If you are a regular at A Very Important Meeting (or if you caught the post script in my most recent newsletter), you know I took the whole fam on a meditation retreat last week. It’s not something we’ve ever done before. I’ve always said I want my kids to find their own way in the world, to explore different beliefs and decide what they want to put their faith in, but it occurred to me recently that they haven’t really had much exposure to Buddhism.
This is not to say they are strangers to mindfulness. I’ve made efforts to introduce them to practices as they seemed useful, but buddhism as a religion doesn’t get a lot of air time. We talk about Christianity around Christmas. We’ve done Passover dinners with friends. My mom ensures that we light the house with candles on the winter solstice, but nowhere in their lives has Buddhism really been introduced with intention. So… family retreat.
Like Summer Camp
Family retreat was a little like I imagine summer camp might be. I never attended sleep away camps, but from what I’ve gleaned from the movies they involve singing and crafts and things like that. So, yeah, summer camp. Only, while the kids were off doing art projects and trust exercises, the adults had time to meditate. All in all it was a mixed bag.
In truth, it was really hard to meditate for a long period and then come out of the hall and have to be a parent, present for all the normal ups and downs kids have in any given day. And if I’m being frank, some of the singing made me feel a little like I was in a documentary about cults. But that’s an unfair oversimplification.
One of the family retreat leaders was named Ofosu and he kept things super grounded. The songs were either ridiculous (for the little kids) or deeply moving spoken word poems, with a little bit of call-and-response thrown in to make sure everyone was paying attention. He even broke out the singing bowls at one point, accompanying himself with simple tones. The talk he gave on self-compassion made the whole week worth while for me. It’s rare, in my experience, to find a teacher who speaks (to both adults and kids) with such authenticity, experience, and compassion. If you get a chance to study with this man, take it.
His whole message (to adults and kids) is “you are enough.” He would call out in the mornings as everyone gathered before we went off with our assigned groups: “who is enough?” The first time we all respond: “I am enough.” The second time all the kids point at each other and say: “you are enough.” The third: “we are enough.” If my kids took away anything, I hope it was that.
First and Last
Next year my daughter will be too old for the kids’ program, so this was both our first and last family retreat.
All in, I’m glad we went, if only to have a break, as a family, from all of our screens. Imagine, 5 days with no screens. (No, really, you’ll have to imagine, because I couldn’t take any photos…)
It was an experience, full of all the highs and lows of any retreat I’ve ever been on. It accomplished what I hoped it would in giving the kids a glimpse of buddhist traditions. They even got to do a Q&A session with the monastics which both of them found fascinating. It helped me to feel like we’ve balanced the scales a bit in exposing them to a a variety of beliefs so that they might be more informed humans making their way in the world.
If you’ve got any specific questions about retreats (family or otherwise) drop them below in the comments. I’m planning to go again in December (just me this time) for a retreat called Befriending Mortality. Six days in quiet contemplation of death. Is it weird to say that I’m excited?