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Going on Retreat, Leaving the iPhone

posted by Evelyn Cash


In one week, I’ll be heading to the Atlanta Soto Zen Centerto sit my first 7 day retreat in honor of Rohatsu, the Japanese Buddhistholiday commemorating the Buddha’s enlightenment.  My plan is to pack light, no checked luggage,just a backpack filled with loose fitting, dark clothes, maybe a few extrasocks (you can never have too many socks), my kleen kanteen and a journal.  One thing I will be leaving at home is my belovediPhone.


For generations, Buddhists have gone on retreat as a way toescape the demands and temptations of the everyday world in order to committhemselves to mindful, diligent practice. Retreats provide the opportunity to leave all the stress of normalwork-a-day life behind and embrace the dharma.   Viewed in this way, retreatssound great, almost like a 7 day – 6 night spiritual vacation.

 

But some of us love our Blackberries and some of us are hugefans of our Palm Pres.  For my part, I’mpretty attached to my iPhone.  Let’s justsay that if you see me anywhere at any time, my phone is probably not far frommy hand.  I like having the ability tocheck e-mail or surf the web at any moment, no matter where I am.  The way I see it, my phone doesn’t negatively affect my life in theleast and so I don’t consider it to be a part of the “stress” of daily life.  If I’m honest with myself (and I’m prettysure not alone), I don’t see the iPhone as something I *want* to be rid of for aweek.

 

But, for the retreat, I’ll be leaving my phone at home andtaking a basic cell phone for emergency purposes only… and my plan is to leavethat turned off for the majority of my time on retreat.  The thing is, retreats aren’t spiritualvacations.  Going on retreat offers usthe chance to leave both the demands and the pleasures of normal daily life behind inorder to commit to dharma practice full-time, and this means stepping away fromboth the those aspects of life that cause us the most stress and as well asthose aspects that we enjoy.  This is exactlywhy I’m looking forward to going on my first extended retreat.  At home, I could turn off the television, thecomputer and iPhone but I wouldn’t be able to commit myself to that level ofpractice for a full week, no matter how I tried.  I’ve been trying to integrate dharma practice into mydaily life for years, the chance to spend a week dedicated to meditation andmindfulness is one I couldn’t easily pass up. And so, I’m happily leaving the iPhone at home and trading my 3G accessfor a more simple way of life, if only for a week. 

 

I’m curious to see how others have dealt with thisissue.  In today’s world of near constantaccess to entertainment and communication, do you choose to leave yoursmartphone (or ipod, or any other mobile device) at home when you go on retreator do you take it along as one small piece of the “outside world” that you justcan’t give up?



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Eknola

posted November 22, 2009 at 3:34 pm


I take my iPhone but keep it off until I reach the airport to head home. The retreat manager can find me if there’s an emergency at home. I don’t consider retreats a “vacation” but a time devoted to intense, open-ended, all day and, sometimes all night, practice. It is a privileged time for me that I hold sacred. Sometimes, I briefly crave the company of a book, one of a stack I hope to one day get the time to read…but cravings pass and opportunity for uninterrupted practice is dear.
“Going on retreat offers us the chance to leave both the demands and the pleasures of normal.” Yes! And interestingly, the after-retreat period can be very “middle way” — the “demands”, less stressful, the “pleasures”, less important. I’ve learned that if I can drop off the grid for ten days at a time, I can spare one day a week to recreate the experience. Instant access doesn’t require instant response. The “pause” has become an important part of practice.
with metta,
e



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Mu

posted November 22, 2009 at 9:18 pm


It looks like I’ll be doing Rohatsu sesshin at the Austin Zen Center. You should visit.
As for my iPhone, I leave it at home. I bow to it on my return from sesshin, in acknowledgment of its place in my life.



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marlena

posted November 22, 2009 at 9:35 pm


I take my iphone with me but keep it off until I leave. Even then I often don’t make any calls right away or check e-mail. Something significant happens while I am away on retreat and I feel very protective of that when I return to my daily life. I live a pretty plugged in life and to most I am not sure they would notice a difference in my before and after retreat self – but, I do. Some do say I seem much more present.
The other thing about week longs (or longer) is the sense of sangha that happens. It is impossible to achieve that without the group. There is something very powerful about a group of people going through the experience together.
Much Metta on your venture



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Evelyn

posted November 23, 2009 at 11:52 am


Thanks for the great feedback! I especially liked Eknola’s statement that “Instant access doesn’t require instant response.” I think we often forget that in daily life… an email pops up and we feel like we’ve got to get back to the person ASAP when odds are, it can probably wait.
Thanks for sharing your experience on the return, coming back from retreat. I’ll have to pay particular attention to how I approach my “re-connected” life when the retreat is done.
@marlena, you bring up a good point about the “sense of sangha.” I’ve never had that residential experience of living and working in the zendo with other members of the group. That’s another aspect I’m particularly looking foward to. I think a part of me has always wanted to taste the monastic life.
@Mu, I actually did consider heading down to Austin for retreat, but my local zendo is an affiliate of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center so I was thinking it would be a good fit for my first week-long retreat. Austin is closer to KS, maybe I’ll make it down there some day and compare the two.
gassho,
Evelyn



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Anan E. Maus

posted November 23, 2009 at 6:59 pm


best of luck to everyone doing retreat work or other spiritual work for Rohatsu!
as far as the communication thing goes…my personal suggestion is to leave the whole world behind as much as possible.
Further, I think that when you start to make that kind of effort…the way shows. Just as when, say, starting a jogging program…it is difficult in the beginning…but the work shows the way to make it function smoothly. So too, if you make steps towards withdrawing from the world, that process shows the way. And does so much more clearly than mere logical deduction could yield.
gassho



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Ed B.

posted November 24, 2009 at 2:13 pm


Oooooh, what a good idea yours! A seven day retreat is a most excellent idea. It will be interesting to read your post once you return, especially any insights about your(our) addictions to Etoys and the sense of boredom we feel when we don’t have them.
We’ll be waiting…



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Don R.

posted December 2, 2009 at 5:25 pm


I believe the retreat will be mostly silent and you’ll be asked not to read anything unless it is suggested. It will be very difficult to keep talking to a minimum. A retreat can be hard and can become very emotional. So…never give up. It’s OK to leave the cushion if things get to rough but stay on it as long as you can. So not only was it a good idea to leave the iPhone at home, but you probably won’t be able to communicate a whole lot in any manner.
Gassho,
Nento



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sun agee

posted November 25, 2010 at 3:47 am


Thank you very much. I am wonderring if i can share your article in the bookmarks of society?Then more friends can talk about this problem.
Montblanc Sunglasses



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