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The Check-in
A sharing technique from real-world support groups....

In the real world:

At the beginning of the meeting, everyone spends a few minutes, in turn, mentioning events and/or issues that have moved them since the last meeting, especially what's "up" for them right now. I used to think the reasons for sharing this personal material were

  • to get to know each other
  • to provide a mental transition from the concerns mentioned to whatever else the group was going to do.

Into the electronic world?

I started to think about whether those were relevant to an email list sangha: the first I decided was, the second not. And in thinking about this, I have just realized that talking to a support group has always helped me reflect in a more skillful manner. So there's another function of check-ins: they encourage mindfulness.

In the E-Sangha:

With this in mind, I think check-ins would be relevant here. Not to get advice from others, or even "yeah, I've experienced that too." Not even to figure out what's happening, though that could happen. Rather it's to deepen one's experience, to be fully present to it. And to encourage others to reflect on their own issues, what's currently happening for them (not just to sympathize with the first speaker's stuff). For such deepening to happen, the setting must feel safe; so it seems to me the most appropriate responses are

  • simple compassion (which need not even be expressed)
  • respect for the effort it takes to use this technique, expressed by doing it in turn
  • identifying an issue, in the check-in, and considering it in your own life.

In a posting to the list, it would be ridiculous to start with a check-in and then move on to another subject. Email works better when messages are focused on one topic. Let's just frequently send whole messages to check in, about what's currently happening in our lives / our practice.

Interpreting Right Speech for an electronic context, we have been trying to keep our list postings meaningful — not chitchat. But that doesn't mean we have to write great thoughts to share our practice. It just means we need to respect our experience, to be mindful of it. Even the little stuff. Our everyday stuff is, after all, the main part of our practice.

So my conclusion is, the check-in is even more important in the cybersangha, than in real-world groups. It may give us subjects to consider at length, but even if it doesn't, it keeps us in touch with each other in a mindful way.

23 April 99