One year ago, I committed to teach one of several annual silent retreats in South Florida, where I have led retreats and teacher trainings. The retreat dates were in April 2020, but in March 2020, we began to really absorb the reality and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, causing the switch of our first quarter classes to online for the last few sessions.
Leading practice sessions and giving Dharma talks as well as attending them online, I realized how needed and important these gatherings are. While sheltering in place, or on quarantine, many of us find these online gatherings, practicing together, sharing teachings, and having discussions, vitally nourishing and supportive.
As the UCSD Center for Mindfulness and the teachers considered what to do about the April retreat, we decided to be bold and offer it virtually on Zoom. This was not without its challenges as we navigated several time zones and geographical locations coming together, but in the end we deemed it a success.
As the retreat began, we were struck right away by how committed and grateful our group was. While participants 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.” 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 amidst chaos:
“I’ve been on residential retreats before and was both curious and a little skeptical about how this would work. What I discovered was 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, my partner and I enjoyed turning our home into a meditation hall, practicing with the group, and are already looking forward to the next one.) Due to the success of this initial “experiment,” the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion has committed to use the same virtual experience for our June 7-12 retreat entitled “Mindfulness and Self-Compassion.” Consider joining David Spound and myself for this unusual, but timely and potentially rewarding opportunity to “retreat-in-place” in 2020.