My husband Ivan and I do not happen to follow the practices of any organized religion, and before we had kids that seemed to be working just fine. We come from different backgrounds (mine agnostic with varying degrees of Christianity in my heritage, his a mix between Jewish and agnostic), but had generally landed in the same spot in adulthood: we believe in a Higher Power, and He or She may or may not be bearded (which does not necessarily designate gender; perhaps just a divine aversion to wax).
So Ivan and I were ambling along, not sure what we are trying to identify but recognizing that it’s bigger than we are, when lo and behold I end up pregnant. It became apparent to me after mere weeks of pregnancy that this child who was currently the size of a rice kernel had greatly elevated some family members’ level of interest in our spiritual beliefs and lowered their tolerance for our nebulous, “Can’t We All Just Get Along” approach to religion.
During one family gathering, my mother-in-law asked us point blank, and in front of a large audience, if we planned to raise the baby Jewish. She didn’t mean harm; I think she was just trying to cast her vote early and often. We were still getting used to the idea that we would be raising a baby period, and were clearly unprepared to settle on a particular belief system for him. But we took this as a signal that we were going to be required to address some Big Questions; not just from adults, but more importantly from this tiny blank slate of a human that we had created.
Since then, we have been trying to formulate our answers, and also our questions, in a coherent way. Our son is now six, and has a four-year-old sister and a two-year-old brother, so clearly we did not make quick work of our task. But a renewed fire was lit under me when Ben, our eldest, recently asked (after an apparent discussion with peers) if we could look up “Heaven” on Google Maps, because he didn’t know where it was. I figured I needed to get to it before he asked me if he could friend Buddha on Facebook.
As I was trying to come up with something tangible to refer to with regard to my kids’ moral and spiritual development, I attended a Yoga teacher training course. In the training literature I found a list of “Yoga Principles” that, I find, apply in a profound way to life outside of the studio as well. I took the list and modified it so that it can be easily understood by children, and hopefully holds some meaning for them. After I finished this project, I read through it with my own kids with pride and gravitas; an act that was met with eye-rolling, sibling pinching, and “This is so borrrrring when is dessert?” asking. Awesome.
Undeterred, as all parents must be, I promptly displayed it on our kitchen bulletin board, where my kids routinely ignore it and act horrified when I ask them if they want to discuss any part of it. However, my hope is that having this doctrine on hand and in our consciousness will help guide our intentions when we need it, and remind us to treat every person (including ourselves) with dignity, and as part of our global community; even — no, especially — people who are much different than we are. I hope that you find it useful as well:
Yoga Principles for Kids and Grown-ups
(drawn from the teacher training literature of Child Light Yoga.)
- Be honest: be truthful in what you say and what you do. Tell the truth, and be yourself (be true to you).
- Be respectful of others: remember to say “please” and “thank you”, make eye contact and apologize when you need to. We do these things not just to be courteous, but also to show other people that they matter and that they are worthy of respect.
- Be humble: understand that the needs and feelings of others are as important as your own, even though it might not feel that way. Humility also means accepting opportunity for growth and change.
- Be generous: be quick to share, and don’t take what isn’t yours (including things, ideas or time and attention – don’t interrupt).
- Practice peace: be gentle and peaceful in what you do and think. Be respectful and show kindness and love. Do not harm anyone or anything. Be tolerant.
- Practice moderation: this has to do with self-control. Avoid doing or having or using too much of anything, from TV to sweets to toys to the Earth’s resources.
- Be clean: take care of your body and your mind, and also your community and your Earth. Keep yourself clean from the inside out by eating healthy foods, exercising, bathing and brushing your teeth. Care for your part of the Earth and be responsible with what you do and say. (Be respectful by remembering your manners and not using offensive language.)
- Be content: try to see the positive in everything and be grateful, so that you can be peaceful inside. Remember to be happy for others and avoid being negative toward yourself or other people.
- Work hard: always try your best, and finish what you start. Don’t give up!
- Have alone time: spend time with yourself in a quiet place without electronics or other distractions. Know yourself so that you don’t worry too much about what others think/have/do.
- Believe in something bigger: remember that you are connected with all things. You are a part of our family, our community, our Earth and the Universe. We all share the same light. Treat EVERY person with the Namaste principle, which means: “The light and love in my heart honors the light and love in your heart.