Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blogging Retreat

Here's an interesting experiment to consider: a sangha doing a blogging retreat. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche and some of his students in Malayasia did just this over the past few days. One of his students, Jamie Khoo (aka Paris), wrote the following on her blog about the retreat:

We've had a special past week, full of everything I love - writing, blogs, pizza and air-conditioning.

Inspired by Rinpoche's blog a big bunch of us have been engaged in a special one-week retreat to study the many teachings and posts on the blog, write comments and create dialogue within the blog. It seemed a shame really that so much goodness should just stay within the blog and collect cyber dust. We felt it was time to shake things up a bit and get some dialogue and interaction going on within the blog. If we weren't going to do like Pabongkha Rinpoche and enter Lamrim retreats, then this would be the closest we'd ever get to it. It may look all shiny and sleek, pulled up my very splendid 15inch Macbook pro screen, but every post in Rinpoche's blog finds at its heart a profound Dharma teaching - it is all Lamrim, beautifully packaged for our attached and desiring 21st-Century minds.

There was a dual purpose - first, to expand our own minds and challenge us to think about the teachings on a deeper level, especially how we can apply them to our own lives. Secondly, to promote the teachings to other people; to bring more awareness to both Rinpoche and Kechara, thereby building the platform for KWPC in the future as both become more well-known throughout the world.

After a year and a half of blogging, I have learned that when you actually pay attention to what you write, how you write it, the responses that come in, and how you choose to respond to them, there is much to learn. Take a particular teaching you've been studying and try and write something about it in an engaged way that might inspire or provoke others. It's not that easy. Take a discussion you've had within your "brick and mortar" sangha and try to convey it to the world. Again, it takes some effort. Take something you've read online and try and write something else that isn't just rehash or snarky reaction. All of this is an extension of practice as I see it.

Does this replace established practices like meditation retreats? No. But I do think that there will be more of these kinds of practices developing in this 21st century digital world, and I for one think we shouldn't be afraid of such innovations, especially if they are offered along side the "tried and true" methods we already have. Frequently for me during the weekdays, it's blogging in the morning and zazen and/or dharma class in the evening.

What do you think of the idea of blogging retreats?

*photo of bloggers at work from Jamie Khoo's blog.


Algernon said...


A valuable part of the retreat experience, for me, is that the participants (including me) are not broadcasting their thoughts, ideas, or "experience" into a shared space. We sit with what appears, let it go, and repeat that process as something else appears in our minds.

Thus I feel a reflexive skepticism to blogging a Zen retreat. Indeed, at the centers where I did most of my training, we had a rule against journaling, sketching, and most reading during retreats. Blogging would seem to fall into the same area of concern.

On the other hand, a writing retreat guided by someone who kept the focus on writing as a contemplative inquiry could be a terrific experience. I wonder, however, how such a teacher would approach the prospect of publishing while the retreat was in progress.

Nathan said...

It certainly is little like a meditation retreat. I totally agree that it runs counter to that process, and shouldn't be considered an equivalent.

I view it more as a different kind of practice with a different process and focus.

Since I don't know enough of the details about the particular experience I cited, I don't know how the teacher "upheld the container" or provided structure for it. Maybe it wasn't focused and didn't have a certain structure to reign people in the way a meditation retreat does.

I get the sense they were experimenting, and probably don't have a process or structure down yet. Like you, I think that would be a critical piece needed, so that people aren't just writing whatever while hanging out in a room together.

Jeanne Desy said...

I've done a great deal of contemplative writing, it was probably my primary spiritual practice for years. Now, maybe blogging is, that search for meaning in my daily life that I can share.

Anonymous said...

Blogging question: Why are one line comments prohibited on your blog? Is it impossible to say something worthwhile in one line only?

Nathan said...


I was getting a lot of one line spam awhile back, which is why I made the policy. However, I have also published one liners since then that people have written, so if you have something to say in one line, feel free.

Anonymous said...

Okay! Thanks for responding. Just curious. I enjoyed your most recent post about the usefulness of blogging. I've had mine for about a year, and love doing it and enjoy thinking about "blogging" as a practice.

Thanks --