by Namita Raghav

Recently the Retreat hosted an enthusiastic group of 18 youngsters and 8 teachers from Teach For India (TFI), an Indian NGO that is in turn part of a broad global education movement. The TFI retreat planners had 3 goals: Connect with nature and one another, Learn from nature and one another, and Celebrate the connections and lessons.

image1The retreat opened Friday evening with a brief opening circle. Initial fear of being in a forest-like environment without their parents could easily be sensed in the eyes of the children, but when they returned home Saturday evening, their eyes glowed with the joy of being in, and one with, nature.

At about 7:20 Saturday morning, we embarked on a silent walk in which we observed plants around us in a way we probably never did before, listened to different sounds from birds — some far away, some near — made our way uphill through small pebbles; felt the loving warmth of sun rays on our face; and blissfully sensed that we had all the time in the world just to relax and connect with the goodness of nature and each other.

After releasing the hidden tension from the body by energising every part and focussing the wandering mind by meditation, we were all geared up for our first nature game, ‘Camera’, followed by another inspiring activity called “I Am The Mountain”. These are part of the acclaimed environmental educational programme known as Sharing Nature . They not only brought us closer to Mother Nature but also strengthened our bond of trust and friendship. The children’s reflections following these activities showed they had been deeply touched by their experiences. It was mesmerising to hear their comments. One child, for instance, said: “I observed the mountain and felt that its ups and downs signify the joys and sorrows of our lives.”

image2Next came a student leadership session in the graceful gardens outside Swami Kriyananda’s house, listening to the sweet melody of the wind chimes and falling water in the fountain. Then came story-telling.

After lunch, we sang and acted out several of Swamiji’s children’s songs, such as ’Be Free Inside’, ‘Say Thank You’, and ‘Move, All You Mountains’. Then we played games to enhance team spirit and concentration, such as ‘Identify the Leader’ and ‘Bat and Moth’. At the end, our faces were brimming with smiles and laughter.

Concluding the retreat was a closing reflection fabulously guided by one of their teachers, in which children and teachers alike shared our learning and ‘Gratitude Notes’. In the soothing, inspiring beauty of nature all around, our souls had been rejuvenated and we had come to understand that we are never alone. As was perfectly put by the great naturalist John Muir—

“Happy is the man to whom every tree is a friend”.

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