Introducing the Practice Circle

| September 11, 2012 | 37 Comments

Many people come to the Secular Buddhist Association website with the same question: “Where can I find a place to practice?”  Whether they live where there are no dharma centers at all, or the traditional practice centers available make them feel uncomfortable, they seek a place where they can share their practice with others without having to pretend that they believe in things they can’t.

In response, in 2012 the SBA launched an experiment: Practice Circle, a community that comes together via video conference to support one another’s dharma practice. Practice Circle has been meeting twice a month ever since, as we have gradually learned the best ways to use this technology to help us practice and discuss.

Where and How

There is no prerequisite for joining the Practice Circle, other than your intention to share your practice with whoever shows up.  This is not an easy thing, and will require a certain amount of courage on your part.  Practice Circle is a very interactive experience that will invite you to fully engage with your own experience in the moment, and with the experience of everyone else in the community.  The success of this experiment will depend on how willing each of us is to make that commitment.

Our focus is on living the Four Noble Truths.  We won’t spend much time discussing Buddhist doctrine, or chewing over karma and rebirth.  We have lots of chances to do those things on the Secular Buddhist Facebook page and on the SBA website.  In the Circle, we will try to fully know dukkha, to release craving and grasping, and by doing so experience the freedom to respond to our lives in a new way.   Our formal practice together will always be intended to help us develop skills to transform the whole of our lives, for our own benefit and for the benefit of all beings.

To get together, we rely on technology to bridge the physical distance between us.  Beginning in June, 2016, we’ve begun using an online meeting application called Zoom.  Zoom is free for participants, accommodates many participants well, and has features to help us move from whole-group practice to small group discussions and back again. While it works best on a PC or laptop, there are also versions for mobile devices. You will need a web cam, a microphone, and ear buds or headphones to participate.


We meet the second and fourth Sundays of each month at 8 pm Central time. There is no need to register in advance, and it’s absolutely free to participate.  A few days before each session, we’ll post a discussion in the Practice Circle section in the Forums, where we’ll let you know if there’s anything special (like paper and something to write with) that you should have ready when we meet. We’ll also use the Discussion section on the SBA site to talk about each session, both before and after.

What to Expect

We begin each session with a period of lightly guided mindful meditation; so whatever you need for sitting or your preferred posture, please have it ready to go when you join in.  After sitting for 15 minutes or so, the invitation will be to share an exercise.  This might be a guided meditation of some kind, or a chance to observe some aspect of our experience in the moment.  After the exercise, we’ll have a chance to discuss what arose for us; there might be a writing exercise to help us focus our conversation.  We’ll sit again for a few minutes of quiet reflection, and end our time together about an hour after we began.

Rather than being a Teacher or a Leader, I prefer to think of myself as a custodian.  My job is to keep this space open and to have something for us all to work on when we get together.  Other than that, we share the same assignment: to be mindfully present for one another, and to respond to one another with kindness.

We’ll also invite some of the many wonderful friends of the SBA site to host practice sessions, each bringing their own unique experience and perspective to our shared practice.

The goal is more than just presenting a meditation session in an online format.  The intention is to build a community.  It may be a virtual sangha, but we hope it will become like any other community in that its foundation is a real sense of interdependence and commitment among its members.  Perhaps we’ll discover that this meeting place presents some unique opportunities of its own.  As with any other aspect of dharma practice, it invites your energy and your patience.

We extend our warmest welcome to anyone who wants to share their mindfulness practice with others. Check out the links below to learn about the technical requirements and how to sign up.

Category: Articles

About the Author ()

Mark J. Knickelbine, MA, C-MI, is a writer, editor, political activist, and certified meditation instructor. "Buddhism Without Beliefs" and "The End of Faith" led him to seek out a dharma practice without the supernatural beliefs of traditional Buddhism. He found it at a local health clinic, where he learned mindfulness in the manner of Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has continued to study texts from the Pali, Chan and Zen traditions, and he is an active member of the mindfulness community at the UWHealth Department of Integrative Medicine. Mark is a member of the SBA board and serves as Practice Director.

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  1. kirkmc says:

    Great idea, but as I’m in Europe, that time doesn’t work for me at all.

  2. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Sorry, Kirkmc! We realized that we have a global audience and not everyone would find this time congenial. If we launch this successfully, we will certainly consider additional times — or, hopefully, our counterpart sites in the UK, Germany, New Zealand and Austrailia will consider launching efforts of their own.

  3. kirkmc says:

    I would aim for additional times rather than the hope of several groups setting up. Critical mass is important in making something like this work. There is one online sangha that manages quite well with people all around the world.

    • Terry Sherwood says:

      You might well be right but I recall Stephen Batchelor saying in a talk here something along the lines that the size of sanghas wasn’t vital but the quality of the interactions was and could sustain a small group. It seems to echo my limited experience.
      By the way which on-line sangha are you referring to?

  4. Jenny Jenny says:

    Mark, I just joined this site, and this is exactly what I was hoping to find. I too am an editor and writer with grad degrees, so I’ll appreciate the pontificating and lend my tongue as well as ear!

  5. Keren Dar Keren Dar says:

    Until you are set up with other times/locations what ever it may be;
    Will there be a recording or podcast so we can participate in the discussions?

    May this be a flagship for other like minded communities


  6. SkeptiCat SkeptiCat says:

    I would love to join in but the local meditation group I am custodian of meets from 7 to 8+ pm. I’m hoping you’ll reach the level where you have a second time/day.

    _/\_ Michael

  7. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Greetings! As you can see, many of the comments here indicate that the time we’re offering Practice Circle doesn’t work for them. I also notice that this post continues to attract readers, so I assume there are others reading who may feel the same way. I am going to start a discussion under the Practice Circle Forum to get your input on this question: If we were to start an additional session of Practice Circle, what time or day of the week would work best for you? Those of you not in North America, please do me the kindness of translating your time preference at least into GMT to make it easier to cross reference.

    • Aminah says:

      Coming across this thread a year later, I’m curious to know how the discussion on the practice session timings panned out. Also in the UK, I’d be delighted to learn that some ‘Euro-friendly’ sessions had taken root, but going by the calender it looks as though perhaps not. Is the fortnightly, Sunday 8pm CST schedule now firmly established?

      • Mark Knickelbine says:

        Aminah, thanks for your question. The discussion of adding a Euro-friendly session was a bit premature a year ago, because we still had significant technical issues we needed to work out before we could consider expanding. I think we now have a very stable tech platform and a Practice Circle format we could consider “scaling up.” The other issue, of course, is having the time to actually do it. Because of our license arrangement with Adobe Connect, both Ted and I have to be available. If we found another time during the same weekend we do the current second and fourth Sunday evening US sessions, we could take advantage of the preparation done for that session. Is there a particular time you would suggest?

  8. bobtolf bobtolf says:

    I would like to attend the next session. Unfortunately I can’t make May 11. Will there be a practice circle on May 25? Thanks.

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Bob —
      Insofar as the future is predictable (Pat Robertson says there might be a meteorite!) there will be Practice Circle on May 25. We welcome you to join us, and let us know if we can answer any questions in the meantime.

  9. Judy-M Judy-M says:

    I have been having trouble with my computer – so that is why I have not been at the circle – I am hoping to join soon though

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Judy —

      Sorry to hear about your computer problems. Is it a problem with your equipment or something about registering or logging on to Practice Circle? If it’s the latter, we’re always available to try to help you troubleshoot, and Ted and I are usually on line 10 or 15 minutes before 8 central to help newcomers work through technical issues. Let us know if we can help!

  10. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Sorry, it appears banana’s comment got deteled instead of replied to! But, to answer about adding another or shifting the existing one to a time additional people in Australia could attend, we would of course love to serve the globe. What would be required, however, is not something we can do yet: giving up our day jobs to do this.

    My hope — and something I’m trying to make happen through other means — is that we are able to create such opportunities in the future, and hopefully the *near* future. If we do, we will be posting about it, so please stay tuned!

  11. ryanmfairbank ryanmfairbank says:


    I am new to the Secular Buddhist Association and recently posted an introduction in the “intro forum”…I also just registered for the Practice Circle, and I have a question related to Adobe Connect, as I am not familiar with this software…apparently Adobe offers a “free trial” of this software…can anyone tell me if this trial software will suffice to participate in the Practice Circle?
    Thank you in advance for you help!


  12. ryanmfairbank ryanmfairbank says:

    I would like to join the Practice Circle, although I have questions regarding the required software, which I posted about on December 19th, and have not received a response. I understand that people tend to be “busy” during the holiday season, but if someone would kindly get back to me, I would sincerely appreciate it.

    Thank you!


    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Ryan, I’m sorry you didn’t receive my reply. I can’t find it now but I do remember posting it. You do not need to load any software to participate in Practice Circle. Adobe Connect does require a paid-for license, but just for hosts, not for users. It’s a web based app that works out of your internet browser. SBA pays for the license.

  13. ryanmfairbank ryanmfairbank says:

    I am going to try to attend the “Social Circle” tonight, but I won’t be able to attend the “Practice Circle” tomorrow unfortunately…thanks again for the clarification on my software inquiry!

  14. Marian Morgan says:

    Hello. I would like to confirm the Practice Crcle is meeting this Sunday evening, March 27th, 8pm CDT?

  15. Marian Morgan says:

    Please ignore my question I just saw the season has been rescheduled due to holiday weekend.

  16. Marian Morgan says:

    Hi I’ve tried to register twice for the Practice Circle but I don’t get a confirmation that it goes through nor an email with meeting link. I simply get redirected back to the home page. I am using a Safari browser. Thanks. Marian

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Marian, I’m not sure what the technical problem was, but I received your registration email today and have sent you a link to set up your login to Connect.

  17. Patrick29 Patrick29 says:

    Hi from the UK. Is the ‘Practice Circle’ still up and running? If so is there one tonight 2am GMT?

  18. Mim Donovan says:

    So what time would this be in GMT/Irish time?

    • Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

      I hope you have just been busy. It was at 2 AM your time. I don’t blame you if you fell asleep or opted out of going last time, but I just wanted you to know that we totally did reply to your forum and Facebook messages and hope that you are okay and everything. Maybe we’ll see you at another time!

  19. Last night was one of the most intimate ad beneficial virtual meditation practice meetings I have attended thus far! Thanks again for all who attended I am definitely sharing the love!

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