Early this morning, I was reading this piece on Scroll.in written by Dr Gregory Grieve and Dr Beverly McGuire by the title ‘Do meditation apps really work?’. The article was to an extent thought-provoking and as a regular user of Headspace, it made me reflect on the effect the app had on me so far. However, a few arguments made in this piece of writing struck my logic nerves.

The first one is the use of word Mindfulness and Meditation interchangeably. The two concepts are significantly different from each other. While Mindfulness is awareness of something, noticing stuff happening around, paying attention to the thoughts, behaviour, movements, and mental constructs; meditation is awareness of nothing. Although the practices are similar, the nature of outcome in each case is varied. Mindfulness researchers Ed and Deb Shapiro quote,

‘Mindfulness and meditation are mirror-like reflections of each other: mindfulness supports and enriches meditation, while meditation nurtures and expands mindfulness. Where mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day, meditation is usually practised for a specific amount of time.’

The authors of the article have done an excellent job describing the health benefits of mindfulness meditation and the history of the origin of the mindfulness concept. However, the analysis of the apps appears to be a little shaky. It is true that both the Android and Apple store is full of Buddhist meditation apps. However, not many or all of them could be compared to Headspace or Calm.

I was once attending a Satsang by a Hindu monk. When asked about idol worship, he said,

‘Idol worship in Hinduism is like using a boat to cross the river. Unless you know how to swim, you must use it to cross the river of Samsara, and after reaching the banks of consciousness, you must leave it behind and tread the path on your own.’

Similar principles apply to that of these mindfulness apps which initiate people to meditation. It is not necessary you keep using them. Sam Harris, the founder of the meditation app Calm recently appeared on the Joe Rogan show. While discussing the business model for Calm, he claimed that although Calm is a subscription-based service, he also provides a premium version of the app free for users who cannot afford to buy one. Headspace on the other hand, although paywalled, has a different strategy. It partners with various entities (like its recent partnership with Transport for London) to avail users with longer free trials of the premium version.

It is equally important to note that not every individual interested in meditation is a scholar of Buddhism or wants to be like the authors are. Jumping into spiritual texts of Buddhism or that of Hinduism in the search of meditation advice without prior background can be daunting and intimidating. Most people would turn away from this point. This is where meditation apps come in handy.

In summary, being excessively rooted in fundamentals sometimes makes us rigid and people around us fail to derive benefit from the art or science we practice. It is, therefore, necessary to unplug and see things as they are.


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