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Mindful : December 2016
seat” exercise, during which one teen fields questions from his or her peers. “ We’ve been cultivating our attention—with breath, body, and sound. Now, we’re placing that attention onto another person, with kindness and curiosity,” Archer says. The volunteer begins by offer- ing three “if you really knew me statements.” The teens then give full rein to their some- times-blunt questions, nudging the volunteer to a degree of openness that can be stunning and cathartic. The exercise concludes with each teen offering appreciation for their friend on the “hot seat.” “It’s nice for people to have a curiosity about who you are,” says Torii. “It makes you feel special when people are listening attentively and kindly: They look at you as if they love you.” But openness and vulnerability are not the culture of the world to which the teens must return, the so-called “real world.” So, as the arc of the retreat begins its descent, the formal structure loosens, a deliberate effort to ease re-entry. “ When they go back into the world, it’s going to feel speedy, intense, less sensitive, and less kind: It can be jarring and difficult,” says Chris Crotty, one of the retreat teachers. So, on the last night, the schedule opens up, meditation and wisdom talks giving way to a celebration that includes a community share— songs, skits, and poetry—and a dance. When the dance ends, the teens stretch themselves out on the floor, cushioned on yoga mats and covered with blankets. With the lights dimmed, the staff serenades the youth with a lullaby of sorts and sends them back to the dorms. When the teens gather in the hall next morning, the silence and meditation have almost fully receded, like the deep exhalation of breath. It is, truly, time to say goodbye. A boy hoists himself up to a standing position. He moves toward the gong in the center of the circle. He takes the mallet in his hand, and says, “A year ago, I stood here and talked about how I wanted to work on finding out who I was. I talked about how I wasn’t quite there yet, but that the week had started me on that journey. I’ve spent only a few weeks with some of you guys, but I feel closer to you than I do to anyone in my life. These weeks have done more to help me figure out who I am as a person than the other sixteen years have.” ● It’s not easy to say goodbye. Above, staff and teens gather for hugs and photos at the close of a retreat, North Andover, MA , January 2016. For some participants, the retreat is a once-in-a-lifetime experience they’ll never forget. Others try to make it a yearly pilgrimage. From left to right: Richardson L, Leilah C,SamN,KateJ (staff), Whit W, and Gabriel V. PHOTOGRAPHCOURTESYOFIBME Victoria Dawson is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. She regularly contributes to Mindful. Her most recent piece was a profile of rapper JusTme in the October 2016 issue. December 2016 mindful 69