Its everywhere. You hear it all the time. My child is so ‘naughty’- he hardly ever sits, she is so fidgety, she cant settle at a spot for more than a few seconds, I don’t even know if she is listening, she is so hyper, the list goes on- yet, AND YET, they sit still for hours watching television, or playing that video game on their iPAD- all their senses consumed by the device. It’s true for my kids as well…which brings us to my ramblings today….
I have always been fascinated with the ancient methods of teaching depicted in our fantastic stories. Children aged five were left in the care of their GURU(Teacher) who took the whole responsibility for their learning AND well-being. AND their authority was UNQUESTIONED. The parents had no say in the way their child will be disciplined. Their responsibility ended with identifying the right teacher. Classes were held under the auspices of Mother Nature. Under tree canopies. On the river banks. By the sea. On mountain-tops. Quiet neighborhoods ( Gurukuls were away from the city usually in the middle of some forest). Mealtimes were times for expressing gratitude and a mental self-check for control. Children were taught discipline through everyday chores. They washed their own clothes, did their own cleaning, even helped in bigger roles for the Ashram- and they saw and learnt this from everybody around them- the Guru himself, the older children. And, in this whole process, they developed the ability to look beyond themselves- they saw themselves as part of a bigger purpose. And, when they understood this, 5-year-olds could sit still for hours learning something as profound as the Vedas and Rudras under the watchful eye of the teacher along with hundreds of other such students; while also being able to build up their physical prowess through training in martial arts.How was it possible that 5 and 6-year-olds could do it at the time? And why cant we do it now?
Compare it to our current day child-care system. Children are constantly ‘engaged’- meaning they have loud, blaring toys all around them. They have structured activities all day long. Concepts are taught through videos as against observing their surroundings. Music for the pre-schoolers is limited to their rhymes- which is again taught by playing numerous loud ‘RHYME-TIME’ CDs. Classrooms are constrained spaces. Teachers are stressed because parents will not leave them to decide even a costume for their child on a fancy dress day. They are constantly heckled by parents, the media, the education board, the competition – leading up to a good chance of their ending up with a nervous breakdown themselves. Parents buy some downtime for themselves by granting TV time to their kids. Every parent I know has fed their kids while watching videos on YouTube(that includes me). Parents bribe their kids to clean their own rooms. Children do not EVER see their parents sitting quietly by themselves doing nothing but watching and listening to them – they always see them sitting but with their eyes fixed on some gadget, their fingers furiously working on an ‘important email’ or an inane SMS. They are shunted from one class to the next driven around in cars, exposed to expletives in the face of the annoying traffic.
What are the odds that our children will develop calm, unfazed, NON-FIDGETY, PROLONGED ATTENTION-SPAN personalities under our care? Is it any surprise that we find conditions like ADHD on the rise? I am surprised that we are still surprised. Who is responsible for the attention deficit our children demonstrate?
I realized I had a problem when I saw that my children could not sit still for the 2-5 minute prayer ritual I follow after their bath. They would do everything possible to postpone their ‘quiet’ time. ‘Can we do this in the evening?’..’My teacher said this…’ ‘my friend lost my pencil’. That was the time for them to pull at each other’s dresses, doodle on the floor with their bare fingers, pick up the Agarbatthi( incense stick) to light it, fight over whose turn it was to do it, sulk, cry…you name it! They would not keep their eyes closed for 30 seconds!!!
So I decided to incorporate what has been taught as a proven way for focus by Hindu, Buddhist, Tibetan and many many traditions around the world for millenia; what was taught to me and my sisters by our parents as a way of life- and what has recently come to be touted as a
great technique for meditation by the Western World! I decided to teach them to chant Sanskrit Shlokas everyday. Not any shloka, but one of the longest Sanskrit chants- The Lalitha Sahasranam– continuous chanting of the 1000 names of the Divine Mother. It has 183 verses and takes 30 minutes to chant in a slow steady pace. I split the chant into 8 parts and first started with only teaching 25 verses. I chant and they repeat every name. Then we say the first 25 together and move on to the next set of 25 of the chanting and repeating cycle. Started with 10 minutes a day…moved to 12-13, then 15. I taught only through hearing (Sravanam- in Sanskrit) . We slowly but steadily worked our way through the entire 183 verses.
I have been doing this for about 2 years and this Navratri, I set up a rule that they will have to chant the entire Shloka( all 183 verses without seeing) ALL 10 days, if they hope to have any “fun” at all. The days they don’t chant, they don’t get TV, they don’t go out to play, there’s no Mehendi and if their friends come home to get them out to play, they can either join in by listening till these girls finish chanting/ or go on to play without them.
My girls are still very playful while chanting. I still have to give them several reminders to keep still and close their eyes through the half hour- but now they know that this part of the deal is really non-negotiable.
I am pretty sure they will thank me some day ( I know I am grateful to my parents; and we learnt it simply by emulating them) – and even if they don’t, I will rest from knowing that they will have benefited in several aspects of their lives through this little practice of focus and concentration.
What do you do for ‘attention time’ with your children?
This article was first published on the 15th of Oct 2013 at Kidskintha.