Developing Spiritual Practice with Children – DRE Corinna Whiteaker-Lewis

When people have asked me if I pray or meditate, I have long said “ummm…making a to-do list is my form of meditation.” And that has been true for a long time – I remember that in college I started keeping a basket with paper and pen in it, and before I went to sleep I would write down the things that I needed to do. It helped me clear my mind, get whatever was bothering me out of my head and onto paper, and pretty much allow me a restful night’s sleep.

BUT, and this is a big but, a to-do list is for things we actually have some amount of control over. Not things that we don’t. I am about half-way through my 50th trip around the sun, and it is only recently that I have realized that I need a way to process those things that I have no control over. I realized that I have avoided such a process primarily through reading before falling asleep, which distracts me from needing to calm any worries I may be carrying.

I was raised without any spiritual practice. As a child I did not go to church – I thought some people did, but not many. I did not have any beliefs instilled in me about God or a higher power. My first contact with religion, that I remember, was a gentle one, fortunately, at an overnight summer camp. Becoming a Unitarian Universalist as an adult, I identify as an agnostic humanist. But I find myself praying. This came upon me quite unexpectedly! My way of praying is to hold my worry in my heart and mind, and wish for it to be resolved – either for myself, or for the person I am concerned about.  Doing so right before bed results in a peacefulness that helps me transition to sleep. I have stopped the practice of reading myself to sleep. I wish I had discovered this long ago, when my children were young, so I could have helped them develop a spiritual practice, too.

As we move into February’s theme of Perseverance, I encourage families to set time aside to develop a practice that allows children to process their worries.  One such practice is the Metta Meditation. A few times last month our older elementary class practiced the Metta, or loving kindness, meditation in class.  This method of sending love and kindness to others comes quite naturally to children.  Research shows compellingly that it actually puts people on trajectories of growth, leaving them better able to ward off depression and become ever more satisfied with life. (Click HERE to learn more from the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley)

When we practice the Metta meditation, we begin with ourselves, then move to someone you feel thankful for, then someone we feel neutral about, then someone we are mad at, and then finally the whole world. You can discuss what language you’d like to use with your child, but a standard phrasing frequently used is:

May I be healthy and strong. May I be happy. May I be filled with ease.

Ending with:

May all beings everywhere be happy.

As we explore Perseverance this month, I encourage you to do so, with your children, from a place of strength that is enhanced through a practice of prayer or meditation.

In faith,

Corinna Whiteaker-Lewis

Dir. Of Religious Education