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Taking Retreat as Part of Our Privacy Practice


I recently attended a yoga and meditation retreat at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center led by Bay Area yoga teacher James Higgins and Austin-based Buddhist priest Unzan Mako Voelkel.

Located in the Ventana Wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest near Carmel Valley, Tassajara Zen Center was the first Zen training monastery established outside of Japan. Tassajara was founded in 1966 by Shunryu Suzuki, a Japanese Buddhist priest and author of Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. Tassajara is affiliated with the San Francisco Zen Center and Green Gulch Farm in Marin.

The weekend retreat was an opportunity for rest, relaxation and digital detox (we were completely “off the grid” with no Wi-Fi or cell phone reception.) It was adult summer camp: I took part in the yoga classes, hiked and explored the beautiful Tassajara grounds, ate wonderful food, swam in the creek, and relaxed in the natural hot springs. I also shared the experience of the Zen practice of sitting Zazen (meditation) with the monks and students at Tassajara. It was a time to withdraw from the world, my job and responsibilities and take some time for myself.

The time away also allowed me to see a connection between the “retreat mindset” and the reinforcement of a sound privacy practice.

What is the value of retreat?

Slowing down permits us to escape the demands and distractions of everyday life. When we listen to our body and mind and provide time and space for renewal, we discover what it means to have a “boundless life.”

A retreat can be restorative, invigorating, and enriching. For some, like designer Stefan Sagmeister of New York, a year-long sabbatical every seven years is actually key to the success of his studio. Few of us may be able to create the space for a year-long retreat, but surely we can realize the benefits of a retreat on a smaller scale.

What is the value of retreat for you?

How can we incorporate “retreat” in our daily lives?

Some of us are fortunate enough to take a week or weekend for retreat. If you are interested, Tassajara is open to the public from May to September for Summer Guest Season.  During the falls and winter months, Tassajara or Zenshinji (Zen Heart-Mind Temple), offers monastic training periods for the monks and students who have chosen a contemplative path.

All of us can carve out certain times of the day to take a moment, to breathe, to practice stillness. Moments of spiritual reflection and physical awareness can help us retreat from the turbulence of life.

For instance, at the Dharma talk I attended at the retreat, Mako asked the question: “How do we trust our life?” Do we use our intellect, our heart, feelings, or intuition to “know” what is right for us? How do we come to understand our personal values and align our life to those values? How do we know what is enough? Reflecting meaningfully on these questions can help us to see the signal of our life more clearly through the noise.

How can we use the “retreat mindset” to confront innovation and technology?

The flood of innovative technology and disruptive services is exciting, but there’s also a darker side to the excitement: Anxiety. Distrust. Fear.

“87 percent of respondents said concerns about innovation—such as its impact on privacy, the environment and their individual security—will stop them from purchasing specific products.”
Additionally, “sixty-six percent of consumers said privacy was their biggest concern when it comes to innovation.”

There is a sense at times that in order to keep pace with changes in technology, we must disregard our concerns about privacy and security. This fear of being left behind or becoming “obsolete” compared to others may drive us to compromise our values.

Here, perhaps, is where the “retreat mindset” is most useful. In much the same way meditation or yoga helps give us perspective, temporarily absenting ourselves from the ceaseless forward motion of innovation can help us practice discernment. As we retreat, we slow down and we can see clearly when confronted with privacy choices. We look for privacy settings, review privacy policies, and attempt to align our use of technology with our privacy values.

In this way we can confront innovation from a sense of groundedness.  We can enjoy the benefits of technology on our terms by taking a mindful approach.

I hope you are able to find time in your life for restorative retreats. I also hope that when you return from those retreats, you are able to incorporate the spirit of retreat (a clear mind, balanced body and open heart) into your own privacy practice.

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