One year ago, I committed to teach one of several annual silent retreats, in South Florida, where I have led retreats and teacher trainings before. The dates were April 6th-11th, 2020. In March 2020, like all of you we began to really absorb the reality and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point-like many of you, we’d switched our first quarter classes to online for the last few sessions. I was leading Practice sessions and giving Dharma talks as well as attending them on-line. I’ve seen how needed and important these gatherings are. While sheltering in place, or on lockdown, many of us find these gatherings online, practicing together, sharing teachings and having discussions, vitally nourishing and supportive.
As The UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness and the teachers of the retreat (myself and my partner), considered what to do about our April retreat- we decided to be bold and offer it virtually on Zoom. As the retreat was originally scheduled for the east coast most folks were on EDT. But we also had people like us, from the west coast as well as several different countries. So our first task was to make a user friendly schedule at least for the US. In short- it worked.
The retreat went smoothly on the technical side, beyond my wildest dreams… more importantly; we were struck right away by how committed and grateful our group was. While they had natural apprehensions about practicing at home with all the potential and real distractions; we encouraged people to view all of these through the lens of “informal practice”. And they did! Many of us including the teachers found that we enjoyed having some structure to our time at home, and appreciated the constant reminders to come home to the present moment, where safety can be found. Participants described this practice opportunity as a kind and loving refuge in the midst of chaos.
Here are some comments we heard at the end.
“I’ve been on residential retreats before and was both curious and a little skeptical about how this would work. What I found was- I discovered, that I can practice deeply at home, not just the formal practice times, but the time to prepare meals, eat, clean the house, all became a part of my practice. I think this will stay with me for a long time, and I know now that while I will still attend residential retreat when I can, this one showed me that I don’t have to “get away from it all” to find peace. It’s right here” L.G.
“I was profoundly pleased and surprised by the sense of community I felt with the international group. We did have some short times to meet in small groups with one of the teachers, which enhanced this, and where I learned so much from everyone’s questions as well as experiencing common humanity. But even in the silence, seeing the faces on the screen I knew that I was not alone.” J.T.
“I feel this practice opportunity came at the perfect time in the midst of the pandemic. I’d been really struggling with the restrictions, the social isolation and my fears about what would happen. The teachers spoke about the way Mindfulness and Compassion practices help us navigate challenges, and build resilience, and as I continued to practice all week, I can truly say that something shifted for me and I am holding the situation much differently, and with an open heart.” M.K.
“I’ve been working toward teacher training and was looking forward to the retreat, to deepen my own practice and to fulfill one of the prerequisites. With so many things being canceled, I had felt stopped in my tracks in many areas. The fact that the retreat was switched to on-line, and would count towards my teacher training, gave me great hope and support and showed me a way to move forward. I loved the whole experience, even the challenges became learnings. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to find that practice can reach everywhere.” R. B.
On a personal note, we enjoyed turning our home into a meditation hall, practicing with the group, and are already looking forward to the next one. Please join us!