CMSC Blog

Loving, Connected Presence in a Global Classroom

“Each week, I am in awe of how I feel it. The feeling of connection even grows! I see these gatherings as the high points in my week and my practice. I love the MSC community!”

– Cecilia Fernandez-Hall,
MSC Teacher and Circles of Practice Coordinator

While it might be difficult to imagine an online learning experience being as effective as a traditional classroom experience, we’ve found over the years of teaching MSC online that with skilled teachers and an ongoing commitment to loving, connected presence, we can come close. If you have doubt or have had poor experiences with online learning in the past, you’re not alone. We invite you to test for yourself by sampling a free MSC practice session, an introductory session, or taking a class to see how warm, connective, and nourishing the live online environment can feel.

Top 6 reasons to join an online practice group or course:

  1. You’ll receive the same skilled teaching, the same MSC curricular standards, and the same community guidelines as in an in-person class.
    The majority of MSC Teachers in online classes you encounter through CMSC will have obtained the highest level of Teacher Training available. Many teach primarily in online classrooms, so they are skilled in holding warm, connected presence in this unique environment. Online classes also maintain the same rigorous curricular standards as in-person classes, and online classes maintain the same community standards of safety, inclusion, non-fixing, non-judgement, etc.
  2. The commute is short and hassle-free.
    There’s no need to dress up, hire an expensive sitter, or travel into town. This ease of access from home can be especially important for those who don’t have access to in-person MSC classes in their area, who are housebound due to illness or disability, who have caregiving responsibilities, transportation limitations, and who have exceptionally busy lives. Often, people in these situations could most benefit from this practice and have the least access to it, so online options are a great way to overcome these barriers.
  3. Each online class includes a truly multicultural community of participants.
    Because we are not limited by physical location, participants from all parts of the world converge in each class. This adds a valuable multicultural aspect to learning online, and it allows us to feel even more clearly the nourishing quality of common humanity.
  4. There are opportunities for 24×7 connection and deepening between classes
    In many online MSC courses, participants have the benefit of further sharing about their in-class experiences in online discussion forums. This adds depth and connection to the online learning experience, particularly in between class meetings.
  5. Pets get to come to class!
    For many people, pets are a great comfort during online classes. This companionship allows both easefulness and common humanity amongst the group.
  6. Participants can review and reinforce learning via class recordings.
    In MSC, the material we cover is rich and broad. Some of the topics can be emotionally activating, so absorbing it all in one sitting can be tricky. To help with that, most online MSC courses will provide private recordings of each session (for a limited time) so that participants can go back and reinforce their learning. This service is not provided in the live classroom.

Current Online Learning Opportunities:

Live Online MSC (10 weeks, foundational MSC course for all)
MSC Circles of Practice (Ongoing, donation-based practice groups for MSC graduates)
MSC Community for Deepening Practice (8-month program of deepening practice for MSC graduates)

Frequently asked questions
about online learning

➠ I’m very uncomfortable with technology. Is online learning for me?

If you struggle with technology, you will have many opportunities to practice self-compassion in an online class — especially common humanity! It can be tricky to wrap your head around new technology, but rest assured you are not alone, and teachers and fellow students stand ready to support you. And with a bit of practice, you will gain the knowledge to provide support to others!

No one is exempt from the occasional internet disconnection, faulty microphone, or poorly functioning headphones. But there are a few basic technical things you can do in advance to keep your experience as smooth as possible:

  1. Expect the unexpected. Technical glitches happen to every single person in class from time to time.When it happens to you, you can offer yourself a deep breath of compassion and a soft smile, knowing that today is your day. You’re not alone! Simply take the time you need to rejoin the session, restart your computer, etc. Let this be an opportunity to practice compassion in real time. If you need help, your classmates or course facilitator has probably experienced something similar and will be able to offer help.
  2. A strong internet connection is essential. Before joining, do a test run to be sure your internet reaches the place where you’ll be sitting. If your internet is unstable at times, you may wish to buy an Ethernet cord and connect directly to your modem rather than connecting through wifi. Losing connection multiple times in a session can be very personally frustrating and isn’t something we have much control over, so it may be more self-compassionate to forego sessions in which the connection is lousy.
  3. Make the best of the aspects of communication you can control. Since we lose many of the usual non-verbal communication cues in an online class where we can see only faces, it’s important to maximize our ability to see, hear, and speak clearly with each other. As best you can, sit facing a good light, minimize background noise in your area, and have a quality pair of headphones with a microphone. This allows your voice to be heard, it allows you to hear others well, and it also ensures others’ privacy if you happen to have others in the room during the session or class. 
  4. Minimize distractions. Just as you might silence your cellphone before entering a meeting, closing out other activities will help you focus and be present. Oh, and turn off the cellphone too! While in class, close all other windows on your computer so you are not tempted to do anything other than to be present. 
  5. If your course offers a Tech Check or Intro Session prior to the beginning of the course, attend it if possible. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the tools and the online classroom in real time, preparing you to ease into your class with confidence. It also gives you a chance to get to know your teacher(s) and ask them any questions you may have.

➠ Is it really possible to experience loving, connected presence online?

Our teachers and participants routinely report that despite doubts early on, the deep connection and common humanity that are essential in MSC absolutely can be cultivated online, just as in the in-person classroom. Again, we invite you to try a class, a practice session, or an information session and see whether it supports you.

Ways to cultivate an experience of loving, connected presence — both as a recipient and as a giver:

  • Listen deeply. Let your classmates’ sharing be an anchor for your attention; as your classmates share their experiences, tuning in to your own physical experience of the body to help you stay grounded and present in the Zoom room.
  • Avoid logging in by phone unless absolutely necessary. Small screens do not allow you to see faces of all of your group members, nor can they see you.
  • Name it to tame it. As uncomfortable as it may be at first, sharing your discomfort to the group in general (via the chat window or speaking out loud) may reveal a good deal of warm-hearted, common humanity amongst the group!
  • Make a visual connection. You may wish to use “Speaker View” rather than “Gallery View” so that when someone else is speaking they are more visible to you. Rest assured that responding with non-verbals (nodding, smiling, hands-on-heart) is always welcome when something someone says touches you.
  • Self-critic in charge? Try “Hide Self” view. If seeing your own image on screen makes you feel uncomfortably self-conscious — a very common experience — feel free to turn your video to “hide self” view. Others can see you, but you cannot see yourself.
  • Practice “FOFBOC” on a regular basis. It’s the seated version of the Soles of the Feet practice. Stands for “Feet On Floor, Bum On Chair.” Ground your attention in the points of contact between you and the rest of the world, and have these points of contact as places to return to when your mind wanders. You will be present and mindful more often when you are embodied and grounded.

➠ I’m an introvert. What if I don’t feel comfortable speaking during an online class?

  • As in all MSC offerings, participation is invitational. Online sessions offer a unique opportunity to communicate with the group through the “chat” function, which allows you a small stepping stone into speaking directly. 
  • Should you need a moment of privacy, it is OK to turn your video off. You will still be able to see and hear, but others can’t see you. Please use sparingly, as participation in group classes implies mutuality; as best as we can, we maintain loving, connected presence with each other. Your presence nourishes others, just as others’ presence can nourish you. 

➠ I’ve never done this before. How can I prepare myself to have the best experience?

  • Trust that comfort will come with time. Rest assured that this new way of communicating will probably feel awkward at first, but like any new endeavor, it will become more comfortable with time. For many participants, regular online sessions with committed classmates can be a welcome weekly highlight in the midst of otherwise chaotic lives.
  • Talk with others. If you would like referrals, we’re happy to invite past participants to contact you. Also, the course teacher can give you any details you may need in advance. When in doubt, please ask.
  • Tend mindfully to your physical space: Settle in a private, quiet space. Tend to the people or animals in your care before your meeting so that you can relax and focus on your own experience during the session, which will usually be quite experiential.Intentionally prepare for presence in whatever ways are important to you; give yourself plenty of time before class starts to log on, get situated, and settle into the breath and body as best you can. Come comfortably dressed, and you may wish to bring tea or a glass of water to sip on. Have a journal nearby in case you wish to take a few notes.
  • Approach it with curiosity and hold it lightly. As with all MSC endeavors, we encourage you to make your experience your own, reflecting on what supports you in any given moment. If you can, remembering that there’s nothing to do “right” or no specific way to “be” when learning online. Know that if you’re struggling, there’s probably someone else in the room who’s been there, too. You are not alone.

 

With appreciation to the following MSC Teachers for contributing their wisdom for this article: Aimee Eckhardt, Mara Elwood, Cecilia Fernandez-Hall, Steve Hickman, Cassondra Graff, Rochelle Jaffe, Ali Lambie, Kathryn Lovewell, Mirjam Luthe, Rose Mina Munjee, Christine Grace McMulkin, and Ruth Williamson. Also, thank you to those current online participants who shared their own perspectives and experiences. May our efforts serve all those who wish to continue their self-compassion practice online and across the globe.

Aimee Eckhardt

Trained Teacher

Aimee is a dedicated student and teacher of mindfulness and self-compassion. She received her MSC training through the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion, where she also serves as Communications Manager. Aimee is a chaplain-in-training at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, where she's studying contemplative end-of-life care and restorative justice. She is the creator of the MSC Community for Deepening Practice and a co-founding member of the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness in Kansas City, MO. Her teaching style is warm, accessible, and creative. It is rooted in her deep respect for that which is shared by all she encounters: a heartfelt desire to...Read More

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