Summer Sessions 2015 Reflection for Montclair Monthly Meeting

September 1, 2015

Abigail Burford

Thanks to the financial support of NY Yearly Meeting and of Montclair Monthly Meeting, my son Roman and I were able to attend NY Yearly Meeting Summer Sessions at Silver Bay, which was held July 19 -25 this year. It was my fifth consecutive year of attending Summer Sessions. The week at Silver Bay is such a spiritually rich experience, it sustains and nourishes me for an entire year.

I was a JYM (Junior Yearly Meeting) Volunteer, a resource person, and a Healing Center volunteer. I can give a description of these experiences.

I can’t give a description of Roman’s experience as a 10th grader in JYM, because it was independent of me. I can, however, report that his experience was so rewarding and exciting, he signed up to be one of the alternate Clerks of JYM. As a JYM Clerk, Roman will attend planning and clerking events at Powell House during the coming year, in preparation for Summer Sessions 2016.

My role as a JYM Volunteer was as a caregiver in PM Childcare. During the times when Friends need to attend Meeting for Worship with Attention to Business, committee meetings, or the Plenary Speech, PM Childcare offers a pleasant, secure place for infants and children up to the age of 10… and older, because, once they realize how much fun it is, the older siblings want to come, too. Morse Hall is so spacious, there’s room for many different activities: playing with blocks, working a puzzle, taking a nap. This year we made sure we had soul or folk for the CD player, and age-appropriate movies for the DVD player. We were happy to have some teenage volunteers who engaged the young children in games, also. The ministry of PM Childcare comes in the teachable moments when two young children want the same toy at the same time, or in the drop-off moments when parents say good-bye to their children. I feel that the Quaker principles of peace and community are at work in PM Childcare.

As a resource person for the morning JYM programs, I brought my Meditation Workshop to whichever group wanted this activity. I had first developed my Meditation Workshop in 2013 as a follow-up activity for the Godly Play presentation “Listening for God” with Matt Giampoala at Montclair MM. I expanded it for use with the teenagers who joined the overnight program at NYYM Fall Sessions 2013.

The idea of my Meditation Workshop is to coach young Friends in the process of centering down, or to provide step-by-step, sensory-based guidance in listening for God. Although I borrow props from other faith traditions, the objective is to more clearly understand/experience what happens in Meeting for Worship. Children and teenagers find the props engaging; the sounds of the rattle, the chimes, and the trance-inducing music, the smell of the essential oils, the weight of the rice-filled eye-pillows, and the feel of prayer stones all help them to achieve a state of relaxed body, empty mind, and open heart. In the period of deep relaxation, when there is only music and no speaking, young Friends are encouraged to listen with their hearts and see with their hearts. At the conclusion of the workshop, when the group has re-assembled in a circle, young Friends are encouraged to share what they heard or saw during the period of deep relaxation. It is always acceptable to pass, because no-one likes to feel forced or compelled to share.

I brought the Meditation Workshop to the 1st and 2nd graders Monday morning. I felt it was prudent to focus on the concrete and specific with this age group, so we each held up a fist, to visualize the size of our hearts, and we tapped our chests, to locate our hearts. Their abundance of youthful energy dictated a fairly short time of lying “still” on the floor, but, even so, the children were able to listen with their hearts and see with their hearts. Here are some of the messages these young Friends shared:

  • I heard a bird singing a beautiful song.
  • I saw a rainbow.
  • I was in a place where I could be anything I wanted to be. Nobody was the boss of me.
  • I smelled green beans.

I encouraged these young Friends to treasure these messages. One of my goals in presenting this Meditation Workshop is let young Friends experience the process of going to a place of inner calm, and receiving what feels like a genuine message from the authentic self, otherwise known as that of God. For a 6-year-old, that message could be the smell of green beans; for a 26-year-old, that message could be the spiritual soundness of sustainable farming practices; for a 46-year-old, that message could be more effective public policy on agriculture. People hear God in age-appropriate ways.

I brought the Meditation Workshop to the 5th and 6th graders Wednesday morning. I felt it would help engage them in the process if I passed around the props first. I encouraged them to experiment with the rattle and chimes, and to smell the rosemary essential oil. They were enthusiastic about lying down, and were able to stay in meditation for 20 minutes. Here are some of the messages these young Friends shared:

  • I saw my grandmother [who died some years ago].
  • I was playing with my cousins.
  • I was back home [in another country].
  • The rosemary made me think of Thanksgiving.

Again, I encouraged these young Friends to hold their messages with respect and patience. I had the sense that, for this age group in their everyday world, there may not be adequate calm for noticing, let alone feeling, delicate emotions of love, family attachment, and nostalgia. I had the sense that they used the meditation as a time to let their authentic selves recognize their emotions.

I brought the Meditation Workshop to the 7th-9th graders Friday morning. I felt this age group would appreciate the idea of establishing sacred space before the meditation, and asked for volunteers to sit in the four directions of the compass. (Some hilarity ensued.) The four volunteers each found satisfaction in the particular role of their chosen direction: north, the wisdom of the ancestors; east, the vision of the eagle; south, the fire of creativity; west, the healing water of emotion. This group chose various relaxation poses: on the floor, across three chairs, on one chair, or upside down. They were able to stay in meditation for 25 minutes. Some even fell into a deep sleep and had dreams. There was a sense of a gathered meeting when the group re-assembled in a circle to share. They used the rattle as a “talking stick,” passing it carefully around the circle, and shared these messages:

  • I was floating on the ocean.
  • I saw a doorway. There was a person I’ve never met, who peered through the doorway.
  • It was a little frightening. I saw a person in a cloak who had to tell me something. But I had to chase him.
  • I climbed a waterfall at dawn. The clouds were really beautiful.

I had the sense that this group used the meditation as a time to explore inner realms. I was struck by their courage. They were willing to try their best to experience a relaxed body, an empty mind, and an open heart. They were willing to see with their hearts and listen with their hearts, even if what they saw and heard was confusing. They felt safe enough in their community of Friends to do this. In a follow-up conversation with one of the (adult) JYM volunteers of this group, I heard that the Meditation Workshop was a spiritual high-point of the week for this group.

As a Healing Center volunteer, I spent most afternoons at Sproul Pavilion, holding the space in silent prayer, or offering reiki and other forms of energy work. I was happy to work with Buffy Curtis and Kathy Slattery, the Friends who brought the idea of a Healing Center to NYYM, and continue to be the facilitators. Just walking into the space is relaxing. Everyone leaves their shoes at the door. Calming music plays on the CD player. Some Friends sit in prayer in the chairs around the edge of the room; some Friends lie on the massage tables; some Friends are laying on hands; some Friends are talking quietly on the porch. The windows on three sides are open to the breeze and the Silver Bay sounds: boats at the dock, tennis games, and bird song.

I’m looking forward to doing it all again next summer.


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