This past July, our family retreats brought together over 130 children, parents, teens, and staff to unplug and reconnect — with each other, one’s self, and nature. Through games, skits, meditation, family connector activities, dialogue, crafts, music, and nature activities, the time was rich with laughter, connection and renewal. And yes, that is retreats with an ’s’ at the end, for this summer marked the launching of our second family mindfulness retreat. In addition to our 5th annual IMCW Family Retreat in Virginia, we were honored to be invited to lead the inaugural New England Family Retreat in the Berkshires.
Our chosen retreat theme this year was “Coming Home”. What is home? A place of refuge, acceptance, love, and belonging. At the most fundamental level, the ultimate homecoming is to our own peaceful and loving heart and mind. The practices of mindfulness and compassion help pave the way home.
What pulls us away from a peaceful and loving heart? At the retreats, the children explored how the hindrances of restlessness, aversion, craving, sloth, and confusion pop up many times a day, like misguided friends. What is our GPS back home? Mindfulness. The Three Little Pigs offered a fun backstory for exploring how a strong inner foundation isn’t easily blown away. Mindfulness helps us build inner strength and stability so we hold steady no matter what winds rattle our home. But, as with the three little pigs, it takes a degree of skill, discipline and focus. This is the purpose of meditation, or “mindful moments” in kid-lingo. During the retreats, children took turns in the teacher seat, guiding us all in “mindful moments”. They took this role very seriously. Mindful moments were a time to pause, ground, breathe, and be.
The kids had a blast acting out the fickle eight worldly winds of gain and loss, praise and blame, success and failure, and joy and sadness. With mini-fans in hand, they successfully blew Ofosu’s equanimity out the window as he walked — rather stumbled — through a typical day of highs and lows. That is, until the audience instructed him to S.T.O.P.! Stop, Take a breath, Observe and gently notice what is happening with kindness, and Proceed with something that supports you, such as a warm cup of tea, another deep breath, a walk in the woods, or talking to a friend. With everyone’s help, Ofosu was able to pause and settle himself — and hold steady amidst the winds of change.
What is mindfulness? Coming home to this moment with kindness. Being fully present for our life, for our measure of joy and sorrow. Being with our experience as it is, without grasping for things to remain the same or wishing for things to be different. Offering our love and attention to what is right here, right now. Isn’t this what we all wish for — love and attention? With mindfulness, we offer this gift of presence and kindness to ourselves. When we know how to come home to ourselves, we deepen our capacity for steadiness, no matter what weather system comes our way.
Even though this may sound simple, and perhaps obvious — it isn’t easy. This is what makes it a practice. This is the function and importance of meditation. With meditation, we practice presence and kindness, over and over again, with this breath, and then this one. Re-returning, without judgment. Gently noticing with a light attitude the thought patterns, body sensations, and feelings — without getting hooked by them. Concentration practices offer a training for our nervous system — teaching it to settle. As the noise of our mind and body quiets, we begin to feel more spacious, less burdened. Awareness and insight blooms.
At our family retreats, we explore these practices and themes through the lens of a child — all in the realm of play, joy, and curiosity. We aspire to be an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming community for all. We hope you can join us next summer!