We had a wonderful first annual Family Weekend in July, in the spirit of Nyogen Senzaki's Mentorgarten. Including residents, there were around 65 of us, ranging in age from a few months to over 70 years old. The lake, of course, was a tremendous draw— from catching and releasing salamanders to swimming, boating, and walking the trail. Quite a few parents and children did zazen together in the Beecher House zendo, and Zudi Fuller, who turned 5 that weekend, joined us for morning service (along with Nyozan, her father). There were merry outdoor meals prepared by Yusen and her helpers, including s'mores over hibachi coals. A troupe of children followed Carlos up to hear the evening konsho. Everyone made kites with dragon imagery and then raced along the lawn letting them soar. Myorin Catherine Landis, with Nyozan Steve Fuller, led the nature walk. Click here for photos taken by Myorin, Nyozan and others. These photos provide not only a memento for those who were there, but will share the joy of the weekend with the entire Sangha. See below for reflections from parents and children.
At our Closing Circle, some of the comments were:
I loved seeing children’s shoes in the shoeroom!
Hearing children’s laughter at DBZ was so special.
It was a new sense of community for our family—meeting everyone, and quickly becoming everyone's parents, everyone's kids.
Salamanders! Paddleboating! Flying my kite!
It was so good to have a chance to show my family where I've been going for years.
I liked that I was not the youngest person at DBZ! It was great seeing the kids do zazen, and having my folks come.
I woke up Sunday morning and there was a group of little girls outside our door and when Scarlett came out they all embraced her.
The community formed so rapidly.
Hats off to Myorin for bringing those nets (for the salamanders)!
I loved being in nature, away from technology. It was so peaceful.
Seeing the childlike quality that came out in every adult.
It was such fun to see the controlled chaos erupting in a structured environment.
And here is a longer reflection written afterwards by Nyozan Steve Fuller:
Thank you, Roshi and DBZ residents,
For inviting us into the stillness of your practice—it is a treasure we lay practitioners hold dear. And it is a deep pleasure to share the rich lovingkindness of family with you. Our weekend was magical because it was an innocent and surprising experiment—order dipping its toe in chaos and chaos giving order a poke, a mutual tickle. We did some “monastic” things together and we spent some time in the monastery—of course families aren't monastic and we didn't worry too much about it. Just watching and listening is a wonderful way for kids to learn; it leads to imitating— I’ll come back to this. You took care of us all weekend. That was a dose of wonderful compassionate healing because, well, kids are exhausting, and all of us suffer to some degree from a sort of societal breakdown in family support networks…who lives in a real village anymore? To practice solitude and ascetic discipline is lonely at times, and I hope being surrounded by laughter and love is renewing for you— we love you so much! When tired eat, when hungry sleep. We can't rely on a schedule. It's gotta be kid Zen. I fear that if we contrive expectations about what the children, the parents, or the residents should “get” from the experience, we miss it. In the larger sense, we have; unlike traditional Buddhist societies, we don't have an established social structure for the relationship between families and monastics. I don't think we can or should try to replicate another model; we are a different society… What might help us as families who practice Buddhism to feel more connected as parents? Of course, let's do this more. Can we make New Year's another family-friendly time? As families, we simply need to come together more. What would family sesshin look like? How do we introduce kids to practice? Older kids, I don't know so much yet, but I do know we ALL want to be BIG and be babies too. Young kids learn through observation and play. They like it when we are silly. They LOVE to be sneaky and mischievous, and want extra special attention. They like to be the boss, but feel safe— pretend they’re in charge. They want to do IMPORTANT things. They want to be helpful. Make an exciting EVENT of letting them watch different parts of practice, even those that are mundane. THE MONKS are going to LIGHT INCENSE. Wow, fire is cool, why does it smell like that. YOU are going to make a special nature offering to Buddha. Let’s play chase-and-tickle-a-monk-in-a-robe. No not him he’s WAY too fast. You get to chant as LOUD as you can. BETCHYA can't keep up during KINHIN. Let's wake up BEFORE everyone else and be vewy vewy QUIET. Let's go see if any plants and animals need HELP. Oh MY Gawd, its YOUR turn to talk to Roshi, but you have to FIND her—I’ll help. Special important invitations to do grown-up practice, with no expectation of performance. A think tank for parents on how to expose kids to practice at home would be cool—but in order for the parents to get together, we need someone to play with the kids.
Steven G. Fuller, Ph.D.
The Wildlife Management Institute & The North Atlantic LCC