Explorations by Kenley Neufeld

4 days, 25 Monastics, 80 Children, and More

By on July 7, 2008

With almost 250 people filling Deer Park Monastery, the 6th Annual Family Retreat was a great success. Leslie and I (with kids) arrived a couple days early to help setup and plan for the arrival of many friends. From July 2 through July 6, the monastery was transformed into a time of families practicing together. It was very nourishing to see many old friends from past retreats and to share, learn, and grow together. The Dharma is deep and lovely and it was very present in those attending the retreat. How wonderful to spend time with parents on the path who have similar values and interests as we do in our family. About half the people camped while the others stayed in the simple dorms. The weather was hot, but not unbearable. This Retreat was the most culturally diverse I’ve experienced at Deer Park (having never attended the People of Color Retreat) and I was happy to be sitting and practicing with friends on the path. So, some readers may wonder what happens at a monastery with 80 children.

Daily practice began with a 5am wake-up bell and usually concluded around 9pm as we ready ourselves for bed while listening to the Temple Bell over 20-30 minutes. In between waking and sleeping, the community practiced sitting meditation, silent meals (or mostly silent), working meditation in groups, dharma talks and presentations, total relaxation, sports, and dharma discussion. One of the best times for me was between 4:00pm-5:30pm when the garden in the monks hamlet was filled with children and parents participating in non-organized activities. The sound of Joe Reilly singing to a small audience, volleyball/basketball playing, small groups talking, children enjoying the pond, eating ice cream, etc. – a truly joyful time.

The children participated in a special program while the adults attended dharma talks or discussion. The themes were mainly about practicing as a family and sharing experience and practices. On Saturday afternoon, families gathered together in groups of 40-50 and did Beginning Anew in front of the group. Tears of joy were obvious. Leslie and I shared some about our practice of Beginning Anew in front of the entire community as part of the orientation. On Saturday evening, instead of dharma discussion, we all met in the Ocean of Peace Mediation Hall for a Be-In. The Be-In included skits, music, dancing, poetry, jokes, and the popular Dragon Dance. I think the highlight was the Samba line dance led by our family group. Who would have thought! The sound of laughter and music filled the Hidden Valley of Deer Park.

Sunday morning began with a Transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings to about 20 attendees and the Two Promises for an equal number of children. For me, this is always a highlight of any retreat. When people take the step to practice these Trainings, I feel inspired and wish to find ways to support their practice and reconnect to my vows. It has been a wonderful journey for me and know it can be for others as well.

If you attended, have questions, or want to learn more, please comment below. There is also a Facebook Event page where you can post pictures or videos from the Retreat.