Our Montana sanghas have had another wonderful retreat. This past weekend was our annual spring retreat. Our greater Montana sanghas put together two retreats every year, one in the spring and one in the fall. This spring we had a family retreat and kids were welcome to attend. And we had our biggest retreat yet! 71 people all together, including the children. Our Montana sanghas include Open Way and Be Here Now in Missoula, Flowing Mountains in Helena, and Open Sky in Kalispell. We’re all one big happy sangha family in the big sky state :)
With the presence of children there was a good deal less silence held during the course of our 2 1/2 day retreat. But I found that the silence was replaced with joy, laughter, more smiling, and a rich sweetness that can only be offered by children. I am so grateful for all of the families that came with their kids to experience a retreat together. The energy of the children enriched our sangha and brought the much needed element of lightness into our retreat. Sometimes as adults we can become too serious, rigid, and somber. Children can be wonderful teachers in the art of lightening up and coming back to the present moment with joy and ease.
When I go on retreat my adoration of nature gets rekindled. I become once again aware of how important, healing, and beneficial nature is. The beauty of the trees, sky, flowers, birds, and the Flathead Lake were simply radiant. I fall in love over and over with mother earth.
I wrote this on our first morning of the retreat:
It’s not yet 6:00am,
the lake is bathed in icy blues alighting in the dawn,
waves softly lapping on the rocky shore.
Two geese flap determinately over the water,
their bicycle horn honking joyfully cutting through the stillness.
A spring coolness seeps into my open pores,
like music I had temporarily forgotten the tune of –
I sing its melody through my eyes and gentle smile,
my heart beat molding to its own
As part of the children’s program activities we practiced eating meditation, did art projects, baked cookies, went on a nature exploration hike, had a scavenger hunt, and put together a song/skit for the closing circle of the retreat. The children, ages 2-11, made quick friends with one another. The older kids looked out for the younger ones and as they all grew closer there was a great sense of safety and freedom among them as they ran and skipped from place to place and along the shores of the lake in the sunshine. We were all a wonderful community joined together, caring for each other and enjoying the company of fellow practitioners along the path of cultivating mindfulness.
Here’s something else I wrote while on retreat the first day:
I remember this…
this sensation of a warm cool breeze
engulfing my exposed skin,
the rhythmic pulsation of water with no where else to go
rolling over itself, melting into the next wave,
the familiar ebb of day pooling into night
swirling its liquid colors like oil paints in the sky –
I remember this…
this freshness in my lungs,
memories of walking sandy beaches by starlight,
saltwater woven through the tangled strands of my long hair,
bare feet, bronze skin,
and so much freedom I could taste it as alluring as honey on my tongue
During our retreat the children had the opportunity to receive the Two Promises in a ceremony on Saturday night. It was a lovely ceremony. The children made a mandala art project and lanterns for the occasion and also decorated the alter with natural items they collected.
The Two Promises:
I vow to develop understanding in order to live peacefully with people, animals, plants, and minerals
I vow to develop my compassion in order to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals
I wrote this on the eve of the full moon on Saturday night:
No waves on the lake tonight.
The moon, unobstructed from view,
bursts open like a delicious flower,
reverberating like a bell bouncing off the mountains,
rippling above the still surface of the water
In my utter captivation of the moon’s immense beaming brilliance and its stark spotlight on the lake I had the thought that I had never seen such beauty before. And yet, the thought that quickly followed in tandem was how I had of course experienced many many such moments before – moments where beauty and inspiration overtook my ability to capture them in words or pictures. An insight then followed which was that the practice of mindfulness is akin to engaging in every beautiful moment as though it was the first one our eyes and heart have ever seen. To look upon the world with fresh, clear vision, wise intention, and a vast openness like the sky. To be continually inspired, continually filled with gratitude, and continually moved far beyond words.
(To see the end song/skit from the children, a Plum Village song, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXhOTVPWwcM)