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Saturday
Jan282012

The Peace Tent: Guiding Children in Creating Sacred Space, Discovering Calmness and Embracing the Power of Meditation 

by Danelle Frisbie

The summer of 1998, as a single and carefree graduate student, I joined with fellow professors in a challenging canyon hike around the Colorado/Utah/Arizona/New Mexico areas. Midway through our adventures, we stopped for the night at a local family’s adobe where they treated us to an amazing home-cooked dinner and inspirational evening discussion. This family had two young daughters around the ages of five and nine – girls who tugged at my curiosity in how they were parented simply because they were so incredibly bright, articulate, charming and grounded. A fellow backpacker and I commented to each other that if we were to ever have children, this is what we’d want to foster in our own kids. 

While there are likely many facets of life that went into the gentle, securely attached upbringing of these two young girls, one thing that stood out during our visit was the small tent they had set up in one corner of their wood-floored, plant-covered, open-windowed den. It was here that the girls went to sit and relax, to get away from the rest of the busy house filled with guests, to daydream, or gaze out the tent opening, through the window, into the stars in the night sky above. This, they told me, was their “peace tent.” 

Their parents had set it up for them several years ago as a location all their own to escape to and use to calm down if something was bothering them. On occasion, they’d invite their parents in to sit by them in the peace tent, or talk, or sing, or meditate. Yes – even the five year old could tell me what mediation was, and how she believed it helped her in her day-to-day activities. “It’s easy!” she assured me. “Lots of adults wish to be like children so they can meditate even better.” She continued, “All you do is listen to your heart. The happiest people are the ones who know themselves, and understand their heart, and listen to it. People who don’t are often confused and sad and angry.” My fellow backpacker and I looked at each other, an astonished glisten in our eyes – are we really learning all of this from a five year old? And so it was…

She invited us into her peace tent and led us in a calming meditation exercise that I imagine was made specifically for her age, but one that was equally effective at bringing us back into a place of calm and collected reasoning. We felt invigorated, with cleared senses, ready to tackle the next challenge of the week’s hike ahead. We were empowered. We were breathing deeply, feeling blissfully content and connected. The girls told us this is “normal” – it is how we were supposed to feel – and told us we should create our own peace tents when we returned home. 

According to Sarah Wood Vallely, author of Sensational Meditation for Children, the ways in which meditation benefits children are indeed powerful and too many to number. When children learn how to meditate, they are able to use their superhero, “fairy power,” or imaginary friend, to feel safe, focused, and happy. Children come into a place of better physical health through meditation, as well as obtaining a thorough understanding of themselves and their own feelings (all of which are valid). Coupled with these benefits is the parental realization that meditation with our children brings us closer understanding and peace with our little ones.

Vallely asserts that the use of a peace tent for meditation empowers children to improve upon almost any skill they are trying to master. Be it academic, athletic, personal or public, cognitive or feeling, or simply being centered, meditation and the peace tent – a place to get away to calm oneself – offers the perfect forum for this to take place. Outside the peace tent, children who use one at home (or school!) have better relationships with siblings, parents and classmates. As a result of this calm centering, children become comfortable with their emotions, skilled in recognizing them, and as a result improve their relationships with themselves as well as their self-esteem. 

Through the use of the peace tent, my new nine-year-old friend said that she discovered her deep fascination with horses, and has dreamed up new ways to handle, raise, and care for the horses on her parent’s ranch. Vallely would agree that meditation allows children to become more aware of who they are, their gifts, interests, and the many facets of their multi-dimensional selves. 

Today, there are many locations for parents seeking to construct a peace tent and gently teach children the art of medication. One such location is Meditation Australia (http://children.meditation.org.au) where parents can find several guided meditations to help children calm, center, and focus on feelings such as peace, love, and considering choices they will face, and discovering answers to the question, "Who Am I?" 

Another site, Learning Meditation, has a children's meditation section as well with exercises in relaxation, awareness, observation, feelings/sensations, and validation. Their audio and text can be found online at: http://www.learningmeditation.com/children.htm. 

On Susan Kramer's Guided Meditation for Children page (http://www.susankramer.com/ChildMeditation.html) she starts by suggesting to children that we "go on an adventure!" "But," she continues, "instead of rushing out the front door, let's go on an adventure within, to a beautiful place inside, in our thoughts..."

I am rather ashamed to admit that upon my return home from our backpacking venture I did not construct a peace tent of my own… Although I thought of it often, and know it would have aided me in the rest of my graduate studies. Now, 13 years later, I wonder what has become of those two little girls… Do they still use a peace tent? What new things could they teach me? And would they like to come for a visit to help me construct a peace tent with my own children?  I have materials here in hand, and our construction is underway. I hope to give my own little ones all the benefits and joys and calm centered breathing space that comes from having a peace tent be part of our home.

 

Danelle Frisbie, Ph.D, M.A., is assistant professor turned mom. After conducting research and teaching at the university for several years, she left full time academia to pursue another passion – mothering. Frisbie founded the volunteer based organization, DrMomma.org, that provides baby-friendly health and advocacy resources, supplies, and information to new, growing, and expecting families in need throughout the U.S. and around the globe.

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