Mindfulness Retreat Transforms Teens in Oregon

Written by: Karen “Karb” Bullard

Teens practice mindfulness while prone, a favorite during the retreat.

Teens practice mindfulness while prone, a favorite during the retreat.
Photos by: Karen Bullard

This past August more than 50 teens and adult mentors gathered at the Ananda Center at Laurelwood, just outside of Portland, to spend a week together practicing the art of mindful meditation.

This was the 6th teen retreat held in the Pacific Northwest sponsored by Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme – “I be me”).

Today’s teens report high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Add to that family conflicts, the prevalence of drugs and alcohol use, and national problems such as overt racism and political adversity, and our teens need more support than ever.

The week brought deep connections among the teens there

The week brought deep connections among the teens there.

Inward Bound Mindfulness Education retreats for teens are proving the value of weeklong mindfulness meditation retreats, in changing troubled teens’ lives.

A non-profit based in Concord, Massachusetts, iBme during 2019 coordinated 20 teen retreats in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. For the Oregon retreat teens came from as far away as Arizona and Idaho, and one volunteer mentor flew in from Michigan to support the group effort.

Some of the kids were brand new to the practice, but more than a third of the group were return retreatants, having had a powerful experience in years past.

“These retreats are not just about learning skills for stress-reduction. They are powerful opportunities for transformation – that allow us to become more intimate with our experience and build community and connection to each other and the world around us. We all have this experience whether we are mentors or participants – we are on the journey together.”

– Khalila Archer, iBme facilitator

Group meditation led by amazing staff members

Group meditation led by amazing staff members.

Some teens arrived a bit reluctantly, having been coerced by their parents or another adult in their life to attend, although all are screened independently by phone beforehand to ensure they are coming of their own volition. Others arrived with nervous anticipation, some excited to reconnect with old friends.

The teens came from different backgrounds and economic circumstances, because iBme is very generous with scholarships. They came from different gender and racial orientations, and varied family situations.

The teens turned in their smart phones on the first day, and didn’t touch their devices again until the retreat ended. They spent a week together in community meditating, practicing mindful movement, choosing from a variety of workshops including art therapy, dance, nature walks and yoga. Twice daily they met in small groups of seven or eight, sharing their lives, fears, hopes and dreams. There was laughter, tears, aha moments, deep insights, and feelings of shared humanity.

Walking meditation was a daily part of the retreat

Walking meditation was a daily part of the retreat.

“They (teen retreats) are an invaluable opportunity for youth to discover themselves, gain essential skills to navigate an uncertain world, and experience a community of unconditional love and acceptance. iBme’s evidence-based programming is a shining light in the field of youth development. iBme retreats give me an invigorated sense of human possibility and hope.”

 – Barnaby Willett, director of innovation and partnership for Peace in Schools, a non-profit based in Portland.

Some teens came searching for tools that would help them with the hardships they face at home and in school. Some were suffering with addiction, abusive home lives, childhood trauma, identity, anxiety, depression and/or other challenges. Some came with open minds, curiosity, and determination to make their lives more tolerable.

They were introduced to many tools, including meditation, loving kindness, and yoga, which they could use to help them come back to the present moment, in times of confusion or emotional distress.

Small groups met to share and practice together

Small groups met to share and practice together.

They departed with genuine connections, hearts filled with gratitude and a better understanding of the diversity and equality of humankind. Some teens shared in the closing circle that they had never felt so loved and supported, others said mindfulness had saved their lives. Many thanked their peers and teachers, for allowing them to wholeheartedly be their authentic selves.

“Meditating makes you realize that you’ve been looking through one side of the window, when you’re in a glass car driving through the valley.”

– Lakeyn Westby, teen participant

Mentors were touched deeply as well, some experiencing further healing from their own teen years or additional hope for our future as a human population. The lead teachers this year brought an amazing amount of experience, wisdom and compassion, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences.

A big part of the week was getting out and enjoying nature

A big part of the week was getting out and enjoying nature.

Head Instructor Enrique Collazo, who has been leading iBme retreats for more than 10 years, has been teaching and living in the Bay Area for the last seven. He is well loved for his inspirational work leading empathy-building Challenge Day workshops in schools around  the country.

Collazo’s skill with teens has led to teaching internationally for iBme, and he serves on the organization’s guiding teacher council and its equity and interdependence committee. Bald with a bushy beard, and covered in tattoos, he has the kindest eyes and leads with his heart, whether in group meditation, during his powerful wisdom talks, or when facilitating an amazing dance workshop inspired by Gabriel Roth’s 5 Rhythms. He sets the tone for the group and strongly influences everyone attending, mentors and students alike.

Teacher Khalila Archer, eight months pregnant with her first child during the retreat, has been practicing meditation since she was a teenager. She discovered these practices through an Insight Meditation retreat she attended in the late 1990s.

 Archer has a calm presence and shares with an open heart, having endured her own family struggles and trauma as a young person. She has worked for iBme for the past seven years, and is currently a retreat teacher as well as a lead faculty member for iBme teacher training. She has facilitated and taught more than 25 iBme retreats.

The week ended with an incredible talent show full of amazing acts

The week ended with an incredible talent show full of amazing acts.

Barnaby Willett, who was born in the United Kingdom, spent years working in the field of finance before finding Peace in Schools, which he currently serves as director of innovation and partnerships. Peace in Schools is the first in the country to offer for-credit mindfulness classes, which it does in 10 Portland public high schools, and it has had an amazing influence on teens in this region. Willett is a born storyteller with a soft, lilting British accent and peaceful demeanor.

iBme offers teen retreats around the U.S., as well as in Canada and the U.K., during the summer and over the New Year’s holiday. The organization also introduced a people of color retreat this past year, and offers a year-long teacher training for interested educators.

Please email Sarah Wrean (sarah.a@ibme.com) at iBme if would like to help collaborate or support a retreat in the Pacific Northwest, and continue this very important mission of helping to transform teen lives.



About the Author: Karen “Karb” Bullard

Karen “Karb” Bullard is a yoga & mindfulness instructor based in Seattle, where she leads programs for all ages from 4 to 90, and where she shares her passion for the practices that have helped her in her own spiritual growth and evolution. Her website is: www.karbmayoga.com and email is karb@karb.com.