Lately our children have had a little bit on their minds. When our children are thinking deeply about something, or are worried about something, if they do not have the words to tell us, then we can tell by the changes in their behaviour that something is up. One of them gets a bit manic and easily spirals into hysteria. The other slows down and gets mopey and generally unsatisfied. The youngest just cries and needs mama – her particular ‘out-of-sorts’ characteristics have not unfolded yet. This has been happening a bit lately, accompanied by general tiredness, their little bodies feeling the effects of the end of a busy year, a year of some big changes.
It felt like the right time to begin meditations with them at night-time.
When we have days that leave the children feeling out of sorts, or not quite ‘in their bodies’ then we often find they settle into themselves really well when we take them for a pyjama walk before bedtime, before quietly slipping into bed and drifting off to sleep to a story. The walk is only a short one: in our old house it was just around the block, and here where we live now we can choose to walk up the hill and then down, or down the hill and then up! Either way the rhythm of the walk, the steady breathing and the quiet conversation is peaceful and settling. It is a chance to connect after a busy day, to notice things together, to talk if we want to. Sometimes you can hear my daughter at least a kilometer away, as she likes to sing robustly about the things she is thinking about as she walks. My son often races ahead, climbs walls, trees, rocks, find sticks to carry and stones to throw. Sometimes we just walk quietly together. I listen and walk and hold hands when required. Walks with Daddy are loved the most, as Daddy time is savoured, and he knows so much about things Mummy doesn’t know about 🙂 In winter these bedtime walks are exciting as they involve getting dressed in layers of warm clothes over pyjamas, and carrying torches or lanterns. In summer the walks are a wonderful way to enjoy the fresh cool evenings after a hot day.
After unwinding with a walk the kids go straight to bed. Sometimes we read a few stories, but tonight they were so worn out that we just switched off the light and I settled down to tell them a story in the darkness.
I’ve been working on my storytelling with the children again recently, exploring a few different ways to explore verbal stories. We read books together every single night, and often throughout the day too, but I find that I can weave a closer connection, and challenge my imagination in a wonderful way when I put away the books and just start storytelling. The meditations we have been doing before bed are not the same as the ones you are likely to experience as an adult. They unfold in the present tense as a meditation does, except without too much consciousness placed on their emotional and physical bodies.
Meditation stories create a safe place for children to explore their feelings. It is their choice to voice them or address them, it is their choice to leave their feelings behind before the story begins, or to take them with them. I do not ask them to tell me what they are thinking about – but they do have the opportunity to share them with a ‘third party’ in the meditation if they wish. Recently we have been using the Grandfather Tree as the place to leave unwanted feelings if they so choose. I will tell you more in the next post. I don’t believe that analysing the whys and wherefores of their feelings before bed will help them sleep. Indeed I think if we talk too much about what is troubling them then that will be the thought they carry into their dream life. There are opportunities during the day for these kind of discussions. Over a meal, or perhaps during the pyjama walk. Bedtime is a time of letting go, and it is important to feel secure before slipping into that other world of our dream life.
My meditation stories always start the same way. I begin by creating the mood of the story experience with a song. You could also begin with a verse or with a short description of the place the story will unfold from. The idea is that safety comes with predictability and familiarity. When children hear the familiar introduction to the story they know that what comes next is safe and enjoyable, which means they can allow their bodies to relax, their minds to drift and loosen their grip on their worries or engaging thoughts.
From this beginning, the story will then unfold in present tense. They are usually as simple as a short walk through a well-described environment and observations of what is seen and done in this place. There may be fun or silly adventures, but not edge-of-your-seat or laugh-your-pants-off adventures.We are trying to achieve a sense of equanimity, of peace. Then as the story comes to an end I talk them backwards through the story and the introduction, describing each part as I did in the beginning, bringing the children safely back to where we started. You can end the meditation with a verse or a song, perhaps the same one you started with.
I never know how it is going to unfold as I do not always plan these stories. I’ve read enough stories and told enough stories to have the confidence to allow trust in the pictures that form in my mind as I am storytelling. This comes with practice, which means lots of storytelling!! Tonight we had an adventure in a jungle cave. Previously we have played on the beach, swum with the dolphins, floated in the air, walked across the desert …
It is too much for this post, so tomorrow I will write out the story that I told the children tonight. It was a lot of fun in a jungle cave with water pixies!!