- Khalil Gibran
Children are born with an innate beauty that contains virtues such as fearlessness, optimism, universal love, and gratitude; above all, they have the self-love essential for identity development and emotional resilience. This innate beauty is like a “flood light,” and our job, as parents, is to be custodians of our children so that the gift of this flood light guides their actions throughout their lives.
When raised in a spiritual and learning environment, children are poised to better appreciate that joy, pain and suffering are all part of the ying and yang of life. Spiritual lessons can give them the tools to be able to look at obstacles, setbacks and failures as opportunities for growth and character development. Through spiritual upbringing, we increase the chances that our children will approach every challenge with a sense of optimism, making their spirit rise to the occasion.
The attitude and approach one develops through spiritual growth is similar to that of a Holy Warrior described by tenth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Jee. The Guru wrote:
Sava Lakh Se Ek Laraun, Tabey Gobind Singh Naam Kahahaun
(In order to earn the name Guru Gobind Singh, I shall make each one of my fellow beings overcome hundreds of thousands of obstacles)
In this passage, Guru Gobind Singh Jee conveys the message that human beings who are guided by the magic of the flood light have no fear. They see setbacks, disappointments and pain as opportunities for growth both in matter and spirit, and thus they become full participants in writing their biography. Federico Fellini beautifully expressed this idea by saying that “The pearl is the oyster’s biography.”
Science has proven that spiritual upbringing contributes to children’s confidence and comfort in their own skin. Unfortunately, in today’s world, a child’s spiritual development has taken a backseat and in most cases it has no seat. In her outstanding research based book “The Spiritual Child”, Pulitzer prize winner Lisa Miller, PhD, Professor at Columbia University, has documented benefits of providing spiritual environment for children.
According to her research, the process of raising a spiritual child is an organic process and it takes as long as 20 years (Indian sages used 25 years as milestone). Some of the benefits she summarizes include emotional resilience, strong character, optimistic attitude, less fear of failure, and above all, a sense of gratitude and feeling of empathy. She also shares that the spiritual child has less behavioral problems and episodes of mood disturbances. Conversely, a lack of spiritual training during a child’s development can lead to behavioral or emotional issues, which at an extreme, can include drug abuse, suicide, or mass shooting.
In the current environment, rising mental health problems have led to anxiety disorders, depression, loneliness, and lack of empathy, which in turn is connected with a higher rate of suicides. In considering the current state of affairs, I see some glaring factors that have contributed to current state of malaise, where violence is plaguing our society:
- Our society is highly competition-centric. Even with children, we pack their lives with extra activities, studying, and other engagements so that they stay busy and are able to stand out from the crowd. As a result, many children are not living, but missing out on their childhoods. In lot of cases, children’s spirits are getting bleached making them devoid of sense of wonder, and imagination.
- The pace at which technology is progressing and being incorporated in our lives is dizzying. Due to this changed environment, our children’s brains are wired differently than ours, therefore understanding them has become cumbersome. Conversation has gone subterranean and now limited to texts, tweets and instant chats. We and the children are “hyper-connected” and yet not “connected”.
- The antihero has become the hero. The hero image cultivated by our forefathers was a virtuous person and worked for the general good of society. The antihero is the character who is self-centered and can resort to violent or abusive ways to achieve his/her goals. An antihero is deceitful and conniving. Hit series like Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Madmen are prime examples where the antihero is the prime character achieving "success." Instead of reaching goals by virtuous and selfless work, our society sees examples of characters climbing the ranks through deceit and corruption.
It is probably scenarios like these that made Woody Allen write “More than any time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness and other to total extinction. Let us hope and pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
This two dimensional view presents a very bleak picture. Fortunately, the moment we superimpose the spiritual dimension on this two dimensional scenario, a multidimensional world becomes available to us. The gates of grace, gratitude, unbound optimism, and self-love open up. The feeling of this unbound optimism is aptly described by a Persian poet in the following couplet:
Tafawat Ast Shandon-I- Man-O- To
Tu Bastian-I-Dar,O, Man Fatahe Bab Me Shanwan
(What you and I hear are different, you hear the sound of closing doors, but I of doors that open)
This all would amount to empty rhetoric if I did not see the results of taking refuge and inspiration from my spiritual upbringing, especially during the dark days following my diagnosis of lung cancer. I was having a tremendous problem understanding and internalizing the various diagnoses, treatment options, etc. Sometimes, I felt that I had run out of blessings and only abominations were left. Within a few months of being immersed in a pigeon hole of self-pity, the spiritual life of my mother and her influence on me, which was buried under the dust of time, started to reemerge. Life lessons she had taught me through example and that I inherited through osmosis were resurfacing in the hour of need. My mother was a pillar of strength, and regardless of circumstances, I never saw her depressed. Her countenance and actions were always burning with optimism. The life of the Sikh’s tenth guru was a guiding light for her.
By diving into the sea of my memory bank, I am gathering precious stones on a path of spirituality. The contemplation on the precious stones of spiritual gems is leading on a path to equanimity.
The strength and resilience offered to me by being brought up in a spiritual environment has helped me worked through uncertainty and pain in my life. As a natural parental decision and in hopes of passing down our spiritual traditions, my wife and I shared the teachings from our holy book, including the examples of the lives of our gurus, with our children when they were growing up. We have always encouraged them to internalize these values.
In life’s uncertainty, we sometimes do not know whether we are climbing a foggy mountain in the name of progress or heading towards a cliff. If spirituality is given the driver’s seat, it has the capacity of enabling us to turn on the flood light again. Under that light, we will be able to chart the right course for ourselves and guide the future generation. In this spiritually nurturing environment, children are able to retain the guiding light from the higher spirit’s initial gift and it remains a guiding force for them.
Here, I would like to share a hymn of blessings penned by the fifth guru of Sikhs, Guru Arjan Dev Jee. This hymn is often sung on special occasions in the lives of Sikh children, especially birthdays. In the hymn, he tells parents that in order to bring up spiritual children, they should also be on the same path. After all, one cannot give anything without having it. The blessings are from a mother to her child:
Amrit Peevo Sada Chir Jeevo, Har Simrat Anand Anantha…
Rang Tamasa Puran Asa, Kabeh na Biyape Chinta
(Drink forever the ambrosial nectar of true word…
May joy and pleasure be yours,
May your hopes be fulfilled, and
May you never be troubled by worries.)
I encourage everyone to find pearls of wisdom such as this from their tradition, readings, inspirational lives of historical figures etc. When people incorporate these enlightening lessons and values in their lives, it not only allows them to follow their path illuminated by the flood light and find strength, but also sets examples for the next generation. By setting examples and having meaningful spiritual discourses with children, parents can have the unique opportunity to see their kid’s innate intelligence and resulting joy shine.
Why wait more? Start a conversation with you and your children now, and see the magic of annihilating joy unfolding slowly in your and your children’s lives.