There’s An App For That

There’s An App For That January 4, 2016

Michael Hsu, writing in The Wall St. Journal (1/3/16), rates meditation technologies. He examines those specialty headsets and apps that purport to measure mindfulness or peace. They are like the fitness trackers that have recently come on the market. There is disagreement, Hsu reports, among those neuroscientists and engineers interested in these electronic meditation devices. Does one or another app really correlate brain activity (or inactivity) with focused attention or relaxation? Is a meditation app and headband just the latest toy? Might the technology produce the opposite of its intent: A busy person who adds one more competition to an already stressed lifestyle?

Perhaps cyber-aided meditation is no different from meditation that makes use of a candle or statue or icon. What counts is the routine of meditation and its purpose, not the accouterments. Of course, there has long been a danger with all the aids to prayer and to meditation. A person can forget that the aid is pointing to somewhere else or to Someone beyond. That’s called idolatry.

For the record, Michael Hsu does not mention the deity. His own meditation is of the New Age variety. The goal in that case is limited to self-improvement.

In random order here are some general thoughts about meditation, old style or app enabled.

  • Meditation is a spiritual discipline. It has to take place regularly (let’s say daily); in fertile times and dry times. It is the discipline that counts the most. Not the setting, not the particulars of the devotion, not the chants, candles, apps or statues.
  • Spirituality is received not achieved. That is, prayer or meditation is about disposition. It means waiting for and receptivity toward a gift. Thus in my opinion attempting to construct an individualized spirituality is wrong.
  • Spirituality is suggested by or comes by way of one’s geography. This means that, contrary to a stereotype, there is an urban spirituality entirely appropriate for the hustle-and-bustle of Chicago. It is not necessary to physically go to a different locale. Spirituality is a matter of attending to what lucks in one’s household, one’s neighborhood, one’s workplace.
  • Spirituality is a gift that requires re-gifting. It must be shared. Not in an overly explicit sappy way, but with joyous behavior that improves the world. There are, admittedly, contemplatives or monastics. But even they should somehow direct the fruit of their prayer or meditation back upon the world. Normally, one’s prayer or meditation should have an action resolve. For example, “I will use the gift of this meditation to improve this aspect at the office.”
    Let me make this last but important point in a different way. Just as there is Marian spirituality or Ignatian spirituality or, as in Michael Hsu’s case, wu ming qigong meditation, there is also a spirituality of work. It needs elucidation. But for now, let me say that the spirituality of work should be the go to type for most people in our country.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter about faith and work.

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