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Teenward Bound! Mindfulness Retreat on the Sunshine Coast

September 4, 2015

My partner, Ly Hoang, and I have just returned to Vancouver from the beautiful Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, a place where the Pacific Ocean meets the land in a rugged display of cliffs and rainforests, and where orcas and humpback whales dance offshore. Right away, we fell in love with the Sunshine Coast communities of Gibsons, Roberts Creek, and Sechelt. These small coastal towns are made up of tight-knit communities that really take care of each other. I was astonished when our hosts checked us in to where we were staying, and told us “No need to lock your door, no one does that around here!” (We couldn’t imagine doing that in Vancouver!)

We were invited to the community as guest facilitators for Teenward Bound, a mindfulness retreat for teens, organized by the Roberts Creek Community School Society. (Ly is a high school counsellor in Vancouver and teaches mindfulness to her students, and we sometimes team up together on mindfulness projects for youth.) To the best of our knowledge, this was the first-ever teen mindfulness retreat in British Columbia and in Western Canada, so we felt that this small and humble gathering was creating a small piece of history together!

We spent two mornings with about fifteen young teens at a house on the beach, exploring and practicing mindfulness together. Many of them had already been introduced to mindfulness through the MindUP program at their school; a few of them were pretty new to mindfulness. We practiced mindful walking on the beach, a long and relaxing body scan, and tea meditation (drinking tea slowly and mindfully.) We were amazed by the open-heartedness, keen observations, and depth of wisdom, that the teens shared with us over the two days:

“Sometimes my eyes clench up when I’m stressed and I don’t even know it. Mindfulness can help me to recognize that.”
“Drinking tea more mindfully, I could really notice the smells and the tastes of it, it was a lot better than I thought it would be.”
“Being mindful can help me to recognize when I have stress and problems that I would otherwise want to deny or to push away.”

At the end-of-retreat celebration BBQ, I gave a talk on The Mindful Teen to the parents of the teens. Afterwards, a mother of one of the teens told me, “My daughter hadn’t done mindfulness before, she wasn’t in one of the schools that taught it. Last night she told me, ‘Mom, maybe the body scan could help me with my chest pain.’ The mother explained to me that her daughter had had a medical condition when she was younger, and continued to have chest pain now. But, her current chest pain wasn’t related to her previous medical condition, and was likely more related to stress and anxiety. I told the mother, ‘That’s amazing that your daughter had that insight into mindfulness after just one day of practice!'”

We also appreciated the honesty and courage that we saw during a question-and-answer period on the second day. One teen asked, “What if I do mindful breathing and body scan, and I still feel upset and overwhelmed all the time?” (Our answer: Mindfulness is a powerful tool to handle stress and strong emotions, but sometimes you also need other tools and support. Please find an adult you trust to talk to, like a parent, teacher, school counsellor, or doctor. You can get more help, and mindfulness can be a part of that. Asking for help when you need it is is an act of courage.)

We left the coast and returned to Vancouver this morning, feeling inspired by the mindful young people, and very hopeful for the future of our society.

Special thanks to Stacia Leech and Ron Skene for hosting and organizing this visit, and to Ted, Frances, and Tonya, the retreat co-facilitators. We hope to come back in the future!

Rainbow at Roberts Creek Beach
Rainbow at Roberts Creek Beach