VR has great potential for mindfulness

July 28, 2021

VR has great potential for mindfulness, because of its inherent ability to control the environment and create scenarios to help break the illusion of the Self.

Mindfulness: what it is not

The purpose of mindfulness meditation isn't to be a stress ball or a focus-improving exercise. It's not even really meant to be a way of improving your mental well being. All of those happen to be side-effects of the practice.

It's definitely not trying to avoid having thoughts. It does not necessarily have to be done while sitting with your eyes closed. Meditation is not any particular practice, rather it is a family of practices from many cultures throughout the world that involve understanding the nature of consciousness.

The goal of meditation

An important goal of several mindfulness practices is to be understand the true nature of consciousness, that is, to recognise what your mind is really like, and what you really are. And yes, you are most probably wrong about what you think your mind is like. Unravelling the falsehoods and illusory beliefs we hold about our mind and identity is why the practice is valuable.

"What you just said reeks of crackpoteering."

I understand. I hate crackpots and scammy sciences a lot too. At the moment, we lack effective vocabulary to describe the effects of meditation, but I shall try to spell out some practicalities with the practice. It's about recognising that your thoughts and experiences do not actually come from you, rather they come and go from this void, as a matter of experience. Those thoughts are not You. Similarly the physical sensations of sound, touch, pain, sight are also not really You, they are just sensations in this vast open space of your consciousness.

In fact everything that you see, think, feel and live through is not You, or alternatively, you can think of all of it as contained in a singular awareness. This is my understanding of what is called non-duality, ie, recognising there is no difference between You and Everything else. As a matter of experience, they are both the same. To reach this state of seeing what you are for real takes practice, especially if you want to maintain this state of non-duality for long. A side effect of this state is it comes with a sense of well being and calmness, as well as a gives you optionality with thoughts. You can always recognise and let go of negative thoughts, and keep the ones you like (while not leaving the non-dual state).

It also happens to be difficult to achieve, and requires regular practice.

This is where VR can really help

VR is great at changing your environment. The environment tends to play an important role in many meditation practices. I can imagine when creatively applied, VR can seamlessly switch from a "transparent" real world feed to virtual worlds with different characteristics to explore the various features of awareness and then putting them together. It also seems very compatible with Douglas Harding's "headless" experiments. In general, I see potential in VR to pull a person away from the feeling of identifying herself with her thoughts, and recognising the non-duality of consciousness. I want to see enthusiasts, not academics, tinker with various ideas and out of the box thinking. Please no "let's make a nature scenery with waterfall and birds chirping" type of thing. That is not what meditation is.