It’s a dream, and not mine alone, to have children around the globe grow up healthy, happy and at peace with themselves, life circumstances notwithstanding. Having attended two 10-day Vipassana courses organised at Igatpuri (dhamma.org) over the last 18 months, I am stoked with the need to percolate its practice via every access point to every child aged 8 and above. The idea is largely egalitarian but more selfishly, it is a sincere hope as a parent to equip my child with the tools to traverse the path of life with maturity, sanity and dare I say… joy.
“Why Vipassana?” you may ask. Before I explain the rationale, let me give some real life situations you may have heard of or directly experienced:
* Hyperactive young children are being diagnosed with attention deficit disorders and being put on medication. Their problems range from learning disabilities to need for constant engagements. From acute absence of fears caused by the inability to process caution that puts them in dangerous situations repeatedly to over-stimulated imaginations leading to intense phobias, imaginary friends and personality disorders. I am still talking about kids. Researchers are exploring everything from processed food to media and gadgets being "causes" and the West is increasingly resorting to oriental practices of meditation just differently packaged as "mindfulness" to teach children to simply cope with their environments.
* A tween (kids aged 8-12 years) cries copiously over what we adults perceive as “trifles” and when asked, he or she helplessly says, “I don’t know why I feel like crying. I want to but I can’t stop” The truth is, this can be an experience of an adult as well. A surge of helplessness or anger, manifesting as tears. Premature onset of teenage? You will be surprised.
* Unexpected acts of violence are increasingly commonplace in schools and playgrounds. It doesn’t help that everyone from an “action” star to a video game coder is feeding newer benchmarks of “cool” with imageries of destruction, death and desecration. In smaller measures, the irritability also seeps into day-to-day interactions with a heated exchange of words, refusal to see the larger picture and abundant defiance in general. When probed, this is often rooted in the two statements “No one gets me” or “You won’t understand”. And it is not only the boys going through this.
* Non-stop message media bombardment and a pro-consumption culture have further altered our sense of fulfilment and comfort. We eat fast food, our “recreation” is at glitzy malls and we hyperventilate when we are not in “air conditioned” environs. All this is funnelling the world view of our children as to what survival actually entails and what the canvas of life can be about. This results in children not being able to adjust or cope with the slightest alteration in their urban status quo, be it environment or material fulfilments. “I want” plays on constant loop and parents end up chasing their tail in trying to keep their offspring “happy”; by providing more and more of “things” and sheltering them further from “discomfort”.
* Social media is a double-edged sword. At one level, I honestly believe that it is an inevitable part of the present and future whether we like it or not. With wearable devices and abundant “free” internet access, children will engage with their universe with this s-worded “virtuality”. This excites me with the possibilities of discoveries and alliances. At the same time, it also makes me acutely aware of the fact how little we are equipped to handhold the next generation into an “initiation” to social media realities. The opportunities, the threats, the access and the privacy, everything is like a shape-shifting mutant and one can never put a finger on with an absolute definition. In this situation, how can we lead, coach, protect?
* Last but not the least, industries are thriving, both legally and otherwise, by weaning children away from wholesome lives and giving them a distorted Reality, with or without the aid of substances that help them deal with this Reality… “better”! Nicotine, alcohol, chemical addictives, and more are accessible and you will not be in a position to physically block every path of access. From a shady churanwala’s cycle outside schools, the threats are now being abundantly “served” at parties and discotheques.
So what do you do when you have to let go of your child’s hand as he or she walks into this psychedelic world on their own?
You could tell them to think for themselves and teach them how. Easier said than done? Like I mentioned at the start, Vipassana is a tool. It is not a magic tool and it is not a blanket solution. But for over 2,400 years, it has helped millions around the globe deal better with their lives and find inner peace. It is simply the means to control one's emotions and reactions better.
In a nutshell, by honing our focus on our own breath and eventually our physical and mental existence, we can attain a sense of self-awareness that makes us less reactive in our day-to-day life. Vipassana, with regular daily practice, lowers your inability to think clearly and sharpens your control over your mind. It is secular, non-ritualistic and does not require conversion or indoctrination of faith or belief. It is most certainly not a “cult”. The most beautiful part of Vipassana, which literally means to “look within” in the ancient Indian language Pali, is that it vests the power in our own hands to define our state of mind and hence, our life. While there is no IP, Vipassana, as practiced by Shri SN Goenka, makes it accessible to those balancing their domestic and professional lives in metros. The 10-day course is mandatory for adults, but shorter courses on “anapaan”, the breathing exercise, are organised at schools around Mumbai for children. (If you are interested as a parent or teacher, feel free to connect with me.)
Over generations, the family unit has morphed from communities and villages, to joint families, further to nuclear families and finally what I like to call “multiple residence living options”, where the two parents are working in different cities, or the kid(s) are sent to residential schools, or the parents are separated and live in different homes. This leaves children with newer circumstances of life and they have very little to draw from their environments in terms of familiarity. And more critically, they don’t have enough well-wishers keeping an eye on them.
This reiterates the need to coach children to be their own guardians so that they learn not just to survive, but thrive as masters of their own peace of mind. Let us live by the belief “Bhavatu Sabba Mangalang”; let everyone be happy.
(The author is the former magazine editor of an international children’s title and also attained a Fellowship in New Media trends focusing on social media coaching for school children.)