Online Retreats In The Time Of COVID: Bringing It Home

~ Written by Bridgette O’Neill, Retreat Lead for the Mindfulness Network ~

This blog post is part of a series called ‘Mindfulness Online’ to help give you some insight into an online event with the Mindfulness Network.


Since last March when the need for lockdown and social distancing became evident in the UK, the Mindfulness Network has offered five online retreats. Back in March this would have been unimaginable, and we have certainly needed to stretch and expand our usual ways of thinking.


Fortunately, several of our retreat leaders had prior experience of offering online intensive practice opportunities and we have also learned (and are still learning) a huge amount from the experience of offering online retreats and from participants’ feedback. Many of the comments we’ve received express surprise at how well the online format worked and this was also my experience when I participated in our first online retreat led by Martine Batchelor and supported by Jenny Wilks. I was keen to experience Martine’s teachings but had low expectations of how much the online format would enable that connection with sustained practice which the retreat experience generally offers, especially as I had school-age children at home. It was wonderful to discover that moving between silent practice and coming into connection with loved-ones was very reminiscent of family retreats – where the same mix of intensive practice and domestic bustle expands my understanding of practice as an orientation to life rather than something I do on a meditation cushion.


Another aspect of the online retreat experience that has been unexpected is the sense of community and mutual support that can develop online. And, as teachers, we have wondered about how the online environment may impact on our quality of presence given that we are no longer able to sense one another in the same way. However, participant comments suggest that while the online environment is certainly different from being in one another’s physical presence, the potency of the teachers and the presence of other participants can still be felt.

‘It was a blessing to be able to access such quality teaching within a supportive group from the comfort of my own home.’

~ Feedback from an online retreat participant


While the power of online retreats has been a genuine surprise to us, we have drawn on our deep knowledge of retreat practice from across a range of contexts including self-organised, family and solitary retreats. This is very much a work in progress. What is evident is the need to establish supportive conditions; pre-planning and clear intentions are central to enable the simplicity and space for intensive and sustained practice, along with flexibility that accommodates the broader household situation.


What is possible will depend on each person’s particular situation so individually tailored plans are needed. Discussion in supervision could be helpful here, before the retreat begins. Some examples of practical preparations for participants include planning a menu for the week and pre-buying ingredients, creating a practice space (some people have arranged separate accommodation such as a rented venue away from their family), making agreements with other household members about your availability, planning and including in your schedule to what extent and when you will engage in domestic tasks, having clear intentions for offline time and communicating these to the people around you.


At the Mindfulness Network, we are delighted to have been able to continue to offer retreat opportunities during these challenging months. We look forward to being able to offer face-to-face retreats once again and we have also learned that online retreats do offer particular benefits and increase accessibility for some. The challenges of this pandemic have opened our minds to new possibilities and we will keep our minds open to the place of online retreat in our offerings as we move forward.


To see a full list of all events, including online retreats, visit our CALENDAR.

Bridgette O’Neill – Retreat Lead

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One comment on “Online Retreats In The Time Of COVID: Bringing It Home

Retreats practiced from home can be a mess, with family or friend interruptions, the need to do chores, the need to eat, and the temptation to slack off a bit for work.

So, your ideas around participant planning for the retreats were inspirational. Why should the retreat leader suffer through helplessly while people appear and disappear? Why not at least guide participants to think through the things that will come up, as Bridgette does in this article.

Thanks so much for this. I offer a few one-day retreats in New York City each year, and will draw on your ideas. Hope that is alright.


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