Catherine first came to China as a student in the 1980s and has lived in Chengdu, Sichuan, with her family since 2004. She and her husband both work on development projects with Tibetan communities across China.
One of Sam’s first words was “Buddha.” When he was just over a year old and could say maybe ten words, Buddha was one of his favorites. He would gaze up at the Buddha statue on the bookcase and draw the word out into two long syllables, “boooooodaaaaaaa”, then look at us expectantly for approval. Of course he received it in abundance, which encouraged the performance, and it is also an easy word for a young child to say. But beyond that, Sam has an innate interest in spiritual matters, which is quite different from his brother, a born rationalist and scientist. Sam asks the big questions: what is life, what happens after death, what is a soul, where does it go, where is God, when will the world end, and looks at us expectantly for answers.
I am not sure when he started sitting in the full lotus position, or how he figured it out. Certainly not from copying me. He has always enjoyed joining in my yoga practice, usually by lying on my mat underneath me, or climbing on my back and sliding down in downward dog. I think one day I must have shown him what the full lotus position is supposed to look like and he just effortlessly tucked his feet up into it, then closed his eyes and brought his hands together in prayer like the Buddha statue.
Any child might do it, but it comes naturally to Sam. He does it quite often now and tells us that he is meditating, though only for a few seconds at a time. Last month when we visited the giant stone Buddha at Leshan in western Sichuan, he closed his eyes in front of each of the Buddhas in the nearby temple and told me he was communicating with them. It’s the kind of behavior that, if we were a Tibetan family, would have him recognised as a reincarnate lama and whisked off to a monastery. Which I suppose goes to show why the Tibetan system works: you may not believe in reincarnation, but there’s no doubt that some people have an aptitude for spirituality and it manifests early, and those people are well suited to the monastic life. Not that I expect this for Sam, he is full of curiosity and mischief and his current ambition is to be both a singer and a writer. But I do anticipate that he will have a rich spiritual life, and that he will grow up to love yoga.