My son and I started this bedtime meditation together when he was in third grade.
It was a day he said the whole class got in trouble. Apparently some of the boys were playing with the soap in the bathroom. My son is sensitive, and being the kid who hates to piss of anyone, felt targeted by this lecture. (Apples and Trees, y'all.) He said his teacher was angry and looking right at him but then, my young son explained in air quotes, “chuckled” and was a little nicer.
This interaction seemed small to me but I don't dismiss his anxiety. As an adult I can see his teacher, a nice, gentle man, suddenly hearing himself lecture seven year olds about playing with the soap in the bathroom. That silly reality probably made him soften and suppress a chuckle. As an adult, and a parent, I understand suddenly hearing the ironic things that come out of your mouth as you yell at your children to stop yelling or please, jesus, don't bite the dog.
This was the first night we tried this new meditation I heard about. The meditation goes like this: Take three to five deep breaths, close your eyes and picture yourself in a nice, happy spot, seated and waiting. Wait there until an animal arrives to teach you something.
He chose to sit in tall grass under a tree. He sees a lion. It tells him he can stand up for himself. When he opens his eyes, "MAMMA! I GOT ONE!" and I open mine, no animal yet to share, I see his face as he explains this lesson to me. He is soft and excited. I explain that this is a fantastic lesson. There absolutely is a lion inside him and can be with him any time. He might be the one doing the work but inside him is a lion giving him confidence. He nods and we decide to try again.
Next he sees a pig, “to remind me to be happy because they roll around in the mud and are happy,” We laugh together at this image and decide to do one more.
Finally he sees an ostrich, which reminds him to be (and here’s the kicker; a 7yr old pulled out this word) "precious to things.”
His whole self was renewed as he fell asleep excited for his animals in his dream. “At least I have three friends with me now,” he says as he rubs his sleepy eyes. He’s stretched out in his zippy-footed PJs holding his teddy bear. I brushed the hair off his forehead and wonder if he's my animal.
We practiced this many times over the years. We'd close our eyes, my son now 8 or 9 and take deep breaths. The animals would come to him and he'd pop open and exclaim, "I GOT ONE!" and we'd talk about what it means and how it helps him face whatever was bothering him that day.
In all those times of sharing his animal stories, I never got one.
Yesterday we decided to try the animal meditation again. It's been a long long while, perhaps almost a year, and we've been meditating more using things like Headspace and Mindfulness techniques.
When it comes time to do our meditation, he doesn’t want to go to bed. He wants me to read. Or he wants to stay up with his sister and her friend, older girls, able to stay up well past his bed time. Anything, anything, to not leave the day. I convince him this is the right time to do this, and so we begin.
He takes three deep breathes. I follow suit. We close our eyes and think of a quiet spot to sit and wait. I set myself down in Wales, on the bay in Mumbles, as the tide is out. This is easy to picture since this is where I was sitting just over a month ago during a headspace but before I'm "settled" in my seat, I see the word “EMU." “EMU.”
I got an animal!
It’s an Emu. An Emu has come! I’m so excited and can’t wait to tell my son, I forget to ask what the message is. I open my eyes to look at him and he’s breathing heavily, his eyelids closed, his three freckles on his cheeks, the perfect triangle of adorable, right there inches from my face.
I watch him sleep He’s twitching, his hand suddenly flying to my nose before I can think to move. I giggle and he stirs. I gently get up, tuck him in, and turn off the light.
I hope he got his animal. I hope the message was peace. I think of my Emu and hear the message in my mind, “It’s a reminder to be present.” I walk back to his bed, kiss his perfect three-triangle-freckle cheek, and close the door behind me as I leave smiling.