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Encounter with a teenage mind (WMRI retreat, day 4)

I ran into a young girl today, who was part of the Rigpa Yeshe (a parallel program for the children of people attending the retreat). We bonded over my iPhone 4 and the Zen timer app I have on it – it has gongs to start a meditation session; interval bells to divide a session into segments; programmable presets for your morning and evening practice and a journal option to record your thoughts. All in all it’s pretty cool in a very nerdy way, and Noa Sussenbach thought so too.

Excited to find somebody on my wavelength (and to talk about something other than mindfulness, awareness and spaciousness) I asked her if she wouldn’t mind participating in my blog. I was curious about the experience of this retreat from the perspective of a teenager, and also pretty amazed that a teenager would even come to a meditation retreat. When I was in my teens, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know my rear end from my front. I was definitely ensnared in the ocean of samsara, and its pounding waves of high school, boy crushes, mean girls and adolescent acne (a fate worse than death).

We met for a chat and this time bonded over our love of Harry Potter and movies with Katherine Heigl in them. The first thing we were both planning to do after the retreat was watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. Once it was established that I indeed have the mental age of a 14 year old girl, we moved on to the interview.

Noa lives in Amsterdam, Holland. Her father brought her to the retreat. She doesn’t really meditate, and doesn’t call herself Buddhist (Hey, me too! I said).She’d come when she was 8 but had found it boring. She had a different experience this time. I asked her what she does as a practice.

“Sometimes, sitting on my bed,” she said, “I calm myself down with breathing when things get stressful. If I have a lot of homework, I just sit for a bit, and that improves my concentration. Other girls are pretty stressed out and have no real way to calm down. I know now how to do that.”

She liked the teachings and especially Rinpoche’s teachings on the mind.

“It’s helpful for me because now I know how to face my stress better,” she said.

I asked her if she was afraid of being different, doing practices that were not the usual activities of other people in her school. She said that before high school, she had been very insecure.

“There were bullies who would bully me. But now if my friends don’t like what I’m doing, I tell them, just accept me otherwise you’re not a good friend.”

I wish I knew that at age 14. Or, age 32 for that matter.

I asked her for some tips on how to handle all the bullies back in New York. She said that she’d realized a key thing: that bullies were just sad people. That made her stronger than them.

“Now I know, if you are a bully, then you are sad. It was an eye opener for me.” she said.

It was amazing that a young girl of fourteen could reflect on what motivated bullies rather than merely react to their aggression.

I asked about her goals for the future. She liked the aspects of taming the mind. She had decided to take up a formal meditation practice, maybe doing it once a week or so.

“After you meditate, you have more energy,” she said. “I like that feeling.”

I asked her if she’d be back to Lerab Ling.

“Definitely when I’m older!” she said. Rinpoche’s jokes were funny, and she liked the notion that the mind was not defined by the thoughts and emotions that pass through it.

“When I have a negative emotion, I think, alright, it’s not you, just relax and be positive!” she said.

Not bad for a girl who doesn’t meditate or call herself a Buddhist!

In her non practicing life she liked talking about boys and movies. Definitely sounded familiar.

The last thing she wanted to say was that there were a lot of kids in high school that would definitely benefit from the teachings.

It was nice talking to someone more than half my age, but who had already been introduced to the dharma. Part of me felt envious: if I’d been thinking this way at 14, would I already be enlightened at 32? But mainly I was really impressed that the teachings spoke to someone so young and gave her the tools to manage her time in high school – which we all know can be quite a challenging place. Noa was definitely an inspiring young girl, and after my interview, I made some aspirations.

I resolved to stop counting the minutes until I get to see Harry Potter, but to live more fully in the present while at the retreat. And to face up to those bullies lurking in the alleyways of New York (or in the dungeons of my mind) and let them know that they were just sad people. Finally I resolved to never, ever admit in public again that I like Katherine Heigl movies.