Adolescence is an extraordinary and vulnerable time. Teens face so many possibilities and opportunities and also pitfalls. The sad statistics point to the high incidence of depression onset during the teenage years, of bullying and stress. Despite being the healthiest time of life, adolescence is also the riskiest- with the highest risk of death from accidents and suicide.
As someone who works with teens, it feels cliché to say “teens today have it worse than past generations” – but I also remember quite well my teen years before the internet and cell phones- it did seem a lot easier. Challenges and distractions multiply every day for teens who face with ubiquitous technology, social media, school and social pressures.
For these reasons, learning mindfulness in adolescence can have a lifelong positive impact. Particularly learning “relational mindfulness” – empathy, compassion, deep listening and heartfelt communication - in the context of an immersive retreat has the power to change the trajectory of a life. I’ve witnessed this in my own life- as a teen retreatant 20 years ago- and in the feedback from hundreds of teens and their parents that I’ve worked with over the past five years.
One Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme) retreat alumni, Emily Yuen, wrote eloquently about her experience on retreat:
“My father had pushed me to meditate with him in the past, but I had always been doubtful about its effectiveness. It had seemed too abstract to be applicable to my life. When he enrolled me in the iBme teen meditation retreat, I immediately wanted to cancel. But because I was in such an exceptionally fragile state, I decided I would try it.
Upon arrival at the retreat center, I felt pleasantly welcomed. The warm air kissed my cheeks, and open smiles greeted my every turn. Although frightened, I was open to change. But the first day was still a bit of a jolt. I wasn’t expecting the kids on the retreat to be so friendly, the leaders to be so empathetic, or the weather to be so beautiful.
Most of all, I wasn’t expecting the exercises to be so challenging. It was difficult to sit with myself and brew over lifetime repressions, to face things I’ve never wanted to face. The lack of cellphones, email, and social media, as well as the absence of traffic, crowds, and obligations led me to a state of puzzlement. Who was I without all these references?
Through the intensity of tai chi, a healthy diet, meditation exercises, and sharing personal stories in a supportive group setting, my eyes slowly started to open to the world. I had a moment alone in the wilderness where tears trickled down my awe-stricken face. The spider webs reflected infinite rainbows; the weeds emitted a fragrance worthy of royalty; the sun warmed my inner soul; and the breeze whispered words of love. The earth no longer seemed a bitter place I needed to escape but rather a tender setting I wanted to embrace. My body quivered at all the time I had been wasting in my dark, heartless, and blind state.
Since then, there are of course still times I feel bleak and overwhelmed with the business of life; times I feel my mind will explode from the amount of information I have to retain; and times I swear the day does not contain enough hours to complete my dulling tasks. But I remember what I have learned… For the first time in my life, I am able to remember to be mindful of my cluttered conscious and to see the constant beauty of the world. I continue to remember those pesky, eight-legged critters that produce masterpieces and the persistent weeds I liken to blooming roses. I also look for the sun to send rays of light that peacefully wake me, and the chilling winds that blow tunes of harmony throughout the land.”