The Big Idea: Using Technology to Achieve Enlightenment

Peace of mind is something we all strive for, and it can be argued—well, we actually have scientific proof—that meditation helps clear one’s mind, bring balance to the world around you, and actually make you feel happier. The problem in meditation is it can be difficult to figure out if you are doing it right. It’s not like you get detailed instruction on the best way to meditate.

Clear your mind.

Focus.

Breathe.

So simple, it’s complicated.

And if you are thinking “Wait, hold on, and I breathing deep enough? Should I have my eyes closed? Should I be thinking of nothing or of something that makes me happy?” then you will probably start stressing out which completely goes against the point of meditation. It’s not like we’re asking for a lot—just an little guidance on the best way to meditate.

Don’t worry, InteraXon has got an app for that.

howItWorks_step_7.jpgThe Muse Headband I picked up at the Mindful Leadership Summit. It’s a bio feedback system that helps you go into a deep state of meditation. It’s electroencephalography. The Muse is an EEG, a network of electrodes used to measure brainwaves. So when you set this band around your head, you are wired up to this network of little electrodes all around your head. To work properly, the Muse must make contact with your forehead in order to receive the maximum brain signal. I see this gizmo at the summit. Skeptical, I thought I would give it a try anyway.

This thing actually picks up brain waves.

First of all, you’ve got to position it to get maximum signal from your brain. The Muse’s control app, available both for the iPhone and Android, opens a session with a color circle. If it is only partially colored, you need to adjust the Muse’s placement in order to get the full range of signal. Once the app picks up a strong signal (a solid color on the introduction screen), the Muse is reading your brain. Now the app needs calibration. To do that, Muse wants to see your brain in an agitated state. So what the app asks you to do is something called brainstorming. For example, the app will have you name all the cities you can think of, and then moments later will ask you to name all the streets you can think of. Then, after a few more minutes, the app will ask you to name all the kind of cars you can think of, the kind of kitchen utensils you can think of, and so on and so on. As you are trying to rattle off these names mentally, your mind enters a state of agitation. Once Muse recognizes this agitated state, you are instructed into how to enter meditation. You set the time—between three minutes and twenty minute meditation—and Muse offers you a gentle audio stimulation—a rainforest with raindrops, or a beach with the waves just coming in and out. (I’m a bit of a beach comber so I like the waves.) You just focus on the rhythm of the accompanying sound and allow yourself to slip into a calm state. If you are doing it right, you will continue to hear the background you’ve chosen along with birds tweeting in the background. This, you learn, is how it goes if you are meditating correctly.

If your mind begins to wander you start hearing thunder, wind, and other signs of bad weather incoming. This is Muse’s way of telling you to concentrate on your breathing. Against, you reach a certain state, and the bad weather goes away while the birds return. Your aim is to remain in a calm state, but Muse reads three states: Calm, Neutral, or Agitated. The app also provides analytics on the success of your meditation.

drshurtz-muse.jpgThe first time I meditated with Muse, I was 24% calm, 50% neutral, and 26% agitated. Not a very good result, earning me only two birds. In my defense, I was confused by the thunderstorms. I tend to find those relaxing, so I was trying to listen to these rain clouds, and the more I’d listen to the bad weather the worse it got. Eventually I figured out that you’re not supposed to concentrate on the thunderstorm and I needed to calm myself. Yesterday morning, I returned to Muse, remained calm, and scored 87% in my Calm state, earning me twenty-seven birds! That’s a big accomplishment—87% Calm—as my mind is not known as a pillar of calmness.

Now I make no pretense that I am good at this at all. There was one particular session I did, just before going on the air with Tech Talk, where I was rated at 17% Calm. No birds whatsoever. The worst results in my time with the Muse.

What is ingenious about the Muse is how it stores your results and tracks your progress. I’ve got a history of all of my meditations right in the app. I can see the results translated into a graph, so I can see progress in my meditation. While people really into meditation and spiritual healing may find to Muse to be nothing more than a gimmick, I think the Muse could be a good introduction for people starting out as it gives you a clue about what you are trying to do. Success with meditation is all inside of you, so in a way it is hard to explain, let alone teach. Meditation does have a place both in the classroom and in the professional environment.

Chade-Meng Tan brought meditation to Google in 2007. He believed mediation led to associates being happier on the job. His theory is true: if you meditate deeply enough, you shift the “happiness set point” of the brain. Tan went to the people at Google and said “I want to teach a meditation class…” to which Google replied with “You’ve got to be kidding.” He took this idea even further, repackaged it as program called Search Inside Yourself, and said to Google, “We’re a search company and I got a search course here.” Tan’s approach was less about the philosophy of meditation and more about hacking the brain to enhance its performance. Over 20,000 people have taken this course at Google and it has transformed peoples’ lives. He turned his meditation course into the book Search Inside Yourself, and now we teach mediation at Stratford University as part of the undergraduate curriculum.

Courses like that and devices like the Muse can teach students how to be happy and content. College should not just be about book knowledge, but a human experience. That’s what I think makes devices like the Muse so promising. They do more for our success in everyday life by focusing on calmer moments. In this rare moment, technology is making us slow down and appreciate this gift called Life. When was the last time an app helped you do that?

 


 

shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.

 

 

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