Family Day at Deer Park

By Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem mb47-Family1On December 17, 2006, Deer Park held its first family day of mindfulness. The intent was to offer a full day of activities for both parents and children to enjoy together. Since January 2006, we have offered a regular children’s program at Deer Park, on every first and third Sunday. However, the children’s activities are mostly separate from the adults’ so parents are not always familiar with the mindfulness practices we share with their children, and rarely have the chance to explore them together as a family.

The day was filled with lots of joy and meaning. Although adults outnumbered children, it was hard sometimes to distinguish between the two because we had so much fun that everyone’s inner child was very alive!

Dharma Adventure

We began with an introduction to the day. Then we divided into five groups to begin our Dharma Adventure, each group visiting one of five different stations around the monastery and then rotating. Nuns, monks, and lay practitioners were already at each station to receive the groups. Everyone in the Deer Park Sangha was enthusiastic and participated in the day; even the cooks prepared lunch early so they could join one of the groups!

One station offered pebble meditation,* which was actually acorn meditation because acorns are so plentiful and beautiful. There, families learned a little about anatomy and how the lungs and breathing process works. Gently holding a single acorn, they visualized: “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower, breathing out, I feel fresh.” Then they continued to breathe and visualize mountain — solid; still water — reflecting things as they are; and space — free.

Another station engaged everyone in making a collective artwork: a wheel of Tibetan prayer flags decorated with play dough figurines in all colors, shapes, and sizes. The beautiful structure brightened up the tea room in Solidity Hamlet for many months afterwards.

An outdoor station had everyone playing cooperative games, which ranged from story-telling, to relay races, to standing in a circle with cups in our mouths and without hands, pouring water from cup to cup. Very memorable!

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Then there was the dining hall station, where everyone got their hands messy making and mindfully eating peanut butter balls, with lively discussions about each ingredient and its interconnectedness with other things.

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At the last station, families were skillfully facilitated in role-playing difficulty they encounter in their everyday family life. They acted out situations like miscommunication or venting their anger and frustration, and then had an opportunity to play out the same situation again, with more calm and awareness.

Deep and Simple Practices

After a joyful, sort-of-silent lunch together in the dining hall, the children offered the Sangha total relaxation! As all the adults and children lay quietly resting in the Ocean of Peace meditation hall, four children slowly guided everyone in relaxing the different parts of the body. They also sang beautiful lullabies.

Then Sister Susan guided everyone in the children’s version of Touching the Earth. We were all moved by the depth of the words; the concentration and sincerity in the room was palpable. Several adults came up to me at the end of the day asking for a copy of the text, saying they liked it better than the adult version [see Mindfulness Bell issue 45, Summer 2007].

We ended the day with a session of Beginning Anew. Passing a flower around the circle, parents and children expressed their gratitude and appreciation for each other as well as what things they wanted to do to bring more happiness to each other. Sharings were concrete and from the heart. Laughter, tears, and peaceful silences left us all feeling very full, very rich in the Dharma.

We all enjoyed the day very much and look forward to offering more events like this in the future. We hope other sanghas will benefit from what we are learning and we also want to learn from the innovations of other sanghas as we open the new Dharma door of family mindfulness practices.

Sister Jewel, Chau Nghiem, is now in residence at Plum Village in France.

*This practice is explained in depth in Pebble for Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hanh.

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