I read an interesting article on Quartz:
Meditation Apps Miss the Point of Buddhist Mindfulness
The authors, scholars of Buddhism who specialize in social media research, argue that meditation apps are just another opiate that masks the real problems, and that they aren’t really helping users develop a practice of mindfulness.
They write that the traditional Buddhist mindfulness
enables one to appreciate impermanence, not become attached to material things, and strive to attain greater awareness so that one can ultimately become enlightened.
In contrast, the apps
encourage people to cope with and accommodate to society. They overlook the surrounding causes and conditions of suffering and stress, which may be political, social or economic.
I am a contributor to this app economy: I have used the Calm app for four years, and it’s been my partner in building a daily meditation practice for the last 1412 days. I also meditate and practice mindfulness and mindful inquiry through other channels, including with my teachers and on my own. Mindful inquiry is a large part of my self development work and the work I do with my clients.
Here are some thoughts on the article.
Present Moment Awareness vs Mindful Inquiry
It’s one thing to come into the present moment anchored by the breath and physical sensations, and another to explore the emotions beneath those sensations and the root of the emotions.
Most apps don’t guide you through the deeper work of exploring what’s beneath whatever you’re feeling in the moment.
Can we really expect an app to guide us through the deeper layers of a mindful self-inquiry? Would that even be wise? If you’re new to that deeper level of inquiry it helps to work with a person who knows how to guide you through it and can hold space for what emerges.
The Business of Apps
The authors point out that these apps keep us more connected to our phones, and that they are designed to hook us.
In an ideal world, everyone would meditate without the aid of an app. But I’m a practicalist: people are connected to their phones anyway. Better to use your phone to help you sit in meditation for five minutes than for mindless games.
As far as the business model, there should be no illusion that these apps are altruistic.
Calm, Headspace, even meditation studios — all are businesses, designed to make money. They want to keep you coming back.
The apps are engineered to hook us. That’s their model.
At this point, I don’t need the Calm app to continue my daily meditation practice. I could easily just set a timer on my watch or my phone and sit for meditation. Or I can sit for meditation without a timer. Both of which I do. But my first sit of the day is with the Calm app.
When I was starting out with a daily practice, Calm’s “streak counter” was everything. The value of seeing a visual around a streak cannot be overstated. I developed a ritual around my morning sit using the app, and the ritual anchors my practice.
Whatever gets you to your mat.
The app is not my only source of teaching about mindfulness. In fact, I don’t really consider it a mindfulness app. The guided meditations may help facilitate mindfulness in the moment, but they don’t really teach the process of mindfulness.
For someone who doesn’t have any training in mindful inquiry, I can see how these apps might simply be a way to facilitate sitting in stillness for five minutes. That’s not necessarily meditation or mindfulness, but it’s a start.
And, in my opinion, that’s enough of a value that these apps offer.
Meet People Where They Are
The practice of mindful inquiry can be difficult and intense. Not everyone is ready for it.
You have to start somewhere.
The path to deeper inquiry opens only when we can sit with ourselves in silence.
For those who eventually learn to take it deeper, to explore what’s beneath the surface of their swirling and spinning minds, these apps are tools that offer a way in.
They meet people where they are and open a path for them to move forward.
I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect more than that from an app.
If all you get from the app is five minutes of listening to a guided meditation, then that’s still five minutes you’re sitting in stillness. You may not achieve enlightenment through that, but you’re still slowing down for those five minutes.
And that’s a worthy outcome in itself.