Plum Village Children’s Program
By Jadzia Tedeschi
A few shrieks, giggles in the background, a rolling Spanish rrr, some expressive Italian gesticulation, a fresh generation of quizzical Francophones. Somebody catapulted himself onto me, clinging like a koala. A great “boooo” charged forth, uttered by a tiny, rosy mouth. A pair of waddling feet advanced closer and closer, supporting a bobbing mane of blond curls. In other words, I was a volunteer for the Plum Village children’s program last summer, the only teen in a group of wonderful adults, all with the aspiration to sow seeds in the hearts of children that will one day bloom into fragrant flowers.
I vividly remember my childhood, especially my frustration in the face of people’s assumption that I could not understand topics beyond those usually designated as “child-friendly.” The sneers when I asked, “Why?” still cause me to wrinkle my forehead as I recall terse replies to my curiosity.
The children’s program was a way for me to give children a bit of what I longed for as a child, an opportunity to listen wholeheartedly and to love genuinely. My colleagues and I focused on creating a culture of compassion and understanding, and we helped each other develop these qualities during meetings, hikes, and time spent with the children. I remember beginning to lose my patience during a rather aimless threehour organizational meeting, when Estelle, who was part of the French team, winked at me, then we both grinned and began following our breathing. Instead of being overwhelmed by the long-winded conversation, I managed to recognise and let go of the expectation that adults would be more efficient workers than my peers. By cultivating compassion and understanding in the group dynamics, my colleagues and I transmitted these messages to children, helping to form a young generation of responsible citizens.
One of the most rewarding moments for me took place in the last week, when I was leading the Italian children’s family. On arrival day, I was asked to give a presentation to parents and their respective kids who’d been dragged along, feeling that they had sacrificed a week of their precious vacation time to be at a mindfulness practice center. While it was easy to convince parents they’d done well to come, the children were more difficult to persuade. A dozen four- to eight-year-olds immediately began complaining and rolling around on the floor, unbothered by their exhausted parents, while a few of the older kids looked around, horrified.
One of the latter lot, a Florentine boy with bright green eyes and wild blondish bangs, moaned: “Why are we here?”
Looking him in the eye, I responded, “Who are you?”
“And who is Arno?”
“I don’t know.”
“What were you born from?”
“And the parents of your parents of … your parents?”
“And hundreds of thousands of years ago, when we weren’t humans?”
“They were born from monkeys.”
“And when monkeys weren’t monkeys?”
“They were fish in the sea.”
“And before fish were fish?”
“They were cells.”
“But these cells, they developed from matter coming from the Big Bang …”
“So they were stardust!”
“Arno, who are you?”
“I am everything.”
He stopped for a moment, everyone listening wide-eyed, then he concluded:
“Everything is everything.”
After this insight, it became clear why we were all there, congregated in a cabin. We were there to experience life together, aware of the fact we are all interconnected. My inner child was triumphantly participating in a conversation that began to answer “Why?” while the “adult” didn’t dictate right or wrong, but simply guided a child through a thought process that led to a self-evident conclusion. My role in this ensemble was to reinforce the message of interbeing by living in line with it. Being with the children allowed me a deep sense of awe for existence through the freshness of their eyes, and a step on a path that considers everyone’s common needs. Like our friend Arno, we were able to understand how we are all reliant on each other and how the self cannot exist without all the elements we usually consider non-self.
Jadzia Tedeschi, Compassionate Manifestation of the Heart, is seventeen and grew up in Italy, where she first came in contact with the Sangha. After living a year at Plum Village, she is currently going to a boarding school in the United States.
Reprinted with permission from www.mindfulnessbell.org