Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Modern Times: Technology and Meditation Practice

I'm grateful for modern tools, especially when I have projects like this one:

That's 275 grams of a Corriedale batt, purchased at Fibre Week 2011, from Lynne Anderson of Knitopia.  The entire batt fit on the bobbin on my Majacraft Pioneer wheel.  I spun the heavy singles, more than 400 metres, in a few hours.  It would have been a few days' work for me had I used a spindle. 

I washed and dried the yarn on a PVC niddy noddy, something you'll try only once on a traditional wooden niddy noddy:

Although I am grateful for these things, I know that technology can overwhelm us, adding barriers to our experience of life.  If we always listen to our music players when we walk the park, we miss the joyful sounds of birds, children, traffic, reality.  It helps to strike a balance.  Sometimes, we just need to sit.

Here's the thing: in many meditation traditions, sitting on your meditation cushion, simply sitting, being there, is seen as the only way to meditate.  (Walking meditation is sometimes allowed as a secondary practice.)  In the words of Chogyam Trungpa:

It is a very interesting point that nobody has experienced that we can actually sit on a cushion without any purpose, none whatsoever.  It is outrageous.  Nobody would actually ever do that. . . .It's terrible-we would be wasting our time.
Now there's the point-wasting our time.  Maybe that's a good one, wasting our time.  Give time a rest.  Let it be wasted.  Create virgin time, uncontaminated time, time that hasn't been hassled by aggression, passion and speed.  Let us create pure time.  Sit and create pure time.
(The Path is the Goal, p. 9)

(Note: Chogyam Trungpa's life and teachings are interesting, to say the least.  Sometimes we have to separate the words from the speaker!)

Sitting in meditation is a wonderful thing.  It requires nothing more than a space, a cushion, time and you.  So simple-not so easy.

Here's the other thing: this notion of just sitting is foreign to our Western minds (and bodies).  Sometimes, the strangeness of it all leaves us unable to settle enough to find a beginning to our practice.  We need to get ourselves to a studio, to focus on an object, to be mindful of something, at least at first.  We need a support or supports.  Once we steady ourselves, the supports can fall away.  Until then, technology has some handy tools to guide us, in the form of iPod applications.  The apps I use are free, through iTunes and are loaded on my iPod Touch.  They come with a minimum (or no) advertising.

First up is zazen lite.  This app has a simple timer, with a meditation bowl sound (2 choices) to mark the beginning and end of a session.  There is the option of adding a mindfulness bell tone at intervals from 1 to 60 minutes during a session.  (You have to hit "Okay" after the tone, which is annoying.  Sometimes the mindfulness tone gets "stuck," and can only be fixed by ending the session.  Also annoying.)  I've not had problems timing a session or using the mindfulness bell on its own.  For me, this app is a better option than setting a regular alarm or kitchen timer.

The most helpful meditation app I've used is pranayama lite.  Pranayama is breath work; I find it difficult to maintain a regular rhythm without guidance.  This app allows you to follow the breath in various rhythms and patterns.  It has brief, clear instructions, settings for time, a beginner's level with 2 breath patterns and 5 levels of breath timing on each level and includes an automatic log which records each of your sessions.

There is also Insight Timer Lite, another meditation timer app and pocket Meditation Retreat, which has cute graphics and sounds, but which I haven't found helpful.

Although not meditation apps, I also use the free metronome app for my "Heart Like a Wheel" meditation, along with Buddha Board, which works in the same way as a physical Buddha Board does.

Test these tools for yourself.  Let them guide you, but don't allow them to become another set of objects blocking your path.  Use them sparingly.

Then go outside for a walk.  Or sit and just breathe:


  1. I've been very interested in learning how to meditate. What's the best way for a newbie to start?

  2. The most helpful way, I think, would be to attend a class, workshop or group practice. If you can't do that, there are cd's, podcasts, etc. available. There are many different schools of thought on meditation practice--the trick is finding one to suit you.