When I was 21 I went on a 10 day silent meditation retreat with no cell phones, books, or journals. It was a time of simplicity and rhythm and 10 hours a day of contemplation. People often asked me what that experience was like. What was most fascinating to me was at the end of the retreat when we could speak again I already felt like I knew the other participants. Each day I would observe them as they walked the path from the dorms to the eating hall or meditation hall, I would see how they placed their shoes, how they sat and even how they breathed. Each of these observations allowed me to infer how their day was going. A good day the shoes would be neatly placed side by side or having a hard time someone might flip their shoes off in the middle of the rug and keep walking. With so much time in silence after my 10 days was over it was easier to actually pause and hear what someone had to say without the need to comment right away when the retreat ended. I also spent a great deal of time watching bugs! I laughed at myself even in those moments, how fascinating the bugs were and so many I had never noticed before and how beautiful they were! What a gift to be able to notice so much!
Those 10 days in many ways feel like the life of a small child. Meals and rest at regular intervals and warm smiles from those taking care of me.When a baby is first born they don’t have the capacity for language but oh how well they communicate! We laugh when a baby starts to root and know he is hungry and we soothe knowingly when the rim around her eyes turn a hint of red knowing its time for a nap. Young children aren’t beholden to “to do” lists or schedules and have all the time in the world to look around and notice and wonder. What a gift it was those 10 days to slow down to kid speed and look at the world anew again. What was most striking to me when I returned to the world was how overwhelming the grocery store was: the bright lights, the noise of background music and the sounds of items being scanned through, the garish colors and the sheer volume of things to look at! It took me many trips to the store before I was no longer quite so aware of all the stimulus.
Our world can be a noisy one! You might take a moment right now to listen to any noises around you. Maybe children are playing near by, music is playing, street noise filters in, the washing machine is on, a spouse is on the phone in another room etc. You might not have even paid much attention to the noises around you until making a conscious effort in doing so. Children don’t have the ability to filter these things as easily.
Creating quiet moments in your day can be replenishing for everyone. In our home we start our day easing slowly from asleep to awake with back rubs in a dark room and whispers. By the time we make it down stairs the lights are on but conversation is still more reserved and there are no other noises but the sounds of getting ready for our day. Our rhythm of cleaning the kitchen and making lunches the night before creates spaciousness to our mornings and there is usually enough time to eat breakfast and do our morning chores without feeling rushed. (this took us a few years to fine tune and I am grateful the mornings of me yelling, “We have to go!” are few and far between) We save a family show or movie for the weekends and keep the radio off on the drive to school to start the day with a clean slate and when we get home from school it is a practice of mine to sit on the couch and just be present. Sometimes a child or two (or all 3) will come sit and snuggle with me, maybe they will tell me about their day or we will read a book or maybe we won’t say anything at all and sometimes they aren’t interested in sitting with me and will dive into play close by! Even 5 minutes like this allows me some time to recharge and for my children to feel connected again. The rest of our day goes so much more smoothly when I do this! If you adopt the practice I hope you find the same replenishment and joy in your family as I do.
Not too long ago the Apple Blossom Garden had a parent meeting. Seeing how young children live so much in the physical body and are developing the 4 lower senses of touch, balance, movement and life, I wanted the parents to experience how we can meet the children where they are without saying too much or nothing at all.
Parents were sitting around our class snack table chatting. I stood up and went to close the door and stood straight and tall with my arms crossed over my chest in “angel wings”, a gesture the children know as it’s time to be quiet with a smile on my face. One parent made eye contact with me and crossed her arms and the rest followed and the room went quiet. I then smiled warmly and went to a parent, put my arms around their shoulders, looked them in the eyes and smiled. I gestured for them to follow me and I led them to a small table where there was the beginnings of a wool mat, a tea kettle, water pitcher and soap. After showing them where to stand I brought 3 more parents to the table. I looked at them all warmly and gestured to keep their hands away from the table. I poured some soap on the wool and then hot water from the kettle. I touched the wool and gestured with hands and facial expression that it was hot. Then I poured some cool water and touched again. I nodded my head silently showing it was just right. I demonstrated how to rub the wool and then without a word said, “your turn” and they began. All of this was done very slowly with a quality of spaciousness. After a bit I led them back to their seats and had others come for a turn.
When we finished we discussed how the experience was both for those that were being led in the wet felting exercise and those observing. I emphasized to the parents that young children learn best through imitation. The parents did great too! I noted to them that aside from one father who shook his head no because he wanted to stay close to his babe in arms everyone else followed me to the table. Had I asked for volunteers it might have taken a long awkward pause before someone summoned the courage to volunteer to do something they hadn’t done before. I reminded them that everyday we ask our children to do things they haven’t done before or haven’t mastered. I encouraged them to ponder the last time they were a beginner or learned something new. One parent asked, “but what about when my child says no?”. I heard my dear teacher Faith Collins’ words of wisdom in my head and asked them to consider when a child says no they are really saying, “I don’t feel connected to you”. We talked about how the act of making eye contact with warm touch on the shoulders was a connecting way to start our activity together and nurtured the sense of touch. One parent said, with no words he was uncomfortable and unsure if he was doing it right.
Young children are interested in the world around them, like scientists they want to experiment and love trial and error. Like an eye that doesn’t close they take in the world around them and find daily tasks fascinating. They may watch us many times over many days before trying something themselves and then try many times more before finding proficiency in a task on their own. While an adult might find a silent brand-new task uncomfortable, most children would see it as an opportunity to play! The last thing we talked about was how talking too much to children, especially when they are engrossed deeply in an activity, can take them out of their play. How often have you seen a child playing deeply and gone over and asked what they are doing? Very often an adult’s interest can take a child out of the moment and they may even find it hard to get back into the activity they were so deeply involved in. Many times parents and children alike ask questions they might even know the answer to as a way to feel connection. Many times we can find this connection in ways that are non verbal instead, perhaps taking a moment to watch your child deep in play and take in their movements and animation with love in your eyes and heart marveling at their growth. Instead of asking, “how was your day?” which rarely yields much response try a big hug or holding hands to reconnect and a quiet moment to allow your child to find what is on their mind to share with you.
I’d love to know which ways you connect with children without words.
Sarah Canga is an early childhood teacher at the DaVinci Waldorf school in Wauconda IL as well as a licensed acupuncturist, herbalist and yoga teacher. She recently completed the Boulder, Colorado Lifeways program.
Sarah lives with her husband, 3 children and their chickens and is a lover of wonder, handwork and warm pastries.