Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Youth on Retreat

In May 2011, the Reciprocity Foundation hosted it's first youth retreat at the Dharma Drum Center near Pine Bush, NY. Twelve youth signed up to attend and several had risked losing their shelter bed to go on retreat. This was an exciting moment for many of the Reciprocity students--some of whom had never left an urban environment.

When we pulled up at the retreat center, the youth seemed energized by their surroundings. Some immediately started sneezing as their bodies adjusted to the higher pollen count. Some took off their headphones and deeply drank in the sight of trees, lavender bushes, groundhogs and a pristine lake. They seemed unsure of their surroundings, but open.

Over the next three days, youth practiced yoga, meditation, walking meditation, silent meals and participated in discussions rooted in spiritual principles. They enjoyed taking walks by the lake, exploring the woods and taking the time to just rest and breathe.

Rather than finding their inner Zen master, the retreat helped our students discover their inner child. Perhaps they found the childhood that so many of them were denied as children. They began to play—running, jumping, tickling and teasing. They laughed with the giddy abandon of 11-year olds. They shed their city masks and pretenses, their solemnity, their leave-me-alone body language. They all seemed so happy.

During our closing ritual, each person thanked every person in the room for something they had directly or indirectly given us: a smile when we needed it or the courage to try something new. Once again, the noise level rose substantially as words, hugs and tears passed between us. But as I gazed as the Buddha bearing witness to all of it, I could swear that his subtle smile broadened and that his laughter reverberated softly through the room.

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