July 30, 2010

A Tiny Enlightened Society.

The Innate Ability of Children to Live in

(their version of) Harmony.

When I was in my early twenties, my mother, who is an adolescent psychiatric nurse, along with a group of her colleagues, put together a weekend camp for kids with parents in prison. They asked me to come and help.

The camp took place in a perfect container of dense forest surrounding acres of open fields, freshly mowed and plowed, beckoning for a game of barefoot kickball or tag. All of the attending children were between the ages of five and 12 and shared the commonality of having at least one parent who was currently incarcerated. They bonded immediately, on the spot, without hesitation.  The older kids watched out for the young ones.  The young ones emulated the older ones. They were a rowdy, perky bunch, blending seamlessly over mealtime, craft-time, play-time. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought this motley collection of a few dozen kids had begun their acquaintance long before camp began.

Every one of these kids posessed a sense of humility and gratitude that I wasn’t used to witnessing in such a young demographic.  They said thank you without needing to be reminded. They allowed themselves to enjoy this rare opportunity to be submerged in nature alongside a peer group that understood what their life was normally like.  They didn’t take a single morsel of the experience for granted.

I also remember noticing how there was an unspoken awareness the kids had for one another.  I don’t ever recall the adults needing to intervene on behalf of a child that was being left out or picked on. It wasn’t necessary; these kids had essentially created their own perfectly balanced and harmonious short-term society. They made up songs to sing in rounds during lunch.  They choreographed dances to the pop-music that blared from the single tiny boom-box they all shared and performed them for the adults.  They spilled glitter, smeared paint and folded construction paper while filling the walls of the craft room with high-pitched giggles and chatting like helium in a rising balloon.  The alchemy was a sight to behold.

There was a single child who was not a part of the picture, however, and it was ultimately a result of her own doing. One staff member brought her seven year old daughter along—wearing platinum Shirley-Temple ringlets, a bedazzled sweater and a purse hooked in the crease of her elbow—and she simply did not gel with this jovial community. As the other kids seemed to move together as a school of fish, a unified whole, she sat in the corner and whined about something she wanted from home or clung to mommy’s pants complaining about something the camp was lacking. She behaved like a little princess and made connections reluctantly at best.

Yet, the other kids kept the door open for her to join them and continued to invite her into their expansive world as the days passed by. They didn’t waste their precious time taking it personally, but they never gave up on her.

I recently stumbled upon the following quote on the Shambhala International website, taken from a talk on Enlightened Society entitled “Operationalizing Gross National Happiness”, organized by the Center of Bhutan Studies in Thimpu, Bhutan.  The quote reminded me of those children.

To realize their full potential and their innate wisdom, human beings require basic security. If people live in fear and poverty and are overly afflicted by illness – if their lives are not free and well-favoured, and if they are tormented by the hell and hungry ghost realms – they cannot easily practice the Dharma. Some measure of basic security is essential to well-being.

~Dr Ronald Colemen, Special Representative of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Enlightened Society is indeed a double-wide notion to try to wrap the average adult mind around.  But these children, with their lithe and limber reasoning, didn’t take issue with over-thinking the topic. Falling into an organic order of harmony seemed to come very naturally to them.


A video of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche giving a talk on Enlightened Society.  This is the third video in a series of six.

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