How to Hold Space for Mindfulness Online
By Joy Reichart, New Ventures West
As a school dedicated to everyone uncovering their authentic contributions to life, we at New Ventures West have always worked to cultivate optimal conditions for growth and connection. We are constantly honing and refining the ‘containers’ for our Integral Coach training programs—particularly now that we have moved to a virtual classroom.
What is a well-held container?
A container for growth is just that: a physical and energetic field around a group of people who are learning together.
If you’ve done any kind of development work, you’ve likely been in a variety of these spaces—some held better than others. Maybe you’ve been in a class or workshop where it was hard to focus because of interruptions, distractions, intrusions, or some less obvious reason. Or perhaps you can recall a time when you felt some cohesive force supplying sufficient energy, attention, and harmony among the participants from beginning to end. Most likely, the difference between these experiences has to do with how the container was built and maintained.
Far from an abstract notion of whether a place feels good or not, a safe and productive space for exploration and growth is one that is held with conscious attention, intention, cooperation, and planning.
What helps—and why?
With the speedy move to the virtual classroom, we’ve been revisiting this topic in terms of what works generally to support a strong container, and what needs to happen specifically in the online space. By and large, the magic of our in-person classes has carried over—and in some cases even deepened. Here’s our take on the elements of a skillfully held space, and some of the ways we ensure this for our students.
In person, we provided students with healthy snacks and water, comfortable chairs, clean and plentiful bathrooms, visible clocks, extra pens… not having to think about external necessities makes it easier to drop into a space of internal exploration.
Now, we guide folks to set up a similar setting ahead of time: having sustenance on hand; negotiating with household members to minimize interruption; being sure there is space to stretch and move; wearing headphones to protect the privacy and sacredness of what others share, and so forth.
Students get links and instructions far in advance so that they know what to expect—and what is expected—in the virtual space. As with self-development itself, we acknowledge that for some this is old hat, and for others it is brand new. We all have varying levels of experience in this territory, and we welcome it all. It’s OK—great even—to be a beginner.
There is also someone who attends to the physical aspects of the container. Historically this has been a logistics coordinator, who moves quietly behind the scenes attending to refreshments, keeping the room tidy and infused with care, and sometimes coordinating complex logistics. Now, the person we call the “Zoom Host” fills a similar role, attending to the technical domain, minimizing disruptions, and maintaining a calm and loving space for all attendees.
This is one of the central pillars of Integral Coaching. In the days of in-person classes, much of what happened during breaks and between sessions—offline conversations, hugs, resource sharing, etc.—provided the emotional ground under our feet and the reassurance of unconditional support. Now that the first point of contact between folks can’t happen, say, in line for the bathroom, we’ve had to be more intentional about creating a strong relational field.
It is happening! Strong and intimate relationships are forming in our virtual programs all the time, aided by partner and group activities during sessions, and group meetings in between.
We have opened workspaces on Slack, where students can have similar (though of course not identical) interactions to those they had in person. These have proven invaluable spaces for connection—as well as ensuring everyone is on the same page with important announcements, assignments, and resources.
Remembering we have bodies
Since on-screen we are heads and shoulders, it is extra important to stay in contact with the whole of ourselves. We usually start with a meditation to connect to the ground and a felt sense of legs, feet, spine. This not only underscores the importance of attention to the body in Integral Coaching, it also fosters the necessary presence for the developmental journey.
We’ve always had a tradition of post-lunch dancing to connect back to our bodies and with each other. It turns out that dance parties work just as well in Zoom squares as they do in the middle of the classroom!
An unexpected advantage to folks participating from home is that, distractions aside, it is often easier to be in contact with ourselves in familiar surroundings. Without the transition into the new space, our bodies don’t need to calibrate to a new environment.
Being present in our bodies naturally brings forth a calmer state. We have a more solid, flexible, and deeply rooted container within ourselves to process everything from technical glitches to strong emotions. Integral Coaches know how important it is to build the body of a coach to support our clients and stay grounded in times of discomfort or disruption. Our course leaders have rigorous daily practices to support this way of being and bring to every interaction. Students can often feel and mirror this way of being.
Sometimes classes will have diagrams with each person’s name arranged in a circle, so participants can picture who is next to them, wave across the circle, hold virtual hands, and sense the loving presence to their right and left. We may have to suspend disbelief to begin with, but sooner than you might think, the group starts to picture itself in physical relationship to one another.
Expanding in all directions
This is just some of what we’re finding useful as we explore this new territory. These shifts are giving us great opportunities to dig deeper and expand outward. We are discovering new resources within ourselves and our community. And we’ve been delighted to welcome an even wider audience into our programs—those who previously were limited by geography and travel logistics now need only negotiate time zones (if that) to participate.
This is a time of accelerated change and learning, with so many saying that brave “yes” to the kind of growth and change about which they may have thought twice not so long ago. We at New Ventures West have been challenged, inspired, and renewed in our commitment to provide safe and transformative learning containers for everyone wanting to pursue a life of meaning and fulfillment.
Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.