Clara to explore the world inside her, and the twilight zone where the world inside meets the world outside, flows into it, and mingles. I’m sure if Clara ever becomes interested in seeking out other meditation practices, she will find the way there herself.
A cubby house crystal reflection
One afternoon Clara had a play-date with her friend Ruby. I was the only adult in attendance, so I sat in the living room and did some work while the girls played on the floor. At one point they went outside, and I moved closer to the window to keep an eye on them. But I didn’t need my eyes, since all the time I could hear their two little voices floating about in the garden, discussing their thoughts on the flowers, coordinating skirmishes against the chicken coop, describing birds in the birdbath, and hypothesizing the most likely locations to find fairies. For half an hour the garden was full of chatter and giggles, and I sat peacefully by the window.
Then the girls fell silent. At first I didn’t notice, but soon I found myself shifting uneasily in my chair. I asked myself what was bothering me but I couldn’t hear anything. Then I realized that that was it precisely—I couldn’t hear anything.
I went out into the garden and looked. “Girls?” I said. “Clara? Ruby?” But there was no answer. I looked under the house and inside the chicken coop. I scanned the lawn and checked the hedge of the back fence. Then I looked in the cubby house, and I found them.
They were sitting there on two little chairs with their eyes closed and their mouths open, holding crystals in their hands. I wanted to laugh but I held it in. Instead I sat down on the ground next to the cubby house, careful to keep my head beneath the height of the windows. I closed my eyes, and listened.
The world was quiet. A breeze whispered in the long grasses and the leaves of the trees. Insects murmured. From time to time a bird muttered and then fell silent. The sun was starting to set and a chill had crept into the shade. The evening smelt of flowers.
After a few minutes there was a rustling inside the cubby house. A cupboard door scraped open and someone dropped a plastic tea set onto a wooden tabletop.
“Shall we have tea now?” said Clara.
“That was great!” said Ruby. “That was so great!”
What I’ve learned from my daughter’s meditations
I’ve gained so much from meditating with Clara. For years before I started meditating with her, I’d been sitting, trying to control my mind, drifting between periods of reverie and forced silence. I found meditation tiring. I would sigh with relief when my timer rang, stand up, and walk away. Clara showed me that meditation should be a delight, not a chore. She taught me, most importantly, that I must never try to meditate. If meditation doesn’t want me, I can’t force it. I can only wait until meditation calls out to me, and then answer that call.
There are always moments when I just want to sit and listen to my own silence. Maybe I’ll be listening to the birds, and they’ll fall silent, and I’ll find myself listening to that silence. Or maybe I’ll finish a task and find that I don’t want to start a new one—I just want to sit alone and explore. Then I go to my cushion and sit. I don’t have set times anymore, and I no longer time myself. I just start when it feels right and finish when it feels right. I don’t try to focus. I don’t force myself to do anything. I just relax, become fascinated, and allow meditation to blossom on its own, like a flower.
Clara taught me to do that. She taught me to meditate without an agenda. She taught me to be so interested in something that it feels like I’m falling into it. She taught me that to meditate I must be as innocent and inquisitive as a little child.