Every year during the four weeks of the summer retreat Plum Village offers a program for children from the ages of 6 to 12 and adolescents aged 13 to 17, allowing parents the opportunity to enjoy the retreat. This year there were twenty volunteers working with one hundred children at Upper Hamlet in four groups: 6-7 years, 8-10 years, 11-12 years and a mixed-age group with both Italian and Spanish children. The team consisted of people from various experiences in the field of education and beyond, from teachers and educators to cultural workers, IT workers and monks, all of whom aged from 25 to 65 and from various nationalities.
Brother Phap Luu invited us to come to Plum Village a week before the retreat to help cultivate the bonds of our mini sangha: the children’s family. This first week allowed everyone to get settled and to get into the practice at a Plum Village pace. The days were composed of personal practices, group meditations, sharing as well as communicating about plans for this year’s program, discussing work done in past years and reflecting on which practices to share with children during the retreat. We learned some songs, games and practices of coming back to our breath, and eating mindfully – taking turns to facilitate the practices and to play the part of the child.
As for me, I am a theatre director and I teach theatre to children and adolescents. I met the teachings of Thay in August 2013 and visited Plum Village the following summer as a retreatant for three weeks. The 2015 summer retreat was my first retreat as a member of the children’s team.
I feel this experience greatly enriched me on a personal and social level. Brother Phap Khi wrote “All beings are there where you are. Take care of yourself.” I could touch this message. It is the care I brought to my “wellbeing”, to my basic needs – like rest, silence, smiles, exchanges, nature, and my breathing – this allowed me to be available for children. I see today how everyone’s attention to oneself and others generated an energy that enabled us to provide children with a loving and caring space.
It was palpable.
I was also able to experience the children’s immense receptiveness to our sincerity: their ability to get experience: to really listen, to really feel, to really observe, to really play if we are present, really there.
We all agreed at the end of these four weeks spent with the children that our own inner child also had fun. She had regained her strength and was not about to be forgotten. The know-it-all or overly-cautious adults could rest and grow more sensitive… together and embraced, we could welcome our suffering and nourish our joy.
We all left Plum Village. Maybe we will soon find ourselves alone with 30 children instead of being on a team of three, and in a more difficult environment than Plum Village.
So what remains from this experience? For me, it is a taste of working as a sangha – a team that shares essential values – kindness, deep listening, and their active practice. It is the urge to practice knowing we are connected to a community of experimenters from all walks of life. It is the strength of a common practice we can feel at every moment. I think everyone leaves with the desire to weave ties of listening and kindness into their surroundings and to continue practicing, welcoming suffering and nourishing joy within and all around.
By Estelle Guihard
For the original, French version of this article, visit: https://sites.google.com/site/wakeupschoolsfrance/news/blog/temoignagedunbenevoleduprogrammeete