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Serenity Now! Is there really an app for that?

Meditation and mindfulness apps are all the rage these days. There are literally hundreds. I’m not particularly interested in debating the merits of these apps (if you are interested in this, I highly recommend the comments section of this article in The Guardian, Five of the best meditation apps. It’s quite entertaining!).

What I am curious about: is something lost when we use an app versus going to a meditation center in person? What is different about using technology to understand our mind versus not using technology? Does this technology separate us or connect us? By using an app to understand our mind, are we better able to connect with others?

As anyone who has practiced with a group or at a center knows, meditating with others can feel both supportive and uncomfortable. There is much awkwardness, especially when you’re new. In Zen, which is the tradition I practice, awkwardness with the forms (ways of moving and behaving in the zendo or meditation hall) is kind of par for the course. You learn about your limitations, your fears, your insecurities, all of it, via the discomfort of trying to sit, bow or stand the way you think is “right.” (Or deciding not to bow at all, because, who the hell do these people think they are trying to make me bow? They’re not the boss of me! And what is all this bowing about anyway?)

In other words, when you meditate with others there is no escape from your “stuff.” Which is actually okay. Like the lotus in muddy water, it is right in the middle of this “stuff” where you meet your true nature and bloom. Which is awesome. And really awkward and vulnerable and very uncomfortable.

I understand that some people just want to feel sane for a few minutes every day. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this. It’s what I want and it’s part of what motivated me to start meditating in the first place. In all honesty, I don’t think it has to be either/or - use technology or don't. I think it can be both. We can use technology, be it an app, a website or even virtual reality, to help us begin to understand how our minds work. This is foundational. When our nervous system is calm we can be of more benefit to the world around us, simply by not perpetuating aggression and violence in our everyday activities. This is huge. HUGE.

I would suggest that we not stop there, though. I see nothing wrong with using technology to help us begin to understand who we really are or simply to find a little peace and calm. But I think it’s important to remember that technology is only a tool. If we use technology to ultimately try to escape feeling awkward or uncomfortable (when it comes to being with ourselves and other people), we may miss out on the juiciest and most fertile parts of meditation practice.

Obviously, this topic is much bigger than what I can cover in one blog post. I have more questions than I have answers. So, what do you think? Do you use a meditation or mindfulness app or some other technology? If so, has it helped you?

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