By Jennifer de la Haye, Yunasa Program Coordinator
IEA’s pioneering Yunasa summer camps unite highly able youngsters with experts in the social and emotional development of gifted children. Campers explore and grow the intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, and physical aspects of their lives.
When I sat down to write a blog post on the wonder of Yunasa and Yunasa West, I was completely baffled as to how to begin. I sat, hands stagnant upon my keyboard as I searched for words that would adequately capture the essence of this magical summer. When I am thwarted by writer’s block, I often feel compelled to turn to the words of a beloved author or poet for inspiration. And so, I begin this blog with the words of Hafez, a Persian poet from the fourteenth century.
“With That Moon Language” by Hafez
Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, “Love me.”
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this, this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a
Full moon in each eye that is always saying,
With that sweet moon language, what every other eye in
This world is dying to hear?
At Yunasa last year, I was deeply moved by the overall acceptance I witnessed as the uniqueness and individuality and quirkiness of each child was celebrated by the entire group. I never experienced anything like that amongst my peers as a child, and I felt grateful that a place exists where such unconditional acceptance envelopes each young person. This year, I was especially struck by the wisdom of the campers at both Yunasa and Yunasa West.
I watched, in awe, as campers – both new and seasoned – intentionally reached out to include some of the more shy and timid children; I listened, in awe, to conversations between campers that reflected profound insight and deep thought; and I shared conversations with quite a few campers whose empathy and self-understanding touched me deeply. This year, the Counselors in Training (CITs) at Yunasa in Michigan decided to orchestrate a “friendship panel,” or an open discussion with the entire population of campers about issues pertaining to relationships amongst friends. The younger campers had lots of questions, both general and specific, and the CITs demonstrated the type of wisdom one encounters within clusters of brilliant philosophers. They led an enlightening and interesting conversation that could easily have continued for hours.
Both camps were marked by traditional Yunasa Programming: Heart of the Matter – small group sessions with clinical psychologist and Senior Fellow Patty Gatto-Walden; Fellows’ Workshops, e.g., Emotional Life of the Brain with Michael Piechowski, Energy Healing with Stef Tolan, Archetypes: The Four-Fold Way with Shelagh Gallagher and Dan Tichenor, and Psychosynthesis Scenarios with Jim Delisle; Counselors’ Workshops, e.g., Duct Tape Crafts with Darcy, Russian Fairy Tales with Paul, Soccer with Lucy and Steph, History with Wade, and Music Improv with Ethan; traditional camp activities – zipline, giant swing, high ropes, kayaking, rock climbing, fishing, and hammockville; Psychosynthesis – daily guided meditation in small groups; and evening activities such as the Variety Show, Campfire, Social, and Movie Night (we watched Big Hero Six). Special guests of Yunasa West – Louise Hindle and Dr. Amy Gaesser – offered workshops on poetry and EFT, respectively. Dr. April DeGennarro, our special guest at Yunasa Michigan, offered two compelling workshops pertaining to the identity we display on social media.
At Yunasa West, each psychosynthesis group performed a skit to demonstrate one of Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities. The Fellows, counselors, and I laughed hysterically as our wise young campers harnessed their creativity and impressive theatric talent to portray individuals who exemplify the intellectual, sensual, imaginational, emotional, and psychomotor overexcitabilities. Although we all laughed – a lot – their dramatic depictions were not far from reality!
This year, we read Listen! by Stef Tolan to correspond with the Yunasa theme, which was also “Listen.” We chose this theme because listening to our bodies, minds, spirits, emotions, and, of course, listening to one another is imperative as we seek balance. At Yunasa, we aim to pay attention – to listen closely – to the world around us, even as we sit silently amongst the trees, absorbing the sounds, colors, life, and history of our surroundings. Listening and mindfulness are closely related. As I listen, I grow attentive to the way my body feels and what that means; I am able to gauge my emotions with a deeper sensitivity; I am more equipped to empathize with others.
I have now participated in three Yunasa camps, and each time, I come home with a heightened sense of attentiveness. My interactions with the Fellows, campers, and counselors of Yunasa help me return to a vibrant place of attention. We miss so much when we dwell inside our heads, bend our heads over our phones, and stare blankly as we move through life. Thank you, people of Yunasa, for existing and for inspiring.
And with that, I shall end this blog post in the same way it began.
“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”