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It’s really not surprising that the higher self is a mystery to so many people. It seems sometimes that our entire society is arranged to hide this very fact from us. If most people stopped to think about how they spend their lives, they would see an unending series of appointments and projects marching relentlessly toward them as if on some giant conveyor belt. The direct result of all this outward activity, in addition to burn-out, disease, and other symptoms of modern stress, is the tendency for people to define themselves solely in terms of outward accomplishments and appearances. We perform a great service for our children when we help them become aware of more inward parts of themselves.
Learning to relax deeply is an important first step in drawing closer to the higher self. When the mind and body are restless, the physical senses are actively engaged with things outside of us, making it difficult to feel the more subtle impulses of our inner reality. Relaxation allows a more inward focus that helps children to realize they are more than the body and to perceive that “still, small voice” within.
Recently I took a small group of children for a walk to a beautiful, thickly forested location. The sunlight that was able to find its way through the deep green canopy of leaves was dim and cool. The rich earth was covered by a soft layer of last year’s leaves and needles muting the sound of our footsteps. As soon as we entered, the children’s voices became hushed and their movements became calmer as an almost tangible feeling of reverence came over the group. It was only a small step from that state to one of deep relaxation when we paused for a few moments of quiet reflection. When we left, there were many requests to return to that same spot. The children had been touched by the deep quiet of the forest because it resonated with their souls’ natural yearning for stillness.
For some children, going from their usual, highly active state directly into a deeply relaxing activity is difficult without some kind of transition. Yoga postures are excellent for just such occasions. Of course, they are good at other times as well since they combine physical movement, relaxation, and a bit of a challenge all into one enjoyable activity. Stories provide another quiet way of engaging children’s interest, that is assuming that the story is one that doesn’t leave them over-stimulated, as some do. This is one reason that bedtime stories have remained such a strong tradition in family life. A bath can also be an excellent aid for fostering a state of calmness, as is playing a quiet game such as working on a jigsaw puzzle together, or any other activity that both interests children and at the same time helps to draw them into a physically relaxed state. This does not mean that you want to lull them into sleepiness: quite the contrary. An alert mind is essential for concentration, and concentration is an important ingredient for expanding one’s consciousness.
In the same way that the overall atmosphere of a restaurant affects your experience of a dinner out, each part of the environment you provide for these activities affects your child. Obviously, a quiet place is conducive to relaxation; so also are places of beauty, expansive views, and natural settings such as a pretty, green corner of your back yard or the flowers in a garden. A gentle “Let’s try this” quality in your voice will produce better results than a demanding, “Now sit still!” Listening to beautiful, soothing instrumental music or quietly strumming a guitar, lyre, autoharp or other instrument can also be very conducive to relaxation.
I have found that for some children sitting up is the best position to assume for relaxation activities while others do better lying on their backs. Of course, when lying down there is always the danger of falling asleep, but I have found this position especially good with groups of children where some are self-conscious, and afraid to close their eyes because they think that others might be looking at them.
Directing the children’s attention to their inhalation and exhalation or to their heart’s beating, can give them a slow rhythmic sound to concentrate on that is soothing and helps the mind become still. If the body is restless, tensing and relaxing the individual body parts from the feet to the head is a good exercise. When guiding children in this kind of activity, it is helpful to call out the different body parts so that each one is included. If you notice a particularly tense area, or you see that the child is having trouble locating a part of her body, you might gently touch it to help the child locate the tension and release it. Imagining that one is breathing in peaceful, calming energy and breathing out restlessness can also deepen one’s relaxation.
Once the children are relaxed, call to their attention the pleasurable feeling of being so calm. In this fast-paced world that we live in, they may never before have associated being calm with pleasant feelings. In such a state children are quite receptive to visualizations and uplifting thoughts, either suggested to them or drawn from their own higher selves. This is a very good time for prayer, sending out devotional thoughts or feelings, or experiencing the quiet but strong power inside when unruffled by emotions, excitement, or restlessness. Imagining themselves as mountains in the midst of a storm, unmoved by battering winds or rain, can help them get in touch with that inner strength.
When the time for this activity is up, guide the children gently back to a more physically energized state by directing them to
wiggle their fingers and toes or rock slightly back and forth. Allow time following the relaxation for some quiet activity such as drawing, writing, or simply enjoying the peaceful feelings that remain.
Concentration is an important part of almost every aspect of life, and is essential for developing an awareness of the inner life. The greater your children’s concentration skills, the more likely it is that they will enter deeply into activities involving their inner reality. The following activities can help to develop concentration.
Light a candle and place it before you and your children. Using your own words, guide them through the following experience. Gaze at the flame and try to dear your mind of all stray thoughts. Let the gently flickering, warm light fill you with a sense of joy and peacefulness. When the mind has become very still, dose your eyes and try to visualize that same flame in your mind’s eye. If it fades from view or you can no longer imagine it there, open your eyes and gaze again at the flame. Keep alternating as seems right between concentrating with the eyes open and visualizing with the eyes dosed. End by spending a short time abiding in the peacefulness that you are feeling.
Go outside with your children and direct them to choose a sound, such as the wind in the trees or the singing of the birds. Then simply sit together with dosed eyes, becoming as absorbed as possible in the sound, the feelings, and the thoughts it generates. When an appropriate amount of time has passed, open your eyes. This can also be done with eyes open, concentrating on what one sees rather than what one hears.
One of my fellow teachers was trying to help a group of restless teenagers learn how to concentrate. After several unsuccessful attempts, he found a technique that worked. Each morning he asked the students to sit quietly for 5 minutes with their eyes closed and their minds concentrated inwardly. Every 30 seconds he would ring a small bell. Anyone whose mind was still focused when the bell rang could count a point (on the honor system). Wandering thoughts meant no point that time, but people could refocus their minds for the next bell. At the end of each session the students recorded their scores, each in a private journal that was shown only to the teacher. At the end of two weeks, the teacher felt the activity proved itself a success when the students asked if they could try it without the bell since the ringing was interrupting their concentration!
Exploring the Soul
Visualizations that ask children to go beyond their bodies and experience the freedom and wisdom of their souls can be both fun and beneficial. I had a little girl in one of my classes who was deeply grieving the death of her beloved pet. Her pain was greatly assuaged though, after a visualization in which her soul and the soul of her pet were able to laugh and play together and to continue loving each other even though their physical forms were not together.
There are so many possibilities for new insights when children do not feel weighed down by the heavy physical shells of their bodies. Once children have imagined that they are free of their physical form, many are able to let themselves inwardly explore in ways that they never would have before.
Some of the favorite ways that I have found for them to explore this experience are:
To imagine themselves floating up in the sky surrounded by stars. Piece by piece their bodies disappear. An invisible force, which is their higher self, remains. All that can be seen are the stars where their bodies used to be.
To imagine their bodies unzipping and falling away. Inside is a radiant being, glowing with brilliant light like a thousand candles.
To imagine their higher selves floating away, leaving their bodies behind to quietly rest until their higher selves finish their journeys and return to them.
Once the children are imagining themselves as only their higher selves, they can be guided through a wide range of possibilities. All of the limitations that the body and personality impose on them are gone. They can visualize themselves going to other times, places, and lives. They can think of themselves in any form or existence that they choose.
For those who are just beginning even to think of some other existence than their usual physical one, it may be good to keep the activity fun and light. Asking children to imagine they are flying to other parts of the world or universe almost always produces an enjoyable experience.
For those who are ready for a little more depth, you can delve into situations in which the wisdom and goodness of their higher selves has a part to play, or in which the union of that self with other soul realities can be felt. For example, you may guide children to let their higher selves flyaway to a beautiful, heavenly realm where the souls of many wise and loving people are. No speaking is necessary and yet everyone fully understands everyone else. So much love is shared. After a while it is time to return to one’s physical body, but even after the body has completely surrounded that higher self, it is still able to glow through the eyes and is eager to go out and share with others all of the love it received.
© Ananda Sangha Worldwide 2013