By Meenakshi Suri
Online groups are proving to be an invaluable source of inspiration, support, guidance and information for millions of seekers worldwide.
When she woke from her dream, Poonam knew she had to share it with someone. She had been given a remarkable insight into her problem with her teenage son, and wondered if she was right. Everyone in her family was fast asleep – it was midnight, after all – so she logged into her Parenting group on the web, knowing that someone out there would be awake. Sharing as much as she could about the visions she had seen, she sent out her email. A few minutes back, Pam replied. In the US, it was already mid-day. And it seemed that Paul was awake too, from somewhere in Europe. Each gave input advice; some that she would have to review later. The urge to share a wonderful message in her life satisfied, Poonam responded to other messages before going back to sleep, to discuss all this with her husband the next morning.
Patrick was reviewing his messages: more than 200, from the different groups he belonged to. He usually liked to ‘lurk’ like many others, i.e., read without contributing. None of his friends would believe that a man, who could be always relied on to liven up a gathering with a joke or a profound message, could be so silent in an online group. Yet those messages provided information, inspiration and learning. They were food for thought. He did not need the groups for companionship or sharing. Today, he had to thank the person who had taught him how to combine herbs, yoga asanas and mudras from a group dealing with ancient Indian healing techniques. His chronic back pain was finally showing signs of improvement, within just two week’s regular practice! Another member of the group had volunteered to send Reiki healing on a particularly painful day; while yet another forwarded him some of the latest medical information about it. This was life-transforming when you considered that he might be able to skip taking his painkillers.
Halfway across the world, Peggy was in her garden in Australia, preparing to meet her meditation and satsang group in etheric space, even beyond the virtual world of the internet where she had first met them. Started by a wise, inspirational lady in Germany, this group would set aside half an hour each Sunday, at the same time if possible, and meditate. The group leader had sent a file with some visualizations and music to start off, and settling herself on her yoga mat, Peggy adopted the lotus pose which she’d learned at the local gym, settled her hands into Buddha’s dhyana mudra, and flowed into meditation. When she finally opened her eyes, the world looked different; calmer, clearer, more vibrant. She was ready for the frenetic pace of the rest of her day.
Poonam, Patrick, Peggy – all are part of the phenomenon of groups on the worldwide web. Hosted by Yahoogroups, Googlegroups, MSN groups, the Delphi Forum and others, these groups offer free membership to any who can access the internet, opening the way for people from Bangalore to Boston and Mexico to Moscow, to share news, views, and information with other members.
There is freedom in the choices people exercise about which groups to join, how much of themselves to share, what name to use, and whether to lurk, start conversations, respond, or send forwarded messages. By doing this people from all over the world connect with an audience few can access in their daily lives.
Online groups are a river of life, gathering people from many parts of the world, many persuasions, cultures, beliefs, interests…and uniting them as they flow into an ocean which is a destination and also a beginning.
Connecting Through Space
Do groups take the place of everyday relationships, friendships and family? No. They can, however, enhance them, by helping people find what they are missing in their daily lives. These communities can serve as virtual satsangs where we go to meet others with whom we can vibrate at a higher frequency.
Someone somewhere – it can be the housewife next door, the manager at work, or a retired healer – has an urge to connect with more like-minded people; or a spiritual teacher feels the call to be available to many – and within half an hour, can start a group, set the purpose of the group, invite members, set rules, and start posting! All it costs is the price of your internet service, discarding mental barriers of linking to strangers, and the effort to type your feelings, thoughts and ideas.
Describing why she liked a group, Vinny wrote: ‘I own several groups of my own, several web sites and I own 395 web rings. I am also a member of 136 groups. I’m disabled and pretty much home-bound so I have plenty of time. The only offline hobby I have is my animals. Dogs, cats, chickens, doves, pigeons, ducks, geese, quails, guineas, a cockatiel and my pig..’
Says Ann, another online ‘groupie': ‘Sometimes it helps to know that you are not the only person who has problems. The problem with where I live is there are very few people who are interested in the same spiritual path as me. So finding this group has been a gift from the gods and goddesses.’
In earlier times, people would say: ‘Travel broadens the mind.’ Today, online communities widen one’s perspective.
Each group has a particular subject that is described by its name. They are organised into categories: health, spirituality, religion, New Age. Some have a few messages per week, and others have hundreds per day. There are options about receiving messages as individual emails, daily digest, or reading them on group websites.
Some members of a light healing group regularly meditated together, by setting aside a specific space and time. As they shared their experiences, one wrote: ‘Here are some of my closest and dearest friends. I have never met them face to face, yet I know they are part of my soul family. Namaste, Rhonda.’ In the cancer survivors group, Nicki Scully, a noted author, set up monthly phone healing sessions. The phone lines would fill quickly with volunteers who would never meet, willing to set aside an hour on a Sunday to send healing to those who had requested it.
People Helping People
Poonam remembered the time she had been very stressed and how an online suggestion had helped her. ‘One of the wonderful girls/ladies on this site recommended Rescue Remedy during an anxiety attack or emotional crisis. So, I ordered some. It arrived in the mail during a period when I felt extremely high-strung and having a hard time trying to breathe without having to go to sleep to do it. I’d do anything to feel calm. After a quick prayer that I wouldn’t be allergic to any of the ingredients, I put four drops on my tongue as directed… and I actually felt so much better for the rest of the evening.’
Another writes, ‘I never knew there were so many people out there like me (except my husband). It’s so good not to feel all alone, even in a crowd. It gives me a better feeling about the world in general, too.’
As Berta was shooting off her tenth message of the morning, she got a personal message. ‘Writing off-list. There are too many messages in the group!’ the owner of the e-list wrote. ‘Please keep in mind that we have members from all over the world; some pay a lot for internet access. Let us stay with the group’s central theme in the postings. If you are writing a personal message, please send it off-list to the person it was intended for – not to the group.’
A discussion of Netiquette followed – a set of rules for those who belong to the spontaneous groupings on the web. Berta was hurt as she felt the group owner may have suggested that she had overstepped the bounds of Netiquette. Writing privately to Anita, another group member, she realized it was a good opportunity to work on ego issues.
‘You are invited to join the group, called ‘Healers Across Time’.’ This was from Bill, who had also been one of the frequent posters in the now silent Meditation group. He had begun this group for those who had been quieted in the earlier group. As more members joined, the torrent from the Meditation group split up into smaller tributaries, taking off another turn; with each gradually finding its own flow. Once again, the naturally organized nature of the groups had righted itself.
As she visited other groups, Berta found that each group has an atmosphere, much like the homes we visit in ‘real’ life. Some are vibrant, full of personal greetings and anecdotes from people who have become friends, finding themselves lonely among their families and neighbors who do not share their interests; or from those who are housebound in remote areas or with a disability. Other groups are quieter, with the moderator sending out messages or asking questions, and occasionally members responding or doing the same.
She decided to silently lurk, till she got a feel for the group. But a short introduction wouldn’t hurt, surely? She was surprised at the warm response that followed immediately.
‘I just wanted to write to you and say hello. I can understand how you must feel, being new to a group and not really feeling comfortable with posting.
‘I belong to many groups myself and there are still quite a few of them that I just watch from and don’t say much. Anyway, I just wanted to let ya know that you can feel free to post anything you wanna share, you can count on me to respond till you get your wings…ok?
Your sister in the light, Di’
As members evaluate their level of contribution to the group, they learn something about themselves. Do they operate out of fear, a feeling of being in a dangerous and threatening world, or in a warm, welcoming, friendly one? Do they like to read and edit their messages before sending, or just post them as they come, typos and all? Do they enjoy responding to others, or shooting off their own messages and not read others at all?
If groups are a metaphor for the ocean; what is our reaction to them? As we are faced with this surge of people linking to each other, do we feel like sitting on the sidelines and watching? Swimming into conversation or surfing by skimming over the messages? Diving deep into a conversation or argument? Are we scared by the lack of control over the primal energy of the thoughts being shared so freely? Or do we judge those that feel the urge to share? The ocean can give life and take it, create and destroy egos, lift or drown the spirit, and help us to test the integrity of the vessel we are sailing in.
Some groups are actually meant for teaching or imparting training. But most groups help people to change and learn, just by their very nature.
In an informal survey on group sites, most people reported that their experience with online groups was largely positive: growing, learning, informing.
So, one can learn about Native American moon ceremonies, Hindu gods and goddesses, Buddha’s teachings or Gnostic thought. There are groups where teachers and practitioners discuss and teach about herbal healing, alternative healing, or crystals. From the introduction these provide, people find more avenues to delve deeper into these subjects.
As they interact with people willing to share insights, and sometimes even judgments, group members learn more about themselves.
‘Thank you to everyone who had little tidbits for quitting smoking. I am very proud of myself, and I just thought I would let you know that I am now in the 25th hour…first day done…’
Not all experiences are positive, and there are those who try to spam by sending out advertisements, or flame (attack) other members; but as in all human dealings, these can be sorted out through group owners/moderators or through other members. Rosalie reveals: ‘I have found email groups to be a valuable learning experience, whether the experience was a good one or painful. I’ve learned in fact that it’s very hard to find a group discussion where emotional violence doesn’t break out at least from time to time. It’s kind of sad that people are always guarding their egos, and that they can’t seem to express themselves in a way that doesn’t threaten what’s important to another person. And I am talking about spiritually-based groups too.
Return to Self
They say we are drawn to what can complete us. As we travel the web looking for groups of people whom we can resonate with, there will be many which don’t suit us. But the ones that do resonate, make it worthwhile.
There are people that I meet daily, like neighbors and co-workers, others I have to travel great distances to meet, like family, and still others that I only meet in cyberspace, like K’sitew or Warmfire, who teaches Medicine Reiki in the Carolina mountains and also online, and Cindi Waftse, who owns more than a hundred groups, revealing the breadth of her universe. Each of them have contributed to transforming my life.
Taylor, an online acquaintance, feels likewise, ‘I have only belonged to basically spiritual or metaphysical groups and they have had a major impact on me and my life. I could never have grown to the awareness I have without them.
A third, who wishes not to be named, says, ‘I’m so grateful I found you all, because I know we’ve been together before. The internet has really made it possible to meet people that you have probably had past lives with. I think there may be others on this list too.’
And just sometimes, cyberspace drops into the neighborhood. Nancy, an online acquaintance, wrote, ‘Meenakshi, I am coming to your corner of the world next week. My husband will be working all day and I will be there on my own. I was hoping we might be able to get together one of those days to talk. I would dearly love to meet you.’
Preparing for the long drive to meet Nancy, I reflect: there are times when the rivers of thought, ideas and words actually come together.
There are times when those we meet virtually actually come together for a cup of tea. What could be a more rewarding aspect of online groups than two strangers introduced through words, coming together in friendship?
As the borders dim between virtual world and manifest world, our three-dimensional world is moving from small village to global village and now outwards to wireless connections.
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