Dalai Lama, Children, Meditation, and Patanjali: a class series for families

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Below, you will find a series of class outlines that introduce the practice of meditation and the supporting life qualities to groups that include both parents and children. The basic principles are derived from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the traditional source of guidance on how to calm the mind from the yoga teachings of India. Many of the listed activities are drawn from For Goodness’ Sake, a book by Nitai Deranja

Introduction: The Dalai Lama has stated that “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” In Demystifying Patanjali (p.38) Swami Kriyananda wrote: “Fifteen minutes of this practice every day, engaged in by thousands, or even millions, of people throughout the world could uplift the whole planet.”

Opening Session: Can we do it? Let’s try to meditate for 5 minutes. Try to keep your mind focused at the point between the eyebrows. I’ll ring a bell every 30 seconds, and you can count 1 point for every time your mind is focused when the bell rings. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the point of concentration.

After the first effort we can see that concentration is not as easy as it might seem. The problem is restlessness. What is restlessness, and where does it come from? Patanjali helps us see that this outward-pulling force can be weakened by following the yamas and niyamas, guidelines for life that are quite similar to the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the Eight-fold Path of the Buddha. They help us see how we can become more relaxed and calm.

Session 1) non-lying and self-study (introspection and self-honesty)
Theme: Lying distorts our connection with the perfect flow of reality, Truth-telling reinforces our sense of oneness.

Activity: To Tell the Truth
Divide into groups of about 5, mixing adults and children, with each group choosing something that only one has done but that everyone in the group will claim to have done. Taking turns on stage, each group describes their chosen action with everyone answering questions from the audience about the action. Audience guesses who told the truth. Members of group describe what it felt like to lie.

Homework: Do whatever you say you’ll do for one day, even if it’s trivial like getting a drink of water. Report results the next day.

Session 2) non-stealing and non-covetousness; contentment and openness to higher truths
Theme: Stealing/Covetousness affirms that what we have is insufficient and that we need something to complete us. Acceptance brings us peace (even though acceptance could just be a first step before we need to put out energy to manifest things or respond to challenges).

Activity: Fortunately/Unfortunately (page 20, For Goodness’ Sake*)

Story: Everything always works out for the best (page 21-22, For Goodness’ Sake*)

Homework: Affirm acceptance of everything that happens for one day, especially if it’s unpleasant.

Session 3) non-sensuality; purity
Theme: The senses are tools for interacting with the physical world. When we let ourselves be controlled by them (instead of controlling them), we lose our centeredness and create agitation.

Activity: Gourmet’s Nightmare (page 54-55, For Goodness’ Sake*)

Homework: Experiment with fasting (partial/full/etc.) for one day

Session 4) non-violence; austerity
Theme: Violence results from anger/irritation/annoyance and affirms that we are unsatisfied with the flow of life and want it to be different.

Activity: Finding an animal/insect/plant/fish that you can follow, observe, and/or interact with for 10 minutes in a loving way

Homework: Spend a day blessing every being you come in contact with.

Extend the meditation each day.
First day: bell every 30 seconds
Second day: bell every 40 seconds
Third day: bell every 50 seconds
Fourth day: bell every 60 seconds=10 minutes, double day #1
At end of week; bell every 30 second to compare how far we’ve come since beginning

Aides to meditation: Straight, relaxed spine with chin up, eyes relaxed (closed or half open), visualization, counting breaths, mantra, chanting….

End each session with short period of yoga postures followed by deep relaxation in savasana, possibly with peaceful music background and/or guided meditation for 2-3 minutes.