Eknath Easwaran talks about how every elder plays the role of a life coach in a child’s life
All of us, whether we like it or not, are in the role of teacher to those around us every waking hour of the day. This is especially clear in our relationships with children. Anyone who spends much time with children knows that they do not do what we ask them to do but what they see us doing. Education is based on a simple proposition: we teach by what we are.
Like thoughtful people everywhere, I am deeply troubled by the direction in which the world is moving. Just as there was a cultural renaissance in the West several centuries ago, the world needs a spiritual renaissance today. Just as there was an industrial revolution two hundred years ago, the world needs a spiritual revolution here and now.
What we practice, children absorb
For this we need, first and foremost, a higher image of the human being. So far the human being has essentially been looked upon as a separate, physical creature that enters life through one door at birth and disappears through another at death. Every mystic in every great religion has rightly called this an utterly superficial and distorted view.
So the first step in a spiritual revolution is for parents and teachers to practice spiritual disciplines that replace this low image with a lofty one. This is where our mode of meditation excels, for the passages we meditate on exalt the human being to the stars. What we meditate on, we become. What parents and teachers practice, children will absorb.
Elevating spiritual values is particularly important for families. A spiritual reawakening is not going to happen in one generation. Our children have a very precious role to play, and we need to nourish them for that role from today onwards.
Children have wonderful creative faculties which will not come into play if they grow up with interactive video and TV. Some of our children got together and put on a very moving three-act play on a spiritual theme, with roles for all ages, in just six days.
Young people and adults can get together and enact plays like this. You can write your own plays, drawing upon the rich spiritual traditions of all the great religions. The creativity tapped by this kind of spiritual focus, for adults as well as children, releases unsuspected currents of devotion.
Draw on all spiritual traditions
But just as in choosing meditation passages, don’t restrict yourself to one religion only. Draw on all the spiritual traditions. A great emperor who lived in India two hundred years before the birth of Christ said that if you don’t respect other people’s religions, it shows you lack respect for your own. All of us are children of God. This is the atmosphere our children should grow up in. In such an atmosphere your whole vision changes, and your children will pick it up. Children absorb prejudices first from their parents, and this is how you can give them a firm foundation that nothing on earth will shake.
Don’t give up on anybody
Don’t think I was born with wings on my shoulders and a halo around my head. Far, far from it. That is why I have so much compassion for people who make mistakes — which means everybody. When I made mistakes, my granny would take me to task, but she would never give up on me or withdraw her support. That is why I say never give up on any child. They will commit mistakes. They’ll burn their fingers. Take them to task, but stand by them. When a student teacher came to me for advice when she was starting her career, I put it in two short phrases: “Don’t lower your standards for anybody on earth, and don’t give up on anybody on earth.”
Whatever young people may do, in their own language they are often crying for help. It is the responsibility of all of us older people — not only parents, but all older people — to set them a higher example every day by translating the Prayer of Saint Francis into our lives. When your children see you going into meditation agitated, angry, or afraid and coming out cheerful, calm, and compassionate, it registers in their hearts.