So what happens when you get 40 teenagers together, throw in a handful of committed adults, take away everyone’s cell phones, and ask them all to meditate in silence for a week?
Nothing short of awesomeness!
Last month’s Northern California Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) teen retreat, that I wrote about here, vastly exceeded my expectations and filled me with such hope for the generations to come. Here’s a quick recap of what made this time so special.
Getting the first part of the equation right, the 40 teens, is key— this was an incredible group of teenagers who were all willing and ready to put in some serious time on the meditation cushion. While I strongly believe that anyone can benefit from meditation, there is no denying that one’s intention and motivation will foster a deeper level of practice and in turn manifest big rewards. These teens came ready to practice and that helped. However, I bet if you surrounded any group of teenagers with loving compassionate attention and offered them the same mindfulness tools, they too would grow and glow from the experience. But like I said, having a group of willing participants was a definite plus.
The handful of committed adults was an equally important factor in this equation. The colleagues I worked with were an amazing bunch—willing to volunteer a week of their time to help these teens see the beauty and power of deep practice. Everyone on staff put their hearts into these teens and this work, creating a container of safety and love. Be it a late night talk to a teen struggling with some heavy emotions, or coming up with countless fun activities and creative outlets for the teens, the staff and teachers on the NorCal iBme retreat made an impressive group of which I was proud to be part.
Taking away cell phones sounds like a scary thing to many people these days, and I’m sure it’s a daunting thought to most teens! Instead of looking down into screens, these teens were looking deeply within themselves and learning what makes them tick. The practices on these retreats create a space for authentic, honest, and compassionate communication that seemed to more than fill the void of the missing cell phone. And in the periods of talking (it wasn’t all in silence), they got to practice meeting one another with presence and open-hearts. Never underestimate the power of being truly seen by one’s peers.
The final part of the equation, a week of silent meditation practice, was the exponential part of this experience. Sure, getting a group of teens and committed adults together for a week of deep connection and authentic communication is great; but giving them the time, tools, and space to look deeply within themselves has a tremendous power—exponential one might say. While there was certainly some squirming and sleepiness in the first few days (much like any adult retreat I’ve ever been on), by the end of the retreat there was an atmosphere of stillness and calm in the meditation hall that most parents could probably not even imagine possible for their teens. Resilience, radical growth, and radiant compassion were just some of the myriad benefits these teens reaped from their week of meditating together.
As we handed back their cell phones on the last day, many of the teens grimaced and cringed, asking if we could just keep the phones for them. Who would have thought?!
Thinking about this group going back to their communities as ambassadors of peace and self-care gives me such a rise. I hope that mindfulness continues to offer these teens a place of refuge, and that the practice continues to flower in their lives.
I’m so pumped to go back next year!