Lemonade Of Virtual Space Holding :)
--Preeta Bansal
9 minute read
Mar 28, 2020


We've all heard the phrase, "When life gives us lemons, we make lemonade." In so many ways, the current coronavirus disruption of our lives is inviting us to hold new questions and perhaps it might help us arrive at a deeper consciousness, as well as a greater skillfulness in holding space for ourselves and others.

Yesterday, about 40 of us circled up to dive into a conversation on the "Lemonade of Virtual Space Holding". I'm still soaking in all the insights shared -- of the challenges and opportunities that are emerging from the unique situation of so many of our spaces being shifted into a virtual sphere, as well as from the deeper "space" between civilizational stories that is emerging and that we are being asked, in part, to hold skillfully.

A few excerpts from the conversation [listen here]:

  • "I'm trying to let go of the typical in-person Awakin format ... in the meantime, we need to co-create a new format -- a new way of being that speaks to this new approach to circles. What is skillful means in this unexpected era we're in?" [Ari]
  • "there is a saturated online market. Everyone's offering support groups ... How am I serving who's not being served? How do I reach those people I normally wouldn't?" [Stephanie]
  • "It's easier to be distracted in a virtual space." [Khang]
  • "For a virtual Awakin Circle, are people [really] meditating on their own in first hour? How do we support other anchors in holding space online?" [Meghna]
  • "If the Awakin Circle had only 1 guest, this week, we had 7 [virtually]. Now I started inviting people I never thought to invite. Now I'm advertising "Hey there's this event, there's this thing going on in Bucharest. How would you like to participate? Come, if you want." People from Austria came (a friend of ours), and others... All these little ideas pop into my head -- all of a sudden, this "koan" presents an opportunity. Now I would like to host a 21-day challenge with the broader community. Every so often, we can meet as a group ... many people started reaching out - they normally wouldn't ... they started asking me how they can contribute and hold space for other people ... " [Marius]
  • "How to build deeper community in virtual space?" [Avni]
  • "Rebecca Solnit writes about how we fall together. What does it mean to fall together in a time of social distancing?" [Sujatha]
  • "you can get [others'] body language from shoulders-up ... you can adjust your share/content based on that read ... use humor ... have light on your face. :)" [Stephanie]
  • "How much to adhere to existing models [for Awakin circles when online] vs. make adjustments for our unique context?" [Kartik]
  • "How do we create a sacred space around our meditation? How to tune into details -- even small things like what we wear (noticing letters/messages on our shirts) can make a difference." [Liz]
  • "Perhaps we could hold a sacred space by inviting someone to share a prayer or sacred chant right after the silence period." [Jasky]
  • "People are suffering in so many ways right now -- distance from loved ones, financially, fear for a changing world. How do we leave room for the pain as well as the opportunity?" [Michelle]

And a fun story from Marius (who teaches kindness at a school in Romania!): "I'm facing a koan -- how do I hold space online? How to host an Awakin Circle online? How to host virtual classes with my students? I don't have a clear answer, but things started emerging. ... We started doing small acts of kindness with students. I told them to write a note and give it to someone in your house -- right now. :) A student came back from his act, reflecting: "I never thought about thanking my brother for replacing the toilet paper in the bathroom!" :) Also a class, we are not able to check in collectively, so it gives me opportunity to deepen ties individually. Every so often, I send students a message to check in, "Hey, I didn't hear you today. How are you doing?"

Some best practices/ideas for holding virtual space on Zoom that were mentioned on the call (or have surfaced thereafter):
  • For Hosts (basics)
  • Make sure to enter the call as "host" (rather than just another participant), so that you have access to the various host controls
  • When you are scheduling the call, set it up with the option that people are automatically muted when they enter (they can then unmute themselves). This is especially important if there is an online meditation going on when they enter. Alternatively, you can keep them in a Zoom "waiting room" until the start time (perhaps including a waiting room message encouraging meditation during that time).
  • Make sure that you and the active participants are comfortable with the technology and have a good internet connection (or else have them dial-in to the call using the phone option for audio, and ideally also use the computer for video). That way, if their internet connection falters, at least their voice connection remains stable. Do advance test calls as necessary to work out technology kinks with all panelists/active participants.
  • Of course, make sure your own sound is solid (experiment both with and without headsets, if you are inclined to use a headset; sometimes headsets create interference).
  • As host, at any time in the call, you are able to mute and unmute people as needed to eliminate disturbances, background noise, etc.
  • You can also rename participants so that if they are calling in by phone or logging in from another account, their correct name appears (simply right click on their grid/thumbnail box and then "rename") -- that often makes it easier for others to know who is on the call or speaking at any given time.
  • You may want to set your Zoom setting controls so you can enable co-hosts, and then make one or two other participants co-hosts during the call so they can help you manage the host functions of the call​​​​​​
  • Unless it is needed, you may want to disable screen sharing from participants (non-hosts), so that someone doesn't accidentally do that (you can also stop someone else's screen share once it has started, but only if you are the host or co-host).
  • Enable breakout rooms on your account under settings, and then use them as needed during the call (the breakout room feature is included with all Zoom accounts, even free accounts; the feature just needs to be enabled under account settings).
  • Offer participants clear instructions in advance and during the call:
    • Send out connection information before call (with instructions on how to use Zoom for first-time users; offer to open the Zoom room early to help them connect for the first time).
    • How to mute/unmute selves and turn on video during call
    • How to change the screen view from "speaker view" to "gallery view" and vice versa
    • How to change their own participant name on screen
    • If asking for popcorn shares, inform participants how to "raise hand" if they want to be recognized to speak -- *9 via phone; on computer, they should click on "participants" button at bottom and then "raise hand"; on ipad or smartphone, click on the 3 dots (...) and then click "raise hand"
    • If you are doing a circle, clarify in what order you would like the sharing to proceed: eg, alphabetic by first name after first person speaks; or last person picks the next person.
  • For Hosts as Well as Participants:
  • Note that Zoom has settings to allow you to touch up your appearance.
  • You can create a free account and then add a profile photo so that when your camera is off, a nice photo of you appears rather than a blank screen.
  • You can enable the use of virtual backgrounds on your account, and then use it during a call (many virtual backgrounds can be found for free online, and almost any good photo can serve as a virtual background).
  • Ensure conditions to the greatest extent possible: good lighting on your face (anticipate that sun might go down during call and make sure lights are on), sufficiently charged computer battery, decent wifi, etc.
  • Some Possible Format Considerations:
  • ​​Do you want to have an "open Zoom room" for some defined period before the official sharing, to allow people to join for meditation at any time prior to the sharing? If so, consider having a powerpoint slide or photo on your computer that you can then display by "sharing your screen" that lets people know when they enter that meditation is underway. Also make sure that all participants are muted upon entry. You could also use the Zoom waiting room feature (customized to show an inviting screen) for those who meditate before the call, but might not allow people to fully see or feel that others are sitting with them.
  • Experiment with ways to keep people engaged -- eg, physical tech breaks, encouraging deeper connections/sharing by exercises such as physical mirroring of one another or deeper shares in small groups (using breakout rooms).
  • Consider inviting participants to have a multi-sensory experience together, despite the virtual context. For example, send out a recipe so that people can prepare and eat the same dish together; ask people to smell cinnamon at the same time; play a song or sound; take a moment to gaze at someone's eyes; stand up and hug themselves at the same time or do a quick standing exercise, etc.
  • Include a link to a Google doc in the chat page with "heart-storming" questions that people can write their thoughts into, when prompted to do so, in order to stage engaged as well as to capture some of what is emerging for the group (ideas, reflections, inspirations) -- and then perhaps have a co-host share highlights from that to the group by the end of the call.
  • Use the annotation feature on Zoom to allow the group to annotate a document or using a whiteboard.
  • You can also use the poll feature of Zoom to keep engagement and get the pulse of the group (fun to share the collective pulse on various topics).
  • Consider experimenting with different meditation times/lengths for Awakin circles (or perhaps read the passage and then do a short meditation and then the circle, in addition to having an open Zoom room for open meditation before this).
  • Consider having some guided meditation, rather than silence alone, if helpful in a virtual context.

Finally, moving away from the "hows" of holding virtual space, we "zoomed" out to questions we are holding about the quality of the space we hold, and the broader challenge and opportunity of holding space skillfully at a time of systemic disruption. With systemic cracks appearing, and the possibility of generative chaos, how are we being invited to deepen, as space holders, to support our communities to “live with the questions” and the un-knowing, to support emergent processes rather than reactively jumping for quick "answers" from old lenses and ways of being? Guest speaker Terry Patten shared: "This Coronavirus is one of many expressions of a moment in which, because of global warming and ecological crisis, all of us are tied into a system that is going to have to change dramatically. And suddenly it is being changed dramatically. ... Our practice, our meditation, our life of commitment is preparing us to be a presence of sanity and wholeness, when fear is arising inside and outside of us. And, yet, we haven't met a moment of truth just like this. We are in a threshold space -- it's deep and mythological. We don't know. Every one of us in our hearts is alive and listening. What is this? That humility -- that willingness to be still and listen -- we're sharing this. We're in the liminal space together. Something is falling apart. And in that practice, we are falling together. That goodwill and loving intention -- these are the best of us. It's a stern teacher. It's going to hurt."

And, for some shelter-at-home enrichment, :) here's the video recording of the call as well:

In addition, to broaden and deepen the conversation, we have an ongoing coronavirus feed -- where you can join to read and share resources, stories, and dialogue with the community further. Look forward to continuing the conversation and learning from everyone's experiences, experiments, and the collective wisdom!

Posted by Preeta Bansal on Mar 28, 2020

102 Past Reflections