The weekend of the Ascension (13th – 17th of May 2015) marked the first formal educators retreat in the Netherlands. Two monastics travelled from E.I.A.B to the Maitreya institute in Loenen to guide participants in the practice and give dharmatalks: Thầy Pháp Xả and Thầy Pháp Kính. The retreat was organized by HappyTeachers.nu and the Dutch foundation L.I.A. which spreads the teaching of Thầy in The Netherlands and amongst Flemings.
In our country, pillarization (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillarisation) is still at the basis of the school system and most private schools are set up on a religious basis. Getting those schools and teachers interested in mindfulness practice isn’t obvious or straightforward.
Twenty people participated. More then half attended a retreat for the first time ever. Half of the group worked with kids in elementary schools; the other half with teens, adolescents and adults. There were young teachers searching for tools and skills to handle their groups and more experienced educators with a need for renewal.
From early Wednesday evening until the mindful cleaning the spaces we used on Sunday afternoon the group ‘dove into the practice’. Some were surprised by the seemingly easy way others picked-up the specific way of living in a retreat in our tradition. The calming down, the noble silence practice at mealtimes and in the evening…. It was all so new, so different from their everyday life.
Thầy Pháp Xả, born in The Netherlands, offered a new mindset to many participants, stretching on ‘taking care of yourself before you try to help others’ in his first Dharma talk. It had an impact on teachers. One of them evaluating the retreat wrote: “Whereas in the beginning I hoped to learn techniques to bring mindfulness in my lessons, I am now aware that mindfulness is not merely a ‘technique’. It is an attitude to life. And apparently that all starts with oneself. How wonderful!”
After dharma sharing in the afternoon, there were presentations of mindfulness programs for elementary and secondary schools: Mindful Kids training based on MBSR; .B (dot B) – a program for teenagers in schools and Mindlab, based on the 16 guidelines that accrues from the Tibetan tradition. Thầy’s Dharmatalk in Barcelona and Wouter Verhoeven’s film about the educators retreats with our beloved Thầy were inspiring and enriching.
From the feedback we learned that the program was a little tight, yet very rich and powerful. Participants share a need to continue practicing and connecting, so they get nourishment to continue on this path of practice.
Written by Tineke Spruytenburg/ Chân Nhã Hương