Over the past couple of weeks I have taught two six day retreats. The first one was hybrid, with some people attending in person at the Samye Ling Tibetan centre and some people attending online. The second retreat was completely online.
Before the pandemic we didn’t teach retreats online, but like everything else we did, when Covid hit our retreats went online. They work because people receive the same teachings, engage in the same practices and have an opportunity to share their experiences with peers and with tutors.
In person retreats do help in participants getting to know each other in the informal conversations in the breaks and over meals. This can be replicated for online courses to some extent by creating WhatsApp groups or peer groups, especially where a course takes place at multiple events over several months.
At the end of our retreats, we usually have a go round for everyone to share something of their experience.
A theme that arose for the online retreat was an initial scepticism about doing a retreat online and then surprise at how beneficial the home retreat experience had been. On top of the usual retreat benefits, participants found that a home retreat brought their practice into their daily life.
The “going away” from the stresses and strains of life for retreat had led to a separation for some participants between formal practice on retreat and informal mindfulness practice in daily life. The online retreat experience enabled participants to apply their learning in reflection and meditation on retreat, directly into the complexities of their home life and relationships. Participants had found this incredibly useful.
All had experienced significant insights and even where they had experienced challenges there was an overall feeling of having enjoyed and benefited from the retreat experience. Those who attended in person had loved the experience being at Samye Ling.
My own experience of going on retreat is similar to that of sitting to do my practice or of going out for a walk. I never regret having done it, even if there may have been some ambivalence before I started!
Even when a retreat experience has been challenging or fraught with resistance or overwhelm, I have always benefited hugely. I always learn something significant about myself, my mind or the world. My confidence and trust in myself, my mind and my meditation practice always grows.
I always move back into my daily life feeling rested, de-stressed, more awake and aware, and with an air of joyful curiosity.
It is an experience that I recommend for all committed meditators.
Of course at the Mindfulness Association we offer many opportunities for doing retreats, online or at Samye Ling and from one day to ten days! Click here for more information.