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Avatars Get in the Spirit

Jane Carlton looks to add some spirituality to Second Life.

Just as readers can open a newspaper to check their horoscope each day, avatars in Second Life will soon have their own dynamic personality-typing system made available.

Second Life, the massive multiplayer online world of San Francisco-based Linden Lab, allows anyone to log on through the Internet at any time and create 3-D computer-generated identities. These avatars are then free to explore the user-created world.

Many residents log on each day, dependent on Second Life as a source of income. Business owners, including major corporations like


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, are buying virtual pieces of land to build on, setting up shops that sell virtual clothing for their avatar, user-created cars and weapons or even adult-themed content.

Other residents, such as Jane Carlton, are utilizing Second Life as a way of communicating and educating a population of savvy, knowledgeable people. Carlton, whose Second Life avatar's name is Jane Atkey, is the operator of A Higher Porpoise, a business she has established in Second Life with the hope of educating people about the Enneagram.

The Enneagram typically refers to a nine-pointed geometric shape, but is also the name of a dynamic personality-typing system, describing nine types of people based on three centers of intelligence, with nine different ways of thinking, feeling and acting.

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The idea behind the Enneagram comes from an ancient Sufi oral tradition and was brought to Europe by George Gurdjieff in the 1920s. The modern use of the Enneagram comes from Oscar Ichazo, who taught it in South America during the 1960s.

While the personality types of the zodiac are determined by date of birth, a person's Enneagram type is uncovered through self-examination.

"It's used for personal development," Carlton explains. "It helps you to understand yourself better, your strengths and weaknesses -- to understand why you sometimes do things which are against your better interests, for example. It also helps to understand other people's motivations and how they can be different from your own."

Carlton didn't jump into Second Life with a fixed idea of what she was going to do. Instead, she felt compelled to look around and see what was possible. It became clear that a transition into Second Life made perfect sense.

"I have a problem marketing my business in the real world in that most people have never heard of the Enneagram, so there aren't very many people out there looking for it," Carlton admits. "I first have to let people know it exists before I can convince them that they need to learn about it. There's a higher chance that there will be people out there who have got to the stage where they have heard of it and want to find out more about it."

Carlton found a kindred spirit in another avatar, Dragon Shichiroji, who performs tarot readings in Second Life. Together they hatched the idea of starting a spiritual academy of learning in Second Life where people give lectures on various topics.

Teaching in the virtual realm about the Enneagram isn't being done for the monetary gain, says Carlton. Instead, instructing in the Second Life world "fits in quite nicely with what I'm doing."

"I don't know if I'll actually be able to make money in Second Life, but I'm hoping that my real world and Second Life businesses can feed off each other," says Carlton. "If I tell people about it in Second Life, they tell other people and it could lead to more people local to me hearing about it and joining my classes. This is something I hope will be of interest to Second Lifers throughout the U.K. and nearby countries."

On Friday, Carlton's Jane Atkey avatar will host a lecture on the Enneagram using Second Life's standard format chat function. This enables Carlton to instruct while fielding questions, much like a virtual classroom. The virtual room houses a display screen where Powerpoint-styled slides can be projected. In addition, Second Life allows the streaming of short video clips.

"We have just managed to get this working with the audio streaming, so I'm very happy that I'll be able to include that in the lecture," says Carlton. "People from anywhere in the world can attend without having to catch a plane to do it. Friday is going to be the first time that we use the audio and video streaming live in a class so I'm hoping everything goes smoothly!"

Of course, this method of virtual instruction differs greatly from Carlton's real-world teachings. "In my real-life classes I always include a short meditation as I find it helps both me and the class to focus," she says. "Meditation just wouldn't work using text."

Robert Holden is staff reporter Robert Holmes. He reports often from Second Life.