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Teens find themselves at Redwood City center

January 22, 2009

From The San Mateo County Times

Cocooned from judgment and restrictions, teens meditated. Eyes closed, their legs folded beneath them, many sat still in silence.

At the sound of a bell, eyes opened.

Co-facilitator Alicia McLucas asked about their brief meditative experience Sunday.

Many murmured back their responses so softly that someone a few yards away couldn’t hear.

Their conversations are private and not shared with anyone outside their group, which is known as Dharma Teens.

The group is reserved for high school students and was formed in April with the help of McLucas, 14-year-old Cora Kammeyer and co-facilitator Mary Hofstedt.

And, typically, on the first Sunday of the month, they leave their angst outside the Insight Meditation Center’s door.

“I wanted a place to express my beliefs, to learn how to incorporate the ideas and morals of Buddhism into my life,” said Kammeyer, who has been involved with the center since she was 4 years old. “When I come here, I’m surer of myself.”

The program attracts teens who need that same experience.

“This becomes a place where you don’t have to worry about social cliques of life,” said 14-year-old John McLucas, son of Alicia McLucas. “Here, you don’t have to worry about your image.”

Fifteen-year-old Lukas Mericle started looking into the faith last month.

While he attends Bishop O’Dowd High School, a Catholic college preparatory school in Oakland, Mericle said he is an atheist but looks to Buddhism to learn new philosophies.

“No one at school is quite like me, I guess,” Mericle said. “I guess I’m out there.”

So Mericle sees the Dharma Teens as a relief and the center a place to let off steam.

“It’s so light and fun and calm,” he said. “I can start acting different toward other people. Be more open, friendlier, more amiable and hope that those vibes spread and make a ripple. This (group) is a little unusual in today’s society. It’s so free and unrestricted.”

Alicia McLucas, a certified professional life coach, has said she wished she had the tools to help her become engaged and involved in her community during her teen years.

Dharma Teens is a unique outlet for youth to learn principles of mindfulness and how to have a deep relationship with themselves.

“They learn not to get caught up with self-sabotaging their lives,” McLucas said. “This gives them an opportunity to investigate their circumstances. When they are still and silent, they have a chance to see things more clearly.”

The center began in 1986 as a small group affiliated with Spirit Rock Meditation Center in west Marin.

The group met in Menlo Park and Palo Alto before setting down roots in November 2001 at the former First Christian Assembly Church at 108 Birch St. in Redwood City.

Since then, it’s held many retreats and programs while supporting a balanced spiritual life from a Buddhist perspective.

On Sunday, 11 teens drew or pasted photos on white poster board that showed their sacred space.

While some were about their bedrooms, Kammeyer’s sacred space is still her mother’s lap.

Often, she would go into her parents’ room after waking up and see her mother meditating.

Kammeyer would climb into her lap and curl up to her.

“This moment is a sacred space to me because curled up in there in my mom’s lap, her love for me is palpable, and there is nothing more sacred than being loved,” she said.

For details about the Dharma Teens and the Insight Meditation Center, visit www.insightmeditationcenter.org.

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