3 Tips for Live & Online Retreats
By Beth Mulligan, guest contributor
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 online. 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.
1. Consider how the planned times will work for you
As the UCSD 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 EST. 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.
Online retreats offer a variety of schedules. While a retreat may change some of your habits, hopefully you won’t have to change your entire sleep schedule and become nocturnal to participate. Usually during a retreat you focus only on the retreat itself, so when doing it at home make sure to talk to other members of the household about your plans.
2. Find a way to integrate the retreat into daily life
While our group 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.
Being on retreat doesn't mean you have to stop caring for your house, walking your dogs, or doing the daily, routine activities that are necessary. A retreat invites you to integrate those activities into your practice and to complete them mindfully.
3. Meet the technology where it is
Sometimes, it seems like everything is going wrong with technology. Maybe you lose power, or your internet is going in and out and it’s hard to hear. During a retreat, we are gifted with the opportunity to make everything a practice, including the technological issues that have become common. And it is technology that makes this retreat and connection possible at all.
Still skeptical? Here are some comments direct from online retreat participants:
"This was a great reset for my life. It couldn't have come at a better time. I have been wanting to experience a silent retreat for many years now but it would require travel, accommodations etc. and was always way out of my budget. I am so happy to finally have the opportunity to be taught and supported by genuine, experienced teachers and a beautiful like-minded community of various backgrounds and cultures who all want to shine the way we are meant to. This was one of the blessings Covid and Mindful Leader has given to me. Thank you."
“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”
“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.”
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 with Mindful Leader starting on June 22nd. Please join us! Click here to learn more.
Beth Mulligan, PA-C is a certified MBSR teacher, teacher trainer, and Director of MBSR Teacher Training at the UCSD Mindfulness Based Professional Training institute. She has been teaching MBSR for 17 years to diverse populations; from the critically ill, to non-profit organizations, the underserved, educators, and corporate leaders. She currently teaches at the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at UCI and Insight Community of the Desert. Beth is involved in MBSR Teacher Training all over the world. Beth is also a certified Mindful Self-Compassion teacher and teacher trainer and is also a certified yoga instructor. Beth has a background in primary care medicine as a Board Certified Physician Assistant having graduated Magna cum Laude from Duke University and has practiced medicine for over thirty years. Beth is the author of The Dharma of Modern Mindfulness, New Harbinger Publications.