Meditation can help families through turmoil

”The Rocking Horse Winner,” a short story by D.H. Lawrence, is the sad tale of a boy named Paul who is privy to the constant bickering of his parents.

His mother, beautiful, talented and born to considerable means, is never satisfied. Listening to her complaints and the raised voices of his parents in the adjoining room frightens and overwhelms the child. Unable to stop the arguing or come to the aid of either parent, he begins to rock feverishly on his wooden horse. This story ends in tragedy with a lesson about the sheer vulnerability of a child whose size renders him powerless.

Just as Lawrence’s fictional child, many children experience their world spiraling out of control. The loss of the predictable can stem from among a myriad of circumstances. Some are irrevocable: when parents separate or divorce; others, more transient: a move, a change of school.

Times of economic uncertainty, when expenses skyrocket, jobs are lost, benefits cut and household debt mounts, lend additional stress. As parents become overwhelmed, children pick up on their anxiety. They do not have the tools or the maturity to comprehend what is happening and are helpless to intervene and or return things to the way they were. The impact will depend on the child’s age and personality. Experiences that are not dealt with or left undiscussed can cause emotional or behavior changes in a child, causing him or her to become aggressive or withdrawn.

Alternately, stress that is not dealt with may affect a child’s physical health, and he or she may exhibit somatic symptoms of illness. This may further impact existing health problems. The Child Study Center at New York University found asthma, hay fever, migraine headache and gastrointestinal illnesses like colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and peptic ulcer may be exacerbated by stressful situations.

As a child, my younger brother suffered from such severe stomachaches an ambulance often came to the house. Often during the summer nights, he let out blood curdling screams that still send chills up my spine. No physical source of his condition was ever found. As adults, we realized his anxiety resulted from the constant traumatic changes in our lives. Our mother died when he was only 18 months old. Thereafter, our family was in a constant state of turmoil and disruption.

A feeling of helplessness in childhood, such as my brother’s, not dealt with can result in long-standing problems. Among these problems are an inability to take risks and form trusting relationships, affecting emotional fulfillment as an adult. How, then, can one help children make sense of disruption and to reduce stress in their lives?

Establishing as much consistency as possible is a smart beginning. Repetition and reassurance the change in circumstances is not the fault of the child can help alleviate guilt. Keeping to or establishing routines creates predictability and provides assurance to lives in a state of transition. Such predictability allows children to understand his or her family’s ongoing commitment to their wellbeing.

If appropriate, counseling and therapy in group or individual sessions is available at clinics and with private practitioners. Having that neutral person as a support and supportive sounding board should never be underestimated.

There also are means outside of therapy that can be introduced into a family’s routine that can provide coping mechanisms in times of transition. Support groups exist at religious and community facilities. Involvement with others that may have confronted similar circumstances at a time of need can break down feelings of hopelessness and isolation.

Meditation is a valuable tool is available to everyone regardless of spiritual or religious orientation and is an outstanding method of alleviating stress. A family practice can draw members closer together. Meditation provides the opportunity to understand and process emotions. Through meditation, one can learn not to be reactive and angry while growing in love and compassion amidst turmoil. Even when difficult issues surface during meditation, acknowledging them is a path towards healing.

Many books exist with suggestions on how to make meditation part of a daily routine. Highly recommended is a children’s book by Maureen Garth titled “Starbright: Meditations for Children.”

The practice begins by sitting on the floor with eyes closed and visualizing a soothing and peaceful scene. ”As you walk down the path in your special garden, you feel the warmth of the sun. There is a gentle breeze blowing. Nothing in the garden can harm you.” Setting aside this special time can reduce stress, followed by a supportive discussion sharing concerns. Guiding a child in the process of meditation is helpful for parents as well. They do not want to see their children stressed and overwrought; the process of meditating, as is prayer, are age-old healers.

The fictional character in “The Rocking Horse Winner” meets a tragic end, one that symbolically is not far removed from reality. Children lead increasingly complex lives, facing situations that are beyond their capacity to understand. Parents, no matter how overwhelmed and for their own benefit as well, need to find ways of stepping outside of what is causing the stress. Counseling, involvement in religious or community support groups and meditation are time tested and effective ways of doing so.