The Re-Enchantment of Childhood
The University of Michigan reports that during the last twenty years, kids' daily playtime has been downsized by four hours. Sheer creative play is fast becoming a forgotten part of childhood — a fact that can jeopardize children's ability to handle stress and compromise their immune systems. Here; an expert in the practice of imagery offers some simple games that help kids catch their breath. Beyond all else, using imagination helps children become whole and responsible human beings — something even elaborate technologies or expensive playthings cannot provide.
This article appeared in the Summer 2001 issue of Spirituality & Health.
When her mother began using imagery as part of her healing from ovarian cancer, six-year-old Emily had been suffering with asthma for three years. Pretty soon Emily tried imagery, too. During one of her asthma attacks, she imagined entering her body to find out what got in the way of her breathing. Once inside, she saw that the sun and the moon were having a fight, so she joined with the sun to overcome the moon. Soon the battle was won and she felt relief. For the next seven days, Emily repeated the exercise and, “magically” the asthmatic symptoms vanished. Since then, she has not used conventional medication. She reports that both the sun and the moon are now her allies, and for added healing power, she uses the stars as well.
Emily’s story of healing is dramatic but not uncommon. I’ve seen many children overcome asthma using imagery techniques, and the benefits extend well beyond relief of symptoms. The imagery process opens a new way of relating — it provides parent and child with a heartfelt bond that transcends material life. By allowing children to make important choices, and thus to grow as independent people, imagery gives them the balance they so badly need. I’ve also come to understand that dealing with illness is only one way to reap the benefits of this technique. Beyond all else, using imagination helps children become whole and responsible human beings — something even elaborate technologies or expensive playthings cannot provide. Creating a life of vision, value, and meaning requires patience and the time to just be. This involves doing and having less, not more, and dealing with discomfort or pain by turning toward it, instead of away. To connect with something greater than their own self-interest, to relate to their hearts as well as their heads, our children must find a way to “unplug.”
Recapturing the innocence of childhood through imagination is both real and important. It gives us the chance to be with our children unencumbered by the stress of the material world. Taking this journey together, we become light, joyful, free. What an extraordinary and heartening possibility!
Imagination as an Antidote to the Virtual Life
Emily was inspired to try imagery work because she saw how helpful it was to her mother. If we adults are to engage children’s hearts and minds with the world of imagination, and thus to restore them to living naturally and creatively, we had best begin with ourselves.
Inevitably, this requires a sacrifice — one that involves creating a space of silence, even for just a few moments a day. By doing this we banish the noise of information and acquisition, thus allowing the flow of imagination to begin. This shift need not be overwhelming — small and simple choices are fine. Giving up the use of your cell phone while walking the dog, riding the bus, shopping, or pushing the stroller; exchanging some of the time you surf the Internet for a pleasurable stroll; or meditating briefly, are possible ways to start. So might be writing your dreams in a journal and setting aside a special time to enjoy music, poetry, or art. Once we model this turn ourselves, our children quite naturally pick up on it.
Many forms of imagination can help. Art, music, dance, writing, storytelling, lead children into the experience. Yet mental imagery (also known as guided imagery or visualization) is the most direct, and requires no particular gifts or tools. It offers all those willing to close their eyes and turn inward for even a minute or two a possibility to transform themselves and their lives. Age, skill, and experience make little difference.
Children easily become adept, and the benefits are enormous. Though imagery may be used for any purpose, the intention here is to use it as an antidote to the hypnotic virtual life — to generate a mode of being and becoming that begets kindness, patience, creativity, balance, wonder — even good manners and civility.
Whatever difficulty a child is facing provides the perfect place to begin. Issues with school, friendship, family life, health, and self-image may all be addressed. Imagery is a universal language that mirrors one’s emotions and beliefs in picture form. When you change the image, you change the belief and emotion. When the belief and emotion shift, it affects physiology and body chemistry. For example, by changing a dark, stormy sky to a clear one, you can feel emotionally and physically lighter in an instant. Providing children with this non-addictive mind technology gratifies their desire for action, experience, and magic. Imagery encourages them to face their discomfort rather than avoid it — it returns them to their senses and reconnects them with the joy of boundless possibility. This connection is genuine. It unites them with others and creates a bridge to spirit that material life fails to provide.
Three-Minute Lessons for Becoming a Wizard
The blockbuster success of Harry Potter may have more to do with J. K. Rowling's shrewd insight regarding children's hunger for imagination and magic in their lives than with literary artistry. To take advantage of this phenomenon, children might use their fascination as a jumping-off point for delighting in their own personal wizardry and exploring their own imaginary worlds.
Try the following exercises with your child. Each should last about one to three minutes.
This exercise returns children to their senses and enables them to experience a sense of peace, centeredness, and quiet necessary for living a healthy life.
Sit quietly and close your eyes. Imagine yourself in a beautiful garden or meadow. Smell the flowers. Hear the birds, and feel the gentle breeze on your face. Now, see before you a strong, tall tree. Go to the tree and see that inside it is an opening large enough for you to enter. Go into the opening and be there inside the tree. Imagine your toes curling down into the earth and becoming like the roots of the tree. Then feel and see your body becoming the tree trunk. Now see your arms, as they become the branches covered with leaves and reaching high up toward the sky. Feel how it is now to be the tree, connected with the sky above and the earth below. Notice what happens. Then open your eyes. (Other nature images might include becoming a flower, river, ocean, animal, or even the sky.)
Clearing the Mind
Children may also benefit from imagery by using it to correct bothersome, even traumatic, situations. For example, some children have a hard time taking tests. They may be frightened and confused. To correct this they can do the following exercise (which can be used for other difficult situations with simple changes in the wording).
Close your eyes. See yourself now in the testing situation, feeling nervous and scared. Then breathe out. See your fear coming out of your mouth as a stream of dark gray smoke, and your brain becoming light and clear. See yourself now, taking the test in a new way — looking confident and calm — answering the questions with ease. If you sense the need to hurry, imagine a clock on the wall with the hands moving in slow motion, so you have all the time you need. See yourself completing the test and leaving the room smiling, knowing you have done well. Then slowly open your eyes.
The Magic Place
This last exercise is about having fun and creating magic.
Close your eyes and imagine you are standing in front of a beautiful painting. The painting can be of a place in nature or of anything you wish. It might be something you have seen in a museum or a book, or in a favorite movie. Now breathe out one time. See yourself going right into this painting and becoming a part of it. See yourself exploring this special world, doing whatever you like and knowing that while you are there, anything can happen. Have fun. Notice how you feel. Then return and open your eyes.