July, 20 2018

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Meditation garden helps troubled teens

The patch of tall pines and maples alongside the Leo Hoffman Center in St. Peter was already a tranquil place.

Now it’s an even more serene place where the troubled kids who reside there can find some quiet time and maybe find themselves.

“It’s fun to be out here with the kids. It helps them a lot,” said Julie Stevermer, director of the center, on the campus of the Minnesota Regional Treatment Center.

The Hoffman Meditation Garden grew from a desire by staff to have a place for contemplation by the 32 boys who reside there for a year or more. The boys are 11 to 18 years old and have sexual issues, often coming from dysfunctional homes and referred by social services or the courts.

The garden was created by Gretchen Koehler, a retired Gustavus professor in health and exercise science. She is a feng shui consultant who has designed several meditation gardens for individuals.

The garden is low key and simple by design. A winding path, symbolizing a river, circles the one-acre site. Along the path are six stations. The sign over the entrance to the garden says: “I lost myself in the garden and discovered who I truly am.”

“There’s certain themes the staff wanted included, like forgiveness and healthy living, so I incorporated those into the garden,” said Koehler, who was training staff on Thursday on how to use the stations as teaching tools for clients.

One station is a Gratitude Path with a circle or short pathway of stones. “You can stop on each stone and think of the things you’re grateful for,” Koehler said.

Other stations are the Leave The Past Behind Path and a Forgiveness Path where the boys are encouraged to move forward with their lives and forgive those who hurt them.

Another spot has an upright log carved with the Chinese symbol for Healthy Living, where the boys are encouraged to make commitments to healthier lifestyle choices.

Stevermer said healthy choices are key to clients’ success when they leave the program.

“Our kids leave with a healthy living plan that they can use to help them from acting out sexually,” she said.

There are also some heavy log benches, made and donated by Steve Hiniker of Hiniker Mill near North Mankato. One bench provides a dramatic view across the Minnesota River Valley.

“Distant viewing automatically calms the body,” Koehler said. “It’s why you feel better when you get out of your cubicle and go outside and view something in the distance.”

The final station on the path is a Grace Stone, a large field stone Koehler found that has a natural, raised cross-like pattern on it.


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