Reflections on a Teen Retreat
By Emma Carey
The nonprofit Peace in Schools (peaceinschools.org) launched the United States’ first for-credit mindfulness course in a high school in 2014. This semester-long Mindful Studies class helps teens develop compassion, calm, emotional resilience, and self-awareness. At a time when many teens struggle with feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety, mindfulness offers a positive alternative. The course will expand to seven high schools and serve over one thousand teens in 2016.
For the final class project, each Mindful Studies student does a four-hour silent retreat—and writes a paper on the experience. In Emma’s paper, she writes of her friend Shea, who died by suicide in the week before the retreat.
At exactly 10:00 a.m. I started my retreat. I was extremely nervous and was positive that I could not sit for four hours straight. I was fighting my thoughts instead of accepting them. I moved on from that failed attempt and started my body scan. The body scan was incredibly relaxing and I had no idea how much time passed. My worries vanished and I was now in a state of peace. Before I knew it, my stomach was grumbling. A voice inside me screamed, “FOOOODDD.”
Walking to the “eating area” I was antsy and secretly hoping that we would all share stories of our first two hours. However once I reached the room, silence overcame me and I no longer felt that need to talk. I ate slowly, not to starve myself or make the time go by, but to actually taste my food. To feel the textures on my tongue as I put each piece in my mouth. I smiled as the realization hit me, I actually love vegetables. I was thinking about where my vegetables came from, where they grew, how they got into my pasta. After all it must have been a long journey.
Around 12:20 I reached my room and went right into a breathing activity. I closed my eyes and counted my exhales all the way up to seven and then back down again. At 1:00 p.m. I journaled my thoughts. “Everything will not always be okay, comfortable, the way I want it and I am okay with that. Not everyone will like me and I am okay with that because I do not like everybody. I do not need a boyfriend or a ton of dates to feel special. That does not define me. I am happy with myself and who I have come to be.” Around 1:15 I mindfully drew and then went into some yoga poses. I then once again tried sitting meditation.
For the last thirty minutes of retreat I wrote about whatever came to mind. “I feel that yoga and meditation have given me a new look on life. I am relaxed and not distressed. I feel in control for once in my life, like I am stepping out of this hole. A hole with nothing but monsters lurking in the shadows. Throughout this whole experience I haven’t once forgotten about Shea. I keep thinking to myself, if she was taking this class, would she be here today, would it help her escape a black hole like the one that I was once in? Then I remember, she couldn’t sit, she was a runner. She would have probably been passing notes through a crack in the door, giggling about the silence because she was not comfortable in it. Meditation has really helped me cope with losing her. At first I was so angry, but I understand why and accept the fact that she was not happy, no matter how hard she tried to pretend to be. I will never fully accept that she is gone. She is in my thoughts every day, every hour, and every minute.” I used this retreat time to reflect on my past and my future, to learn to accept what has happened and what will happen. For the time being I am at peace.
My four-hour retreat was hands down the best experience I’ve ever had. I didn’t feel that urge to be on my phone or talk to anybody, I was comfortable in the silence. I took this time to really step out of the everyday life schedule and focus on my needs. I cleared my mind and left the stress behind, taking that weight off my shoulder. Because of this class, my anxiety is slowly diminishing along with my constant negative self-talk. As a whole, I feel better than I have in a long time. I think I will be taking time for a retreat of my own from now on.
Emma Carey is a junior at Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon. This is her second year of Mindful Studies. She enjoys yoga, reading, movie watching, outdoor activities, and hanging out with friends. Someday she hopes to travel to Iceland.