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Mindful : December 2016
For many teens, a week of mindfulness- infused attention, curiosity, acceptance, and support from their retreat peers is life changing. It is this loving gift of space, perhaps more than the habits of formal practice, that endures. The success of the program is not measured by hours at home on a cushion, but by a transformed sense of self. “For teens, establishing that daily practice is difficult,” says Jessica Morey, iBme’s executive director. “They need ongoing support. As they get older and develop the lifestyle and discipline to practice on a regular basis, some will come back to it.” What teens carry with them, then, are the experiences of unconditional positive regard from their peers and adults, the insights about their inherent lovability, and a belief that they can work with their hearts and minds to feel more peaceful. They learn to not believe every thought that forms in their minds. “It’s like planting seeds,” Morey says. “They are in there. Even if dormant, they will bear fruit.” One of the staff volunteers, Gabriel Baldwin, 29, attended his first retreat when he was 15 years old, returned each summer thereafter until he turned 19, and then moved into a lead- ership role. As a teen, he had suffered through an extended and excruciating period of bullying. Depressed, he lingered in a place that was “neu- tral and lonely,” eating lunch each school day in the safe company of a teacher. At his first mind- fulness retreat, he was shocked: “Being cared for and listened to—receiving kindness from my peers—in many ways, it was the first time I felt included, seen, and appreciated by people my own age.” In the past decade, Baldwin has returned almost annually as a staff volunteer. He has also abandoned a career as an energy-ef- ficiency consultant to teach mindfulness in the Boston area. “The first teen retreat was filled with the most joy I had experienced up to that point. In some ways, I’m still chasing after that.” But no gathering of mindful teenagers—or adults, for that matter—is without its moments of resistance. One afternoon, four teens go for a long walk; two return, but an amorous pair lin- gers behind. Another teen excuses himself from a small group session, taking refuge in a nearby gazebo. Another chatters with a neighbor during sitting meditation. On one walking meditation, the teens leave the retreat house, single file, gingerly carrying saucers of water. It is an exer- cise in slowing down and being present in the moment. As they process into a nearby meadow, water sloshes onto the grass. Eventually, to the amusement of his peers, one boy perches an empty saucer atop his head. A girl giggles. Another boy stacks two saucers on his head. “It doesn’t feel as if the teens are testing the boundaries or trying to determine how much they can get away with,” says Khalila Archer, the program director. “ It’s more like ‘Are you there? Are you paying attention?’ The answer, which reverberates, is ‘Yes, we are, and we will hold this.’” The staff of four teachers and eight volun- teers maintains and models a constant level of attention and curiosity, drawing from their own retreat experience and their deep practices of mindfulness to remain present—able to redirect rather than react. The usual adult exhortations of “no!” or “knock it off!” never arise. “Our discipline is not about ‘don’t do this,’” says Rod Owens, one of the four senior teachers. “It’s about reminding young people of the example they’re setting and asking them if they are OK → “The first teen retreat was filled with the most joy I had experienced up to that point,” one former participant says. “In some ways, I’m still chasing after that.” Moving meditation is also key to the retreat experience. Below, morning yoga exercises before breakfast. Summer 2015, Old Chatham, NY. December 2016 mindful 67 retreat