| Susan Dermond
Parents love their children and want to give them everything they
need to become happy fulfilled adults. In my sixteen years of working
with parents, I have known many who go to extraordinary lengths
to nurture their children.
Perhaps you are one of them. You drive them to lessons, enroll
them in camps, and get them to all the practices and games for sports
teams. I know parents who do all of this plus take their children
camping, to science museums, to Scouts, and to temple, synagogue,
or Sunday schools. Many of these children are full of confidence,
competence, and joy.
Many more of them, however, are stressed out. The least disappointment
or unfulfilled desire sends them in a tailspin and they pout, cry,
or whine. They get bored easily. Their voices are often high-pitched
and anxious, rather than relaxed.
Other children, even some who have not had all of the opportunities
Ive mentioned are balanced, creative, joyful. They seem to
have a well of inner contentment that enables them to cope with
small disappointments and to be able to take no for an answer sometimes.
They are able to go with the flow of life, accepting
both its ups and downs.
Is there any common characteristic I have noticed in families whose
children answer this description? The answer is, yes, there are
not media-saturated children. There parents have given them a gift
that can lead to inner contentment. And that gift is the gift of
being comfortable with silence.
Children really have so little quiet and solitude in their lives
unless parents make the effort to give it to them. Many kids stay
up too late and then have to be nagged to get up, get dressed, and
rush to eat breakfast and go. They jump into a bus or a carpool
and ride to school amid a crowd of children talking and teasing,
Even if theyre driven to school alone in the car, the parent
has the radio on or worse, the child listens to a Walkman. At school
they are in crowds at recess and lunch. In the classroom, even if
they are working quietly, there is movement, whispering, the teacher
talking softly to an individual--constant stimulation to tune out.
Children come home after school and turn on the TV or the CD player.
The sub-conscious becomes filled with ad lines, song lyrics, and
A child always immersed in so much sensory stimulation learns to
tune some of it out on the conscious level. For self-protection
he simply must. This leads to a contraction of the consciousness
and to a deadening of the sensitivity to others.
In order to have any time at all for his own thoughts, to get in
touch with his own feelings, to imagine, to create, a child needs
to have quiet times. The inner self needs silence and solitude to
Most religions teach us the necessity of being alone in silence
as part of their mystical tradition. In Judaism, this tradition
is called hitbodedut, a form of prayer in solitude, which
leads to self-transcendence. In yoga it is called pratyahara,
the interiorization of the mind. Saint Teresa of Avila calls
it the Prayer of Quiet,
a deep and peaceful happiness
of the will, without being able to decide precisely what it is,
although it can clearly see how it differs from the happiness of
At the end of a week-long class on Education for Life that I taught
in Europe, I asked all the parents in the class to come to the last
class with one idea of how they would put into practice something
they had learned from the week. We had covered many topics from
motivating children, to nurturing the whole child, to prayer and
meditation with children.
One Italian couple had an over-active little daughter. The dad
stood up and shared that they realized that their child had no quiet
time in her life. The parents meditatedbefore she got up in
the morning. They had quiet time after she went to bed. But they
now realized that their daughter had little peace in her
life. All of her waking hours she was either at nursery school or
at home with TV or radios on and her parents busily cooking, cleaning
and talking on the phone.
They decided to have silence (or relative silence) on Saturday
mornings. They would leave off the music, the news, the entertainment.
They would turn the phone OFF, and they would not even talk with
each other any more than absolutely necessary. Their interactions
with their daughter would include quiet play, concentration games,
and conversation. They would give her creative materials and let
her draw, cut out, glue, and color.
What a wonderful change in this little girls life. If she
had this sort of environment every night of the week, she would
be a calmer, more relaxed child. But this wasnt possible for
these parents, small business owners. Yet this positive step in
their lives and the strong statement made by their withdrawing from
their busyness once a week with their daughter, I knew, would
open a door for this child.
It takes a tremendous amount of energy and effort on the part of
parents to provide their children with a quiet, peaceful environment
in which to develop. It goes against the predominant trend of mainstream
society. Yet, not to do so runs the risk of children becoming teen-agers
who dont know themselves or what brings them real happiness.
Susan Dermond is the Director of the Living Wisdom School (K-5),
and a minister of Ananda Sangha. For more information about the
Living Wisdom School, call (503) 626-3403.