Byline: Scott Maben The Register-Guard
Imagine a young child sitting still, quietly contemplating life and thinking peaceful thoughts. Even for just five minutes.
It's a dream scenario for any parent overwhelmed by that eternal energy source running around the house.
But occasions of serenity are a reality for families who practice the ancient rite of solemn reflection. Many find that meditation is effective in helping children to calm down, relax, cope with sadness, anger or fear, and even fall asleep.
"It gives them a way to comfort themselves in times of grief and sorrow," New England teacher Lisa Desmond says in her new book, "Baby Buddhas: A Guide for Teaching Meditation to Children." For the past seven years, she has taught meditation to children ages 18 months to 3 years.
"It helps children with learning difficulties, attention deficits and chronic or life-threatening illnesses build self-esteem and confidence through acceptance and understanding," Desmond writes.
Sharing meditation time with children also helps establish a foundation for spiritual growth and understanding later in life, said the Rev. Oswin Hollenbeck of the Eugene Buddhist Priory.
"They see what's important to their parents, and that's really how they develop their values," Hollenbeck said.
Doreen Hock, a Eugene veterinarian and member of the Eugene Buddhist Priory, has meditated with her 8-year-old son, Dash, for more than two years.
"When he was really little, he would choose to do it," Hock said. "He'd do it on his own. He said he did it once on the playground in first grade."
Now that he's older, Dash is more self-conscious about meditating in public, his mother said. And when he's wound up or emotional, he tends to shy away from meditation. Still, the practice has had a favorable influence on her son, Hock said.
"There's this change in the look on his face, where he's so much more present," she said. "Dash can be argumentative; he's an 8-year-old boy. But I've seen all that cultural stuff melt away, and what's left is that spacious, open presence."
Meditation as well as chanting, which the two also do together, has helped shift the boy's energy level and lessen his competitive edge, Hock said.
"He's more aware of his heart and the energy there," she said.
In some Eastern cultures, children are taught to meditate as soon as they are able to sit upright, around 1 or 2 years old. They are not schooled in doctrine at such a tender age, but they are shown the value of sitting quietly with their family.
"It's not something you would expect a child to do on his own," Hollenbeck said. "If the adult meditates, the child will meditate, even if it's just for a little while. Then you've set up a situation where they're not feeling forced to do it."
Teaching a child to meditate, unrestrained, still might sound like a futile exercise. Not so, said yoga master Kun Ori, director of the Yoga Gallery in Eugene. Meditation is about learning to listen to one's inner voice to find a peaceful, happy message, and that can be more easily accomplished as a child, Ori said.
"For adults, there is too much stress and responsibility, too much doubt and fear, which interrupt the listening to their inner voice," she said. "In the case with children, they do not have too much preconception. They pay attention to their inner self more. They are connected so deep. …