When they are confronted by a bully at school or become angry with their siblings at home, our students are never alone.
by Rachel Sear
"You have the coolest job," one of my roommates commented. And truly, I do. She joined me as I was peeling crayons at my dining room table for a Youth Practice project, a familiar sight on Saturday nights.
Sometimes when I'm running around trying to find the right supplies for a project or racking my brain for ways to make the concept of wisdom or right effort accessible to 12-year-olds, I get so caught up that I can confuse preparing for the job with the job itself. Because most days, if you ask me what I do, when I'm in the thick of the metaphorical forest, the detailed answer would be filled with trees: "I peel crayons. I price meditation chimes. I plan ways for kids to feel frustrated so they can teach themselves to be patient."
But on a beautiful summer day, sitting at my desk a month after our Sunday Youth Practice, I can take a deep breath and survey the forest: "I help create world peace."
I know this sounds a little grandiose, but I truly believe this is what we are doing in Youth Practice at the Zen Center: We share the Buddha's teachings so our students can learn how to handle life's challenges peacefully. We use ancient myths and tales as doorways into a world where we are intimately connected with our inner Avalokiteshvaras and Samantabhadras-no matter what struggle we meet along the path.
Every time one of our students is encouraged to share the crayon that they really wanted to use with a classmate, or forgive a friend who hurt their feelings or apologize to a friend whose feelings they hurt, they create a ripple of cooperation, patience and egolessness that spreads out into the world through every person that classmate or friend treats with cooperation, patience or egolessness.
When they are confronted by a bully at school or become angry with their siblings at home, our students are never alone. In one breath our students are connected with the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, powerful allies who help them make empowered choices about the kind of people they want to be and the kind of world that they want to live in.
When I step back and take a breath, I feel that deep connection and know that each crayon I peel will help make the world more peaceful.
Rachel Sear lives in Minneapolis and is the Youth Practice program manager at Clouds in Water Zen Center in St. Paul. www.cloudsinwater.org
Editor's note: A version of this essay was first published in the Clouds in Water Zen Center's summer 2012 newsletter.