After hosting Practice Circles for many years now, and reading evaluations from participants, we have determined that the following guidelines help to make the experience meaningful for the most people. We will be reading the Practice Circle regularly, and while we encourage open and free discussion, we also reserve the right to remove any post that violates these guidelines. These guidelines also apply to the smaller Practice Groups organized for various studies and conversations.
1. The purpose of the Practice Circle is spiritual companioning around the ideas presented in the e-course emails and the suggested practices. That's why we call it a Practice Circle. Think of it as similar to the sharing you might do at a face-to-face workshop after doing an exercise together: "What happened for you?"
The Practice Circle is not a chat room. It is a sacred space created and being held for the specific purpose of community sharing around the themes of the e-course. It's not a place for therapy, fixing other people's problems, or storytelling not related to the subject of the e-course.
Please speak from your own experience and in the "I" voice, rather than attempting to counsel or analyze someone else in the "you" voice. In an online forum, it is difficult to know when someone is seeking responses from others or would prefer that there be "no crosstalk," i.e. no comments, either critical or positive, upon what they have said, especially about personal challenges. In the threads set up for dialogue about the emails, "no crosstalk" is the preferred approach. (The "Community Support" thread has other purposes.)
2. This is a private Practice Circle open to and viewable only by those signed up for this e-course. In order to make this Practice Circle a "safe place" where people can freely share their feelings and experiences, we ask that you keep all discussions and posts confidential. You have probably been part of face-to-face discussion groups where this kind of confidentiality is agreed upon and maintained. This means, for example, that you should not comment on or quote Practice Circle posts in your own emails, in your blogs, in other online forums, at other websites, etc.
3. Remember Spirituality & Practice is a multifaith/interspiritual website committed to respecting all views and religious and spiritual traditions. While it is appropriate to share how meaningful your tradition is to you, it is not appropriate to try to convert another to it or to denigrate the experiences of others. Nor is it appropriate to generalize about any faith tradition as all traditions are made up of many different kinds of people and most have branches and internal divisions.
4. Be brief and lean of speech. Please keep your posts to 2 paragraphs or less. Remember, you have many days and many opportunities to share; you don't need to put all your thoughts in a long post. If a few people consistently write long posts, it encourages others to do so.
Although e-course registrations vary, there may be hundreds of people taking the e-course with you. Please respect the forum "bandwidth" by keeping your own sharing to the topic of the day and your own posts to no more than 2 per day. From the evaluations of past e-courses we've learned that the biggest barrier to participation in the Practice Circle is lack of time to follow the entire conversation. Be respectful of other people's time constraints by keeping your posts short and on the topic.
5. To make your post easier to read, use short paragraphs — simply double space and start a new paragraph. Many people find it hard to read long paragraphs on a computer screen. Also, it is well established that any paragraph longer than 6 - 10 lines probably gets off point or tries to include too much information. Most writers and editors will tell you that you can always make something shorter. Think about editing before you post. Perhaps you can make the same point without so much backstory. Maybe you can say in one sentence what you've taken two for.
6. Stay on topic in the threads devoted to the daily emails. We have a thread for each email. Although it's exciting when a wealth of other information is shared and we learn about each other's stories, all comments in the day's email threads should focus on that email's topic.
7. If you have a topic or question you'd like to discuss with this community that is not related to the day's email, then put it in the "Community Support" thread.
8. Practice before you post. Again, the idea is that this is a Practice Circle, so do the suggested reflections and practices before you write. It's tempting to read the email first thing in the morning and then go to the Practice Circle and comment on it. But then you and others do not have the benefit of your reflection upon the passage and your experience with the practices.
You may want to journal about your initial reaction and then revisit what you wrote after reflecting upon the teaching for the day. Then come to the Practice Circle and share what you have learned.
Remember, in many of our e-courses, participants are writing in from all over the world. This means there is no need to rush your response. The conversation continues throughout the day and night.
9. If you use the "Quote" feature to copy someone else's post into the top of yours, see if you need all their post to establish what you are replying to. You can and should edit a quoted piece. Just be sure to leave the coding at the beginning and end of it. You can also try paraphrasing what you are referring to: "My thoughts are similar to so-and-so's on . . . "
10. Please remember when quoting someone that the Practice Circle is not a place for Facebook-type "likes" and "comments." We welcome the growth of feelings of community, but we ask you to be mindful of how many times you are posting only to say that someone else's post is meaningful to you. If the daily email threads get filled up with expressions of gratitude, people may find it too disjointed and be discouraged from reading it and adding new perspectives. Other people may not click into the thread at all if they see a big number of "replies" for that thread — which would be most unfortunate if half the replies were things like "Great thought!" or "Thank you."
Posts in the daily email threads should be used to advance the conversation. For expressions of admiration and gratitude, as well as requests for prayers and other kinds of support, we've set up a "Community Support" thread. If your note is addressed to just one person, it belongs in the "Community Support" thread, and you can add a referral to your post on the daily thread, such as "XXX, see the Community Support thread."
11. We have set up a "Resources" thread which we encourage you to visit for additional resources on our topics. If you want to bring in an insight from another teacher or share some of your favorite quotes on the subject, put those things in the Resources thread. When you have something to share that isn't quite on topic, think about whether you can post it in the "Resources" thread.
The daily email threads are for your ideas and reflections. The Resources thread is for other people's quotes you'd like to share.
12. We encourage everyone to keep up, as the sharing is more meaningful when more voices contribute, but we understand that some people just can't move this quickly. Do this e-course in the way that is most valuable and helpful to you.
Please don't feel bad if you "get behind" or find you do not have time to read all the posts. Please share at your own speed. There really is no such thing as being behind; there is only the present moment. We at S&P will be reading all the notes and honoring the sharing in that way.
Also, we will keep the Practice Circle up for several months after the e-course ends, so you can return to some of the threads later.
13. In other forums we've participated in, some people invariably apologize for not being able to "write well," "be so intellectual," or "match the level of other participants." Let's not get into that. Every comment is appreciated. We are not here to impress each other; we are here to be authentic.
14. We have not made it possible for everybody to post hyperlinks in this forum, as that sometimes can be a problem requiring monitoring. But we can turn a url into a link, and we'll do that when we see one we think the whole group will enjoy.
15. We also do not display your email address in either your profile or on the page with your posts. This is to protect your privacy. However, we have access to your email address as moderators of this Practice Circle. So if you would like to correspond directly with someone here, you can email us, and we will forward your note to the other person who may or may not then respond directly to you.
16. Inevitably, there will be some people in the Practice Circle who bug you, push your buttons, are boring, know-it-alls, etc., etc. As we learn from doing shadow work, these people may be your greatest teachers on the spiritual path! So be open to all you meet and what they could be showing you about yourself and your spiritual journey. And don't let this "teacher" keep you from learning from other people in the Practice Circle.
17. Finally, have fun! Enjoy the diversity of experiences and backgrounds of your spiritual companions. And add your own voice to the mix. Ideally, you will read the Practice Circle posts and post a couple paragraphs of your own daily. If you can't do that, try to post three times a week. Sometimes the things we think we have nothing to say about will reveal what we need to know. Experiment with your level of participation but please participate!