I was extremely privileged to help facilitate, along with Ross Laird and Brian Williams, a session on mindfulness and technology at last month’s Fall ETUG gathering at Kwantlen College in Richmond B.C. We did the session in three parts; Brian opened with a guided meditation, which Ross followed with a wonderful drawing exercise that asked people to depict their centered selves and then additionally the way they felt technology related to this self. The results of these drawings and starting the day this way was quite special and we got lots of positive feedback from participants for this novel beginning to an ed tech gathering.

For my part, I followed up these two great facilitators by leading a bit of a discussion about our relationship to technology, its effects on mindfulness and attention, ways we can cultivate mindfulness in the face of distraction, and even ways in which technology itself might be used to help improve our attention and mindfulness.

It was in the context of this last point that I made mention of Buddhify, an iphone (and android) app I had only been made aware of, via a tweet by openbuddha, the day before. So when I mentioned it I had only had a single day to try it and wasn’t able to endorse it too vigorously, though it did already feel like something that could be useful for folks.

Well, a month later I have had a much better chance to give Buddhify a whirl and unreservedly can say that for the novice/beginner to meditation, it might be the best $2.99 they could spend. The main component of Buddhify is a collection of guided meditations (the male voice, which I have it set to, provided by the mellifluous founder Rohan Gunatillake, but a nice touch is there is a female version too.) Now guided meditations are nothing new, you can find many good ones for free all over the internet, and I often recommend to people who are completely new to meditation or who claim they have tried but “can’t meditate” to start with a guided meditation. Not only can it be a gentler introduction, there are often lots of good tips and encouragements to help you through common frustrations. Buddhify is no different in this regard; the instructions will be very familiar to seasoned meditators, and I really appreciate the light-heartedness of Rohan’s laugh when he recognizes some of these common struggles we all face.

But this is where Buddhify has something extra going for it, actually a couple of things. The first is that it is explicitly built to be a mobile app that recognizes the various different contexts people generally have their phones in. So at the start of the session, it asks you to select one of four settings in which you are using it – Walking, Traveling, At the Gym and finally At Home. It further contextualizes the guided meditation you’ll be offered by asking you to select what you’d like the focus of that session to be – Clarity, Connection, Stability or Embodiment. Based on your choice you’re offered a guided meditation, typically 15 minutes or so, that fits with the context.

Very cool. But in addition, Buddhify brings in some game-like aspects to your beginning practice; the Dashboard keeps track of the percentage of recordings you’ve listened to, how often and the longest stretch of days you’ve used it. Now ultimately, like so many things that are “good for us,” meditation is its own reward, but I think the addition of this game aspect is likely very helpful to people getting started. Just as with exercise practices, early on the tangible results might be slight and the impetus to give up strong, as who doesn’t attach to “outcomes,” and the trick with both is to just “stick with it” for a bit, until it becomes a regular thing (and surprise, surprise, the “results” start to show up too!)

In addition to the Dashboard is the Check-In feature; you check in by rating (on a non-numerical sliding scale) how you are feeling on a number of fronts like Joy, Calm, Curiosity and Balance, and the dashboard then shows you which way you are trending. Again, positive feedback that can help you acknowledge subtle effects that can be difficult to see at any one moment (as an aside, one small addition I’d love to see would be the ability to see the longer trend diagram of these.)

After the ETUG session I used buddhify pretty much solid for 2 weeks. I then found myself using it less, only because I already had a well established sitting practiced. The app is really aimed at people just starting out, I think. But that said, even people who have been sitting for a while can use a hand; while I strive to be dilligent and sit every day, I have my ups and downs too, and just this week I turned back to Buddhify (indeed that’s what prompted this post) in an effort to get myself back on track, and have really appreciated the support and encouragement it offers. (Plus I must say I am pretty intrigued to see what happens when the community unlocks the “Buddhify Mode,” another clever motivating feature that uses skillful means to exploit our curiosity for our own benefit.)

So, novice or experienced meditator, I think there’s something here for us all. I highly recommend Buddhify, and hope it can help others on their journey to mindfulness. – SWL

Some Resources on How To Meditate

I just got a DM in twitter from someone asking me for pointers to some resources on how to meditate, and thought I’d post my reply here in case these were of any help to others.

First off, to be clear, I am offering these not as any great expert but simply as things I have used in the past that I’ve found helpful. As they say Your Mileage May Very. Second, there are many, many different forms of meditation, traditions and rituals. I do not intended to go into those details. I sit with a Buddhist Sangha (community of practitioners) that practices in the “Plum Village Tradition” developed by Thich Nhat Hanh, but also have sat in the Vispassana and Zen traditions. It’s all good. I tend to not be overly dogmatic about these things, trying to find what works for me ,but I expect there are many more experienced practitioners who would chastise me for this as being lazy.

In any case, for some very brief reading you could try

One of the ways I got started was by listening to guided meditations. Two of the collections I like are

I guess the biggest pieces of advice I would have are

  • Don’t give up. I use the phrase “Firm but Gentle” to describe the attitude I need to have towards my practice and myself – I need to be firm in my resolution to keep practicing, but gentle both in my practice and with myself when my mind wanders or when I find a few days have passed without sitting.
  • Let go of expectations – don’t expect a flash of lightning or a dramatic transformation to overtake you. That is not what it’s about, in my experience. But if you are consistent in sitting, starting with maybe 15 minutes a day and expanding as you go, you will start to notice subtle changes and benefits from cultivating mindfulness. But don’t even attach to those! Just sit.
  • Find a sangha or others to practice with. This can take some time, and don’t worry if at first you don’t find one that jibes with you. Eventually you will, and it feels wonderful once you do, to simply sit with others.

That’s it. I’m happy to talk to anyone who has questions but I’m really no expert, just someone also trying to find his way along the path. – SWL

Stillness Buddy – Software for Reflection


I recently started sitting with a sangha in Victoria. It is a wonderful experience and brings me great joy, to find like-minded people to practice with.

The sangha follows the tradition of well known Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. The other day, while reading up about the community he founded, I stumbled on a link to some software he endorses called Stillness Buddy. I installed the free trial and am really loving the experience.

I am usually pretty skeptical when I hear mention of meditation software; it is not something that needs software, indeed needs anything other than discipline, to practice. This is slightly different.

Once installed, there are 4 simple settings: start and finish time of work day, lunch break time, spacing and duration of Moments of Stillness an Mindfulness Pauses. Once you have set those values, that’s it – the software runs in the background, and at the appointed times pops up a small window, accompanied by a very pleasant sound, which urgese you to take a moment and consider your breathing, or some other mindfulness enhancing step. The “Moments” can be of any duration you choose – I have set mine to the suggested initial values of 30 second breaks every 30 minutes. Similarly, I have the longer Pauses set to 2 minute breaks every hour and a half.

What a difference it makes. It is far to easy for me to get absorbed, either in a single task or flitting between a dozen tasks, and on top of that, it does feel like sitting at a computer can actually effect your regular breathing. This simple app, which I would say was perfectly appropriate for non-meditators and non-Buddhists, goes a long way to the simple act of bring me back into my body and connecting with my breathing, a small but major part of being mindful. I hope you find it helpful too. – SWL