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

Version 2.1 of the Infographic: Social VR Platforms Organized by Primary Purpose(s)

Okay, more feedback, more thinking, more changes to my Venn diagram (as before, the following diagram is available to view and download in various sizes from Flickr, up to 1024 by 768 pixels, just click on it):

Social VR Platforms by Purpose (Version 2.1)

Summary of the changes this time around:

  • I decided that NeosVR, after all, was not primarily a business, conference, and remote workteams platform after all (sorry, guys!).
  • I have been told that Mozilla Hubs is used by some educational institutions, so I needed to move it.
  • I have seen art galleries in Sinespace, so I moved it over to join Sansar.
  • And finally, in response to a request/complaint, I have replaced the pesky copyright symbol with a Creative Commons-BY licence. Feel free to reuse and remix, just give me credit, please.

I am happy with Version 2.1…for now. I have also updated my original blogpost with this new infographic. (Check back tomorrow, when I will no doubt release Version 2.2, with yet more changes. Then again, maybe I’ll stop fiddling with it for a while.)

UPDATED! Version 2.0 of the Infographic: Social VR Platforms Organized by Purpose

UPDATE 9:05 p.m.: New version! Version 2.1 (summary of changes made is here).

Over the past two days, I have received feedback on the first version of my infographic, and I have also been doing some thinking on my own, so I have made some adjustments to it, and I now present version 2.0 to you now (I have also updated my original blogpost here). The following diagram is available to view and download in various sizes from Flickr, up to 1024 by 768 pixels, just click on it:

Social VR Platforms by Purpose (Version 2.0) 11 May 2020

If you are looking for an up-to-date list of YARTVRA platforms, you can find it here.

Here is an explanation of some of the changes. First, you will notice that NeosVR now occupies the centre spot on this Venn diagram. Yes, the people at NeosVR have actually convinced me that their platform can actually be used for all five of the major purposes! I had forgotten that NeosVR was originally an educational platform, and it is being used by several universities, including the University of Oxford and the University of Sydney (a topic I hope to cover in more detail in a later blogpost).

NeosVR is also used for art (in particular, I remember a wonderful three-dimensional recreation of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings). And, of course, the MetaMovie project is the perfect example of a live event in VRChat (another project I need to write an update on). So, for me, NeosVR comes the closest to checking all the boxes.

I also moved Ceek from Live Music to Media Consumption, since I do not believe they actually offer any live performances, just video recorded previously (somebody correct me if I am wrong, since I am not bothering to purchase their branded VR headset, and I am not really interested in cellphone-based VR, anyway). Meh.

I have also decided that Engage can host live events as well as business conferences, so I have moved it. While I really don’t consider Engage a general purpose platform, they do fit into the other four categories.

Likewise, I have moved VRChat, since I forgot that they do have business and conferences. The recently concluded Virtual Market 4 was a prime example of that!

I think those were the only changes I made from version 1.0. As always, please feel free to let me know if you think I have grievously miscategorized any particular platform. Thanks!

UPDATED! Metrix VR: A Brief Introduction

Matrix VR is a new Unity-based social VR platform that is currently in Early Access on Steam. According to their Steam page:

MetrixVR is a multiplayer online game, where you can build things, talk with people, and much more. The game has many game modes, from “sandbox” to some game modes with survival or exploration goals.

There is two ways to play: Using the main server (Hub), or on some self-hosted servers (MVRDS / MetrixVR Dedicated Server). The hub allows you to play with a limited sandbox game. It will also make you able to meet other community members, or just to wait for a private server to be online.

The self-hosted servers allow you to play any game mode, as long as you respect the rules created by the server master. These self-hosted servers are hosted by community members or a third-party organization, and allow the host to configure his server as he or his community wants.

A scene inside Metrix VR

If you want more information about Metrix VR, you can visit their homepage (there’s not much there yet!), join their Discord server, or follow the developer, HyperCat Studio, on Twitter. And, if you wish to support the project, here is their Patreon.

I have added Metrix VR to my ever-growing list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

UPDATE 2:41 p.m.: Well, wouldn’t you know it? As soon as I blogged about it, I found out on their Discord that MetrixVR’s lead developer, Slaynash, has told me that they have stopped software development on this platform. He tells me:

Well yes sadly we are stopping the development of MetrixVR. The screenshot on your blog is like reaaally old x) It was made in the early days to compare the render of the shaders on Windows vs on Android.

(I just picked that screenshot from their Steam page because it was the most colorful and eye-catching.)