Mindfulness Camp for Teenagers at Deer Park By Annie Tran
It was once said that, "This generation, will be generation X," that there is no hope for the future, that we as teenagers both will and have failed to fulfill the hopes and dreams of our ancestors, our parents, and our teachers.
Deer Park's Teenage Mindfulness Camp has defied everything that has been said above. We the teenagers have proven not only to ourselves but also to the world (as a community, as a Sangha) that we have the capacity to continue on the path of understanding and love instead of consumption and ignorance. Deer Park has truly created, a "Pure Land" for teenagers to take refuge in and to be a part of.
On the first night of the Mindfulness camp, we had the opportunity to sit down together in groups of 3-4 people to get to know each other. To me, such a simple act, to sit down and talk to each other with open ears and open minds despite the fact that we didn't know a thing about one other, was incredible. In that very meditation hall, were the people who share the same aspiration as I do; to carry out the hopes and dreams of our ancestors, of ourselves, and of our future.
The following day, we were awakened at 6:30 a.m. by numerous sounds of the bell, which was what I thought, a great way to wake up! We gathered together in the Oak Grove to do morning exercises. After that, we were off to conquer the mountains of Deer Park (in other words we went hiking). About an hour into the hike we all took a break on the rocks to have breakfast with one another. After having breakfast together, we hiked to a vast field where we heard what we thought were a lot of Rattle Snakes. We sat together on the rocks and listened to Sr. Ha Nghiem. She fust shared with us a story from the book Old Path White Clouds, then a very simple but powerful dharma talk. She spoke about our minds, how they could be compared to gardens, and that everything inside our minds are like seeds and everyday we water them unknowingly. I think after that talk, we were a lot less fearful of the rattle snakes (watching movies watered our seeds of being scared of these slithery beings).
I consider the hike, the peak of the camp, because in many ways we had to work together to get through the natural obstacles of the trail. Holding each other's hands, sharing our water bottles, and warning each other about the trail ahead, eager to accomplish this bike together as one. I remember at the midst of the hike, everyone was anticipating 3:00, because at that time we were scheduled for Total Relaxation! Everyone was looking forward to that! When it was time for total relaxation we all gathered in the meditation hall and laid down. Two minutes after Sr. Thang Nghiem invited the bell, about half the room fell dead asleep! That's what I call total relaxation!
That same night we had a bonfire at the site of the bell tower. It was time for us just to be together; knowing it was our last night. We sat arund the fire, heard stories, sang songs, Listening to a Dharma talk under the trees and cracked a few jokes! After all the excitement simmered down, the full moon happened to rise over the mountains. It was then, that we all learned the true beauty of the moon. I had never truly enjoyed the moon. Before that night, it was just another occurrence that I saw every month, but that I was not much aware of. I took it for granted. I realized that night, to see things without being aware is a great shame.
For many people, that night was their first session of Moon Meditation. It was very quiet. All that was heard were the sounds of everyone following their breathing and the flickering of the fire. The moon was especially bright and the atmosphere of a community was present. As an adolescent having these feelings (feelings of peace, happiness and harmony) and this type of atmosphere, is very rare. We cherished these moments together so much.
The camp was very authentic. It gave us the opportunity to sit together and share our hopes and dreams, our fears and sufferings. We had the ability to speak freely and to know that we weren't going to be judged. Everyone was sincerely nomished, if not by the brothers and sisters, or their fellow peers, then simply by the environment. I have seen so clearly that we will NOT be generation X, but generation NOW. Someone once said, "A single star can light the dark, a single smile can warm a heart, a single hand can lift a life, a single voice can speak the truth, and a single life can make a difference." If one single person can do this, imagine what a SANGHA of teenagers can do?! Deer Park has cultivated seeds of compassion, seeds of love, and seeds of understanding in us, and has watered them so skillfully. Each teenager who was a part of this camp has left with a new garden, full of beautiful blooming flowers . There is only one thing that I would change about this camp . . .. The length! I wish it were a bit longer. I am glad to know that Deer Park will continue being here for everyone young or old to be a part of. To feel such feelings of peace and joy is a great gift, and everyday that I am at Deer Park, I am offered that gift! The present moment is a gift! That is why it is called the "present" moment! Thank you for being present!
Annie Tran, Clear Water of the Heart, is 15 years old.
Photo courtesy of Plum Village