It's early in the morning; even the sun is still sleeping. Hector and Kerry peel themselves out of bed to wake up their five kids in time to get a brief meditation in before school. Kelly, the youngest, bounces right out of bed, while 15-year-old Andrew drags his feet. One by one, each child gets themselves settled in on a meditation cushion. We sit in a semi-circle. Kelly insists it's her turn to ring the gong, but all agree she rang it last time. Gregory, who keeps track of such things, announces that it's Tessa's turn. With pride, Tessa takes her seat as the leader of this meditation session.
"Sit up straight, so you can breathe better," she reminds her little sister. All settle in, feeling their breath go in and out, in and out. For the most part, when their minds are swept away, they each recognize it as just a thought and return to their breath: in and out, in and out. All except for Kelly, who is, after all, only 3, and is therefore allowed to bounce quietly on her cushion. Pretty soon, she breaks into a fit of giggles; Sophie and Tessa glance at each other with a secret smile but don't give in the temptation to laugh at their little sister's joie de vivre. Hector grabs Kelly, holding her tight on his lap, and, liking the snuggly feeling, she settles back down. When precisely five minutes have passed, Tessa rings the gong. All remain still and quiet until they can't hear the sound anymore, appreciating the reverberating waves as they disappear into the quiet of the morning.
Kerry hands around the five cups of hot chocolate that have cooled on the windowsill and the kids sip the rich concoction happily as Hector and Kerry finish their coffee. Usually, someone comments on their meditation about now, but this morning, everyone seems content to enjoy this rare moment of just hanging out together, no longer asleep, but not fully up and going either. In a way, we have never connected with each more than on this perfectly ordinary morning, sipping and saying nothing, very much present with each other.
We often welcomed the day together in this special way for 12 years.
Our family is big on meditation, which is lucky for us, because otherwise, we might be big on medication. In 1995, our patchwork family (Hector and Kerry brought two kids each to the new marriage, then had Kelly together) began to unravel. We found ourselves on the brink of divorce, not to mention complete insanity! The kids warred with each other daily, the parents took sides. Andrew, the eldest teenager, began using drugs. Sophie was getting seriously bullied at school. Gregory seemed oddly detached, and Tessa's temper became explosive. Kelly's teacher politely recommended she take a generous dose of Ritalin. To top it all off, some painful memories of abuse began to surface for Kerry... things weren't exactly coming up roses.
Despite the overwhelming temptation to give up and walk away, we refused to surrender to these challenges and instead took action. Long-time meditators, Hector and Kerry began sitting with more frequency, and found they were noticeably kinder to each other. Then, it dawned on them: "If meditation is so helpful to us, why not share it with the kids?" Thus began a regular family meditation practice. Like a pair of electric paddles, this simple but daring act of sitting peacefully together each day breathed new life into the heart of our family, which had previously been presumed dead. It didn't manifest as one visible and dramatic shift, but rather, like the changing direction of a large ship, it set in motion a seamless series of changes, almost imperceptibly. Meditation fostered mindfulness. Mindfulness led to awareness, awareness led to clear seeing, clear seeing led to empathy. Thus, we began to change our habitual patterns of relating to one another, bit by bit, breath by breath.
As time passed, we felt increasingly blessed to have this time together each day, and we began to realize what we were doing was downright revolutionary. Whoever heard of an entire family stopping to do absolutely nothing together? Of course, some of our friends thought we were mad, laying our "trip" on our kids. But in truth, we were no longer just paying lip service to world peace, but cultivating peace where it truly begins: in our homes, in our hearts and minds.
And, let's face it, in this high-stress society, where even little children are always on the go, where violent images surround us, where school shootings have become horrifyingly commonplace, and pharmaceuticals are plan A for solving our children's emotional and behavioral problems -- in such a world, it's more important than ever to create and maintain a still place inside where our own inherent sanity can naturally arise, within young and old alike.
Many years later, our family is still together, still meditating and relatively sane. OK, it doesn't take much to see that we also still have issues, but, without doubt, we've come a long way in cultivating a healthy, loving family. In this blog, we'll share our adventures as mother-daughter meditators, and illustrate how our family went from struggling to find five minutes a day to sit together, to happily leading family meditation programs together around the world. In hindsight, so very much has come from those few quiet moments of quality time we spent together each day -- we now realize those family meditations were most precious... the rare experience of authentic peace.
Kerry Lee MacLean is the author and illustrator of Peaceful Piggy Meditation, Moody Cow Meditates and The Family Meditation Book. She leads meditations in elementary schools and practice centers internationally.
Kelly MacLean is a stand-up comic and actress. Since the age of 18, she has been directing meditation programs for children, teens and young adults all over the world.
Kerry and Kelly are students of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, leader of Shambhala International, a community of meditators dedicated to gentleness, fearlessness, humor, dignity and creating an enlightened society.
For more by Kerry and Kelly MacLean, click here.
For more on meditation, click here.