Think you need to perform a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain to find enlightenment? Nope, just hit the App Store and seek happiness on your way to work.
The world as we know it today has evolved more in recent decades than it has done in the past millennium, and the game-changer? The Internet, and more specifically, the App Store. From the seed of an Apple, it grew and took over the world, it changed the way we live our lives, the way we communicate, navigate, learn and consume. Lauren Bird, a 21-year-old student from Birmingham has started on her own spiritual journey, but her tale doesn’t require the same devotion, drudgery or divinatory values that were once found on long-term pilgrimages. She just has to click onto her iPhone to help her find inner peace.
‘Meditation is the cultivation of a non-judgemental, present moment awareness’ says Judy Craven, a teacher of Eastern philosophy and daily meditator from Illinois. There are 108 different methods of meditating, ranging from Mandalas (intricate designs of the Buddhist mantra) to Cosmic Consciousness, right through to simple affirmations. The word meditation derives from the Pali word ‘Bhavan’, which translates to ‘make grow and develop’. Susan Turner runs a guided meditation group just outside Vancouver and claims that ‘most people believe meditation’s sole purpose is for learning to empty the mind’ but claims that is only one form.
A study by LSN: Global has noted that a rise in spirituality is occurring in our age, and its branching out even to the polar opposite world of technology. The market, dubbed ‘Metaphysical Retail’ claims to blend ‘the curiosity of New Age spiritualism with the practical realities of being a modern consumer to enable people to feel comfortable searching for products that reflect this journey’. It defines the metaphysical as ‘an exploration of the self and the meaning of being in a confusing world’. Silicone Valley, the Wireless Valley and even the tech-savvy professionals of London are joining a new movement of spiritual technology. But in a modern world, how are practices such as meditation, such ancient and primordial customs, being adapted to suit our digitally driven lives?
Raquel Rios, is a life alignment coach in London that uses meditation in her line of work to help people, ‘[be] present and in the moment’. Her opinion on why people are taking more time to find inner peace is that ‘people left the countryside and villages, to move into big cities to search for a better way of life’ and further elaborates that they became ‘slaves to their work’ and in turn ‘forgot other important aspects of life’. She adds that ‘being in contact with nature’ is her preference, but she is still open to technology as far as Skyping her pupils, if need be.
Gatherings such as the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies and Wisdom 2.0 are creating a nerve centre for these diverse minds to connect and converse. High-profile figures; His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso), Arianna Huffington, President of the Huffington Post Media Group and John Kabat-Zinn, the ‘pioneer’ for mindfulness, were some of the key speakers at these conferences. Kabat-Zinn spoke at Wisdom 2.0 describing societies’ situation:
‘It feels to me in some sense like we’re all in this gigantic pot of water with a flame under it, soon we won’t be able to let go of our devices at all, by that point we’ll be boiling and we’ll have lost contact with anything good and wholesome in ourselves’. He further elaborates that this (dis)connectivity we are experiencing is a ‘new disease that we have produced’ ourselves.
‘GPS for the Soul’ is an app developed from the Huffington Post’s segment of the same name. It is based on two truths: the first being that ‘we all have within us a centred place of harmony and balance’ and the second; that ‘we all veer away from that place again and again’. The app consists of guides to follow during daily life to take pressures off, daily meditation posts that feature songs, poems and talks to aid people with their own personal forms of meditation.
The art of Vipassana, one that is centered on a deeply rooted connection of the mind and body, is the most approachable form of meditation. Becoming aware and in control of the most natural of human bodily functions, breathing, is the key to gaining clarity and happiness. Mindfulness derives from Vipassana, according to the Mindfulness Foundation, this is: ‘enhancing human potential and preventing depression by combining modern science with ancient wisdom’. Yoga Bowers, the founder of the Mindfulness Foundation has spoken about the important position that mindfulness holds in our society. In a report titled ‘Wellbeing in four policy areas’ it is stated that ‘the slow progress in widening access to mindfulness-based therapies reflects a broader need to better integrate to provide whole personal care’.
We spoke to Yoga Bowers on his experiences with meditation, who first studied with the venerable Swami Sariputra decades ago, to him ‘Meditation opens you up to your intuition’. His teacher was a German monk living in Singapore at the time, his education had already been diversified and he has helped to translate it into mindfulness by ‘taking out all the Buddhist attributes’. To him, mindfulness is a way of bringing meditation to a world that is ‘so much busier now’ and has pointed out that ‘people are trying to find some peace and quiet in their life’.
Apps such as ‘Buddhify’ and ‘Headspace’ are based around blending Zen and Buddhist meditation techniques into our non-stop lives. Focusing on short daily sessions, the apps aim to train one’s sense of ‘mindfulness to the masses’. A user of Buddhify has said that it is the ‘Google Maps of the interior world’.
Rohan Gunatillake is the brain behind 21Awake, a creative studio ‘making beautifully designed modern mindfulness products’, their most renowned product being Buddhify. In a recent piece for Wired, he writes that ‘Pop tech is constantly being accused of fragmenting our attention, ruining our concentration and at worst, dehumanizing us’. The app sets out to help ‘people around the world reduce stress, sleep better and be present in the midst of it all’. He is also a member of the Buddhist Geeks, a collective of mind that embodies a strong interconnection of the two fields. Deriving from what is said to be the most recognizable meetings of pensive Zen Buddhism and technology, they continue the work that influenced one of the most revolutionary figures of our age, Steve Jobs. Their koan (succinct question) is: ‘How can we serve the convergence of Buddhism with rapidly evolving technology and an increasingly global culture?’
Some people can click onto YouTube and search through a number of prerecorded ‘guided meditations’ to help them achieve things such as finding life purpose, conquering self-esteem issues, dealing with insomnia and even finding direction from their spiritual team. Lauren Bird uses YouTube videos for ease and accessibility. On her experiences with these videos, she says that they have been a contrast of ‘relaxing and enlightening’ to ‘strange’, and has even described some of them as ‘scary’ — provoking times where she has had to turn them off down to these negatives. These guided meditation videos have a strong influence on people through the use of ‘binaural’ sounds.
Noise has always been an important factor in meditation, traditionally experienced in forms such as Tibetan singing bowls. Dating back to the time of Buddha Shakyamuni, the sounds emitted from running a mallet around a bowl are customized for the user as they have to test around with the pressure and speed to create the perfect frequency to allow the meditation to begin. For people now to be able to click online and have that frequency ready-made for them, well, some could call it lazy as it takes out the personal aspect, but the benefits are arguably retained. Binaural beats are created when two similar frequencies are played through headphones, when the brain is processing the two, a third binaural beat is created. There are four types of brainwaves that are affected by the sounds; Beta beats help to alert concentration, Alpha beats aim to help the listener relax, Theta for deep relaxation and to assist the brain’s capability to learn, and lastly, Delta beats are used to induce deep sleep.
We also attended a group meditation fronted by Yoga Bowers to gain an insight into the ways that being around other people meditating differed from meditating solo. The session included ‘Oms’, a sound that is practiced by a number of different faiths (otherwise known as pranava, which in Sanskrit translates to ‘that which is sounded out loudly’), and then consisted of a selection of guided meditations sandwiched around long periods of silence. Lauren Bird has never experienced mindfulness meditation and has said afterwards that ‘where everyone else was so silent as well, I wasn’t thinking about it’, she found herself ‘just doing it’ without realizing. Yoga explained that they use a recording because there are ‘plenty of people out there’ providing the meditations. Convenience seems to be the key factor in this scenario, but also the fact that he has ‘a range of people that come from one end of the spectrum suffering from mental health problems’ to people that have a stronger interest in traditional meditation.
Judy Craven continues that she thinks, ‘It is good to have the collective energy of a community or teacher’. Regarding the question of these apps and new methods working, she comments that there is a need to ‘get away from our technology’ but adds that ‘if someone has the interest and is comfortable with technology, they may reach that conclusion in their own personal way’, as ;meditation is all about being friendly to yourself’.
Only time will tell where this new scientific hybrid market will go, but Raquel Rias thinks ‘if we can reach this state of peace by being surrounded by chaos, we really have become masters of our mind and bodies’.