Try being a monk for a month or two. Well, not exactly, but it almost seems like taking a vow of silence if you really want to minimize your digital output for a certain period of time. Are you really ready to take a break from texting, emailing or participating in social media? “A big part of being silent is being the recipient, not the broadcaster (John Francis, 2018).”
After not speaking for 17 years, Francis now reflects on his experiment in relative silence. Expect some measure of personal transformation. “It helped me find myself.” Within a few silent weeks he began to realize that previously he only ever listened to people long enough to start formulating what he was going to say next; but, he says, his mind didn’t need to be filled with endless chatter. An intricate, hitherto, undiscovered soundscape was all around him.
“You’re going to hear more if you are not talking.”
Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough, but when I did try to meditate during my Peace Corps training days (headed to India, of course) I feel asleep. Is that a form of meditation? It was near dawn, lying in an open field in the hills of Vermont, when I began to relax (meditate?) so much that my body succumbed to a deep inner peace of sleep. But now I know that you really don’t need those bucolic surroundings when all you need is the ability to download one of those handy apps on your mobile phone. No more need to sync with the workings of the universe as the sun rises and sets around the world.
You can find inner peace in the palm of your hand. Okay, if you are really interested, here is one company’s (Headspace) sales pitch: “By instructing people to focus their breathing and letting go of thoughts and emotions, users will be coaxed back to fuller engagement with the present moment. In modern parlance, it is mindfulness – a quick, seculuarized adaptation of Buddhist teachings that have been distilled for a modern, Western audience. A 10-day course on the app is free. Annual subscriptions cost about $100.”
Please know that I am not promoting or advertising this app for “mindfulness.” But let’s be honest. You can find most almost anything you want on the web today. Even inner peace?
I guess there are a lot of ways to obtain inner peace, or to let go of the material world in order to enter a more spiritual place. Yoga seems to be the most popular alternative today. And then of course, there is always virtual reality which is a whole other “place.” It seems like creating and seeking these alternative realities is becoming a 21st Century obsession. Whether you want to travel to an ashram in India, or immerse yourself in interactive technological experiences, the desired outcomes seems to be the same: literally or figuratively going to another “place” that is not your everyday reality.
Or maybe there are so many optional realities available to us today that we can chose to live in multiple realities in any given day. And that seems to be true for most of us. From the time we turn on the TV, or settle into our work-a-day routines, we become immersed in our personal “reality shows,” not to mention our connected networks of social media, etc. But I may be getting a little carried away here. The basic point of going to an ashram for a year is to leave our “normal” lives behind, and I am aware that this is a luxury that most of us can not afford to do.
I think I have some sense of what yoga can do for you in terms of introspection and meditation, but I am still at a loss for fully appreciating virtual reality? Please understand that I am still a true believer that technology can change the world, but I think the hard part is understanding ourselves and how we live our lives in an ever-changing world.
Well I think we have truly come full circle. Personalized technology that can help you meditate, and keep you motivated? Please don’t get me wrong, but I am not sure that is what meditation is supposed to do. For example, the apps’ creators say that one of the most challenging problems in learning to meditate is remembering to do it. If I remember correctly from my time living in India, and trying to meditate myself, it is that you were attempting to “suspend” time, and become part of another more spiritual and “universal” world. I think that there were also more preferred times of the day to meditate that conformed with astronomical cycles.
Thanks to these apps you can now receive motivational alerts and track your progress in meeting personal meditation goals. And in an effort to make this experience even more personalized, you can receive all this information in any voice and tone you prefer. Some feature female American voices. Others have a mix of male and female voices with British and American accents, so you may like some better than others.
Now you can really customize your meditation experience. Some experts proclaim that the voice you hear could be the determining factor in the meditation experience. What about the voice inside your head?