How to Meditate with Family
If you’re a budding meditator, family life poses a twofold challenge. On the one hand, you may feel inclined to invite, encourage, or even coerce your loved ones to meditate with you. On the other, you may find that the people closest to you disturb your fragile, newfound peace of mind in ways that no one else can.
For example, only your spouse or partner may know the precise words that can pique your anger or evoke your hurt. And your children may have a unique capacity to try your patience or challenge your attachment to having situations be a certain way. (If you’ve ever tried to relax and follow your breathing while your toddler throws a tantrum or your teenager tries to explain how he crashed your car, you know what this means.)
You can definitely find ways of incorporating the formal practice of meditation into your closest relationships, but only as long as your loved ones are responsive to your efforts. Whether they have any interest in meditation or not, you can still use the ties that bind you to them as an exceptional opportunity to pay mindful attention to your habitual patterns of reacting and behaving. Ultimately, in fact, family life has the capacity to open your heart as no other circumstance can.
Meditating with kids
When you become enthusiastic about meditation yourself, you may want to pass on the benefits to your children (or grandchildren or godchildren or nephews and nieces). Or they may simply notice that you’re spending time every day sitting quietly, and they may become interested in joining you. (Younger kids especially like to imitate just about anything their parents do.)
If your children express curiosity, by all means give them brief instructions and invite them to meditate with you, but don’t expect them to stick with it. Younger children have limited attention spans, and older ones may have other interests they find more compelling.
As you may have noticed, children under the age of 6 or 7 already spend much of their time in an altered state of wonder and delight (when they’re not screaming at the top of their lungs, of course). Instead of teaching them how to meditate in some formal way, join them where they are as much as you can. Draw their attention to the little, wondrous details of life and encourage them to observe without interpretation.
For instance, pick up a leaf and examine it closely with them, watch the ants on the ground, gaze together at the stars in the night sky. You can also turn meditation into a game or use imagery to engage their fertile imaginations. To protect the development of their natural capacity for curiosity and wonder, limit screen time, and avoid pushing them to develop their intellects too soon.
If older kids show interest in your meditation, feel free to introduce formal practices like following the breath or reciting a mantra, but keep them light and fun as much as possible — and let the kids do the practices as they feel moved, not according to some predetermined structure or deadline.
Meditation will actually have its greatest impact on your children by making you calmer, happier, more loving, and less reactive. As they watch you change for the better, your kids may naturally be drawn to meditation because they want to reap the same benefits for themselves.
Meditating with partners and family members
Like prayer, meditation can draw a family closer. (Family also refers to partners and spouses.) When you sit together in silence, even for a few minutes, you naturally attune to a deeper level of being, where differences and conflicts don’t seem so important. You can also practice specific techniques in which, for example, you practice opening your hearts and sending and receiving love to and from one another.
If your family members are willing, you can incorporate meditative practices into your usual routine. For example, you can sit quietly together for a few moments before dinner or reflect before bed on the good things that happened during the day.
Family rituals offer a wonderful opportunity to practice mindfulness together and to connect in a deeper, more heartful way. If you invite your family members to join you as you mindfully cook a meal or work in the garden, they may begin to notice the quality of your attention and follow your lead.
Of course, you can always suggest cooking or eating or working in a new and different way (you may prefer to use words like love and care rather than mindfulness), but your example will have a greater impact than the instructions you give. You can also practice eating meditation with your family occasionally. But be sure to keep it playful, loving, and relaxed.