Articles May 1, 2020

My Home is My Temple: The Beauty of Online Retreat

At first glance, doing a retreat at home, interacting with the teachers and community only online, may not seem like a “retreat” at all. For many of us, the thing that defines retreat is being somewhere other than at home! At Spirit Rock, the beauty of the land, the artfulness of the kitchen, and the stillness you can feel just stepping into the Main Hall are all part of what makes retreat so nourishing. People have always gone to nature, and to centers, temples, and monasteries away from the bustle of the city to devote themselves wholeheartedly to spiritual practice. So what is “home retreat”?

A home retreat is clearly not the same as a retreat on the Spirit Rock land and perhaps is best thought of as an entirely distinct practice. Home retreat shares core qualities with residential retreats, like the intention to devote ourselves fully to mindfulness and lovingkindness. But there’s one big difference: other people! When you’re on retreat at Spirit Rock, one of our primary intentions is to protect the retreat space. We use noble silence, the precepts, and the rhythms of communal practice to create the conditions for concentration and insight. In this protected space practitioners can go inward, become vulnerable, and devote themselves to practice mostly uninterrupted by logistical or interpersonal contact. The very definition of retreat may be something like protected space for spiritual practice.

At home, there may be people around who are not “on retreat,” like family, housemates, or children. And the temptation to engage “just a little bit,” with the ceaseless flow of email, news, and messages can be very strong. Because of this, one of the most important practices for home retreat is to create protected space. Sharing a retreat schedule with the people you live with can help, and finding ways to maintain silence as much as possible. Putting your devices away except when using them to participate in the retreat calls. Making a small altar with spiritual images, items from nature, or photos of ancestors. A few simple structures like these can transform your home into sacred space—or remind you that it always was.

What’s a day on home retreat like? We wake up in the morning and remember that we're on retreat. Maybe we sit first thing, or just move with more presence than usual through our morning routine, making breakfast, cleaning up. We join the community for morning practice. Engaging mindfully with the screen takes practice, of course. But so does sitting in a room with 90 strangers! We hear the voices of the teachers as we meditate, receiving the waves of breath, feeling, and thought as they come, returning again and again to the body, growing in kindness and patience. This is retreat, same as ever.

Through the day there are times when we interact with the community online, but most of the time we’re on our own, just like on any retreat. We deal with the hindrances, come in and out of focus, and find that no matter what's happening, how skillfully we respond is all that matters. We cook a meal, do eating meditation, and clean up as if all of it is work meditation, and try to do all of it in the spirit of retreat: quietly, without rushing, fully present. And if there are people around, maybe we find that the smile or the few words we share have a sweetness or poignancy to them, which we wouldn’t have felt if we were on a more secluded retreat.

To give ourselves fully to practice at home is to bring the messiness of the home onto retreat with us, but it is also to turn the home into a temple. We talk a lot in this tradition about mindfulness in daily life. Well, if there were ever a time for bringing mindfulness and lovingkindness into daily life, this is it!

We’re grateful to be able to offer this beautiful practice of home retreat, in service of well-being in this time of crisis, for each of us, and for all beings everywhere.