Over the summer I learned that Zen Mountain Monastery offers youth programs one Sunday each month. It took me until last month to finally arrange a trip to ZMM for the whole family.
We all got up at 6:00 in the morning (no easy thing of any of us on a Sunday), stopped at the local bagel shop to grab breakfast, and made to Mount Tremper by 8:30 with only some minor arguments between the kids. The drive along the New York State Thruway is really quite beautiful as the sun is coming up.
Once we arrived the kids were divided into two groups: teens and younger. A couple of members of the monastery staff were assigned to each group. Parents can accompany the younger ones, but not the teens, which I think is good. Both groups are introduced to basic meditation and Buddhist ritual, and depending on the time of year and the weather, will engage in either arts and crafts or nature walks. At noon we’re all back at the dining hall for a communal spaghetti lunch.
I brought the kids here because I wanted them to interact with other “Zen” kids and to see the monastery and the monks first hand, to open their eyes to Zen as less of an abstract thing that Dad does and more of a real-world experience.
Well they loved it. My daughter made friends instantly and liked that she wasn’t going to be shadowed by her parents (or her brother) all morning. My son really got into the rituals and even the “work practice” of cleaning up after we were done making gifts for the monastics. My wife is the most organized person in our family, and her skills were greatly appreciated by the ZMM staff in keeping the 15 kids on task and on time.
The only thing that marred the day was my throwing my jacket into the trunk my car and realizing as I shut the lid that my keys were still in one of the pockets. I spent lunchtime desperately trying to break into my car, was somewhat bemused to find that more than one staffer had the tools to do it (but advised against it so as not to damage wiring), and was grateful when one of the monks was able to call in a mechanic to help out. Seventy dollars and some mindfulness jokes later we were on our way home.
Last weekend I took the kids again (my wife sat this one out). It turned out that only the teen program was happening this time, so my son and I took the opportunity to hike the grounds. It was cold, but a lot of fun. And while I didn’t lock the keys in the car, we did drive back in some heavy weather that doubled our return time. But we all agreed that we’ll make this trip a monthly occurrence.