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Practice Circle Turns Two!

birthday-cake-2-1200968-mThe Sunday evening of October 15, 2012 marked the first gathering of the SBA Practice Circle. When we get together this Sunday at 8 PM CST, it will be our 47th meeting, a number that shocks me when I see it written down. In a lot of ways, every Practice Circle session still feels like a brand new experiment to me, and I still feel very much the beginner as I facilitate our gatherings.

Some things have changed since we started. We have overcome some of the technical hurdles we faced at the beginning, and I think we do a better job of helping new arrivals get connected. As a result, we’ve been able to make more thorough use of Adobe Connect, most notably the breakout group feature that allows us to have one-on-one or small group discussions in addition to working together as a full group. This gives Practice Circle sessions more of the interactive flavor that Ted Meissner, Dana Nourie, the late Jan Ford and I hoped for when we originally planned this venture in the summer of 2012.

Even though it remains a practice group rather than a group for sutta study or philosophical discussion, Practice Circle has been a place for exploring what the dimensions of a secular Buddhist practice can be. One of my goals has been to share a wide variety of different practices, some of which are drawn more directly from traditional Buddhist lineages than others. Our discussions often come back to what it means to integrate such practices, which originated in a religious context, into a secular approach to the dharma. I know these discussions have informed my own thinking about what Secular Buddhism is all about, I think the more so because they take place in the practical context of what we’re actually doing rather than in more abstract philosophical ways.

The thing that has impressed me most about Practice Circle is that, even though the video conference format is quite different than an in-person practice group, it accentuates the importance of the energy every participant brings to the group. Because of the technology involved, it can take more effort to join the session and stay connected with all of the other people present. We sometimes have to wait for our words to be heard, and pay more careful attention to hear what others say. We use hand gestures to help each other know when we are connected and to avoid speaking over one another. For me, one result of that extra effort is that everybody seems fully present and available for everyone else. One can’t simply sit back and passively consume the experience — we really do join together as a group to create the space in which our dharma practice is shared.

One of the rituals that has sprung up in Practice Circle sessions is to mark the moment when the 10th participant arrives. The effect is to break us out of the three-by-three-by-three arrangement of faces on screen that Ted has dubbed “Sangha Squares” since it reminds us of the old Hollywood Squares human tic-tac-toe board. For me, seeing the screen become more and more populated with faces, each changing the configuration of our online space, is a very graphic reminder that the value of Practice Circle is a direct result of the people who come together to make it happen.

The fact that that’s still happening two years on is a sign to me that participants find Practice Circle a valuable aspect of their dharma practice, even those like me who have in-person groups to sit with. I hope you’ll come join us and be part of this exploration into sharing the dharma in the digital age. Check out the Practice Circle page to find out how.

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  1. Jennifer Hawkins on October 12, 2014 at 1:37 am

    “Even though it remains a practice group rather than a group for sutta study or philosophical discussion…”

    You know, it’d be kind of cool to have those too somehow. I wonder if anyone else feels the same. I know I often wonder how to get started with reading the suttas or have struggles that I’d like to figure out through the frame of Buddhism.

    Anyways, Practice Circle is great! While there is some kind of Buddhist group in my town, I honestly get more out of Practice Circle. I feel more a part of a “sangha” and it’s very convenient for me to participate in. Also, it keeps me from going too long without meditation for the times when I get a bit lazy or ill, and exposes me to new meditation ideas. Thanks for taking the time to do all of the exploration and prep work that running Practice Circle must require, Mark. Keep it up! I, for one, love and appreciate it.

    • Mark Knickelbine on October 13, 2014 at 10:07 am

      Thanks, Jenn! It’s such a privelege to have this chance to help people share their practice with each other. As far as a sutta study group, we do have the Adobe Connect resource, although we only have one license (which is why I have to log in as Ted when he’s not there). The big thing would be somebody to volunteer to lead it . . . Any volunteers?

  2. Amy on October 13, 2014 at 9:54 am

    I second everything Jennifer said. I appreciate everyone who attends, especially Mark and Ted for having such commitment to this effort. There are some resources in Memphis for practicing secular Buddhism, but they are limited. Every opportunity helps.

  3. Amy on October 13, 2014 at 9:58 am

    One more comment. I am used to contributing in some way to organizations and communities of which I am a part. I would like to know if there is any assistance I could offer, whether it is financial or otherwise.

  4. Mark Knickelbine on October 13, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Amy, re: financial, we can’t really take much beyond in-kind help currently because we aren’t incorporated. We have been inching toward non-profit incorporation but it has been a slow process.

    HOWEVER — didn’t you say you use mindfulness in your professional practice? Would you ever want to lead a Practice Circle session? You could use the format we typically use but if you want to do something different that would be possible too. Let us know! When we started we envisioned guest presenters but we haven’t done anything with the idea so far.

    • Amy on October 13, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      Yes I use mindfulness with clients. And yes, I’d be willing to lead a practice circle if you both want to incorporate guests.

  5. Jennifer Hawkins on October 13, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Oh is that why we can’t donate? How hard is it for you guys to get 4013c status? If the people I worked for could, it should not be hard for you guys.

    Also, thanks for responding, Mark! Maybe someone will volunteer who will be a positive leader. =)

    • Ted Meissner on October 14, 2014 at 7:01 am

      Hi, Jennifer. It’s not that it’s hard to get the status, that’s actually quite easy, and we have only one last step to take of actually incorporating as a non-profit. It’s maintaining it going forward that’s the challenge.

      We’ve been successful not based on starting offerings, but by keeping them going. We’ve been careful to avoid over extending the limited volunteer resources we have, and even when we’ve had very sincere offers of help, most of the time those volunteers either never even start, or participate for a very short time and then lose interest. Sustained application of effort is as difficult as sustained application of attention to the breath!

      With a non-profit, it’s not setting it up, it’s keeping it going. That means quarterly filings, book-keeping, regular meetings mandated to retain your status, addressing public requests for information, etc. — all of the things we have no one to do, at least no one who’s interested and will stay interested over the course of years to come, and not just one person, but many who are all very closely aligned with what we want to accomplish, and perhaps more importantly, how we do it.

      So, we’re not opposed to taking that final step, but we need a larger body of people who will handle everything required to keep up the momentum.

  6. banana on December 4, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    The time you have this practice circle is incompatible with pretty much the whole of Australia because it’s 230 am here. Is there any chance that you might make it earlier at some point? Or have another one for us down here? I would love to participate but it’s out of the question at that time. Thanks,

    • Ted Meissner on December 5, 2014 at 7:50 am

      Hi, banana. 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.

      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!

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