If there is an age in life in which we have a great capacity for surprise, or what we could also call a beginner’s mind, that is childhood. Children are naturally curious. They constantly explore the world around them with their five senses and with close attention. They are mindful observers that absorb what they see, hear, smell, touch and taste and turn all that information into a learning experience. They learn from nature and from the humans in their lives.
Unfortunately, as we grow up, we gradually become conditioned. The beliefs and behaviors of others, particularly of the significant adults in our lives, become our own. We learn a dualistic way of thinking: good and bad, dark and light, wrong and right, mine and theirs, etcetera. Our conditioned thoughts become automatic filters to our attention that block whatever our minds do not recognize and let through what is familiar to us. It is as if we lose our capacity to see the big picture, the shapes in the clouds that change all the time and that we could see when we were little.
And with all that conditioning we acquire a whole set of beliefs that guide us and help us survive in the world we live in. Human beings are social creatures. Those ideas and behaviors help us integrate and function in our society. So, if being thin, blonde, chic, sexy or popular are traits that our society holds valuable, we may do whatever it takes to have them. Conditioned thinking makes it difficult to be in contact with the wisdom of our bodies because it blurs the signals that come from our sensations. So we may starve in order to lose weight or eat what is supposedly good for us, even if it makes us nauseated. We may even dislike our own bodies and suffer for not being like “we are supposed to be”.
Observing children’s behavior closely represents a wonderful opportunity to relearn the simplicity of life, to see mindfulness in its whole expression. Sharing the practices of mindful eating with children can be a real lesson to us. They are the teachers. They name the flavors, the tactile sensations, the emotions, the thoughts. They even share what they are learning from others, their early conditioned patterns like “good food and bad food”, “if you eat vegetables you can have dessert”. These moments represent great opportunities to motivate them to be curious. Teaching mindful eating to children can be a reminder for them to get in touch with their own experience and come to their own conclusions.
If we can help children become aware of conditioned thinking, if we teach them to remain curious to come to their own conclusions, we may help them keep their natural mindfulness throughout their development. We never know how this could help them, but no one is certain about anything. If we plant the seed of mindfulness in our children, beautiful trees of awareness may give shade to the future generations.
Did you ever find shapes in the clouds? How did doing that make you feel?
What can you discover if you smell, touch or look closely at your food?
Claudia Vega, Mexico Photo credit: from Claudia’s ME for children classes.