Twenty teenagers arrive in two vans. Who are they? Football players, basketball players, baseball players. Aspiring doctors, teachers, scientists. Dancers and artists. Lonely ones, determined ones, rebellious ones, introspective ones. Leaders and seekers.
For the third year, our friend and dance teacher Nives Wetzel de Cediel has invited us to teach a day within a week-long retreat she leads each year for her students. The first thing she does is gather everyone’s cellphone. The message: Be here, now – this time and space is sacred.
The week’s theme: creating sacred space within the self and in the surroundings.
Then Nives hands the day over to Kaleo, with me assisting.
We and they wonder, who are we to be to each other?
For us: How do we best connect with them? What do they want and need? How do we inspire them?
For them, I imagine: Who are these people old enough to be our grandparents? Will we be bored? Same old lectures? What if I don’t want this crap?
When we check in, each sharing one word to describe the energy he or she feels inside, “calm” and “tired” come up a lot. The energy in the room, diving down after the initial excitement of arrival, is low.
Kaleo gets them moving in Qigong, and they are mesmerized by the sensations of Qi, the vital life force.
They become aware of energy: What feeds me positively? What depletes me?
“Be careful who you hang with,” Kaleo cautions. “Ask yourself, is this person’s energy pulling me down or is it supporting me?”
Then they work in pairs, looking for energy auras around each other’s body and exploring the ways energy between two people interacts. I watch doubt turn to curiosity and, sometimes, awe.
Then, attuned to their inner and outer energies, they sink into soft cushions of a circle of couches and allow us to guide them on an inner journey.
I lead them in: “You find yourself relaxing… all the muscles of your body softening… nothing to do but sink deeper into the cushion beneath you… your breath becoming longer, fuller, deeper… until you find yourself in a place you really love to be, an inner sanctuary just for you.
“Where are you? Inside or outside? What is this place like? The air? The colors and shapes around you? What surrounds you? What does it feel like inside you to be in this place?
“Among the shadows you see a movement. This is your personal guide coming forward to meet you. Who appears? Ask this being if it has your best interests at heart. If not, send it back and ask for your true guide to appear. How is your guide dressed? What is the expression on its face, the look in its eyes?”
Then Kaleo comes in… “Feel your guide’s energy and your energy connecting… connecting heart to heart… and receive a gift… What do you receive… a talisman, a sacred object, a special tool…?
“Then, getting ready to return, bring your gift with you, as you come back, back to the present, to this time and place, surrounded by all your friends in this sacred space….”
Returning, they let images gather into the words of their journals.
After lunch we go outside where they can explore in nature what they discovered about energy during the morning. They reach out and feel the energies of the stones, the trees, the flowers. One girl sits before a lemon tree and seems to enter deep conversation with it. One boy scans the energy of a stone cairn. Three students lie down with their bellies, hearts, and faces pressed into the grass. We prompt them to ask, what are the messages in the stones, the sound of the bole of the tree, the rhythm coming up from deep in the earth?
Then, we go back inside, and they channel the energies of nature, their inner sanctuary, and guide, into powerful collage-drawings. The creative energy in the room turns buoyant, palpable, pulsing – a collective Muse.
When they’re done, we advise them to stand before their art pieces, each one receiving the message from the heart of the collage.
During the closing circle, the depth of their sharing touches each of us. One young man – sensitive but strong, an emerging football star – has created a box with his distress about the needless deaths resulting from racial profiling screaming from the outside: “When will it all stop – Oscar Grant – Trayvon Martin….” On the inside of the box are a tender pink heart, an image of Mother Mary, and a smaller inner box with the word “DREAM.”
One girl has ripped out a heart shape and placed it behind a door in her paper, so that she can open and close and secure it at will. On the edge of her paper she has cut out the word,
“T-H-I-N-K.” It stands stark and bold as a petroglyph on a stone wall. The wisdom of the heart converses in intimate dialogue with the wisdom of the mind. Nives’ theme for the week is already expressing itself in very personal and profound ways.
I wonder: Which ones will realize their dreams? Which will close the doors of their hearts from too much pain? What struggles will they face? What defeats? What triumphs? What kind of world are we preparing for them? How will it be to be in middle life, thirty, forty, fifty years from now?
What can we do, all of us together, to better care for ourselves, each other, and Gaia, our shared sacred space?
All we adults can do is help prepare the path – be honest with the youth, mentor them, befriend them, listen to them, encourage them to know and love themselves so they make better choices in life. May the young ones find solitude and safety in their inner sanctuary, their guide, nature, the Divine.