By Carol Fegan A group of 32 gathered for a week in June at a 4H camp near Charlottesville, Virginia, for our family mindfulness retreat. Many of us had been to Plum Village in the past or wanted to go this summer, and a number had been to other family retreats organized by their local Sangha. Most of us had not met before, and it was an amazing and inspiring experience to feel us become a community within a few hours, and an extended family tribe after five days.
Our perfect setting was on a wooded hillside. We transformed the front porch of the dining hall into our zendo, and enjoyed the fresh air, fireflies, sunlight, and birdsong during our sitting and Dharma talks. The children could walk by and see and hear us, sometimes joining us by sitting on the large flat rocks nearby.
The older children instructed the younger ones in sitting, walking, and pebble meditation, and the fine art of inviting the bell. All of the children organized a tea ceremony for Father's Day, adapting elements of the Rose Ceremony for the occasion, and presenting fathers and fathers-to-be with leaf print cards they had made following their segment of the morning Dharma discussion. Other children's activities included a guided meditation leading to the children's illuminated mandala drawings of personal symbols from the world of nature, the construction of simple dolls, origami mobiles, and cookies, which the children delivered to the Salvation Army shelter. All adults—parents or not—enjoyed the children's sense of freedom as they explored the environment with the nurturing support of so many "aunts and uncles," their attentive delight in listening for the very moment when the bell could no longer be heard, their growing ease in participating in meditation with the adults, and their strong sense of connection to each other. On the last night, we formed two groups for "Beginning Anew" ceremonies, and the effects of this careful sharing of "flower waterings," regrets and concerns could be seen in siblings' efforts to deal more gently with their inevitable conflicts.
After sharing this very deep relaxation and renewal, we came home refreshed by love and joy and the children asking, "When is our next family retreat?"
Carol Fegan is a clinical social worker living in Baltimore, Maryland, with her four children.