The Most Important Meditation App Ever Created

God taps and swipes in mysterious ways

“What is the best app to learn how to meditate?”

As somebody deep in the spiritual-industrial complex this is a question I am often asked, particularly by folks looking to begin a practice. Until last week, I would have suggested they download an app like Headspace or Calm.

Now, finally, I have a better answer — an answer I can be excited to share; Brightmind.

You see, the problem I have with apps like Headspace is that they teach meditation as if it is just another healthy behavior, like going for a run or brushing your teeth. Meditation is packaged as a ‘healthy habit’ for ‘mental health’. It is meditation stripped of it’s religious context, of course, but also repackaged into a simple and reductive purposeful enterprise; the meditation of the Puritan Work Ethic.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, and meditation is a healthy habit and, if you practice it, you will experience a greater degree of mental health. That’s all true. But this is not all that meditation is, and to the degree that apps like Headspace fail to teach in a way that naturally leads to, or at least offers support for, deeper and deeper realizations and experiences, I have a problem.

There is a significant difference between meditation as tool for mental health, and meditation as tool for self-transcendence, transformation, and realization. One is good for public health, the other is potentially revolutionary (and also good for public health).

That difference shows up in the way words are used. If the aim is shallow, the conceptual framework does not need to be all that sophisticated. We are free to be a looser with our definitions. However, if the aim of the teaching is to be both deep and accessible then you must find a way to be clear, consistent and careful with the words you use. The deeper the aim, the more sophisticated the system must become in order for it to remain accessible.

Unfortunately, and for various reasons, the languaging of ideas and concepts such as awakening, enlightenment, or liberation has been mostly mucky and full of bullshit (and bullshit artists).

It may be useful to remember that the West only began the process of assimilating the subtle and counter-intuitive wisdom traditions of the East in the 1950s and 60s. Things are still very much ‘shaking out’ in terms of how the hell do we integrate ideas like selflessness and emptiness with the hyper-individualism of our culture. It takes time for language and conceptual frameworks to adapt, especially when it comes to the realm of ‘spirituality’, ‘mysticism’, or ‘contemplative practice’. Our struggle to find a word that isn’t annoying and silly to even describe what the hell it is we are doing is indicative that the struggle is real. Apps like Headspace avoid dealing with this tension too deeply by presenting a very superficial framing of what meditation is and is for.

Enter Shinzen Young

Shinzen Young geeking out on meditation (Picture taken by Har-Prakash Khalsa)

Shinzen Young has spent the past forty years integrating a deep understanding of the meditative journey with a distinctly western and scientific worldview. What he’s created is an unbelievably precise, pragmatic, and above all helpful framework for learning and understanding meditation, totally devoid of the nebulous bullshit that usually gets sprinkled into these profound topics. Shinzen’s framework, the one he’s been methodically building for the past forty years, forms the basis for the curriculum of the Brightmind app.

Removing nebulous bullshit is no longer a revolutionary idea. Indeed, Headspace has created a niche for itself by creating a secular and accessible ‘context’ for the practice of meditation. The framework that Shinzen has created is similarly free from nebulous bullshit, but it does this while simultaneously accounting for the deep end of meditation. In other words, it is a framework that is both accessible and deep.

This is why I’m so excited about Brightmind. It is the closest humanity has come to packaging the revolutionary potential of meditation in a sleek, user friendly, well designed app that any human can use and enjoy.

Meditation, when practiced and contextualized well, is one of the most effective methods for making humans more sane. The democratization of the kind of sanity that meditation can lead to is the only realistic and sustainable path forward for humanity. We need to upgrade humanity’s mental software to meet the demands of our rapidly changing world. This goes far deeper than finding calm in the midst of a tough day at work.

Brightmind is the only app I’m aware of that couples the accessibility of Headspace with the profundity of a framework supportive of the radical transformation possible on the meditative journey. It is an example of the coming into being of systems, technologies, and institutions that make the idea of ‘mass awakening’ realistic and plausible, instead of a comforting and fanciful story.


Disclosure: I was contracted to work, briefly, for Brightmind during their initial user interview and design process.

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