Time to take a minute to breathe. Exhale. Now breathe again. Today you’ve breathed for five minutes, taken 35 breaths, with an average heart rate of 66 BPM. Congratulations!
That’s mindfulness, at least according to Breathe, a new app for the Apple Watch. Users are prompted, on a schedule, to take deep breaths for 1 to 5 minutes. Version 1.9.2 now features “suggested Breathers to use in your notifications.” Short, pithy, Zen-ish statements like “If life is a passage, let’s plant flowers” pop up on screen—complete with matching emojis. And hey, you can share your breathing with your friends on social media! Just copy the “Breather of the Day” and hit the share button. Stats and summary results report your daily progress!
Toward what, exactly? Are we really at the point where we need an app to tell us to breathe? To perform a fundamental requirement of life itself?
True, breathing is the foundation of mindful meditation. And we could all probably use some support in our pursuit of wellbeing. But how is it possible for technology to tell us—actual living, breathing humans—how to be more in tune with our thoughts and feelings?
It’s not. Being told what to do, when, by a watch or a phone or a screen of any size is actually the opposite of mindfulness.
Mindfulness can’t come from a device that doesn’t think, can’t feel. Pre-programmed “breathers of the day” and pre-set notifications only bind us to a pre-determined schedule oblivious to our real needs. We end up ever more ruled by the clock—our actions and reactions, our thoughts, feelings, and now even our breathing dictated to us by the Apple Watch, the iPhone, Google calendar, Swipes, or whatever else might come out of Silicon Valley promising some peace of mind for the price of some in-app purchases.
Why are we outsourcing ourselves to our watches and phones, to devices and apps?
Looking at a screen means we aren’t looking within. Technology can’t cultivate a consciousness of, and sympathy toward, our restless hearts and minds, because it has no consciousness. Real mindfulness means paying attention to ourselves and others.
When we return to the breath at our own bidding, not the ding of an app, we learn to respond to our own needs. Instead of simply satisfying another external demand, we connect to our own sense of self, in flesh and blood, in person.
Now that’s mindfulness.