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How a Virtual (Online) Retreat Works

Simply stated, like a residential retreat, there are several ‘virtual rooms’ using the Zoom program: one for the zendo, one for Shinzen and one for the Co-Teacher. Retreatants are provided with a link and/or a telephone number to ‘enter’ each room at scheduled times, i.e. to meditate in the zendo or attend a teacher’s technique instruction session.

PLEASE NOTE: An email with all the connection links/telephone numbers will be sent a few days before the retreat so they are readily accessible; therefore, please DO NOT email to ask for them unless you haven’t received that email by the day before.

The Process

  1. Typically most participants will use their desktop computer, laptop or a tablet, like an Ipad. This allows you to have sound and video (to be able to hear and talk, and actually see each other - just like a residential retreat). Using a computer, you join a ‘room’ by clicking on the link provided for each room. If you don’t have a computer, laptop or tablet, you can also ‘join a room’ by telephone. Depending on your phone, you may not have a video option, just sound - to listen and also speak if you’re attending one of the Teacher sessions. Telephone numbers for your country will be provided.


Advance Preparation

- If using a Computer/Laptop/Tablet

  1. Please check your computer equipment to ensure you have a microphone and camera that works. Not having either isn’t critical, just your experience will be very limited. You would see everyone participating, but they won’t be able to see you (only your name will appear in a black box on the screen) nor would you be able to ask questions in a technique instruction session.

  2. When you receive the links, click on one which will take you to the Zoom program. You may need to sign up for a FREE Zoom Account (click HERE) to be able to access the links on a daily basis quickly and easily. At the very least when you click on one of the ‘links’ for the first time, you may be asked to allow Zoom to put an icon on your screen. Don’t worry, it won’t affect anything on your computer, it’s just allows quick connection each time and after the retreat, if you wish, you can delete it.

  3. A Pre-Retreat Zoom Meeting (typically the day before the retreat begins) will be scheduled so you can ensure your camera and microphone are working. If you have never used Zoom before, we highly recommend you join this meeting versus not being able to connect once the retreat begins.  If you have audio or video issues, the Technical person will be there to help you set up properly. This check in shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.

- if using a Telephone

  1. If you’re unable to join the retreat with a computer, there is still the opportunity to do so via a telephone. An email sent a few days before the retreat begins will give a few telephone numbers available for different countries.  If your country isn't represented, there is a link to a list of other country numbers.  Please call the number to check your ‘connectivity’. The Zoom program will ask you to enter the Meeting I.D. and a Passcode which you’ll get in the email. Once you’ve input that information, you should now be in the ‘room’. If you are using a cell phone (especially a smart phone), you will have audio/video capacity. If you are using a landline, likely only your name will appear on screen, but you will have audio.

Your Environment

There can be some challenges doing a virtual retreat - from your home, a friend’s home, etc. - especially if you have a family or live with others. But advance preparation can go a long way to having an optimal experience. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Let your roommates or family know you want to or are going to participant in a virtual retreat.

  2. Tell them it is intended to be a silent retreat and ask if they could help by working with you to create that environment for you as much as possible. Children/family might play/work in a room away from the space you use to join the retreat, but if this isn’t possible you may have to ‘mute’ when needed to not share the background sounds with other retreatants. This is especially true for single parents. Also keep in mind that very active video could be a distraction to other retreatants (especially in the meditation hall) and turn off your video if it your background becomes too busy (i.e. children running around).

    Roommates and other adults could work or function in another room, but if it’s still close to where you’ll be, especially when being on the phone/watching TV/listening to music, etc. using headphones or speaking as quietly as possible will help.

    Pets will still need to be cared for, i.e. fed, petted, cuddled so they are exempt from being in your space if you wish, putting yourself on ‘mute’ or turning the video off when necessary.


  3. Try to complete any business or personal transactions before the retreat, just as you would for a residential one. It’s more of a challenge when joining from home, but you want to give yourself an optimal experience, especially if you want to work deep and as uninterrupted as possible.

  4. This may mean doing advance meal planning, i.e. what food will you need each day and shop in advance. Try to make meal times a meditation. Techniques can be applied to food prep, cooking, eating, clean up and eventual return to the meditation hall or an optional nap. Premade meals such as frozen casseroles, salads, etc. will also help with lessening the time needed. The time given for meals/rest will go much quicker unless you have someone preparing meals for you (as in a residential retreat) so planning ahead will be very helpful.

  5. Turn off anything that may be a distraction, such as ringing telephones, watch alarms, etc. (See Noble Silence). We recognize that if you are sharing your living space with others, this again may be difficult but some advance planning will help. If an interview with the teacher or co-teacher is scheduled via a telephone rather than a zoom room, please ensure the phone is on and unmuted at the specific day and time for you to be reached (especially if you turned it off for the majority of the retreat). 

  6. Try not to read non-meditation books or listen to non-meditation recordings. These are distractions that take you away from the work of meditation. The same is applied to watching TV (i.e. catching up on your shows) during this intended retreat time.

  7. As a bonus when doing a virtual retreat (as opposed to a residential one), since this is your own personal space, you can make it as sacred as you wish, i.e. burning candles, incense, putting special objects or pictures near you or if you already have a spot where you meditate, using it for the retreat will make it feel more sacred going forward, like the sangha is with you. Please be attentive to burning candles/incense as sometimes we can become ‘spaced out’ when meditating long and deep. Also please be respectful of other retreatants to keep the visual field in the zoom room to a minimum otherwise turn off your video if needed.

Click below for more wonderful suggestions from Stephen Villaescusa and Kara Braun

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