This last week I have been working with Choden and Alan from the MA and Graeme and Liz from the University of Aberdeen on the Year 2 and 3 year end retreats. The Year 2s do a couple of days of teaching skills and then complete the insight module and the Year 3s do a writing retreat so as to move them forward with their dissertation. Yesterday was the last day and I had the privilege of sharing final reflections with them.
I love this work as the Masters students are so committed to their practice and show immense courage and determination in facing their neuroses and moving through them to actualise immense personal growth. It is a delight to be part of this process, although it can be challenging at times and not always smooth sailing. However, being subject to a similar and extensive set of neuroses myself, that I have had the pleasure of moving through, I am in a good position to facilitate this process in others.
We were hoping to be on Holy Isle, but ended up on Zoom. Towards the start of the week many were quite wistful about this. However, as the retreat unfolded and the power of our practice and connection over Zoom became apparent, I felt a growing enthusiasm for online mindfulness training.
To be fair this group have known each other for some time. Meeting regularly for weekends at Samye Ling and once a year for a retreat on Holy Isle for the last two or three academic years. I think that this in one of the most powerful forces for transformation on the Masters program, the power of a mutually supporting community of practice and the sure knowledge that we are not on our own in our mindfulness journey. At the end of the week there was sadness at this phase of the journey together ending, but we will all stay in touch.
One of the Master’s students is doing her dissertation on online Mindfulness. It is a qualitative piece, where she is interviewing participants of an online course and also some tutors who teach online. She is finding that participants are initially resistant to have to move online, but that are pleasantly surprised at the potency of online mindfulness teachings.
There are pros and cons to in person and online mindfulness teaching. One of the pros is accessibility. There is geographical accessibility, where people can attend courses from around the world, without having to travel. This also helps environmentally too. There is also accessibility for those who otherwise are unable to leave their homes. One Masters participant has been unable to attend the weekends because of his inability to travel. He was able to attend the live online sessions and became an inspirational member of our group during the retreat.
My feeling is that if we relax, don’t get drawn into the screen, imagine that we are present with others on Zoom, then there is an authentic connection and we can pick up on many non-verbal cues. If we think online is second rate, that we are talking to a screen and that we are disconnected then we will be. If we think that online supports connection, accessibility and believe we are there with the others in the Zoom room, then we are. The screen falls away and we are human beings in communication. That is my experience anyway.
This is captured in a beautiful haiku that Anke, one of our Masters students wrote and shared during the retreat:
It resonated with many of us in the group, capturing our retreat together beautifully.
If you are interested in starting the Masters in September then Choden and Graeme are doing a taster session on Tuesday 23rd June at 7pm. Here is the link to join.
Next time you are on Zoom in a meeting or mindfulness session. Check in with your pre-conceptions and see if you can let some of them go. It will help you enjoy and get more out of these online times.