Machine-assisted Meditation



My daughter gave me a baseball cap with a built-in LED in the visor.   It is a very cute gadget and I love getting it from her. I even found it useful on a few occasions when working on something in a dark area and needing to have both of my hands free. However I was not prepared for how useful it would prove to be when the days began to get shorter and my morning jog began to take place in the dark. In years past I have simply carried a flashlight to illuminate the path ahead of me while trying not to move the hand that was holding the flashlight, a noticeable restriction when one is jogging. I was therefore delighted to learn that this strange little hat actually gave off enough light to see where I am going when I jog before dawn.


However the hat not only gave me a steady illumination of the jogging path ahead of me while freeing both of my arms to pump as I run—it also augmented in some strange way my understanding of mindfulness practice. I quickly discovered that the LED gave just enough light to allow me to see about 10 feet ahead of me. Tipping my head back very slightly would aim the beam far off into the darkness, but not with sufficient intensity for me to see any possible objects on the path that could twist an ankle. Similarly, by turning my head to the side I could see things off to the side of the path, but with the same sacrifice of illumination of the area just ahead of me. I experimented with carrying a small flashlight to use as needed to see things further ahead or off to the side but quickly realized that relying only on the light from the cap gave me a delightful and automatic mechanism for focusing my attention.   While my awareness could stray from my breath for a long period of time while doing sitting meditation, or even from my body while doing walking meditation, LED-Assisted (Jogging) Meditation[1] does not permit such lapses.   While I can be distracted by something like the glow of a reflective sign far ahead or to the side of me and move my head almost reflexively to focus on it, the loss of the light on the path just ahead of me is an instant reminder to bring my awareness back there.


Something else also happens when I am jogging with this magic little hat. The light from the LED illuminates quite dramatically the vapor in my exhaled breath. Under more normal lighting it would be invisible or only minimally visible. With my awareness of my breath being so unavoidable I gain a new appreciation of just what it means to attend to my breath.


I admit that there is a certain artificiality to LED-Assisted (Jogging) Meditation. Nevertheless I suspect it may have some value.  I would not want to use it as my only form of meditation and I am not sure it should even be called meditation, but thinking of it as an occasional adjunct to regular breath-focussed mindfulness practice intrigues me.

[1]  Early in my career as a psychologist I studied LSD-Assisted (Psychedelic) Psychotherapy, so I could not resist this name.




John Rhead

Columbia, MD