Passing of the Torch: Chappaqua Edition

June 19, 2019

Contributed by Claire T., New York Youth Association (YA) Leader, New York

The second installment of the IPTP series came at an interesting time for me as a YA practitioner. I was close to completing a full year as the chief of the NYYA group and one month away from graduating from the YA. In my mind, I was still a YA but felt compelled to encourage others to step forward as I slowly made my exit. However unlike the first IPTP session when I was not yet the YA chief, I felt a lot more responsibility this time around.

I had some nervous energy going into the retreat as I reviewed the list of participants attending this year. There were some YAs who were newer to their practice, quite a few Jr. YAs and a few new YAs whom I had never met. My biggest concern was whether everyone would feel comfortable with each other and walk away feeling like it was worth their time and participation. I loved my experience during the first IPTP session and hoped that others would feel the same way.

Right off the bat, we were greeted by the warm and wonderful coordinators from Shinnyo-en Foundation and Search Institute. They helped to define the supportive, fun and comfortable environment which was to be our ‘home’ for the next few days. We had ample fresh air from the surrounding tree covered hills that we hiked through daily from our room to our gathering spot. Everything felt pure and rejuvenating, both physically and spiritually.

One of my favorite activities of the retreat happened early on called the Venn Diagram exercise. It was an ice breaker and a way for us to get to know each other through our similarities and uniqueness’s. This one activity was so simple to do yet carried layers of takeaways beyond the most obvious. We shared stories of our lives as we filled in the large worksheet with the appropriate facts. Through this, we not only learned about our teammates but it felt like we started to learn things about ourselves. Certain things we didn’t realize were very interesting were in fact quite unique and made us special. Because I had placed myself in a role of protector and supporter (perhaps without anyone needing me to!), I loved the idea that the YAs and Jr. YAs were starting to feel empowered to celebrate what made them special, no matter how big or small this was. This also felt in line with what we often hear in Shinnyo-en, that we should embrace all and build upon our uniqueness to connect and make contributions in our own way to the world around us. Here we were starting to put into words how we might go about doing that!

Another component that I treasured from the first IPTP retreat that continued at the second retreat was the support and guidance from our facilitators and thought leaders who were themselves not Shinnyo-en members. It was clear that they were very caring people who made incredible contributions to their communities whether as a career or on the side. They encouraged us to speak naturally about our religious practice and hosted such a seamless dialogue through asking questions or sharing stories from their own backgrounds. It was enlightening to learn about other practices and also confidence boosting. When you hear someone whom you respect show interest in something you do, and ask you to further explain this or that, a feeling grows inside of you of excitement and bolsters a sense of “Hey, what I’m doing is cool!” The seamless conversations also made me feel anew that certain concepts are truly universal and transcend religion, age, gender and cultural differences.

It’s hard for me to say definitively whether my initial fears were for naught but it did seem like everyone started to adopt the smiles and warmth of our facilitators. People were more easily willing to participate and by the last night, everyone was rolling on the ground as we made our way through one camp-style game to another. We had spent a few days together, sharing our thoughts and experiences and by the end we were hugging each other goodbye and saying we would see each other soon. Now as I embark on a practice after YA, I feel so lucky to have met such a wonderful group of friends and mentors to model what that life might look like. How do I make contributions to the community through what I learn at Shinnyo-en? These IPTP retreats have given me a head-start, and the rest, I’m going to find out!

More photos from the retreat in New York can be found by following the link here.

You may also read the article about the three other Infinite Paths to Peace Leadership (IPTP) Retreats that took place in other Shinnyo-en temple communities in 2018 here and the inaugural IPTP Leadership Retreat in New York in 2017 here. All of the photos from the IPTP Leadership Retreats and other SEF sponsored programs can be found at PHOTO GALLERY under MEDIA & RESOURCES menu on our website.