Contributed by Patrick Hanlon
I am a member of the Youth Association (YA) of Chicago’s Shinnyo-en Buddhist Temple. The YA’s role is to share the Buddhist teaching, develop leadership practices among our temple’s youth practitioners, and promote living the teaching in our daily lives. As such, I was fortunate to be invited to Shinnyo-en Foundation’s 2015 Annual Retreat. I was first introduced to the Foundation’s work in 2011, when I attended a National Service-Learning Conference in Atlanta, and developed a keen interest in the ideas and applications of service learning. The Retreat sounded like an excellent opportunity to reconnect with several of the Foundation’s partners I’d met in Atlanta, while renewing my motivation to create a service-learning program with our temple youth in Chicago.
This year’s Retreat was held at the Marconi Conference Center, in Marshall, CA, on a beautiful August weekend. After my flight landed in San Francisco, the trip started with a pleasant drive through the city and across the Golden Gate Bridge, giving me an opportunity to acquaint myself with some of the YA members from other temples, and our driver, Rene, the Administration Director at the Foundation. We stopped at Marinwood Park and ate lunch together, meeting up with another group of YA members and temple staff. We watched summer campers play together in squadrons of colored t-shirts, indicating which group they were with. It seemed an idyllic California summer day. We continued on, and as we drove along the scenic roadways, the devastating impact of the drought California continued to suffer from became more and more apparent. The urgency and importance of why we were gathering couldn’t have been emphasized more dramatically.
When we arrived, though, the welcome was as warm as the weather. After a short period of introductions and settling in, we were introduced to the Foundation staff and youth co-facilitators. Over the course of the weekend, we were also introduced to the Shinnyo Fellows, and the Foundation’s grantees who are members of local and national service organizations, and youth education and empowerment groups. It was amazing to see participants ranging from teenagers to youthful seniors working together all weekend towards common goals.
Throughout the weekend we gathered in small groups, and as a larger community, for different dialogues. The range of efforts being undertaken by all the participants in their local communities was astonishing. We were able to hear about many programs over the course of the Retreat, and learn and share some of the methods other groups were utilizing to accomplish similar goals. There was a wealth of service-learning information, and we put it into practice through several exercises over the weekend. One of the most interesting activities was a brainstorming workshop to develop solutions to the water crisis affecting California. While trying to focus on the urban impact of water use, each group came up with unique and clever ideas. The workshop started as a friendly competition to see who could come up with the best idea, and in the end, the groups were sharing and combining ideas, collaborating towards a much larger effort. This was emblematic of the attitude I felt over the entire Retreat. Everyone had come with their own projects or programs, willing to share ideas and promote their passions, while open to learning and finding ways to work together.
The same reason I was drawn to Shinnyo Buddhism was reflected in the actions and expressions of the Retreat attendees: a desire to help others and work together, regardless of differing ideals, towards the care and assistance of others. Through talking to youth members of organizations like Brothers on the Rise and Destiny Arts Center, I was inspired to increase my efforts to establish a service-learning program in our temple in Chicago. Talking to the Senior Shinnyo Fellows, Nan Peterson and Steve Herrera, who I’d met at the Service-Learning Conference years ago, reminded me of the success of their efforts. Listening to the stories of how different programs were started, what the inspiration for others was to become more involved with community service, and seeing the openness of the other participants all helped to reinvigorate my own desires to help others and share what I’ve learned with the next generation. Most important was hearing about the fears and struggles of those trying to start service projects, and how they overcame obstacles. I was facing doubt and difficulty in my own efforts, and talking to several of the Shinnyo Fellows helped to reconcile my concerns.
Similarly to my experience with the Shinnyo Teaching, the real impact and truth of why we were together that weekend was realized during three periods dedicated to reflection and meditation. A guided meditation, similar to those I’ve experienced at the temple, a personal reflection time while going on a solo hike through the beautiful surrounding woods, and a walking mediation through the “labyrinth” all helped to reinforce and clarify the spirit of peace and sharing expressed throughout the weekend. Everyone’s efforts were guided by a sense of compassion and driven by the joy of serving others. Doing for others is the truest joy one can feel, in my belief, and that seemed evident by the attitudes of all those who participated that summer weekend. My sincerest hope is that I can share my experience genuinely with those in my community, encourage the youth to seek out their own passion projects, and provide the support and resources for them to reciprocate the process to the next generation.
Participants shared their Paths to Peace