Hacking Meditation with the Arduino

TLDR; Meditation done right changes your physiology. You can monitor these changes to your physiology using off the shelf components and the Arduino.

Learning to meditate sucks, because there’s no way to know whether you’re doing it right.

And if you are, have you sat long enough? Did your mind wander too much? You seem more relaxed, but did anything really change?

A growing number of studies show that meditation allows us to reduce pain and stress, to enhance sensory awareness, ability to focus, and most amazingly, build a sense of well being.

Simply put, science is proving practicing meditation allows us to change and fundamentally rewire the way our brain works for the better.

Up until now, meditation has been very woo woo, even as a growing body of scientific evidence shows the very real benefits.

So how do we take the woo woo out of meditation, and make improving our brains easier?

There have been some incredible breakthroughs in programming, focusing on giving users feedback immediately, coming from Brett Victor and Chris Granger. Their work got me thinking:

Can I build a device to give meditators feedback on changes to their physiology as they practice meditation?

And this lead me to start reading a bunch of medical publications from the past few years on meditation.

The common thread throughout all scientifically proven methods of meditation is that they fundamentally change your physiology.

This means we can measure physically, when changes happen within your meditation practice. So once we’ve established a normal for your heart rate, we can actually measure deviances from normal.

And from these deviances, we can tell as you go a level down in relaxation, or a level down in your stress, using your physiological giveaways.

If only I could build a way to get your physiological readings into the computer, I could provide audio feedback, and let a meditator know when they’d reached a deeper meditative state.

Building a Brain Laboratory at Home

I always wanted to learn how to code for the Arduino, and so this seemed like the perfect project. I ordered a beginners kit from Sparkfun, with the idea of initially building a Galvanic Skin Response reader.

This quickly evolved into building a more robust system, capable of distinguishing between more physiological changes.

So the prototype I’ve built reads three different values. Your Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), Skin Temperature, and Heart Rate.

Using these three values, I can tell as you become more relaxed (skin temperature, heart rate), and graph and watch as your meditation progresses.

So my initial prototype uses electrodes to measure your GSR and skin temperature, and an LED powered pulse sensor. My Arduino board sends the values straight to a Clojure program via USB.

The Clojure program reads data from the USB, and builds a running average of data. As soon as there is a deviance from a certain set percentage (depending on the input type), audio is triggered via an Overtone controller.

In this way, I can get immediate feedback as I enter a deeper meditative state, and my physiology changes.

Building a Platform to Hack the Mind

But I’m not stopping here. Our world is rapidly growing in complexity, and our ability to use more than the prefrontal cortex of our brain effectively is under attack.

Social media and a hundred million pieces of information only an arms length away mean we’ve got to build better ways to defend our minds from distraction, and learn better ways to manipulate and improve our mind’s functioning.

One problem that jumps out to me as a programmer is the 7+/- 2 issue.

We humans can only hold 7+/- 2 variables in our head at a time, without resorting to tricks. (Read Moonwalking With Einstein if you’re interested in the tricks)

The systems we’re building are much more complicated than 7+/- 2 variables. We need to better learn and understand how to manipulate the power of our subconscious brains, which excels at dealing with many more variables at a time, and then sending solutions to the prefrontal cortex.

High functioning creative people already rely on this part of their minds, but it’s not yet a science. It’s the odd occasions in the shower where insight strikes them.

What if we could use our physiology and computers to create insight on demand?

Only the Beginning, Let’s Work Together

As the body of evidence in favor of meditation keeps growing, I only see devices which allow us to better control our minds proliferating in the world.

Because our lives are becoming ever more complex, and the differences between the winners and the losers in modern society rests completely on our abilities to perform mentally.

If you’re interested in building this yourself, would like to see the code, or just want to have a very first version, please enter your email below, or leave a comment. I won’t spam you, I just want to gauge whether or not there’s a demand for a consumer device to provide an environment for hacking your mind.

I’d love to start working with other people to better the process of improving our minds.

Fill out my online form.

7 Subtle Reasons You Should Be Meditating Daily

Meditation is simply space to play with the functioning and processes of your mind. To learn to override the embedded processes, and direct your mind completely.

We just sit still and focus our attention to breathing, and let an awareness develop beyond the verbal chatter we have and usually identify as ourselves.

30 days ago I made a commitment to sitting still, and focusing on my breathing. Every day immediately after waking up, I fold a pillow in half and sit on it. I cross my legs, straighten my back, and just focus on breathing for the next 20 minutes.

At first, it was incredibly difficult. I think I only lasted 5 or 6 minutes the very first time I tried. And nothing mind blowing or incredible happened. In fact, I’m pretty sure nothing happened.

But I don’t give up that easily, and so I kept doing it, regardless of the circumstances. I stopped everything I was doing, and made 20 minutes out of the day, every day, to make sure I stopped and sat and breathed.

By the second week, I noticed a subtle shift. My mind felt “clearer”. But that doesn’t mean anything. So I kept working.

And eventually I noticed I was different.

Here’s the shifts I experienced:

1. Effortless Action – I’ve always wondered how people got such amazing things accomplished in their lives. It seems to me like I’m always searching for another piece of information before I can finally relax and build something. At my old job, it felt like I spent all day scrambling and stressing to get myself to take care of the tasks I knew needed done.

I now get more done, without feeling the stress to produce, and also without feeling the need to produce things that are flawless. This is the greatest benefit for me from meditation, because it has freed me to be more playful in my life, and in the things I build.

2. Centeredness – I’ve become more aware of where other people’s focus is. A lot of people seem to be drawn to or away from things without knowing it. Social conditioning has a lot to do with it.

I’ve not outgrown my own social conditioning, but I have become more aware of my own needs, and feel and observe them before allowing them to dictate my actions. This means that when people do things which would have angered me in the past, I take a step back and observe the emotions which come before responding to them.

3. Focus – Sitting still and not moving, not thinking gives you back the power of focus. I read recently that young people have more creativity and experience emotions more intensely, but have less focus, and older people have more focus but less creativity.

Real power in life lies in obtaining both the creativity and the focus to be able to implement in action. Meditation gives you the focus and creativity parts by allowing you to become more familiar with the nonverbal parts of your awareness.

4. Heightened Awareness – I’m becoming capable of focusing my awareness itself. I can now direct it towards whatever I’m working on, and subtly shift out of focus from the worries that I had about everything else that I’ve been thinking about.

In other words, I am learning to shift into and out of a flow state at will.

5. Letting Go of Self-Importance – I don’t feel the need to be the hero anymore. I┬árealize that I have limitations, and can only focus on a few things very well. It’s a mistake to try and diffuse my energy through doing it all.

Allow other people the space to develop, and be the medium for them to be comfortable in their self expression.

6. More Forgiveness – Sitting and watching the conscience, talking mind for a few weeks has shown me just how vulnerable and shortcut oriented I really am. But because I realize this was all embedded in the construction of my mind, and it all served a purpose evolutionarily, I let it go and forgive myself.

And in forgiving myself, it’s a lot easier to forgive other people for being afraid or for taking shortcuts.

7. Happiness – When you realize everything you experience comes through and goes away, it’s a lot more difficult to stay attached to outcomes. If you realize your inner dialog and critic is just a tiny piece of your mind, it’s easier to forgive it for being so nervous and negative all the time. That’s mostly been its job for the past thousands of years, to protect us in a harsh environment.

But we’ve largely mastered that environment, and we’re rapidly approaching the point where all the lack we experience is a leftover evolutionary mistake.

7. Extra “Space” In the Day – Because I am comfortable saying “No” to a lot more things in my life, and appreciate the importance of true focus, I now feel like I have more time than ever to accomplish the things I dream of. And this space gives me comfort.