Monday, July 18, 2011

Meditation for Kids... or Why I Sit?

Thursday I'm teaching meditation to a group of kids in a summer camp. I'm told that they are middle school kids, around 12-13 years old. So I wondered what I'd say to them about meditation, and why someone might want to sit and face the wall as we do in the zendo.

Forty years ago I taught art to 6th graders. They were a pretty intimidating lot, being little adults, with attitudes about art that were impenetrable. I went back after that to focusing on younger kids (though I taught college kids at the same time who were always ready for adventure).

In elementary school they would send me to the cloak room when I wasn't behaving. That seemed to be often, and my record was twice in one day. Now I go to the cloak room (zendo) almost every day to sit and face the wall. What might have been construed as punishment has become somewhat of a necessity like eating, drinking, sleeping, or all the other sundry things we do to stay alive.

I eat because I'm hungry, though I'm realizing more and more that often I eat and I'm not hungry. I drink because I'm thirsty, though sometimes when I'm thirsty I don't drink, and sometimes when I'm not thirsty I drink because that's what you do in certain places (a coffee house, for example). I sleep when I'm tired, though, sometimes it is because my wife says it is time to go to bed. The water is muddy, at best.

Why do I sit? Up to seven seconds before we make conscious (rational?) decisions we make unconscious decisions. Am I sitting because my unconscious is telling me to slow down and/or wake up?

We hear about cars going from 0-60 mph in a few seconds. Earlier today I was thinking about kids and how fast they are still going at "0." Kids... no, all of us! We sit down on the couch, and have the TV on, a conversation ensuing, a bag of potato chips being consumed, and multitudinous thoughts racing through our heads. That is what we call "laying back," "zoning out," "vegetating." Maybe in reality we are going faster than ever. Maybe at 60 mph we are going slower that we are at 0 because we are trying to focus on the situation at hand in order to stay alive.

So what happens if we really slow down and simply focus on our breath? Is this "ground 0?" Is this an opportunity, in stillness, to start to notice that we may not really be hungry, tired, or thirsty? Is this an opportunity, in stillness, to notice that we may not be doing the best for ourselves or others?

Suzuki Roshi said that what is most important is to discover what is most important. I suspect that he knew what this was (to know who he was). It is a life journey. I suspect that it may be facilitated by a little "quiet wakefulness."

That is why I sit.

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