TLDR: Sometimes, a crisis does not always have to be doom and gloom, if we have some innovation and a willingness to experiment!
Recently, a good friend forwarded me a Zoom meditation retreat led by Venerable Canda and Ajahn Brahm of the Anukampa Bhikkkhuni project. I rolled my eyes in my sockets a little (because my friend knew I was under lockdown in Paris and didn’t have anywhere else to go), but was enthused by the idea of attending a retreat. The last one I attended had been over 3 years ago (even before moving to Paris)!
Immediately after that, however, I was accosted by scepticism that retreats need to be conducted in person. Online retreats would not be any good.
Indeed, the absence of any interaction with a teacher who could read retreatants’ body language and signals to guide retreatants was slightly worrying. Being in the physical presence of a teacher was psychologically important for me.
Nevertheless, the lack of an opportunity to attend a retreat for the past 3 years pushed me to sign up. I am very glad I did, as my preconceived notions were pushed out of the window.
Zooming out of the lockdown and into my heart
From the very first time I tuned in, I could feel waves of authenticity coming from Venerable Canda and Ajahn Brahm, who were conducting the retreat together. Their faces, as they looked at us in our little screens, radiated compassion and warmth that was no different from being there in person.
The only difference? This time we could see them up close!
Because it was happening in real-time, there was no feeling of artificiality or forcedness. Indeed, both venerable admitted halfway through the retreat that they were also slightly apprehensive about whether people would be receptive to an extended online retreat. It had gone even better than they had expected!
Somehow, as Venerable Canda put it, they managed to intuitively gauge the audience and “pitch to the middle” as they would have done in person.
When words speak to the heart and the person at the other end is speaking from theirs whilst tailoring it to you, it doesn’t matter whether it is done in person or online.
Is ‘community’ missing from online zoom retreats?
Another pleasant surprise that I had underestimated was the presence of community at the retreat. Again, I had assumed that any sense of community would have been obliterated by our inability to be together in person. I was happy to be proved spectacularly wrong.
I discovered that encouraging retreatants to turn their video on placed faces to names, and sometimes facial expressions during the talk.
This created a palpable sense of community – we were all experiencing something together at the same time.
What helped even more at the end of the retreat was an opportunity to interact with fellow retreatants who shared on their retreat experience. While it was put in place to help ease retreatants back into everyday life, it also allowed us to connect more deeply with others.
In the two minutes per person that we were given, people turned from faces on a screen to living, breathing beings with their own problems, aspirations and thoughts. Such beautiful sharings forged an inexplicable sense of togetherness.
Do we need retreat centres to disconnect?
Having the retreat at home made me rethink my assumption that retreats always needed to be in retreat centres or temples, lest we “just cannot disconnect”!
While my room as a psychological place of safety had taken a beating after working from home commenced, retooling the room for the meditation retreat made me view my room in a positive way that I had never seen before.
While I had done meditation in my room before, it was always peripheral to the function of my room, in my mind at least. With the meditation retreat being conducted at home, I needed to go beyond my usual meditation spot to find different spaces that could allow me to change around a bit. A small achievement! I managed to clear a small path for walking within my small room!
It does sound cliché, but the retreat was an opportunity to show me that sometimes we are constrained by our views and supposed knowledge. A fresh and happy mind is very conducive to creatively develop things of value.
This online Zoom retreat was an immensely positive experience for me. I am very grateful for the organisers’ kindness and also willingness to experiment. I had so much joy hearing from other participants on how they were able to let go of their various negativities of depression, anger or anxiety. With that letting go, they gently develop contentment with the moment during the retreat.
By the end I had tears bursting out from my eyes! With the right intention and some wisdom and creativity, it was a great demonstration for me. A demonstration that truly meaningful solutions can be developed that are beneficial to others. I hope to take this inspiration and apply it in my own life as well.
Wishing everyone good thoughts and safety through this pandemic.
- Be open to trying online retreats, it will reshape the way you think!
- Find joy in the sharing of others, lessening the importance on the story of ‘Me’