By Jerry Mooney
Meditation is perhaps the simplest of pursuits. Sit. Be still. Allow. In its simplicity it requires nothing besides presence. So why would I suggest that bringing technology to the practice of meditation has value? Because presence is difficult for beginners and virtual reality can add to the experience enough to help a new meditator develop. VR is among many of the up and coming technologies that are seeing impressive results, particularly in physical therapy, so why not mental, emotional and spiritual?
I understand how there might be resistance to this idea and I don’t believe this is for everyone, but there is a place for technology in meditation. To start with, technology has been a part of meditation for a long time, if merely in the form of a clock. More recently, smartphone apps have added to meditation by providing soothing guiding voices or music along with the ability to time a session. All of these technologies contribute to various meditators experiences.
What is thrusting VR into every corner of our worlds, including our spiritual practices, is that it is now affordable and available to virtually everyone (see what I did there?). Yet virtual reality seems to have added too much for many orthodox meditators, although it can improve the meditation experience. I can understand the feeling that an advanced meditator would not be interested in a technologically guided meditation. At a high level of skill, devices would detract. I get that. A high level of meditation skill requires nothing. Beginners struggle, however. And with that struggle quitting often results.
The most common complaints I hear from beginners trying to meditate is they feel like they fail. They have no attention span. Their monkey mind keeps thinking random thoughts and worries. They feel like they can’t do it or they don’t understand the value. I know that this is a normal part of the practice, but beginners often don't. Meditation is a skill developed, it is a rewiring of the brain to be calmer, more focused and more connected. So if a device can take the pruning shears to our lifelong development of intrenched neural nets to open the door to new possibilities, I’m all for it.
Let’s look at some VR applications and see why they could be helpful. First, it’s almost impossible to explain without actually putting on a headset and experiencing the new VR technology. It’s like explaining the color of orange to a blind person. Once experienced, however, it becomes clearer. It is like any cathartic experience, however induced. It expands consciousness and opens our minds. The experience is so immersive and enthralling that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the virtual reality presented and the actually reality.
This can be powerful and provide benefits. When the brain experiences something or learns something it changes through a process called neuroplasticity and wire themselves through associative memory. When we experience something, our neural nets create an association for that experience. The more intense the experience, the more entrenched the neural nets become. Our brains actually become hardwired with our traumas and our victories. This usually happens over long periods of time and takes a long time to disassociate or change. Meditation and advanced visualization can change the wiring of our brains, but it is a time consuming process. VR can increase the volume of iterations and the intensity of the experience to produce faster and more powerful results.
What VR adds is the ability to transform meditation into an immersive experience, so hypnotic that the untrained mind can begin to wire itself to conscious and desired states. Instead of merely sitting on your floor, the meditation can be at the beach or in a secluded part of the desert or in the forest. These scenes can hypnotize us to stop resisting and allow our presence to expand. Here is are a couple of videos that shows what is possible. Now it’s infinitely better with the proper equipment, but you can begin to see the possibilities.
After using the virtual reality to help create a state of focus and calm instead of wiring our brains through complaining, then our minds can more easily access this state without the equipment, and that’s the real benefit.
VR meditation puts the zen in zenruptive technology.
Jerry Mooney is co-founder and managing editor of Zenruption and the author of History Yoghurt and the Moon. He studied at the University of Munich and Lewis and Clark College where he received his BA in International Affairs and West European Studies. He has recently taught Language and Communications at a small, private college and owned various businesses, including an investment company that made him a millionaire before the age of 40. Jerry is committed to zenrupting the forces that block social, political and economic justice. He can also be found on Twitter@JerryMooney