ExPostModern, Meditation, Spotlight

Review: Does the Ananda “Brain Wave” App Really Work?

Ananada app by Manu Loigeret

Notice: This is not an affiliate review. I do not receive any pay or profit for sales of this app nor was I compensated for reviewing it. I was offered a free download of the app, but I paid for it anyway. 

You know when you’re hard at work at your breakfast table, but instead of doing paid client work you’re writing unpaid fiction, but you’re not making much progress at it because you keep pausing to refresh gaming forums?

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly like most peoples’ workdays. But I think most of us have times when we’re supposed to be focused and concentrating, and instead we’re scattered and unmotivated. That’s why I love Ananada.

Ananda is officially a “meditation app.” Designed by my friend Manu Loigeret, at a glance it looks like a relaxation noise machine: listen to some ambient sounds and get your bliss on. But it’s really much more than that. Hidden in Ananda’s peaceful broadcasts are binaural tones designed to alter your brain waves. These tones purport to help influence you toward concentration, relaxation, or other mood changes—take your pick.

Here’s how Ananda explains it:

“Binaural tones are produced by the frequency offset between two sounds, one aired in one ear, the other in the other ear.

“For example, if a 200Hz sine wave is produced in the left ear and a 210Hz sine wave is produced in the right ear, the resulting binaural tone is 10Hz… a 10Hz beat will induce 10Hz brainwaves.”

Those particular brainwaves are associated with mood elevation.

Does the app work? Well, I’m always a little hesitant with claims like these. I have no doubt that Manu paid good attention to the science behind it, but without testing I can’t say whether he successfully creates binaural tones that help induce specific brain activity. What I can report on is my own anecdotal experience, and it is positive.

I almost always listen to relaxing music while I work. In rare cases the right trip hop track will put me in a trance-like state of focus, even seemingly alter my mood, and then Pandora goes on to the next song and the spell is broken.

For me, Ananda produces that trance-like concentration with much greater reliability.

When you activate Ananda you have a simple menu that lets you choose what kind of brain waves you’re looking for (with options like deep meditationfocus & concentration, and restorative sleep). You can set how long the sounds will go for, and each setting has a recommended minimum (power nap is a lot shorter than restorative sleep).

Once you press play you hear an ever-changing soundscape of chanting, nature sounds, droning and even snippets of distant street life or electronic music. The result is a basic ambient track that would be pretty relaxing on its own, with or without the brain hacking. Every few minutes the sound elements change, and you can manually choose how often this happens if you want.

So how well does it work?

I’ve used the focus & concentration setting several times while working, and I plan to use it regularly from now on. I work better with Ananda. I get lost in the sound and my work and sometimes I get an actual chill down my back. It’s uncanny.

I’ve also tried the power nap mode. In my case, I’m not used to having sound while I sleep—even relaxing sound—so I had a hard time drifting off. I turned the volume way down (something the Ananda instructions says has no effect on the binaural tones) and ended up having a good, if brief, nap. I’d like to play with this more.

Positives:

Ananda stands out from most apps with its beautiful design and easy interface, but where it really shines is in the options. There’s a trend in apps to make all settings minimal, which basically caters to stupid people and/or insults the rest of us. Ananda rises above that. Instead of just “meditate—work—sleep” Ananda offers 14 different binaural settings, all of which have clear utility. There’s also a simple settings menu with fine-grain volume control and an elegant, helpful Information section.

Negatives:

It would be nice if there was an option to block/silence alerts and calls while Ananda is in play. (As it is, to prevent interruptions I have to either activate Airplane Mode (less than ideal) or manually turn off alerts.) I also think it would be nice if the different sounds would transition in and out more gradually—currently they create the effect of changing out tracks, which draws my attention to the sound instead of relaxing/working.

If nothing else, Ananda provides endless non-repeating ambience to help you with your work day, stress relief or getting to sleep (without commercials *cough Pandora cough* or DJ’s *hack cough Stillstream*). I can’t say whether it physically affects my brain waves, but I like the mental state it gives me.

You can purchase Ananda for $2.99. Check the App Store or get Ananda here.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

Standard
Adventure, Meditation, Religion, The Great Adventure, The Heroic Life, Travel

I’ll keep dancing

“Red Boat” by Odilon Redon

I’m going to keep on dancing.

I have been dancing for a long time. A lot of people watch. Some smile. They like the way I dance.

Others think I look stupid.

Sometimes people get very upset. There is no dancing here! I am going to keep on dancing, sir.

I’m on display, but that is not why I dance.

Because this isn’t exhibition: this is practice. I am testing the idea that travel is itself a spiritual exercise, one as profound as meditation, as meaningful as prayer, as worthy as the study of myth—perhaps more direct than any of these.

The premise of my journey is that we can meet the gods, therefore let’s go out and find them. This is a practice open to anyone, an alchemy of the soul wrought with sun, wind and rain.

I will keep dancing, I will dance forever. I will dance alone while others stare from afar. But as I dance I smile. I enjoy the dance. The dance is fun; it is good. Perhaps others wish to feel the same joy that I feel. Then run out beside me, dance too—dance your own way, differently from me. I am here, and I will keep dancing.

Standard
Atheism, Meditation, Religion, Spotlight

The Parable of an Atheist at a Temple

This is a guest post by atheist philosopher Trent Fowler.

I just finished a three day retreat at a Buddhist monastery nested in the mountains outside Gyeongju, South Korea. I woke at 4 a.m., chanted, and spent several hours a day in meditation. The primary reason I went was for the meditation experience, but it was not heavily emphasized.  I’ve been a meditator for several years and looked forward to advancing my exploration of the mind.

Instead of attending the obvious tourist fluff I meditated my own. I snuck up to the temple on one occasion and meditated in front of a statue of Buddha, bathed in candlelight and silence, with only the eerie and mysterious artwork on the walls to watch me and keep me company.

I think setting is important. At my current level, however, it takes more than art and statues to still my mind at 4 a.m. It takes lots of coffee, and there wasn’t any to be found.  So these meditation sessions were not particularly fruitful. That’s part of what I learned; the time may come when I need to deepen my practice with a retreat, but for now sitting in my apartment is working just fine. The most powerful meditative experience I’ve ever had was in my living room.

You may be asking yourself what use an atheist has for meditation.

Quite a bit. I think much of what we call “religion” needs to be rejected, but religion is complex and sometimes beautiful. To reject a god is not to say that there aren’t threads of great value woven into the tapestry of the world’s faith traditions. There are questions of tremendous importance to human beings, like how to live, which have mostly been addressed by religion and philosophy.

Meditation counts among the handful of useful techniques which are embedded in religion and are worth salvaging. I’m drawn to it in part by two things: one, it can be pursued in a secular context and requires no faith. Two, even brief periods of meditative introspection can shed light on the workings of the mind.

Watch your own thoughts unfolding for a few minutes and you’ll see that your attention is like a hiker and your conscious mind is like an avalanche perpetually bearing down on him. That sentence was composed while I was trying to meditate. First, the metaphor of the hiker and the avalanche.  Then I returned to focusing on my breath. I smiled because the metaphor seemed clever. Back to breathing. Within ten seconds I was casting around different drafts of the sentence, trying out various phrasings. Back to breathing.

Over the span of an hour I waged and lost this war for what seemed like a thousand years. Needless to say, I didn’t check “become enlightened” off my bucket list that day.

What I’ve studied of philosophy suggests that Buddhism and Hinduism begin from a different point of departure than Western science. Buddhism takes introspection as the empirical exploration of the mind. In the millennia since this project began, numerous mental technologies have been developed to foster insights into consciousness, along with much religious baggage.

In the West, by contrast, the role of the observer is minimized and there are thinkers who believe that the introspection itself is incoherent.  I can sympathize.  Psychology has revealed that introspection is profoundly susceptible to error, and of course we must be careful in drawing conclusions about the universe based upon what we find when we turn inward.  But that doesn’t mean meditation is useless.  On the contrary, reports from experienced meditators and a growing body of neuroscientific evidence point to the opposite conclusion. It appears that meditation, stripped of religion, can be pursued to great reward by secularists and atheists.

What’s more, it may indeed turn out that we simply cannot explain how it is that matter gives rise to consciousness. If this is true, then a sophisticated science of first-person exploration will be the only way we have of getting to certain truths about human consciousness.

Regardless, meditation can present a way for a person to more fully be a participant in their own experience. It’s possible to notice and modulate mood more effectively, to better steer oneself towards happiness, and to notice the intricacy and beauty that the world presents us in each waking moment. Though I have yet to find them myself, I also believe meditation to be a compass for navigating the most expansive continents of well-being and happiness to be found in the landscape of the human mind.

Or so I’ve learned while sitting.

Trent publishes at Rulers to the Sky where he explores issues of consciousness, belief, and spiritual practice sans faith.

Is Trent right that most of religion can’t be “salvaged” for use in a scientific worldview? And how do his claims stack up against nature-based, immanent religions? 

Standard
Meditation, The Great Adventure

The Crisis Moment Before the Trip

Terror has struck. I knew it would happen sometime, turned out to be now. I’ve been so excited about the idea of my trip, I don’t spend much time thinking about the reality of it. But now I’m on the edge.

This week I took three days to literally lock myself in my room and work. I have a list the size of a painting of things to do before I go on the Adventure. I thought I would just lock out all distractions and work for a few days.

The problem with locking out all distractions is… you lock out all distractions. 

You need those distractions to keep yourself sane. Most people need to be distracted (Netflix, Facebook, video games) so that they don’t think about how they’re not living their passion. But what if you’ve decided, eff that noise, I’m going to go out and wrestle my dream down? Do you get a free pass?

No.

If you’re wrestling your dream you’re doing the scariest thing: standing out, taking risk, trying the path that no one else has tried. You’re in the unknown, and suddenly you’re the only one responsible for how well you do. Then the questions start to come.

The first night it was worries about finances. Can I pay for all my gear, manage my monthly bills, and afford health care while I travel? What if I lose a client? What if I can’t put in the hours online while I hike?

This was a pretty big anxiety pill. But it was only the beginning. 

What Are You Doing?

The second day I got to a long-overdue item: contact consulates. A clever reader once suggested (thank you!) that I ask for letters of safe passage from each country. These letters are 0% likely to actually guarantee safety. But if I’m dealing with local authorities, an official seal and signature can be useful.

So Mexico… Belize… Guatemala… one by one I looked up each country. In addition to consulates I checked their visa requirements, how long I can be there, etc. The State department has lots of this info. And right next to it is the safety warning.

Oh.

This is some truly horrible stuff folks. Have a look for yourself. None of this is new information to me, but reading it all in black and white—five weeks till showtime—has an effect.

Thoughts

I’m not going to lie. Here are some of the thoughts I had:

  • I don’t want to go.
  • The trip I planned isn’t possible.
  • I can’t afford this.
  • Do I even still feel passion about this? Is it really my dream?

Swoon.

I was so overwhelmed with doubts I had to lie down. I asked myself if I’ve ever been this panicked about something before. At first I thought the answer was no.

Except…

I remembered two times I felt this way. The first was the premiere night of the Stone Circle Study. I sat in a freezing, wet tent and knew I had seven weeks ahead of me, plus two people to look out for. The second time was at Teaching Drum school. It was so much harder than I thought it would be. Every day I wanted to back out and go home.

This running-away-terror, this inner rebellion, is something I know. I faced it those two times and persisted. The question is: was it worth it?

I thought about that.

Both of those times turned out to be pivotal moments. Moments that are more than memories, they inform who I am. There would be no Rogue Priest, no Drew Jacob—not as I know him—if I had gone home.

So, I decided, I’ll go forward.

Today I spent an hour in meditation. When I finished my meditation, I was at peace with my self-construed fate. At the end I heard this statement:

Your only duty is to live your personal legend.

All I know is I want to be the guy who met the gods. I can quit my walk at any time. But I have to at least start it.

Join the Adventure—Support the Walk!

If you enjoy reading Rogue Priest, believe in my journey, or just love seeing a spirited adventurer on the road, please consider making a donation to the cause. Your gift will help fund professional-quality equipment for the Great Adventure. It’ll keep me safe and help every step of the way.

Standard
Meditation, Personal Development

To Seek the Force of Youth

There’s a force that permeates the time of our youth. A feeling that colors the world.

I’m not sure if we feel it in the moment, or if we add it to our youthful memories much later. Does it matter? The decline or absence of this force in present life strikes the soul like hammer. There is something that fades, and we miss it horribly.

Breaking Meditation

I’ve practiced awareness meditation for a decade. In time, that meditation has branched and evolved. It’s allowed me to experience the amazing heights and depths of the human heart. It became possible to look candidly at what I am, and make effective changes to my being.

Recently I asked myself the question: what laws of my reality are actually circumstances I’ve chosen?

It’s amazing what parts of the world you can change with your mind when you have the huevos to call Reality a big fucking liar.

The answer, for me, is my concept of age and purpose. I “lost” six years by not pursuing my dream. Part of me resents it bitterly. Sometimes I think: I missed my chance. I mourn for a twentysomething who never was, but whom my 14 year old self was convinced he could create.

How sad would it be if I spent the next 10 years grieving for how I spent the last 10 years? A wasted life. Avoiding that fate requires a choice.

Do I do what I’d always dreamed of then, now? “Better later than never”?

Or settle upon different goals for a different stage of my life—leave behind youthful endeavors as the stuff of a different age?

It’s a question of fatal struggle versus stoic peace. I always side with fatal struggle, and there I find my serenity. To me, struggling against the odds represents knowledge: it’s the only way to know your true potential. Stoic peace seems like fake peace, an artifice to comfort us in our defeat.

Rekindling

So this is the project I put before myself: cultivate youthfulness.

Today I began to meditate on fond youthful memories. I paid attention to that force that colors them. What is this force? Where does it come from? What about then-me is so admirable?

How do you feel when you feel young?

And can you sow that feeling?

Standard