How the Virtual Space can Support Mindfulness

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By Joy Reichart, New Ventures West

Zoomed Out

Yes, we are all “Zoomed out.” As connected as this wonderful platform has allowed us to remain over the past year of anxiety, separation, and loss, it carries with it a certain fatigue. For one thing, we are usually sitting down, hemmed in by a rectangle, perceiving ourselves, our colleagues, and our loved ones as only head and shoulders. For many it has become numbing, and we’re ready to be together again if only to remember we are human.

As much as anyone else, we at New Ventures West look forward to resuming some in-person coaching programs later this year. We are also going to keep many of our offerings in the virtual space because we have discovered that not only is it possible to circumvent these common issues of Zoom fatigue, there are surprising ways the virtual platform actually supports inquiry and transformation

Observing ourselves

In the virtual space, we have multiple convenient ways of dodging moments of discomfort. How many times this year have you gotten through a less-than-exhilarating meeting by emailing, scrolling, or catching up on work? This kind of split attention is a sort of addiction, in that it takes us out of ourselves, our bodies and the moment (1). Very quickly it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: even meetings where we may otherwise experience being moved or connected may actually feel “boring” because, with easy access to the escape hatch of distraction, we aren’t fully in touch with what is going on.

Presence practice

Next time you are in a virtual meeting, regardless of how tedious you anticipate it will be, do what you can to be fully present.

  • Put your phone out of reach and close down other programs on your computer. You might even use the “hide self view” feature so that you’re not distracted by your own image.
  • Take some breaths into your belly, feel your feet on the ground and your body in the chair.
  • Let whatever happens in the meeting impact you fully, and notice how energized or drained you feel once it is over. Indeed, you may be jumping out of your skin and moved to walk around the block before resuming your day.
  • That is great information—and following through is a far more enlivening alternative to bringing your half-attention to the next screen-related task. It could also be that you hear or notice something that surprises or moves you.
  • After the meeting, if there’s time, make a few notes about what you noticed, and how this experience was distinct from how you would otherwise approach such times.

We ask participants in all of our virtual programs to bring their full attention in this way. To use it as an opportunity to notice what is happening in them, even/especially if it is uncomfortable. When are we tempted to avoid what is happening, and what might that feeling be about? It is this level of curiosity about ourselves that helps us start to develop the same curiosity about our clients and others we are supporting.

Supporting one another

In nearly all of our offerings there is an element of peer support. In pairs, threes, and fours, folks are invited to reflect, check in, and engage exercises that involve particular kinds of speaking and listening.

Here the virtual space provides another opportunity to pay close attention to the ways we habitually interact. For one thing, we have the option to see ourselves on camera. Do we nod along as the person is speaking, waiting for our turn? Is our facial expression receptive, or is it puzzled, expectant, fixed?

Reflecting inwardly, are we compelled to offer advice, fix the speaker’s problem, or relate our own experience of the issue? When we speak, are we performing, holding back, or doing something new? Are our words originating from our head, heart, gut, elsewhere? Often this information is more accessible and easier to tune into when we are not in a room full of people.

Within the relative quiet and privacy of virtual rooms, incredibly deep connections are possible. When we can self-observe and make tiny adjustments to how we are being, we are present to take in the fullness of another person. The intimacy of breakout rooms allows for our attention to be more fully on our colleagues, without some part of us scanning the rest of the room, overhearing other conversations, and conscious of who may be listening in.

At home in ourselves

We’ve found that when people are participating from the familiar surroundings of their home, they have access to a certain freedom that can take a bit longer to access when meeting in person. Our nervous systems need time to calibrate to the new environment, whereas we’re already used to the smells, sounds, people in our own space. This allows us to enter into the session from a place of stillness that lets us sink more immediately into honest exploration and connection. When anchored, we can reach toward our fellows with more open minds and hearts, absorb and integrate teachings more readily, engage in movement practice with more ease, and lots more.

So while nothing compares to being together in person, we have been surprised and delighted by just how much is possible in a skillfully held virtual space. Join us at a free event to explore this for yourself.

If you’re ready for a deeper dive, we’re offering Mindful Leaders $100 off Foundations of Coaching, our virtual introductory course, in May and June. Register here and use the coupon code MINDFULLEADER at checkout.

1. Christine Caldwell’s Getting Our Bodies Back is a wonderful reference on the phenomenon of addiction as “a consistent habit of withdrawing from ourselves.”  

Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.

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