For those who don’t know, New Zealand has a lively Secular Buddhist community:
Last month, the prominent Ramsey Margolis announced via his newsletter that he wanted to try to lead a free, online meditation using Zoom similar to SBA US’s Practice Circle. Not only had he gone out of his way to attend our Practice Circle a couple of weeks prior, but I love our Practice Circle and am nerdy enough to think that attending an event in New Zealand is the most exciting thing to happen since Sauron was defeated. So I used TimeandDate.com to check when “19:30 to 20:30,” or 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM, NZDT [New Zealand Daylight Time] on a MONDAY was for me, as I live in Utah, USA, or “Mountain Time.” It ended up being 11:30 PM to 12:30 AM, basically midnight on SUNDAY for me.
I can be a “night owl,” so I decided to try to attend and am glad I did:
It began with some introductions, and judge me if you want, but I LOVED how diverse of a group there was. The gender ratio was about 50:50. At least four countries were represented, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, and the US. And at least 2 of us had non-European ancestry. In my experience, some people can feel uncomfortable if they are the only person of their complexion in a group, so I wanted to let anyone with that concern know that that wouldn’t be the case. Even more importantly, everyone had the same “bubbly” friendliness that I tend to have. It was an energetic, warm, welcoming group.
Then, Ramsey went over the general format for the meeting and fundamental mindfulness meditation instructions. We sat in silence for about 40 minutes if I recall correctly. Then Ramsey ended the formal sit and gave us all a period to individually reflect upon it, with journaling strongly encouraged.
Generally, this is also how an SBA US Practice Circle would go. However, we tend to sit silently for a slightly shorter time, and we usually reflect via dialogue in pairs called “Break Out” groups or dyads. We also don’t usually journal or draw or turn off our webcams for the individual portions, as some did here. Neither style seems to be more or less beneficial – just different – and I wanted to note that for readers.
We then all came back together. As a whole group since there were less than a dozen of us for this first, experimental Zoom session, we were invited to share. Many of the comments focused on how the online group experience differs from other experiences, i.e. meditating alone or with a group in person. The general consensus was that the experience was different, but something that everyone would be open to doing again.
I think online sits can be powerful because they allow for a unique state of being both alone and together. One has to actually attend an online sit to see this, but merely seeing others’ faces via webcam and sharing an experience with them creates an instant and real sense of compassionate connection. At the same time, if you experience an overwhelming emotion or distraction from those other presences, you are actually alone. You can turn your camera and mic off and rejoin as you wish. It provides just as much – if not a bit more – than other, traditional meditation experiences.
There was also a lot of love and gratitude directed at the group and at all who made this experimental meetup possible. Then there was a bit of a wrap up and we adjourned.
The next day, Ramsey sent out a kind of survey. After taking those findings to a kind of board meeting, it was decided to continue these free, online meditations via Zoom:
I know I’m excited! Due to physics and biology, these meetings are going to be generally more reasonable or manageable for anyone living in the Eastern Hemisphere to attend. And there’s been a need… Every once in a while we get requests from Europe, Oceania, and elsewhere for such a meeting, but not only can we not logistically meet such a need, it’s better for local groups to arise to meet it.
And it’s not impossible for those of us in the Western Hemisphere to attend. It’s late night, but it’s still on Sunday and NOT on the Sunday where our SBA US Practice Circle occurs. So, in theory, you could now attend a “Practice Circle” every single week. And it’s a chance to practice and hang out with like-minded people in parts of the world that we otherwise would have a much harder time finding a way to connect with.
I’m just going to be real here – we get judged for it, but it’s a simple fact that if you live in the Western Hemisphere you’re probably going to speak 1 or 2 of 3 or 4 possible languages and live in 1 of 4 or 5 time zones. We didn’t make the world we live in.
Oh, and before I forget, there is one particularly wonderful difference between our meetups – Ramsey seems to like to provide a lot of supplemental materials outside of the meet up itself. Emails Ramsey sent to all potential participants both before and after the meeting included PDFs that were simple handouts on “Getting Started with an Open-Minded, Open-Hearted Reflective Approach to Secular Meditation,” “Exploring your Meditation Sessions,” and “Guidelines for Journaling.” Anyone who decides to attend one of these meetups can ask Ramsey for more information.
Our Mark Knicklebine also writes articles/forum posts and emails with supplemental materials as well, but it seems that Ramsey’s focus may be more on general support for newer people while Mark tends to give more of “further reading” suggestions based on where he found the inspiration for a particular session from. And both are good; each may be appealing in their own way.
So, New Zealand is now hosting free, online meditations via Zoom that are at a reasonable time the 1st and 3rd Mondays of every month. Or if you are in the Western Hemisphere, at an unreasonable time the Sunday when SBA US is NOT having a Practice Circle. They are deeply welcoming and supportive and are a chance for a “slightly different adventures in Dhamma”… if you are into that kind of thing, which I am and will probably end up going to these fairly regularly.
I highly recommend checking them all out.
And if you have any questions, then don’t hesitate to contact Ramsey by sending him an email, or to check out our resources for joining our Practice Circles. Again, we’d love to have you no matter where you are!
New Zealand (“Online, Together, Meditating, Secular”):
SBA US (“Practice Circle”):