Meditation and Mindfulness in Social VR and Virtual Worlds

Photo by Simon Rae on Unsplash

We live in a crazy world—which the coronavirus pandemic has made even crazier. People who are struggling with self-isolation, lockdowns and quarantines are seeking some peace, and some are turning to social VR platforms and virtual worlds as places to practice meditation and mindfulness, and to connect with like-minded souls, at a time when social distancing makes group practices in the real world difficult.

Please note that I will not be covering solo, standalone VR meditation apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, since that is a separate category from the more open-ended social VR platforms and virtual worlds I write about on this blog. (By the way, I use and recommend both programs highly for meditation.)

AltspaceVR and EvolVR

EvolVR was founded by Rev. Jeremy Nickel, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, and calls itself “the world’s first VR Spiritual Community”. According to the FAQ on their website:

Why Meditate in Virtual Reality?

Meditation can be beneficial alone or with others.  VR is a convenient way to meditate with others. Social Meditation has a long history and is part of the foundation of the monastic experience.  Meditation can be practiced by individuals at any time.  In fact, we are ultimately meant to be living each moment mindfully, which means meditatively.  Meditating with other people can act as an amplifier that can help strengthen our own practice.

How Can I Meditate with a Brick on My Head?

We often use the breath as an object of meditation.  The VR headset is just another distraction.There is always something that’s not supposed to be going on when we meditate, like a bad back or a bad day or a bad relationship. The practice of meditation teaches us to manage our attention, to help us put it where we want it to be.  So a VR headset is just another itch to be noticed.

It is a program which I believe had its start in Sansar, based on the following short promotional video, but it has since moved over to AltspaceVR:

EvolVR hosts one or two guided meditations every day, as well as daily group discussion circles on various topics (here is their calendar of upcoming events). They also have a Discord server you can join, with a little over a hundred members.

ENGAGE and MindWise VR

The ENGAGE educational social VR platform has been home to mindfulness workshops hosted by Caitlin Krause, which I have heard good reports about:

This has evolved into MindWise VR, which appears to be hosting regularly scheduled workshops, including an event on May 16th, 2020 (more info from her website):

Sansar

There is certainly no shortage of worlds in which to practice meditation and mindfulness in Sansar, just do a search on “meditation” in the Sansar Atlas (you can also try searching the Sansar Atlas using the term “mindfulness”, for even more suggestions of places):

Meditation Spaces in Sansar

In this case, especially if you prefer solo to group meditation, the fact that Sansar is not as popular as other social VR platforms, such as VRChat and AltspaceVR, means you can probably snag a semiprivate space to practice meditation and mindfulness on your own without too much trouble. Also, Sansar’s frankly gorgeous graphics and advanced lighting model mean that some truly beautiful, evocative, and mood-enhancing virtual environments are available for you to use for your practice.

Sansar Studios’ Zen Garden

Of particular note is the Meditation Station, created by DisneyHuntress, which offers links to five different meditation spaces, including a yoga studio, a forest, a labyrinth, a group meditation room, and even an ecstatic dance space to give your full-body tracking a workout!

Second Life

We end with the venerable, long-running virtual world of Second Life, which is home to so many virtual spaces devoted to meditation and mindfulness, some of which have been in operation for many years. So I trotted out my shaman avatar (because, OF COURSE, I have a role-playing alt who is a shaman!), and I set out to visit a few of them on a field trip.

My shaman avatar at Commune Utopia
(shaman robe from Spyralle)

Divine Mother has been around just about forever (since 2007), and the four-sim region features a healing pyramid, chakra meditation pillows, belly dancing, a pagoda for tai chi, an inspiration garden (with guided light meditation in English, French, Italian, Dutch and German), a dance floor featuring Bollywood music, a multi-story shopping mall with Indian fashions, a glass labyrinth, a marina, and even an international airport (?!). Handy teleporter panels whisk you away to dozens of meditation spots scattered all around the landscape.

The Buddhist Centre at Divine Mother

Free Spirit Farms is the hippie/bohemian commune you never knew you needed! If you join their free group, the owners even let you set your home location to this sim (which comes in handy sometimes). On the grounds is a campground, cottages to rent, a large rustic lodge, and game tables, all located in a beautifully landscaped, park-like environment and set to a groovy Sixties soundtrack. Free Spirit Farms offers a couple of live performers every Monday evening at 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. SLT.

Gather ’round the campfire at Free Spirit Farms

You are spoiled for choice at Shambhala Sanctuary! Teleporters at the spawn point take you to (among many other places):

  • a chakra pavilion
  • an underwater sanctuary
  • a healing pool
  • a poetry barge
  • a spot where you can play the game Go
  • DreamLand, where you travel down the wishing well to a charming seaside community and boardwalk
DreamLand at Shambhala Sanctuary

The sanctuary building itself helpfully offers a wall with information (and SLURLs) about many other meditation and mindfulness sims and communities in Second Life:

Among these places are:

So, as you can see, there is lots to see, do, explore, and experience in SL! Peace out, man. Om shanti shanti shanti…

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash
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I Will Be Giving a Presentation on Social VR at the Virtual Germany Meetup in ENGAGE on April 28th, 2020

Mark your calendars! I have been invited to give a presentation to a Germany-wide VR Meetup in ENGAGE on Tuesday, April 28th, 20:00 CET (11:00 a.m. PST). The event is called Virtual Germany, and it is described as:

In cooperation with the VR communities from Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Erfurt, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig and Munich, we are planning the first virtual VR and AR Meetup in Germany.

Look forward to exciting lectures on the topic of social VR and various guests from all over Germany and around the world.

One of the many people involved with Virtual Germany is the illustrious XaosPrincess, who is well-known for her work in High Fidelity, and whom I have written about before here, here, and here. She tells me:

“Virtual Germany” is organized as democratic collaboration of many German real-life Meetup groups (most of Germany’s states are represented). Our host in ENGAGE is Rolf Kruse, while the whole organization is a combined effort.

The topic of my 20-minute presentation is “Overview of the Most Important Social VR Platforms”. The talk will be in English. (I do speak German, but I do not consider myself fluent in the language.)

This will be a semi-public, RSVP event in ENGAGE, which will be advertised in each separate German VR Meetup group. Xaos tells me:

The attendees will be asked to register with the ENGAGE event to be admitted (and to give us an overview on the numbers we can expect – probably/hopefully 100+ visitors minimum). We’re still preparing the final ENGAGE event link and will post it as soon as possible 🙂

We’re going to have four rooms:
– One main room with live talks and presentations (Moon)
– Two backup rooms for additional visitors with live YouTube-Streams of the talks in the main room (Mars & Earth)
– One chill and networking room without any streams (a high rise apartment)

The talks will also be streamed live on YouTube.

If you do not have the ENGAGE software yet, you can download and install it for free here. ENGAGE works on desktop or laptop computers running Windows 10 and a wide variety of VR headsets (here’s a list of supported devices). When there is an event listing on the ENGAGE events calendar, I will update this blogpost with a link to that.

See you on April 28th! I am quite looking forward to this.

Lessons Learned from the Educators in VR Conference

Lorelle VanFossen, one of the organizers of the wildly successful six-day Educators in VR 2020 International Summit, recently wrote up a very detailed blogpost outlining the experience of setting up and running a virtual conference on AltspaceVR and four other social VR platforms.

Here’s a link to the entire article on the Educators in VR website, and I would very strongly encourage you to read it in full. However, I will highlight just a couple of things that the Educators in VR group co-founders Daniel Dyboski-Bryant and Lorelle VanFossen, and their hard-working team of volunteers, learned along the way.

Their original plan was only to have 40 to 60 speakers, but that ballooned to 170 speakers in over 150 events spread over 6 days (happening at time zones around the clock for a global audience). Because everybody volunteered their time and energy for this free-to-attend event, the total costs for the entire six-day virtual conference were only around US$300! (Try doing that for a real-world conference!)

Most of the events were held in AltspaceVR:

As our home-base is currently AltspaceVR, we worked with our Educators in VR team and the AltspaceVR events team to ensure our event spaces would be safe and high performance to accommodate a variety of devices. While other virtual social and event platforms are usually limited to 20-50 attendees, AltspaceVR could be easily coaxed to larger room numbers and features the Front Row tool that allows for the mirroring of events spaces, allowing hundreds to thousands of attendees to view the experience from separate identical event spaces, improving overall user and device performance. Accordingly, we hosted the majority of our events in AltspaceVR.

In fact, the team behind AltspaceVR learned so much from hosting this conference that they just announced a slew of new features, including links to Patreon and EventBrite to allow for ticketed events in future!

I’m sure that many new users were introduced to AltspaceVR because of the Educators in VR conference, and both parties benefited from the partnership! The summit also gave ENGAGE, Rumii, Somnium Space, and Mozilla Hubs an opportunity to show off their platforms to those who never experienced them before, too.

Other conference organizers were quick to take note. HTC decided to have its annual Vive Ecosystem Conference in ENGAGE. And both Mozilla Hubs and AltspaceVR were used for the recently concluded IEEE VR 2020 conference, which, for the first time, was held entirely in virtual reality (and opened up for free to the general public) due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Hearty congratulations to Lorelle and Daniel, and a special shout-out to Donna McTaggart, the tireless Summit Coordinator and Manager, and her team of 75 volunteers!

I leave you with a one-and-a-half hour YouTube video where the organizers share what they learned behind the scenes, a must watch!

Lorelle ends her article by saying that they are now taking what they have learned from running the Educators in VR Summit and making that expertise available to others as consultants:

We’re developing training courses to help you produce your own virtual events of all sizes. The Educators in VR team is already providing consultation services to companies exploring virtual meetings and conferences, and negotiating production of virtual conferences and workshops for a variety of companies globally. We planned on taking our time, but with the demand for alternatives due to the COVID-19/coronavirus, we’re stepping up and into this as part of our range of services for working with business and academia to integrate virtual technologies.

If we can assist you, please contact us for more information.

Some Pictures from the Opening of the Virtual VIVE Ecosystem Conference (V2EC), March 18th, 2020

Here are a few screencaps I took from the livestream of the Virtual VIVE Ecosystem Conference opening, held on the ENGAGE educational social VR platform:

HTC Chairowman Cher Wang
Cher addresses the virtual audience
HTC CEO Yves Maitre

Looks like the V2EC conference is off to a great start! You can watch the livestream here.