Saturday, June 9, 2012

Virtual Meditation Groups (How To)

Meditation is a wonderful gift. It is how we open our hearts to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Many find the practice particularly satisfying when meditating with a group. But some are geographically challenged when it comes to finding a convenient meditation group.

Fortunately, we live in the age of instant communications. We use the Internet for everything from Facebook to Twitter. We tell our friends what books we are reading, what movies we are watching, even what we are having for dinner. Perhaps we can use this same technology for a more spiritual purpose.

I have investigated a number of technologies for creating what I am calling Virtual Meditation Groups. These are groups that meet at regular times with regular members, but meet virtually instead of physically.

In this blog, I will describe what I have learned of the process of setting up a Virtual Meditation Group.

I have looked at a number of technologies including GoToMeeting, MeetingBurner, and others. Google Hangouts looks the most promising to me. Google Hangouts has the following advantages:
  • It is widely available, with versions available for most browsers and smart phones.
  • It is free.
  • It is easy to use.
  • It allows each member of the meditation group to see each of the other members of the group.
Google Hangouts has the following disadvantages:
  • It is limited to nine participants at any one time.
  • It is not intuitively obvious how to set up.
I hope that this blog will help people understand how to set up virtual meditation groups with Google Hangouts and thereby ameliorate the second of these disadvantages. If you discover any errors in this description, please leave a comment or drop me an email. You can find my email on the "About Me" tab at the top of this page.

I will use the following terms:
  • Leader: The leader of the meditation group. There can be multiple leaders.
  • Member: A member of the meditation group but not a leader.
  • Participant: Either a leader or a member.
  • Virtual Meditation Group: A specific Virtual Meditation Group led by one or more leaders and including one or more participants.

Step 1: Finding a Group

If you want to participate in a Virtual Meditation Group, you first need to find a group. Each group will have some attributes which may be of interest to you, including the following:
  • Theological Affiliation (if any). For example, my Virtual Meditation Group will have a Christian grounding.
  • Group Affiliation (if any). For example, I am an Oblate in the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), so my Virtual Meditation Group will follow the practices outlined by WCCM.
  • Meeting Day and Time. Most Meditation Groups meet on a weekly basis at a regular time, and I expect most Virtual Meditation Groups to do the same. Note that the meeting time and date needs to specify a time zone since Virtual Meditation Groups can include members from around the world.
  • Membership Requirements. Some Virtual Meditation Groups may choose to restrict membership. For example, some may limit membership to those willing to commit to regular attendance.
  • Leader Email. You will need the Leader's email to ask to join the group.

Step 2: Setting up Google Hangouts (All Participants)

Google Hangouts is a feature within Google+, so to use Google Hangouts, you must first get yourself set up on Google+. This basically means getting a Google + ID. You can sign up for one at http://plus.google.com. Once you have a Google + ID, you can go to your Google Plus "home page" by going to http://plus.google.com and logging in with your user ID and password.

Step 3: Finding out about the Virtual Meditation Group (Member)

Each Virtual Meditation Group may choose how to publicize itself, so I don't know how to suggest you find a particular Virtual Meditation Group. For those affiliated with the World Community of Christian Meditation, I will soon be including Virtual Meditation Groups on the WCCM web site. For non-WCCM Virtual Meditation Groups, you might try Googling Virtual Meditation Group.

Step 4: Joining a Virtual Meditation Group (Member)

Once you have found a Virtual Meditation Group that looks like a good match for you, send the group leader an email asking to join. In the letter you should let the leader know your Google+ ID. The leader may ask you some questions to make sure you are a good match. Once you have been accepted into the group, the leader will send you his or her Google+ ID.

Once you have a leader's Google+ ID, you will go to Google+ and search for that Google+ ID. Once it has been found, you will see an option to "Add To Circles." You will be asked which "Circle." You may choose any. A good default is "Acquaintances." 

Step 5: Adding a Member to a Virtual Meditation Group (Leader)

The leader needs to add you to the Virtual Meditation Group. The leader should be maintaining a Google+ Circle specifically for members of the Virtual Meditation Group. If the leader is leading more than one Virtual Meditation Group, a different Circle should be maintained for each. The circle can be named whatever the leader chooses. A good name might be Meditation Group.

To add a new member to a Virtual Meditation Group, Click on "Home", then "More", then "Circles", then "Have You In Circles." This final choice will show all of the people who have you in a circle, but whom you do not have. One of these should be the person requesting to join your group. Drag their name onto the circle for the Virtual Meditation Group. 

Leaders should keep in mind that Hangouts is limited to nine members at any one time. You may want to consider limiting the size of your group to around nine, so that all members can be guaranteed a virtual seat.

Step 6: Starting a Meditation Group Session (Leader)

The process of starting a new meditation group session involves starting a new Hangout and inviting the members of the group to participate. Note that as of this time, each meditation session must start up a new Hangout.

When it is time for the group to meet, go to your Google+ home page. Look along the left hand column of the page. Once of the choices is Hangouts. Choose that. 

You now have a popup. In it, you will see the default circles that are going to be invited to participate in the hangout. Click on the "x" by each circle name until all have been eliminated. Then click on the "Add More People" and add the circle containing the members of the Virtual Meditation Group. When you are finished, that should be the only circle invited to participate.

You will also see a block for giving the Hangout a name. Enter the name of the Virtual Meditation Group. When you are ready to start, press the "Hangout" button.

Step 7: Joining a Meditation Group Session (Member)

When it is time for the meditation group to begin, go to your Google+ home page. You should see an invitation from the group leader to join the meditation session. If you don't see it, wait a few minutes. The leader may not have had a chance to start the hangout yet.

Once you see the invitation, just click on the link. That will start a new popup for the hangout.

Step 8: Participating in a Meditation Session.

Once you have joined the hangout, you will notice several things. First, the camera on your computer will turn on. Second, you will see the other participants, each in a small square on your screen. Your microphone will also turn on and anything you say will be heard by all participants. If there is background noise in your area, you should mute your microphone.

Your leader will decide on the format. Perhaps the leader will start with a reading and then signal the beginning of the session with a bell. Perhaps the session will end with a bell and another reading. Some groups may choose to have a social hour after the session. The format of the sessions is pretty flexible. Your group will evolve a format that will meet it's needs.

How Did I Do?

I have tried to include in this all of the instructions you might need to start or join a Virtual Meditation Group. However I am sure I have left out something, misspelled something, made a mistake, or explained something in a confusing way. Please leave me a comment or drop me an email so that I can continue improving these instructions. Or tweet me. I am @HolyPause. 

And Happy Meditating! Let me know how it goes.

Pax Christi,
Roger

Photo by teamaskins.









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