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Three Infinite Paths to Peace Leadership Retreats!

Since Shinnyo-en Foundation (SEF) launched the first Infinite Paths to Peace (IPTP) Leadership Retreat in New York in April 2017, three more of the localized retreats for Shinnyo-en Youth Association (YA) members were held across the U.S. In February 2018, the retreat was hosted for the Head Temple YA, the next one was hosted for the Los Angeles Temple YA in March 2018, and the third one was held for the Chicago Temple YA in April 2018. All retreats consisted of the same activities, however, along the way some tweaks and improvements were made. These were based on the feedback received from the YA participants collected by Search Institute staff at every retreat.

At each of these retreats, a few “thought leaders,” who are SEF’s associates or grantee organization staff in the local temple community, were invited to diversify the participants’ age, faith background and leadership experiences. Once they came to the retreat, the thought leaders were assigned to one of the Home Groups and actively participated in all of the activities. In addition, they were asked to provide their Home Group facilitators with constructive feedback and suggestions that could help them grow further as leaders. Saturday night’s session called “Fireside Chat” also featured the storytelling of the thought leaders. They were invited to share their personal stories as they answered questions from a moderator and the youth participants. A YA Executive Leader from a different temple community was also invited to experience the retreat outside of their home temple community, with hopes that they would become familiar with the retreat activities. When a retreat comes around to their home temple community, they could not only assist in making logistical arrangements and spreading the word about it, but also facilitate a few activities as lead facilitators.

The first of the three IPTP Leadership Retreats took place from February 16-18, 2018 at EarthRise Retreat Center in Petaluma, CA for the Head Temple YA. It was the largest of the retreats thus far, with 45 participants in attendance. Of those participants, Senior Shinnyo Fellow Deacon Steve Herrera of San Jose Diocese and Archbishop Mitty High School, and Daniel Vasquez of Brothers on the Rise were invited as thought leaders from outside of the Shinnyo-en faith. A few select Shinnyo-en practitioners, such as what Shinnyo-en refers to as “lineage parents,” were also invited at each retreat. The lineage parents are Shinnyo-en practitioners who have a deeper understanding of the Shinnyo-en teaching and who act as mentors for less experienced practitioners in their daily practice. For this retreat, three lineage parents were invited.

Wesley Chen, YA Executive Leader and staff member at the Head Temple, attended the very first IPTP Leadership Retreat in New York as well as the retreat at EarthRise for the Head Temple YA this March. After experiencing the retreat for the second time and helping facilitate an activity for his temple community YA, he had this to share: “The retreats were very meaningful to me and to the youths that attended, bringing the Shinnyo Teaching into everyday life for the youths in very relatable ways. However, this retreat is not possible without the help and support of so many others. The idea and contents of the retreats were the culmination of great efforts of many passionate individuals from all walks of life who have a common goal – to make this world a better place. Being able to be part of the planning of the IPTP retreats, and having attended the retreat in New York and San Francisco, I feel extremely grateful and hopeful.”

The next retreat was hosted for the Los Angeles YA, where Maki Murai, a newly appointed YA Executive Leader and also a temple staff member, assisted us in organizing the logistics and facilitating an activity along with a few other YA leaders. This retreat was held from March 23-25, 2018 at UCLA Lake Arrowhead Conference Center with 28 participants in attendance. Of those 28, Mike and Carol Penn of Orange County Interfaith Network and Tustin Adult School, respectively, and again Deacon Steve Herrera were invited as outside thought leaders. In addition, three Shinnyo-en lineage parents and Rei Sakasai, a Shinnyo-en Foundation board member from Japan, attended the retreat.

After attending the two retreats, one for the Head Temple YA and the other for the LA Temple YA, Maki shared her reflection as follows: “Despite going to the Shinnyo-en temple almost every weekend growing up, I always found it difficult to share the Shinnyo Teachings with people outside of the temple. I knew in my heart that Shinnyo-en had a positive impact on my life but it was a challenge for me to explain to my friends how I applied the teachings in my daily life. As I talked to my peers at the temple, I learned that many Young Adults were facing similar challenges.”

She continued, “I was fortunate enough to attend the IPTP retreat in LA this past March which addressed many of these challenges and served as a great source of inspiration for me. This was the first phase of a series of ongoing leadership retreats which the Shinnyo-en Foundation has been working so hard to provide for the Shinnyo-en youths. This particular retreat focused on reflecting on ourselves and our identities. Activities such as the “Rose that Grew from Concrete” developed by Youth Community Service allowed us to reflect on how just like the different parts of a rose (stem, leaves, thorns, rose, etc.) we also possess unique qualities that make up our complex but unique identities. Although we were not specifically instructed to include the Shinnyo teachings as part of our reflections, it happened quite naturally for me. As I was writing, I began to reflect on how my values are closely tied to my Shinnyo-en faith and practice. Through such realizations or ‘aha!’ moments over the course of the fruitful retreat weekend, I was able to gain a fresh perspective on what it means for us to bring the values of Shinnyo-en out into society. I would like to continue to build on what I learned and share my experience with other youths so that together we can be empowered to apply the teachings in our everyday lives and contribute to society in positive ways. I am looking forward to attending the second phase of the retreat with other Jr. Young Adults, Young Adults, and mentors both within and outside of Shinnyo-en!”

Momoko Yoshida, now YA Chief Executive Leader, traveled from Seattle to attend the retreat for the LA Temple YA. She shared this about her experience: “The IPTP retreat brought life to a full-circle for me. I grew up in Los Angeles and their Sangha is where my faith in the Shinnyo teachings were developed. I never imagined that I would come back years later as an adult to attend a retreat with my childhood friends whose faiths have also been nurtured throughout the years to discuss how to bring the teachings to life in society. The retreat was a great opportunity not only to reconnect with other youth, but it gave me a lot of confidence and hope in being able to find ways to express the teachings naturally in my everyday life”

The third retreat was Chicago’s IPTP Leadership Retreat held from April 20-22, 2018 at Loyola University Retreat and Ecology Center. There were 29 participants, including Joseph Bush of Elk Grove High School, Rev. Elisabeth Collier of Amita Health Alexian Brothers Medical Center and Senior Shinnyo Fellow Leif Erickson of Youth Community Service as thought leaders. One lineage parent and one Shinnyo-en USA Board Member were also invited from Chicago. At this retreat, Justin Goshi, who recently retired from the role of the YA Chief Executive, attended from Honolulu, HI. He shared his reflection as follows: “It was a wonderful opportunity to meet people (both Shinnyo-en practitioners and non-practitioners) who share a common wish to help others. The retreat content was meaningful and provided an opportunity to learn from others and self-reflect at a deep level. It was nice to have extended time throughout the weekend to get to know others better on a more personal level as we continue on our paths of personal growth.”

Mayumi Okubo, YA Executive Leader from Chicago, was one of the few YA leaders who also attended the first retreat in New York. She assisted us in grouping the participants in Home Groups and facilitating an activity just like other YA leaders did in other retreats. After attending both the New York and the Chicago retreats, she shared her thoughts: “I felt the IPTP retreats created a unique environment for youths to reflect on their personal path to peace, what being a leader meant to them, and overall allowed them to bring out the best in themselves and others. The support from the lineage parents, Search Institute, and leaders in the community really created a sense of togetherness. Combining the aspects of self-reflection and encouragement from the community, I felt ripples of peace through these retreats and left feeling grateful, hopeful, and excited to carry on this energy.”

We would like to thank all of these YA leaders for attending and sharing their reflections on the IPTP Leadership Retreats. Their reflections were testaments to how meaningful every retreat has been to them and how intentionally they are taking this opportunity to grow personally and spiritually as Shinnyo-en youth leaders. Our partnership with the Shinnyo-en YA has really grown, thanks to these leaders and the leaders before them, and it has contributed to the successes of our programming specifically targeted for Shinnyo-en youth. We are also very grateful to the thought leaders who made time to spend an entire weekend at the retreats and shared their life-long wisdom and experiences with the Shinnyo-en youth and adult practitioners. What they gave to the Shinnyo-en practitioners at the retreats was immeasurable. Behind the great successes of each retreat were the temple managers’ support and guidance. We would like to sincerely thank Reverends Leo Fan of the Head Temple, Jay Gibson of the Los Angeles Temple and Fumio Ishizaka of the Chicago Temple for not only taking the time out of their busy schedule to attend the weekend-long retreat but also sharing their wisdom and leadership experiences with their temple youth members. Lastly, the staff from Search Institute made the retreats so theoretically sound and personally meaningful to each participant. Their notion of youth leadership development, in particular, developmental relationship, is a core of the retreat design. In addition, they designed activities and facilitated them to help participants create group norms; reflect on their developmental relationship; and identify individual goals. Without any one of the thought leaders and Search Institute staff, the Infinite Paths to Peace Leadership Retreats wouldn’t have been as personally meaningful as each of the YA leaders stated. With all of their continued support, we hope to carry on designing and delivering the second and third series of the IPTP leadership retreats in the near future.

To view the photos from each retreat, please click the links below: