Article by Rachel Seely, photos by Samira Caamano
Family Camp at Shambhala Mountain Center is a special time to appreciate and value ourselves, our children, our families and friendships, and our culture. Taking the time to focus on this aspect of life in a contemplative and supportive atmosphere is a gift that I will always cherish. And one I believe my daughter will as well. This year’s Family Camp was SMC’s largest in many years. We had over 108 participants, which included 65 children, 27 who went through the Rites of Passage program.
Having that many children on the land brought blessings of wakefulness and freedom. Immediately the children developed their own relationships to each other and the land. Parents often marveled at the feeling of being held by the land, which is no small feat when in the process of letting go physically and emotionally to our children. The land became a cradle for the kids to explore the phenomenal world in a safe and accommodating manner. Kids ran freely within the space, with only the occasional reminder to be quiet near the main shrine tent and lodge rooms. They were always on the move, having fun, exploring new things, taking risks and developing new relationships with each other, their parents, and the land itself. I was personally excited to experience the land in a new way too. It felt as if the land perked up and responded wakefully to the fresh energy of the children’s exploration and wonder. I noticed many things on the land that I had not noticed before.
Our days started with family meditation, often led by previous Rites of Passage graduates. A sense of ownership and leadership was instilled into the children’s programming from the start. We were lucky to have brilliant and skillful coordinators for our 2014 Family Camp. Steve Sachs and Rachel Steele lead our program, accompanied by the Rites of Passage teachers, Kelly Lindsey and Kerry MacLean. We also had the special honor of having Acharya Dan Hessey open our Family Camp with a beautiful, simple explanation of Lhasang and Lhasang ceremony, followed by an introduction to Shambhala Meditation for children and parents. I felt this clearly established the ground for the time we would spend together. The space of basic goodness and the acceptance of vulnerability was felt and appreciated throughout the program as parents worked with their hearts and minds, as well as the hearts and minds of their children and partners. I often swelled with tears as I experienced immense gratitude for what we were choosing to do together and for our children.
The children’s program was split up into age groups for morning activities while parents were given time to themselves for practice or personal time. Each day we had a parenting circle led by Steve Sachs in which we explored parenting and child rearing from the point of view of basic goodness. We were all touched by the vulnerability and insight which arose from each other as we explored aspects of ourselves and our children that were troublesome or confusing. I left the parenting groups feeling supported, enriched, and empowered to transform aspects of my parenting style and the ways in which I view my daughter and her behaviors. Afternoons consisted of “unfettered time” and family activities. Parents and children were introduced to the theme of working with the elements, and the traditional Buddhist Maitri Rooms developed by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to help us connect with nature, the elements, and the energies within ourselves. We also had many wonderful circles of singing, a talent show where fearlessness manifested abundantly, nature walks, a final banquet and an amazing dance party. We had a lot of fun!
A significant aspect of Family Camp was the Rites of Passage ceremony. The children in this group worked together all week learning contemplative arts such as calligraphy, kyudo, ikebana, poetry, bowing and lighting a shrine. They are encouraged, through their participation in the Rites of Passage program, to be in the world with gentleness and fearlessness and to begin to take more responsibility within the family and society. Parents are encouraged to trust and support their children as they let go of old ways of being together and habits holding on. These children shined as they went through the powerful “letting go” ceremony with their parents. Many parents and witnesses were touched by the significance and simplicity of the ceremony.
I really can’t say enough good things about Family Camp and the wonderful people who coordinated this program. I am fortunate that my daughter has been able to participate in Family Camp for two years at SMC. If you ask her she will tell you, “I love Family Camp.” It is something we look forward to every year individually and as a family. And now that Family Camp at Shambhala Mountain Center is growing, we will look forward to seeing other families year after year as our children grow up together and learn to be “who they are” in the world and with each other. I truly feel that having the support of this kind of family community rooted in basic goodness will not only help our children find peace within, but will help them be empowered as they face the difficulties and future of our struggling society.
Here’s what several children had to say about it this year:
“I have a much better handle on meditation. I also learned that I am a WARRIOR!! In the future, I know that I will be thankful that SMC taught me this. I will always strive to be kind, gentle, and fearless.” –Ava Keel
“I learned to appreciate the elements, love this area even more, and to appreciate all the teachers so much!” –Sheldon P. Williams
“(I learned) so so so much patience.” –Matthew
“(My favorite part was) all the love, support, and kindness from almost everyone.” –Sierra Karsh
“I learned about fire, earth, air, water, and space. I also learned how to meditate more and calm myself down and that the warriors shout ‘Eeee!’ when they are shooting in kyuodo.” –Maxine Rhodes