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Month: August 2019

3 Lessons from Waylon Lewis on the Convergence of Politics, Spirituality, and Technology

Are spirituality and politics really so different?

Is sitting in meditation and standing up to take responsibility for the condition of the world part of the same practice? Can they– or should they– be separate?

And is mindfulness practice just about becoming more aware of your own thoughts and actions in daily life, or something much more? 

For roughly 17 years, Elephant Journal founder Waylon Lewis has been an advocate for social responsibility and mindful living. 

Nowadays, when you hear the word mindfulness, it’s almost strictly in the context of mindfulness meditation. Even the word ‘mindful’ is only used in context to the sensory awareness you develop through that practice (or just the effort to become more aware outside of that practice).

But in Buddhist tradition (to which Lewis hails as, in his own words, a “1st generation American Buddhist Dharma Brat”), mindfulness has long been about much more than just the practice of mindful breathing that’s become so popular in the West over the last decade. 

According to Waylon’s bio, his aim is to “bring the good news re: ‘the mindful life’ beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care.” And that mindful life– something the world needs much more of now than ever– is all about social responsibility, political participation, and compassion. 

3 Lessons from Waylon Lewis on the Convergence of Politics, Spirituality, and Technology

Recently featured on the TFM podcast, episode 20, Lewis talked with TFM founder Robert Plotkin about everything from social responsibility to the role that mindfulness practice plays in connection with politics and global issues, and how we can use technology for the greater good without letting it control us. 

These are 3 lessons from entrepreneur and Elephant Journal founder Waylon Lewis:

1. Mindfulness is about more than just meditation

For nearly two decades, Elephant Magazine, now Elephant Journal, has been a source for opinions and information on mindful living. 

Elephant has been voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, but Lewis says the publication is about much more than just that. 

From love and relationships to spirituality, health and wellness, Yoga, green, and politics, Elephant covers the gamut on topics which center around one single idea: mindful living.

How does all this connect to mindfulness practice? Social responsibility is a form of mindfulness because it’s about stretching beyond yourself to the world at large, developing compassion for others, and realizing that you have a role to play in how all this turns out.

In a world which is more connected than ever as a result of the Internet and, by extension, social media, it’s become more important than ever to not sit idly by and allow the events of the world unfold without at least making an effort to stay informed. 

Mindfulness practice isn’t just about your own stress and suffering but about better understanding how your actions affect the world around you. 

When you see mindfulness practice in this way, you become aware of how interdependent everything is and the role you have to play in trying to make things better. 

2. There is no separation between spirituality and politics

“If spirituality is just for naval gazing I don’t want any part of it.”

Elephant Journal is known for its unique stance on politics: they don’t shy away from it. 

Lewis says you can’t live mindfully and stay out of politics. It just doesn’t make sense.

“We’re actually about life, we’re about the world,” he says of Elephant’s stance on covering politics. “You can’t stay out of politics. Politics affect food, politics affect infrastructure, politics affect education, politics affect war, or peace, or equality. And we’re about all of these things.” 

It’s a common– and damaging– misconception that meditation is about “blissing out” or “emptying your mind”. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. When you sit down to meditate, you confront the issues you’re facing: your stress, your anxiety, your depression, heartbreak, sorrow, despair, jealousy, and anger. 

To sit and meditate is to dedicate yourself to figuring things out on the inside so that you can stand up and go about life more effectively on the outside. Waylon says he didn’t understand this at first when he was a kid.

“I grew up in the Buddhist community and when I was a teenager. I was busy playing video games or playing basketball or, you know, chasing after girls (pretty ineffectually). And I would walk into the meditation room and I’d see a hundred people meditating on a beautiful Vermont afternoon. And in my mind I’d be like, ‘what are you guys hiding from?’ Get out there and live; Carpe Diem.”

He continued: “What I learned later is that people actually are dealing with reality. Meditation is important. They’re sorting themselves out. You call meditation practice meditation practice for a reason. It’s practice for life. And if you’re not going to then get out there and be of service to the greater good than it’s just selfish, right?”

Lewis says that if spirituality is selfish, that’s the opposite of true spirituality. True spirituality is one in which you turn inward to sort yourself out so that you might turn outward and help others. 

In this way, there is no separation between spirituality and politics. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take a hard-line stance on a political issue, but it does mean that spiritual practice should naturally make you become politically active, at least in terms of informing yourself and voting when you have the opportunity. 

3. Discussing mindfulness online is inherently awkward– but important 

Waylon talked with Robert about the apparent contradiction in being an online publication about mindfulness and mindful living.

Lewis says, “There’s an inherent tension in being about mindfulness, living a mindful life, encouraging people to get outside and find their breath and all that kind of stuff and being online where 70% of our readers are reading on their phone while they’re on the toilet or walking and they really should be just, you know, looking at the trees and enjoying their life.” 

Elephant has at times been pegged as hypocritical for talking about mindful living online. But Lewis argues that’s exactly where discussions on mindfulness should be taking place.

“Well, you don’t want to talk about mindfulness to a bunch of monks on top of the Himalayas, right?” says Lewis. “You want to talk about mindfulness to crazy, speedy business people and college kids and parents. These are the people who need mindfulness and appreciate it the most.”

Mindfulness wasn’t just discovered. It’s been in the West for decades and, while recent scientific research sure has helped popularize it, that’s not the only reason it’s become a household term over the past few years. 

Now, more than ever we– as parents, students, and professionals– need to take steps to create balance by becoming more aware of our daily habits and how those habits impact our life. 

Technology and the pressures of modern life– and current events– are constantly pulling us this way and that and threaten to negatively impact our well-being. 

You need to be vigilant in not only balancing your technology use but changing how you use technology so that it becomes a tool that helps you live better.

Learn more about Waylon Lewis and Elephant Journal

Waylon Lewis is the founder of elephantjournal.com & host of the Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis

He’s been voted Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”. 

Check out his recent appearance on the TFM podcast (Episode 20).

His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available here.

Exploring Meditation Devices– Is the Muse Headband Right for You?

Every day, it seems there’s a new study touting the benefits of meditation. Experts say it can enhance your focus, reduce anxiety, increase self-awareness, and give you a sense of calm. The list goes on.

So, why isn’t everyone making time for this simple, free practice that can have such a positive impact on your life?

Well, it’s hard.

As anyone who’s tried to meditate knows, sitting quietly with only your thoughts is more difficult than it sounds. In our go-go-go culture of constant entertainment, pausing feels downright uncomfortable. It’s a step beyond boredom, as your mind searches wildly for the comfort of distraction from unpleasant thoughts.

Not only that, meditation often takes time to be noticeable in your daily life. For beginners, it’s tough to persist in your practice when you don’t see results.

Of course, there’s no shortage of books, classes, workshops, retreats, and meditation apps to help you get through these obstacles. And for many practitioners, they provide enough guidance and support to build a regular practice. 

But sometimes, it’s not enough. After all, no teacher can read your mind. 

Fortunately, meditation devices like the Muse headband are the closest thing to it. They provide biofeedback from your mind and body to help you stay on track. This speeds up the learning curve, helping meditators have a sense of purpose and progress, which translates into continued practice.

What is Muse?

The original Muse headband is a portable EEG (or electroencephalogram) that provides real-time feedback on your brain activity to help you improve your meditation practice. Muse 2 takes this one step further, adding sensors for your heart, body, and breath:

  • PPG + Pulse Oximetry to measure heart rate
  • Accelerometer to measure body movement
  • PPG + Gyroscope to measure breathing

Amazingly, these are all combined into a slim headband that you connect to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth.

Muse, meditation devices
Muse shrinks down technology for the brain, breath, heart, and body into a simple headband with sensors that communicate with your Muse app via Bluetooth.

How does the Muse headband work?

Without getting too scientific, Muse 2 interprets the data from these multiple sensors and provides subtle prompts that guide you back to stillness. There are four distinct programs.

  • Mind Meditation – As your mind wanders, the soundscape goes from calm to stormy weather. 
  • Heart Meditation – You’ll hear your heartbeat played back in real-time as the sound of a rhythmic drum. 
  • Breath Meditation – When you pace your breath with the guiding tones, the sounds will harmonize.
  • Body Meditation – As your movement shifts, you’ll be gently nudged back to stillness with the sound of wind chimes.

For example, let’s say you select the mind meditation and your thoughts begin to drift. You’ll hear the winds pick up, signaling you to come back to the moment. As your mind calms, you’ll hear the sound of birds gently tweeting.

It provides both an immediate trigger and reward. 

Within the mind meditation, you can select your favorite immersive soundscape. Choose from rain forest, beach, city park, desert, or ambient.

How does Muse encourage continued practice?

After your meditation, you can see how you did through a series of graphs and charts in the Muse meditation app. To keep you motivated, Muse also gives you points, goals, challenges, and bonuses, along with helpful tips on how to improve future scores.

And, at the end of every Muse session, you can record how you feel and reflect on what came up for you during your meditation. If you don’t have time, you can simply choose an emoji to capture your mood. 

Muse, meditation devices
Adding an element of gaming and incentive to your meditation practice can help you stay motivated and on track.

What are people saying about Muse?

“Is all of this worth $250? Your mileage may vary, but to my mind (no pun intended) it absolutely is. Both Headspace and Calm offer lifetime subscriptions for $299, and they don’t give you useable data on your meditation practice.” – Chris Taylor, Mashable

“It’s hard to believe that such a small, simply-designed device can actually read your brain signals. But from my experience using it, I feel like I’ve actually been able to meditate.” – Lee Bell, Forbes

“I found that the device offers something a silent savasana and guided meditation could never: a nonjudgmental companion in your ear (a rain cloud, a wind chime, okay, even the loud tribal drum) that keeps you accountable before your mind wanders too far off. I felt a lot more focused during meditations and ultimately became calmer and sleepier if I used the Muse before bed.” – Lori Keong, New York Magazine

“The science behind Muse is pretty robust – the neurofeedback has been used in the mental health field for over a decade – and its tech has been used in neuroscience research.” Hugh Langley, Wareable

How can I buy Muse?

Are you intrigued by the possibilities of meditation devices? You can visit www.choosemuse.com to purchase the original Muse or Muse 2. They offer a few options.

  • Muse 1 – The original Muse includes the EEG sensors, so you have access to the mind meditation. This version retails for $149. Although it’s a single headband, multiple users can link to their own Muse app to record sessions.
  • Muse 2 – This includes sensors to measure the brain, heart, breath, and movement, so you have access to the mind, heart, breath, and body meditations. It’s also a single headband, but for multiple users. This upgraded version costs $249.
  • Guided Meditations – You can also purchase 100+ Guided Meditations from renowned meditation instructors on topics like sleep, performance, stress, and more. After each meditation, you’ll receive a post-session report with your Muse data (brain activity) during that session. This is a monthly or annual subscription.
Woman using Muse, meditation devices

What does the future hold for meditation devices?

As this technology advances, we’re already seeing potential new applications emerge. Especially in conjunction with virtual reality. 

For example, Healium combines immersive technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, with biometrics monitoring like Muse. The visual meditation experience is powered by your own brain and heart rate, so as you move towards greater inner peace, the various brainwave patterns and changing heart rate moves alters the visuals. Imagine making flowers spontaneously grow or the sun shine more brightly with your mind!

It’s clear we’re on the cusp of some exciting, positive developments that will help more people enjoy the significant mental, emotional, and physical benefits of meditation.

Have you used Muse or similar meditation devices? We’d love to hear your experiences.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

The average cellphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

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