David Mager first met Deepak Chopra on a sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Mager, who worked with companies to “green” their operations before he developed Dream Weaver, was driving down the street when he heard a woman screaming. He jumped out of his car to find her pointing at a baby bird that had fallen from its nest, which sat on a ledge 15 feet above the ground. Mager scaled the side of the building, retrieved the fledgling, and just happened to look down as Chopra exited the same building. “It was synchronicity,” Mager told me on the phone. “Some things are simply meant to occur.”
Mager sees nothing incongruous about a digital fast track to Zen. Dream Weaver “makes meditation accessible to more people,” he says. “The notion that anyone can become an expert in anything is how we manifest ourselves in our time. When you think about spiritual practices, you used to have to follow a guru for 30, 40 years. Some people walk to the top of the mountain, and that’s great, but others take the turbo-elevator.”
He explains that Dream Weaver uses Schumann resonances, the “background frequencies of planet earth”: “Before there were cellphones, strobes, and incandescent bulbs, these were what you chilled with at the end of the day.” The app, he says, mimics the quiet rhythms of firelight that calmed our ancestors, kindling in us a response called the flicker effect. When I ask him if he’s ever heard of a bad trip with Dream Weaver, he booms with laughter. “Bad dreams have an EEG signature of about 30-40 hz. The app creates a vibrational firewall that doesn’t let you get there.” Incidentally, that’s also why people using Dream Weaver don’t drift off into sexual fantasies: The brainwave frequencies required for erotic arousal are too high for Wonderland/Aruba/the turbo-elevator.
I feared, though, that I would be incapable of having a trip at all. Past attempts to sit quietly and clear my mind have never gone well: Is there anything less relaxing than monitoring how (not) relaxed you are? But Dream Weaver is designed specifically for people like me—spiritual slackers who lack the discipline to achieve nirvana without a tech boost. Preparing to test out the app, I felt hopeful. I reclined in bed with my eyes closed and got ready to plunge into the void.
Or, more accurately, to stand in the woods. Dream Weaver has several storylines to choose from; I downloaded one called “A Trip to the Forest.” It includes avian chirping, a gentle rainstorm, and lots of gauzy, vaguely Eastern-sounding music. Toward the beginning, a female tour guide announces herself with loud knocking, which terrified me because I thought someone was actually banging on my door. Her job is to douse you in “anti-gravity dust” (“Don’t worry, it won’t stain your clothes”) so you can fly to the forest; I wondered why Chopra, who narrates the rest of the trip, couldn’t administer the dust himself. Throughout all this, the LED strobe drew forked golden lines on the inside of my eyelids, which was nice. But transcendent? Not really.
Since that first, perfectly pleasant visit, I’ve journeyed to the woods several times with Dream Weaver. I have never hallucinated, or even fallen asleep, but the app usually calms me down a little (with the exception of the most recent trip, during which I was hopped up on coffee and stressing over how late this article was). I have come to appreciate the delicate branch work of the light patterns, though I suspect they pull me somewhat out of the zone—it’s hard to surrender completely to Zen with an LED strobe flashing in your face. Still! Just because my experience has been short on “darkly-clad strangers” and trips to Aruba doesn’t mean a more advanced meditator/haver-of-reveries wouldn’t love Dream Weaver. Online or off, we probably all get the enlightenment we deserve. (Perhaps if I practice, put in the hours, I’d get more out of it? But if I had time for that I wouldn’t need the app.)
I should note, however, that there is a workaround to Chopra’s workaround. One day last week I got home feeling tired and tense. As per the Dream Weaver instructions, I secluded myself “in a dark, quiet space.” I closed my eyes. I played some relaxing music. And I took a nap. It may not have been nirvana, but it felt pretty awesome.