Alternative title: An honest, in-depth review of the Waking Up App
Growing up, I watched my mom’s interest in Buddhism develop from that of a casual student to a serious practitioner. From the time I was in middle school, books by the Dalai Lama, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and other Buddhist authors began lining our family’s bookshelves. When I went on long-winded rants as a young teenager, she would always tell me that I thought too much and explained the Buddhist principles she was learning at the time — the ego was an illusion, suffering was a part of life primarily generated by the ego, karma was like a bank account that you could accumulate over lifetimes. Over the years, her metaphors became more and more sophisticated, my favorite being this one: Consciousness is similar to a deep lake, and if there are ripples or disturbances on the surface of the lake, the bottom remains peaceful.
My well-meaning mother would always advise me to meditate, but as a distracted and angsty teenager with a laptop, sitting cross-legged and staring at a wall for even five minutes sounded like a hellish idea, and the benefits were never really clear to me. Wouldn’t I feel just as rejuvenated by taking a nap? All of her advice made sense in a hazy way, but I never took them seriously enough to put into practice until recently.
After maturing a bit more on my own, I’m starting to think that previously non-religious adults generally don’t become interested in religion or spirituality until their mental health hits the fan. If everything’s going great in your life and you’re a naturally positive person, there’s little reason to examine the voice in your head and begin distancing yourself from it. However, if you’re so stressed that your mind reacts to minor, everyday problems as if they are major emergencies, you may become desperate to find anything that soothes your neuroticism, even for a little bit. I’m not saying that every person who experiences mental illness becomes religious or spiritual, but for some of those who decide to make a change in that direction, suffering seems to play a significant role.
In my case, the stresses of college and work brought me to meditation. As I mentioned in a previous post, reading Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier was the first time the thought “Hey, I should really start meditating” went through my mind. My mother told me about monks going on years-long meditation retreats and how some of them achieved “enlightenment,” but I always figured that happened to special Buddhists who could devote their entire lives to a monastery. Learning that a “flow state” (where one can clearly see the nature of the mind and transcend it) could be accessed by anyone who put a week or two into an intensive meditation retreat changed my entire perspective on meditation. Even if I couldn’t dive in to the deep end of a 10-day retreat like Dan, he took the time to describe the immediate benefits of meditating a few minutes each day. He wrote that he was still distracted by thoughts most of the time, but meditation gave him the ability and space to observe his thoughts, rather than being completely identified with them.
This was all incredibly appealing. Still, just reading the book was not enough for me to start practicing. If I had known that Dan had a meditation app (also titled 10% Happier), maybe I would have tried it out and started meditating earlier.