The insight meditation community in Vancouver, British Columbia, has begun to offer meditation sessions intended to meet the needs of entire families, including children.
With support of the British Columbia Insight Meditation Society, since January we have met monthly to share meditation across the generations with our families and friends.
The group so far is made up of experienced meditators who are eager to include children in their practice. Our hope is that eventually this format could be a way to make meditation accessible to people who may be prevented from exploring it by the need for childcare.
Ultimately, our aspiration is to help build an intergenerational community of meditators, to ensure that the meditation community in Vancouver is as diverse and sustainable as possible.
Bringing children into practice can be a challenge for groups practicing Vipassana, because so much of the practice is focused on silent meditation. This isn’t always a good fit with bouncy young children, so we’re exploring how we can make it work for the parents and the children.
Right now, we’re also exploring how to have as much fun as possible together!
We’re usually meeting in a Vancouver yoga studio, Unity Yoga. The owner of the studio has been a great supporter of meditation groups, offering the space by donation instead of charging a fixed rate.
We also chose this space because of the layout: There’s a nice tea room where parents can meditate, while the children can rampage in the yoga room itself.
So far this structure is working okay because the kids are all aged 2-6. If the group grows to the point where we can have multiple classes for different age groups, we’d need to find a space with more rooms…and right now we are too small to commit to renting a space like that.
The yoga room has a beautiful mural of golden koi against a deep purple background, and the tea room includes colorful art on the walls, big plants in the corners, and a low glass table surrounded by meditation cushions.
We meet on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m., before the first yoga class of the day starts at 10:30 a.m. The kids like setting up the bolsters and blocks in the yoga room to make a circle, before we all sit down.
Before we start, we sing Vietnamese teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s song about mindfulness:
In breath, out breath
deep breath, slow breath.
Calm breath, ease breath,
smile breath, release.
We have benefitted greatly from the generosity of our volunteers, in particular Justin Love, whose experience with the youth program at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s center in France, has given him a wealth of ideas for age-appropriate activities.
The group’s favorite activity involves a bag of small stones of different kinds. Each of us gets to pick four stones, one each to represent a flower, flowing water, a mountain, and space. We each hold on to a particular stone, as we imagine how it would feel to be a flower, flowing water, a mountain, or space.
After we share these activities, sometimes we sing more songs together before the parents go to the tea room to sit. There the parents can have half an hour of meditation and discussion, while the children read books and play games together with adult volunteers.
So far the group has met only four times, and we’re learning how to respond to the need. There have been a lot of people who have expressed enthusiasm for the group.
As we’ve worked to find ways to integrate the dharma and meditation needs of parents and their children, we’ve been inspired by the Buddhist Families of Durham, North Carolina, and the way they structure their family practice. We’re also encouraged that other Canadian insight meditation groups, in Saskatoon and Victoria, are also exploring family practice. Could this be the start of a trend towards more inclusive meditation communities?