Have you done it? Are you so addicted to your smartphone that you downloaded an application to help you meditate? I have, and I didn’t know there was real money in this nonsense until I did. Turns out, Silicon Valley tech investors have found a way to monetize you sitting on your ass and breathing, and Calm is the Mecca of cash. Monetizing mindfulness is not new. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Deepak Chopra, and Wayne Dyer have made millions out of the practice. But where the new age gurus of my youth had to produce hundreds of books, spend hundreds of hours recording audio programs, and countless hours in seminars and traveling the world, Silicon Valley did it with an application.
My introduction to this unashamed grab for your hard-earned cash came in the form of Dr. Leah Lagos’s appearance on the Star Talk Radio podcast. Dr. Lagos’s description of heart rate variability (HRV) intrigued me enough to give her program a try. I bought the book and grabbed the recommended application for my Android device. Two days later I was getting emails from the application developer to buy additional features and equipment from their website. I unsubscribed and deleted the application. The $30 pulse oximeter I had bought at the start of pandemic was a better aid for pacing my breathing than for the application.
The application had piqued my interest, however, and I started looking for other breath pacing applications. I remembered when I started practicing sitting meditation how difficult it was to keep my mind on the breath. As soon as I felt the breath, I would worry over upcoming bills, or how I could find more time to practice Tai Chi. If you think a breath pacing application will eliminate your mind effort, you are wrong. While they keep you breathing at a steady pace, they do nothing for your active mind.
Calm, the billion-dollar application that inspired this post, claims to solve that problem with guided meditations. Before the smartphone application, everyone into mindfulness bought a guided meditation tape or DVD. We used most of them once or thrice, then forgot them. Having someone whisper affirmations at you were as helpful as having someone interrupt you every two minutes. Calm is the ultimate collection of those guided meditations, and they want you to shell out $15 a month to have a movie or music superstar interrupt your mindfulness session.
I bought a Fitbit for HRV exploration. I got the cheapest one on sale since it came with a year of Fitbit Premium. Premium includes mindfulness sessions guided by Deepak Chopra and other gurus from my youth. When my free trial expires, Fitbit intends to charge me $10 a month for these two- and ten-minute sessions They will reward me digital badges and congratulatory emails. Too cheap and automated to send me a sticker with a personal note.
As I will relate in my post on Dr Lagos’s Heart, Breath, Mind, Buddhist mantras have a few hundred years’ experience over the smartphone application for taming the mind, but a FitBit can be a powerful confirmation to your practice. I have removed the breath pacers from my phone. Counting in my head still works, and it doesn’t harvest my email address or ask me to purchase new equipment to improve my practice.