By Jacqueline Kramer
When I sent in a check to secure our reservations for a family retreat I envisioned sharing lots of quality time with my daughter. I pictured us sitting together, eating together, healing together. I was so happy to have a chance to share the precious jewel of Buddhism with my only child. My daughter, Nicole, age 11, had been hurting terribly for the past few years. I wanted to put a balm on her wounds and provide her with the tools she would need that would enable her to rebuild her self-esteem in a world that could be confusing and hurtful.
We had great fun Easter Sunday when we took the train from Martinez to Santa Barbara. It was her birthday, so I packed little presents for her to open along the way. The ride was harmonious, if somewhat dominated by her electronic video game toy. We arrived in Le Casa De Maria at night and settled into our dormitory room - its sole occupants. We awoke to a foggy morning and a smattering of early retreatants eating pancakes at the dining room. After breakfast, Nicole and I walked back to the dorm to get ourselves organized. Nicole was lying on the bed when I approached to invite her for a walk. She was crying. "Nobody likes me here. I want to go home." I was stunned at this sudden unhappiness and made the mistake of trying to talk her out of it. I got so frustrated I knew I needed to go out for a walk to clear my heart. While walking out my frustration, I met up with a girl Nicole's age and invited her to come meet Nicole. The two girls went off together for a walk in the orange grove.
As the retreat commenced, Nicole was less and less in my presence. She wasn't interested in coming to the meditations or the walking, or the talks. She didn't want to eat with me or spend free time with me. She was pouring her energy into making new friends and doing God knows what when her new friends were participating with the rest of the community and she was by herself.
I watched mothers sitting with their children, I watched the children up close to Thay drinking in his words, I watched the adults being like mountains and the children being like flowers on the mountains. I longed to share this with my daughter. I knew that forcing her to participate would only create more rebellion so I just watched the longing, the anger, and the wanting. I wanted her to hear what Thay was saying about enfolding anger with loving aims, I wanted her to hear what the gentle sister was saying about sexuality and its place in a loving context. All the hurts Nicole was feeling were being addressed, but she was too withdrawn to drink this medicine.
I let go. I let go of trying to direct Nicole's healing. I felt the support of a community of loving, mindful people. They were there for us if we needed them. We were safe. I could finally relax and let go of my daughter knowing that if she fell, there was a whole community of people to help her get back on her feet again. I was beginning to trust that Nicole was taking care of her own healing even if it looked to me as if she was drifting and lost.
The last day of the retreat was sunny and flowerful as Thay and the community walked to a field to celebrate Buddha's birthday. We gathered around a statue of the baby Buddha on the fresh green grass and sang songs of simplicity and awareness. After three breaths, I looked up and there was Nicole standing next to Thay. His arm was around her, and she was singing with the rest of the community.
Later that day, we were in our hotel room preparing for dinner. I walked into the bathroom and there in the tub was my sweet Buddha child singing, "I vow to develop understanding in order to protect the lives of people, animals, and plants." My eyes filled with tears to witness the healing I longed and prayed for which had come about in its own mysterious way without effort on my part. I had simply become a mountain amongst mountains - solid and present, unmoving in my commitment to love, water amongst raindrops - sprinkling wishes for happiness and unlimited space, trusting that with freedom, air, and sunshine, the plant would repair itself. The precious tulip flower child drank in the air and sun and water and became fresh and new again.
Jacqueline Kramer lives in Sonoma County, California.