10 Ways to Nurture a Sense of the Sacred
As the holidays approach, I worry about the influence our material culture has on our grandkids. At a young age, children are being taught to believe that if they just have the perfect toy or electronic gadget, their lives will be perfect. Being adults, we know the truth. Obtaining a desired object makes us feel better for a little while, but then we want something else.
A meditation teacher once told me that joy was the natural state of humans. He said that in the beginning it’s like our hearts are bright, shiny-clean mirrors. Then, once negative things in life happen, the mirror becomes covered by feelings of worry, fear, anger and jealousy. But there are some conditions in our environment that we can control that have the potential to continuously wipe the mirror clean for our children and ourselves.
Maybe you’ve watched as magical, happy small children you know turn into not-so-charming materialistic kids who have lost their spark of individuality and joyfulness. Wanting more and more stuff stifles all the good qualities the child originally possessed. Make no mistake: The cultural norms promote and take over a large part of your child’s life. The cult of ownership may be counteracted somewhat by attending church or temple, but I think mostly it’s accomplished by building a breathing space for your kids just to be.
Materialism isn’t the only cultural problem. Chronic rushing and busyness, loud music and TV, insane competitiveness and overfilled schedules force kids to grow up too early, robbing them of their innate spirituality. My grandson, who is 5, has been to only two movies and has limited PBS Kids Sprout exposure. On Saturday Aiden went to see Toy Story 3. Then yesterday I took him to Safeway, where we walked the aisles. Little pictures of Woody, the Toy Story cowboy, jumped out at him from every turn.
Cereal boxes, cookies and videos called out to him, making him want all of it. We bought a box of Rice Crispies with Woody’s picture only because we were making marshmallow treats. Apparently there was supposed to be something related to Toy Story in the box, but we never found it, leaving Aiden disappointed. As much as you try to keep children from being influenced by our cultural materialism, it’s designed to strike home.
Here are some ideas to help you create a space that allows your grandchild to grow spiritually and develop a rich interior life.
1. Let them know there is something bigger than themselves. It can be called God, or it can be certain ideals you hold, such as truth, fairness, social justice, kindness or honesty. Something has to be bigger than them. You can use any word you like — Spirit, Creator — just don’t let your grandchild be the center of the universe.
2. Let them see you helping others in your community. Assisting family and neighbors when they are sick or in trouble, and showing kindness is great modeling. Especially let them see you giving without expecting anything back.
3. Give your grandchildren the time to dream. It’s a gift to allow them periods of silence and solitude — don’t keep them constantly involved in competition, sports, TV and video games. It robs them of their ability to think freely, to breathe and to relax. Contrary to the popular belief that being alone occasionally is problematic, it’s important for them to learn how to think and dream.
When I taught high school, the principal told the whole faculty, “Watch out for loners and report them to us.” I laughed out loud, thinking it was a joke. There has to be a middle way: alone all the time is bad; never alone is equally detrimental.
4. Show and teach gratitude for everything: from food on the table, a warm bed, beautiful flowers growing in the yard, to being grateful for a kindness from a stranger. With your grandchildren, you can say grace before dinner; use any words you like, but start saying it or ask the kids to say it.
5. Encourage your grandchild’s imagination. Give them lots of art supplies and wood blocks to build. Don’t tell them what to do or praise the art or project; say instead, “Tell me about your picture.” They will. Put out some plastic buckets of water, some clean containers and clean paintbrushes. Then let them at it. Sit back and watch. Don’t direct.
6. Introduce the wonders of the great outdoors. Take them to Yosemite instead of Disneyland. Okay, you can take them to Disneyland a few times, but mostly take them out into nature to appreciate beauty. Have your grandkids seen the way stars look when you are in the mountains or the desert? A full moonrise?
Appreciation for the miracles around them encourages wonder and awe. Get them outside to grow vegetables, go camping and look at plants; point out the intricate beauty of frogs, bugs and the flight of a hawk. Wildness is part of our nature too.
7. Exhibit peace and respect for others. Watch what you say and do in front of your grandkids — screaming at other driver and calling people names are noticed. When you show respect and politeness to others, when you let people go ahead of you on the freeway and in the supermarket, your grandkids see it. Everything you say and do is noticed. If you don’t want to hear it coming out of your 5-year-old grandchild’s mouth, don’t say it.
8. Promote storytelling, books and family rituals. Children learn from storytelling, both family related and otherwise, so borrow great books from the library and also develop family rituals. This helps grandkids feel connected to you, their world and the child’s ancestors. There isn’t any culture in the world except maybe ours where the ancestors are not called upon for help or are not remembered to bring families into community with their lives.
Family rituals can be as simple as praying together over meals or just voicing healing intentions for others.
9. Be careful with TV, movies and video games. Children have their own inborn temperaments to be sure, but if they are exposed to scary or adult movies or games, it harms them. Especially watch out for oversexualized or violent images, as they have a terrible impact.
10. Be convinced of your grandchild’s innate sense of the sacred and their own spiritual centers. Children have moments of profound awareness that are periods of grace. Don’t underestimate their intuitive, soulful knowledge.
Recently I went outside to clear my head and finish my coffee. Two small deer walked into the yard not 20 feet away from me. I could feel my heart jump a bit, lifting me up, cleaning the mirror again. I went to theology school, but I don’t know everything about what we are doing here on this planet at this moment. I just know my grandchildren’s and our own spiritual lives need nourishing and a sacred space to grow freely. It’s the best gift you can give them.