Hopefully I’ll soon be trying out a demo model of the Muse headband, which according to the makers is like a heart rate monitor for your mind. In other words it gives you real-time feedback by detecting your brain signals during meditation, the same way you might use a gadget to monitor your heart rate during physical exercise.
Apparently this can help us to train the brain to be more focused, attentive, and calm. I’ll let you know how I get on. [Update: this plan never got off the ground. The marketing department at Muse were unwilling to lend me a sample unit.]
At the recent Buddhist Geeks conference, where I gave a presentation, there were several other examples of tech related to meditation. Mikey Siegel talked about his BioFluent Technologies project, whose HeartSync audiovisual experience promotes a sense of empathy and closeness among individuals. Mikey talked about how neurofeedback might be used to bring people closer to awakening.
Neema Moraveji is the cofounder of Spire, “the first wearable to track and influence both activity and state of mind.” Spire monitors and analyzes your breathing patterns in real time to show when you are focused, tense, or stressed. It also tracks activities like walking. I think the benefits of something like this are obvious. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to take Spire for a test drive on the conference.
Jacob Redmond demonstrated the Emotiv Epoc headset, which was hooked up to a fun computer game in which you were meant to push a ball back into the screen. I tried this and completely bombed. Unfortunately the person who demoed the game to me didn’t tell me what I was supposed to do to make the ball move. I tried a variety of meditative approaches, only to find out afterward that you’re supposed to focus for the whole time on one thing. So what I’d been doing (switching techniques in order to find one that worked) was 100% the wrong thing to be doing!
I’ve been intrigued for some time by the possibilities that real-time brain monitoring offers to meditators. I think that often when people are meditating they’re headed in “the right direction” for a while but then get distracted. An external monitor can act like a mindfulness bell that’s basically saying “Hey, this thing you’re doing is good. Stick with it.”
These technologies are in their demo phase, in gaming terminology. But when they and many others become mature, in ten, twenty, thirty years, the spiritual path may look very different than it does today. What will happen when people can achieve the same results as, for instance, 100,000 hours of meditation in a much shorter span of time? It’s exciting and wonderful.