By Mark Vette Sleeping bags and bodies twisted and tangled upon one another, and moonlight on the beautiful faces of children sleeping under the stars, awakes the child within me. I sit like a sentinel at meditation reflecting on the evening before, of enjoying hot chocolate and cookies while telling stories and jokes. A young one wakes and joins me in meditation. Together we roll over the others to wake them at 5:20 a.m. We begin our morning doing "Tai Chi stepping" across the hamlet to the east side to meditate on the rising sun. A monk coming across the field in walking meditation bows to the children respectfully. Finding our spot just below Thay's hut, we settle in. Looking across the young Buddhas-to-be, I see their beautiful faces revealed and highlighted in a dawn reflecting the exquisite scenery of forest, grapes, and sunflowers. A true scene of awakening, the birds chorusing and Thay doing his morning meditation on his deck above us and radiating his pure serenity and peace.
We had a few weeks of joyful afternoons together, swimming, training, dowsing for water, walking in the bush, climbing, talking, laughing, and meditating with nature. It was a little bit of a standing joke how Uncle Mark was going to weave Thay's teachings into the activities of the day. One of the most meaningful aspects of Thay's teachings for me is that you can include them in any activity of your life. I believe children in particular need to experience the Dharma in everyday activities and not have them imposed too formally or in too structured a way. My experience is that children learn best with activity, spontaneity, and fun. Time needs to be spent establishing true friendship and trust to be accepted as any kind of guide. They also need to be included in planning and making decisions on the program. I was deeply impressed with how much commitment and significance Thay placed on the children's program. The first hour or so of every talk was dedicated to the children. Much wisdom has been transmitted, and there is a need to find out from the kids how they responded to the teachings, and to compile this in a way that is easily understood by children.
During the retreat, Thay asked us to look more carefully at how we could develop materials for the children's program and find out what the children liked most. We discussed these issues and came up with the following findings. The activities they enjoyed on this retreat were Tai Chi, Kung Fu, Yoga, swimming, sports, nature walks. Other activities included, storytelling, tea ceremony, skits, a discussion group for kids, activities with Thay, sleeping out, pebble meditation, games, visualization, and nature meditations. In one popular project, the children creating greeting cards and sold them to the community and donated the proceeds to support the work in Vietnam. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Thay and discuss these ideas, and he offered some great ones of his own. We visited his hut and were welcomed in. I was struck by how childlike Thay became in the presence of the children, and especially how he communicates so directly on their wave length. Thay offered us his "childhood cookies," which we ate mindfully. The children each had a say airing their suggestions. Thay also made some suggestions the kids were pretty excited about. He suggested a pool and a theater, and possibly a video production program. We finished the meeting with a hugging meditation each with Thay. I cherish that special time and know the kids do too.
The retreat changed my life. The presence and teachings were deeply profound and at the same time so down-to-earth and practical. I feel a deep sense of gratitude to have been ordained into the Order of Interbeing. I have a strong sense of coming home. Going for refuge to Thay and this very special Sangha with an interpretation of the Dharma that truly touches my heart and inspires me.
I sit back here in New Zealand on the other side of the world and think how lucky I was to make many lovely young and older friends. I would like to send them all my love and appreciation. Looking back over my retreat notes and names, I smile as all the beautiful new friendships I made come rushing back into my awareness.
During the retreat I had many periods of effortless mindfulness and this practice has strengthened my ability to carry this back to my family and the Long White Cloud Sangha in New Zealand.
I would like to finish with strong words of encouragement to all the young people. A children's section of The Mindfulness Bell called "Kid's Stuff" would be a great idea to communicate kids' practice. Let's all put pen to paper and write about what's up in your life, Dharma discussion, raising money for needy causes, the environment, other retreats, book ideas, and humorous stuff, and send your writings and drawings to The Mindfulness Bell in Berkeley, California.
Mark Vette, newly ordained in the Order of lnterbeing, cares for dogs and cats with behavior problems in Clevedon, New Zealand.