We’ve been talking here lately about being mindful in the wired world. Well, here’s a twist: in this guest post, Nate DeMontigny, author of the Precious Metal blog, explains the online simulation program, Second Life. Turns out it actually supports his Buddhist practice — helping him to do real-world meditation, and to feel connected as a Buddhist practitioner with no formal group affiliation.
I had heard about the simulation program Second Life a few years ago and figured I’d give it a try. At first I was a bit skeptical, not sure really where to go or how to get there. Plus, it took some time to get used to the controls. Once I did though, it was off Welcome Island and into the Second World.
“Welcome Island” is where newbies get their bearing before heading out into the second “real” world. You can ask questions to just about anyone on Welcome Island. (If you encounter people with the last name “Linden,” you may want to pick their brains, because they likely work for the company, Linden Labs, that brought us Second Life.) Next, it’s onto the rest of the virtual world.
I might talk with someone pretty much anywhere in the world during an “SL” session, and as varied as the locations are, the avatars (customizable, electronic representations of actual online people) you meet are just as varied. My avatar, for instance, is an older guy, kind of like a hermit. (That’s him at the top of this post.) There are all sorts of folks, from your “average” avatar to a goth, a raver, a sports fan; you may even meet an animal or superhero from time to time. The places you’ll visit might range from a simple modern home to an extravagant “sim” based on the Elven lifestyle.
One of the first things I did was to search out Buddhist places. I was blown away to find how many there were. There weren’t as many as there are today, but there were meditation groups meeting and discussion groups as well. I began by sitting and chatting with are the “Skeptical Buddhists” — their name says it all. The talk was peer-led and discussion was well maintained. I think there were 20+ people at this particular discussion.
For me this was great: I hadn’t met many Buddhists in the real world so it had been hard to discuss things I was curious about. With this “Second Sangha” I was able to engage not only in the discussions but start an actual meditation routine. How does one meditate in a “game,” you ask? It’s actually just a simple as meditation in real life.
Groups of meditators get together, sit on virtual cushions, and a peer who leads the meditation hits a virtual gong (or Tibetan singing bowl, or what have you). The idea is that while your avatar is engaging in this meditation you are supposed to do the same in real life. The gong is struck and meditation begins. Then, after the sitting session has ended, it’s hit again and meditation is over. One place I tried a bit of Second Life meditation in was called Rieul. The members there still hold meditation sessions each and every day. You’ll find a link to them below.
Now, established Buddhist teachers have entered the realm of Second Life to teach the Dharma, such as Jundo Cohen (see part 1 of his talk in SL on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZ-vF8Z-_iY or below), Josh Bartok, Grace Schireson, Ken McLeod, and more. For the dharma practitioner, Second Life and Real Life have truly begun to overlap.
But, just like in “RL,” attention needs to be paid to the fact not all people you meet are the real deal, so you should be cautious of those you meet. More words of caution: since Second Life is open to anyone and everyone, there is some questionable content. Just like in real life, there are people who seek to harm others. There are also areas that are X-rated. But don’t let any of this detract you from trying out Second Life. As in real life, there are things to avoid, but many benefits to exploring new territories. The fact is that Second Life can be a tool — I really do use it to spur on my meditation practice.
Being a “lone practitioner” it’s sometimes difficult to keep a constant practice going. I need that extra nudge from time to time. By logging in to Second Life and attending a meditation session or a dharma talk, I get virtual nudge that I can transfer to my real life. That stale feeling I had before is replaced with a commitment to get back on track. I know it’s more “involved” than that to get back into a practice, but with a lack of folks to meet with here in the real world (I live in a fairly isolated place), Second Life is a great fall-back when I need to get back to my real-life practice. And I’ve built relationships with people I’ve come to trust to answer my questions and give good advice.
Before having a small Second Life “place of my own,” I wandered aimlessly, but there are many places to enjoy. Some of my favorites are below. And you’ll surely find some of your own with Second Life’s online search for places — just enter any keyword, and you’ll be more than likely to find what you’re looking for, Buddhist and otherwise. If I can ever help you maneuver around Second Life feel free to add me as a friend. As with searching for places, there is a tab to search people. Just enter my online name, Pyr Selona, and click “add.” (And if you are a teacher and looking to enter Second Life for a talk or two, I know of many places, mine included, that might be right to host you.)
I hope to meet you “in-world!”
Sample URLs (links open in new windows; you’ll be asked to log in/create an account to see them if not logged in):
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Railrider/75/148/29/ My Home/ Tibetan Retreat
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Rieul/202/230/75/ Zen Retreat
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Railrider/36/101/22 Skeptical Buddhist Sangha
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Rieul/248/133/77/ Buy Robes and Buddhist Clothing
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Snowlion%20Mountain/204/181/22/ Kannonji Buddhist Shop