Of rabbits, children and spirituality —Ayeda Naqvi

For most people the words “children” and “spirituality” do not mix. Children, by nature are restless and jumpy while spirituality alludes to peaceful state. But if you expose them to love, harmony and beauty early on in life, it is a state they will try to recreate

In times like these it might seem frivolous to talk of spirituality, even more about spirituality for kids. When so many children do not have food to eat or homes to sleep in, when the very existence of their nation is under threat, is spirituality really relevant?

Every year when I announce that I will be taking my children with me to the Sufi Camp again, I face criticism. “Why take them?” said my best friend this year. “If you are so into all this meditation stuff, why not go alone?”

Because spirituality is more than “all this meditation stuff”; because spirituality is exactly what children need in times like these; because with spirituality comes compassion, and open-mindedness, and a willingness to accept all those who are different from us.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a fundamentalist or a deep-breathing, chakra-obsessed fruitcake to be spiritual. To be spiritual means simply to be grounded in the moment, to be grateful for all that you have, to be empathetic to other people’s needs and to be aware of a higher power working through us.

And so, at the Sufi Camp I attend, while the adults attend workshops and lectures, the children learn spirituality through play. They learn to cooperate, to take care of nature and to respect each other. They put on plays, sing sacred songs from different traditions and read stories.

They come from all across the world, from different backgrounds and different religions. There is Hamija, the little Jamaican boy with dreadlocks. There is Oliver, the mentally handicapped teenager. There is Sama, the blonde, six year-old girl with the beautiful, melodious voice. There is Amadeo, the feisty five-year-old son of Eesa and Una. There is Daichi, the Japanese boy everybody loves. There is a group of sophisticated pre-teen American girls. And there are my children, with their Pakistani accents. Together, on this mountain top, they learn to co-exist; together for these ten days, they learn to share.

They are being taught spirituality in a way they can understand. Skills are being instilled in them which will stay with them for the rest of their lives, skills more important than any school with its rote system can teach them. They are being taught to love themselves and those around them. They are being taught to accept others without being judgemental and to bring joy and creativity to what they do — all in a way that is palatable for their gentle sensibilities.

One book that is regularly read out to the children is called the Velveteen Rabbit. A classic story of a stuffed toy rabbit made real by a boy’s enduring love, it is a lesson in the power of belief. A little boy longs for his toy to come alive, as does the toy. But the process is long and painful. Before the rabbit can become real, it must endure all sorts of hardships. So it is discarded in the rubbish heap, physically disfigured and even neglected. At the end, however, it is the boy’s conviction that forces the “nursery magic fairy” to turn his love into a miracle.

And so, as the velveteen rabbit comes alive, the children are asked, what does it mean to be real? What does it mean to be different? What are some of the difficulties one goes through as this transition is taking place? As they sit cross-legged, listening to this story, they are all velveteen rabbits; as they sit awed by the magical tale, they are all transformed into that little boy.

At the end of the ten days, as they say their good-byes, something within them has changed. As they disperse into the world, they carry the magic of Velveteen Rabbit in their hearts. Some of these kids come from single-parent homes, some face financial difficulties and yet others are just struggling as they try and find their place in the world. On one level, they are all like the Velveteen Rabbit as they struggle to “become real”. But they are going back with a renewed belief that through their love and conviction, they can change reality.

It is uncertain what is going to happen in the world. As many of these children grow into teenagers, no doubt, the world will go through many changes. The hope is that despite life’s challenges, they will retain the inner grace that comes from living life with full enjoyment, gratitude and a realisation that one is part of a bigger picture.

I once read somewhere that children are angels. For most people the words “children” and “spirituality” do not mix. Children, by nature are restless and jumpy while spirituality alludes to peaceful state. But if you expose them to love, harmony and beauty early on in life, it is a state they will try to recreate. If you expose them to light, they will recognise it even in times of darkness and move towards it.

After all, if evil is contagious, goodness is even more contagious.

Ayeda Naqvi is a journalist and a Representative of Sufi Order International. She can be contacted at ayedanaqvi@yahoo.com

Source: Daily times, 16/9/2008


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