Finally, a Meditation App for Stressed-Out Slackers

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Jan. 7 2014 10:46 AM

Attain Nirvana in 23 Minutes or Less!

Has Deepak Chopra found a shortcut to Zen?

Trying out Deepak Chopra's meditation app

Illustration by Rob Donnelly

Propped against my bed’s headboard, I let a kaleidoscope of lights from my iPhone dance across my closed eyelids. New Age–y synths surged in my ears. I was on a vision quest for enlightenment. But it had to be a quick vision quest: I had plans in 40 minutes. Luckily, this particular path to Zen was timed precisely at 22 minutes, 57 seconds.

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

Such is the promise of Dream Weaver. A meditation app recently conceived by alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra, it posits that Zen might be a pit stop on the way from the pharmacy to the dog park or coffee shop. Dream Weaver (available at the App Store for $14.99) is a “light and sound program” that uses the LED strobe on your smartphone in conjunction with a soundtrack. The combination of soothing music, narration, and psychedelic twinkling is meant to induce a trance state, entailing relaxation and perhaps visions; Dream Weaver’s online promotional materials compare it to LSD.

The app uses brainwave entrainment, which co-creator David Mager defines in the Huffington Post as “any procedure that causes one’s brainwave frequencies to synchronize with a periodic stimulus (sound, vibration or light) having a frequency corresponding to the intended brain-state.” The idea is that different frequencies of brainwaves map onto different levels of alertness: Spiky beta waves are associated with hyper-vigilance; alpha waves with relaxed attention; theta waves with deep tranquility and REM sleep; and delta waves with dreamless sleep. Dream Weaver works by flashing light at you, at lower and lower frequencies. Your anxious beta-brain supposedly follows the light down to theta-Wonderland like Alice behind the White Rabbit. (Or maybe like a sailor waylaid by St. Elmo’s fire—the metaphor you use probably depends on your feelings about insta-serenity.) In any case, the testimonials are inspiring:

“I could literally feel the waves of energy and shifting of my brain into the altered state. I especially felt a definitive awareness in my 6th chakra, or third eye. After the strobes stopped, I could see many colors and shapes and what seemed like sparkles …”
“I exploded into an archetypical state of releasing sadness and fear. Even now when writing the lines of this text my eyes get wet and I am filled with joy and compassion.”
“I saw several darkly clad strangers come out of a room. I tried to offer them a message of peace telepathically. They immediately circled around me and zapped me into a state of the most joy and ecstasy I have ever felt in my life.”
“I seemed to be visited by curious balls of light that just wanted to say hello.”
“I was in Aruba, on vacation in Aruba!”
Advertisement

Methods for steering the mind into consciousness’ deeper waters have existed for ages: Gregorian chanting, Native American drum circles, Hindu kirtan, Tibetan prayer bowls. But Dream Weaver marries spirituality and “science” in a way that feels peculiarly of-the-moment. Obsessed with holistic health, we are also susceptible to pitches about the mysterious efficacies of neurons and transmitters. Many of us are willing to believe that the secret to transcendence lurks somewhere in uncharted brainwaves, just as the key to living longer might have something to do with quantum mechanics. (Not coincidentally, Chopra is also famous for his theory of “quantum healing.”) What’s more, Dream Weaver presents itself as a life hack, a technology for improving productivity by making us more creative and relaxed. Attain nirvana in under 23 minutes! You’ll be all enlightened in time for your board meeting.

Yet there is something contradictory, or at least counterintuitive, about a meditation app. Smartphones are great at filling our brains with information; are they also suited to wiping them clean? And while technology in general exists to smoothen and streamline, isn’t climbing the path to enlightenment supposed to be hard? What happens when you reinvent an ancient, effortful practice for a medium that’s all about finding the perfect shortcut?

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

Even by Russian Standards, Moscow’s  Anti-War March Was Surprisingly Grim

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

The Best Thing About the People’s Climate March in NYC

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 11:13 AM Your Own Personal Rand Paul How the libertarian hero makes his foreign policy contradictions disappear.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 12:07 PM Divestment Isn’t the Answer To destroy demand for fossil fuels, universities can do a lot better than just selling some stocks.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 22 2014 12:00 PM Dear Prudence Live Chat For September 22, 2014.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:21 PM Watch John Oliver Take on Miss America
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 12:22 PM The Age of the Streaming TV Auteur
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.