During the summer of 2015, a group of young adults from Bellingham and Seattle gathered upon mountaintops, in living rooms, at parks during sunsets, with potlucks, and in beautiful community centers.
But we were not just socializing or partying… we were gathering to meditate, coming home to our bodies and minds, studying teachings on the art of mindful living, and supporting each other through deep listening and openhearted discussion. And yes, we also had tons of fun!
In January, a young adult mindfulness group, known as Wake Up in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, started in Bellingham, meeting a few times per month.
Wake Up Seattle, a sister sangha, had already been meeting biweekly or monthly for the past few years.
Last summer the two groups shared two backpacking trips in the North Cascades and a five-day retreat at Mountain Lamp Community, near Bellingham. We’ve also planned a New Year’s gathering to combine sincere reflection, practice, and celebration with intimate friendships.
In October, several of us also traveled down to Southern California for a Wake Up Ambassadors retreat. We were joined there by young adults from around North America as well as from Europe, who have similarly been building Wake Up groups in their home communities.
In the true spirit of Wake Up, I’ll introduce a few of our Wake Up brothers and sisters to share what they have each loved the most during the past few months:
Mercia Moseley, 33, a photographer from Whidbey Island northwest of Seattle, started coming to our Northwest Wake Up events by joining on her first backpacking trip ever. She followed this with a string of Wake Up retreats:
“When I think of my dear Northwest Wake Up Sangha, a smile comes to my face. I see us on our recent hike on the top of a mountain enjoying a spectacular view of white peaks, resting our sore legs on the warm rocks, sharing food and laughter, and inhaling the beauty deeply together. I see us gathering in the dark near our tents sharing poems and hot tea, enjoying the darkness, and freshness of the mountain air together – feeling so free, and yet held by such kind friends.
This feeling of greater freedom and also greater connectedness is what I find unique about our group. We support each other to explore, grow and transform, and yet with such kind, open, non-judgmental support.
I felt this at our recent retreat at Mountain Lamp too, where we enjoyed so many transformative moments together. I particularly remember the freedom and joy of exploring creative movement together under the guidance of our wonderful Dharma teacher, Kaira Jewel.
Dancing was never something I felt particularly comfortable doing, and yet the space was so open and supportive it allowed me, and others, to move and find a greater sense of self and presence through meditative movement.
Recently a few of us also traveled to a much larger Wake Up retreat in California, which encompassed so many beautiful moments of learning and connection. One of my favorite moments of the retreat was an early-morning silent hike to the ridge above Deer Park, overlooking Escondido.
In the early morning dark we donned our headlamps, filled up on hot tea, and silently walked up the mountainside – one large stream of tiny lights moving steadily up the hillside. When we arrived on the peak dawn was breaking, the sky becoming bands of pink and violet, the birds waking and the morning air warming. We sat in silence together, breathing in the view, all the way to the sea.
Our Wake Up group also met that morning on the mountainside, and experienced such a profound space for our dharma sharing. The morning light beauty, silence, and the presence of friends opening hearts and listening deeply, was truly astounding. And this is what I find so unique about our group, the spontaneous intertwining of adventure, beauty, practice, deep connection – and thus transformation. I feel this unique connection and encouragement of my sangha with me each day, for which I am so grateful.”
Dylan Simpson, 28, studies environmental sciences at Western Washington University, and has practiced Zen since his teenage years. He shares about the difference in his life this year from practicing with other young adults.
“Sangha has always been important to my practice, but it still came as a surprise the effect that practicing with a youthful sangha could have on my life.
As a college student in my mid-20s practicing Zen, it is not often I meet practitioners in my age range. Nor is it easy to afford a multi-day retreat.
Connecting with Wake Up has been a profound experience – it is a community that I found immediately supportive or my practice, and myself. This has facilitated the permeation of my practice from beyond the cushion and the zendo into my social life and personal relationships, in ways it never has before.
In the months that I have been involved with Wake Up Bellingham, I have witnessed the birth of many friendships and the blossoming of a powerfully interconnected sangha. Our meetings (historically biweekly, but recently changed to weekly!) offer us not just a place to sit together, but to really be ourselves, and to share ourselves fully with the group – our hopes, joys, sorrows, fears, disappointments, triumphs, questions, or discovered wisdoms.
What strikes me is how deeply personal and honest our dharma sharings can be. I think this is both a product of and a reason for the closeness of our sangha.
This is also reinforced by post-gathering potlucks and other social events, including two backpacking trips this summer.
Building a social sangha is also influential to our practice because we can support each other in bringing mindfulness into our everyday experience. This was especially the case when we froze, wet, atop an unexpectedly cold mountaintop while backpacking together this August!”
Shannon Bachtel, 23, is a graduate from Western, and now works to help connect low-income families with fresh, healthy, and local food in Skagit County.
“In my life there have been moments of love and moments of intense heartbreak, moments of bliss and moments of despair. In these moments of profound joy and sorrow I struggled to be in the present moment; to be aware and accepting of my emotions and the conditions around me.
Less than a year ago I was introduced to the practice and found my niche within the Wake Up Bellingham Sangha. I am grateful for my sangha, my family, for their constant and unwavering love.
It is because of them that I felt drawn to attend the Wake up retreat at Mountain Lamp, a sanctuary to water the seeds of positive change. The retreat was a platform to explore the interconnection of creativity and spirituality, and provided opportunity for nourishment and healing of the mind, body, and soul.
I met beings of infinite love, light and compassion, who accepted me without judgment, and always greeted me with gentle smiling eyes. It was such a blessing to have an opportunity to practice within a larger sangha, to share this incredible love for our life and our ancestors, and to feel their support as I received three of the five mindfulness trainings. (Formerly stated as precepts, the mindfulness trainings are concrete aspirations to practice mindfulness in the heart of our daily life).
Since the retreat I have felt a transformation happening deep within me; I feel more emotionally intertwined with my Bellingham Sangha, I am finding the will to be softer to myself, and I am once again opening my eyes to see the beauty all around me. Because of my Wake Up Sangha and the retreat, I am learning to listen to and to trust the truth within me. My meaning and purpose in life is becoming clearer and I am repaving the path to self-care; a path that involves loving others as well as myself. I give thanks infinitely.”
As young adults, most of us want to explore ever-greater depths of peace, compassion, and love for ourselves and others, and to express our deepest ideals in community, where our aspirations can firmly take root in our lives. And as young adults, we also really want to have fun, lots of fun. We want to take advantage of the joys, passion, and adventure that life has to offer us.
This is where Wake Up is born – where meditation and mindfulness meet fun and creativity! How do they come together? Come join us and bring your meditation cushion, a frisbee, your dancing shoes, some chocolate to share, or a backpack for hiking, and we’ll show you!
We are planning another Wake Up Retreat in summer 2016, more mindful backpacking adventures, and whatever our collective creativity inspires next year together. We are very receptive to each other’s ideas and enthusiasm to strengthen our practice and deepen our friendships.
Wake Up Bellingham meets weekly, and Wake Up Seattle meets first Fridays of every month. We warmly welcome young adults, aged 18-35-ish, to join us! For more information please contact David Viafora at email@example.com.