Meditation apps are in vogue and new students Learning Meditation in Miami often ask about their usefulness for home practice. The number of apps currently available from the App Store is in excess of 1,300. According to Forbes, industry leader, Headspace, has over 11 million downloads and 400,00 subscribers with an annual revenue approaching $50 million. Those performance numbers are impressive for a company that was founded only eight years ago by an aspiring Buddhist monk and a disillusioned marketing company executive.
Their success demonstrates that many people are interested in learning about meditation, and that a large number feel some benefit from using an app to measure or direct their meditations. But are these apps helpful aids or just another distraction?
Apps typically offer several functions. The primary one being a timer, which is used to measure the length of a meditation session and to signal its start and finish. For longer sessions, several periods can be programmed together with shorter rest intervals between the meditations. The timer function on most apps includes a wide selection of bells, chimes and gongs. It’s a nice detail that so many sound options are available.
Another key feature is the wide variety of recorded guided meditations that apps offer. These are usually divided into categories like: ambient sound, going to sleep, guided imagery and cosmic. The user makes a selection according to their ability, mood, or time of day. These guided sessions may benefit the novice meditator whose untrained mind could interpret the experience of silence as an emergency, “Why is there no TV. No music. No conversation. Help!” A guided session can soothe these initial sensations. In the long term, app use could develop into another tool to escape from present experience, like selecting a film from Netflix.
Even in this age of tech, some of the features are amazing. On Wednesday afternoon when I went to Headspace’s page, it listed the number of people meditating around the world, at that exact moment, (3,583) and included a world map with dots indicating each person’s location. A horizontal “crawler” across the bottom of the screen showed profile photos of various users. Fantastic, I can feel being part of a worldwide group. Or can I? I am not able to have any meaningful interaction with the other meditators. I cannot share my experience or personal story with them. I am unable to offer/receive emotional support. All these shortcomings are important benefits of being a member of a local mediation group.
Having 3,155 of the “World’s Best Mediation teachers” and 15,218 guided meditations a click away seems like a bargain. But how does one choose? And how is their recorded mix of waterfall sounds, soothing music, and guided story lines going to help you connect with your mind, your present experience and foster a connection with your inner peace?
Apps offer stories or sounds that have been expertly crafted to cover over the silence. But for me the main benefit of meditation is in experiencing the silence. Thomas Keating said, “Once you sit down in silence, the Divine has already got you.”
One of the joys of a mediation practice is being part of a lineage. There is an acknowledgement that the practice has worked for others and will no doubt work for me and you if we follow the instructions and put forth the effort. There is a sense of sacredness and devotion. This is a key element to accepting and Learning Meditation in Miami. With the app, if one guided meditation doesn’t get you to Nirvana, just pick another from the library of 15,217.
Using an app to meditate is like using a flotation jacket while learning to swim. Sure, it seems safer and less threatening, but can you really learn to swim using one? Wouldn’t it be better to feel the buoyancy of the water and learn to float?
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Written by: Bill Durham