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.
- How to Attend Our Virtual Meetings (Please read in advance of Practice Circle Meetings)
- Practice Circle Forum (For member discussions)
- Hear Mark Knickelbine talk about the Practice Circle with Ted