SIM New Year’s Retreat 2019/2020 Reflections on the New Years retreat by Di Pelletier
A SIM Retreat Falls Victim to the Fires…But Rises Above the Ashes As December moved inexorably towards Christmas and the December 27th start of the New Year’s Retreat at the Brahma Kumaris Centre in Wilton the Green Wattle Fire was giving the surrounds a severe battering as the nearby town of Balmoral can testify. Extra evacuation plans for our group of 28 were under consideration. Jill Shepherd was scheduled to fly in Boxing Day. With all the necessary gear assembled and packed and Buddha nearly in the car, the Sim Committee, the BK manager and the SIM retreat manager (me) conferred frequently and watched the fires and weather reports carefully. The threat of the return of high temperatures and high winds for the next weekend when the retreat would start were taken seriously. The BKs themselves had been evacuated three times recently, not a good omen. Decision day was Monday Dec 23 and the retreat was cancelled on safety grounds. And a wise decision it was. SIM offered a full refund with the option to donate to the BKs to help with their losses as of course food had been ordered. But Jill is an experienced and seasoned dharma teacher and was not sitting idle in NZ. With considerable effort and ingenuity, in a first for her, she suggested a stay at home retreat with a significant online component. I am sure none of us could understand how that exactly would work out. Many brave souls from the original group signed up and a few others have joined and 18 of us went on the journey. Jill is skilled at using the meeting app Zoom and we had 1 ½ hours sessions twice a day. We had optional audio and written online resources provided daily according to the day’s topics. Individual sessions were scheduled with her. Zoom allows breakout rooms for small group work (talking!). We have great visuals of all participants and as a somewhat techno challenged person, it proved excellent for me. But what about the home setting. Some looked forward to that, some were wary. How to manage the time? Others in the house? The phone and other devices calling softly from their charging stations? More in 8 days.
And now the retreat has ended at 1030 Sunday Jan 5 and the serious temperatures and situation on the south coast have certainly validated the cancellation. How was it? A semiformal evaluation is underway but overall extremely positive. Jill’s teaching understandably received high praise, tailoring it as she does to the needs of the group. The home setting was valued by many as a way to apply the teachings there and perhaps to enable them to be retained more easily. Some expected it to ease the transition back into the “real” world. The Zoom meeting format with good visuals for group shares and the use of breakout rooms for 2s and 3s for sharing was well regarded. Indeed there were strong feelings expressed about level of group cohesion and connection, with one person saying he was amazed at the “strength and warmth of the online Sangha”. The carefully tailored daily resource sheets gave a way to give structure to the day. Individual sessions with Jill were, as always, seen as valuable. Due consideration was given to the continuing bushfire crisis as participants had more opportunities to stay informed. A few suggestions but no negative comments have been made. Many would be happy to do another online. SIM is evaluating the online format as no doubt will Jill. Perhaps more such opportunities may be forthcoming in the years to come. By Di Pelletier 2019-2020 SIM New Year’s Retreat Photo by Jill Shepherd - https://jill0shepherd-insightmeditation.com