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Plugging into my digital deity

‘As an experiment in spirituality on the go,’ I try using 18 apps in 24 hours

By Anne Bokma


Apps promise to make our lives easier in all sorts of ways, from calling a cab (Uber) to creating a budget (Mint.com), streaming music (Spotify) and organizing photos (Flickr), as well as getting the recommended daily quota of water (Waterlogged). You can even receive a phony call whenever you need an excuse to get out of a situation (Fake Conversation), get directions — in a pirate voice, no less — when you forget where you parked your car (Carr Matey) and predict the best time to pop into the bathroom without missing a key plot line in a movie (Run and Pee). With almost 3 million apps on the market, there really is one for everything.

Apps can turn your cellphone into a spiritual tool, too. Exceedingly, Apple’s App Store is ecumenical, with lots of options for those who consider themselves more spiritual than religious. There are an estimated 6,000 religious and spiritual apps, including Confession, which helps Catholics keep track of their sins; Virtual Hindu Worship, which allows users to pray to a variety of deities; myMasjid, which Muslims use to search for prayer times at the nearest mosque; and KosherMe, with which Jews can find the perfect blessing. What’s more, there’s the Bible app, which has been downloaded an impressive 180 million times — still far fewer than the Angry Birds app, which has had more than two billion downloads.

As an experiment in spirituality on the go, I devote an entire day to my higher self, using my cellphone as a sort of new age pocket Bible. I log onto 18 apps in 24 hours, hoping they’ll ping me to a higher plane of enlightenment.

Here’s how it typically works:

7:30 a.m. I awake on a positive note with a gentle-sounding chime and a positive affirmation (“My happiness is a direct reflection of how quickly I can shift my perceptions from fear to love”) with the Spirit Junkie Alarm Clock. It’s the brainchild of motivational speaker and coach Gabby Bernstein, the author of The Universe Has Your Back. The chime is so gentle, in fact, that I almost sleep through it, but it’s a more blissful way to start the day than the usual insistent buzzing on my phone.

7:35 a.m. There’s a vast selection of apps to choose from for my 10-minute morning meditation. Headspace and Calm are two of the most popular, but after a free trial, you have to pay a monthly fee. Insight Timer has 5,000 free, guided meditations from more than 1,000 teachers, such as Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Today, personal coach Jonathan Lehmann promises to help me to “switch on the happiness button” in my brain with seven positive affirmations, including: “Say yes as often as possible,” “Listening is the best gift I can give to those around me” and “I speak only to spread positivity.” I then roll out of bed determined to be a shining beacon of optimism. I even try not to grumble when I enter the kitchen and see my husband hasn’t yet made the coffee.

8:15 a.m. I head out for a 5-kilometre run with a renewed sense of purpose, thanks to Charity Miles, an app that works like a pedometer and sends a small donation (25 cents per mile of walking or running) to one of more than 30 non-profits (I choose Save the Children). My run nets the charity 75 cents, which is a pittance, yes, but three weekly runs over the course of a year comes to $117. Multiply that by thousands of users, and it’s easy to see why the app has raised $2 million for good causes.

My runner’s high from doing some small bit of good is further boosted when I use Spotify and sing along with the likes of The Turtles (“Happy Together”) and Buffalo Springfield (“For What It’s Worth.”). When people look at me rather funnily, I just smile back because I’m now a shining beacon of optimism.

8:45 a.m. “Yoga is not just the repetition of a few postures — it’s more about the exploration and discovery of the subtle energies of life,” yoga master Amit Ray says. I’m keen to capture those subtle energies, myself, but I’m short on time. 5-Minute Yoga comes to the rescue, though. I limber up with five poses — the Big Toe, The Bound Angle, The Chair, Extended Side Angle Left, Extended Side Angle Right — in about the same amount of time it takes to brush and floss my teeth.

9:30 a.m. With a deadline to meet, I do a digital detox with Unplugged and disable my phone for several hours to prevent getting distracted by a constant stream of notifications. My fingers still itch for my phone, so I move it to another room.

1 p.m. It’s lunchtime. Rather than wolf down my sandwich, I chew thoughtfully with Mindful Bite, an app that flashes a signal every 30 seconds, alerting me to take the next forkful. I’m forced to eat more slowly, but I’d rather read the paper than stare at the screen waiting for the next prompt.

3 p.m. To stave off a mid-afternoon creativity slump, I log onto Daily Art, which delivers a single masterpiece everyday. Today, it’s Young Martyr, which was painted by the French artist Paul Delaroche and depicts the haunting image of a young woman — with a faint halo above her head —  floating on her back in Italy’s Tiber River. For literary inspiration, I check out the Rumi app and read the wise words of the Persian poet (“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you . . .”) Similarly, Poetry Daily turns my phone into a mobile poetry library that I can browse by subject, poet and even mood. I hit the “spin” button, and “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon randomly pops up: There’s just no accounting for happiness/Or the way it turns up like a prodigal/Who comes back to the dust at your feet/Having squandered a fortune far away. This little bit of enlightenment goes a long way, and I turn back to my laptop with renewed enthusiasm.

3:15 p.m. Being a work-at-home writer can be a bit lonely at times; it’s  just you and the blank screen, after all. That’s why I often take my laptop to a coffee shop to work. Today, I use the Coffitivity app instead. Its coffee shop ambient sounds include Morning Murmur, Lunchtime Lounge and University Undertones, which create the perfect combination of calm and commotion to boost productivity. I feel less alone — and it’s a lot cheaper than Starbucks.

5:30 p.m. It’s time to start thinking about dinner. Ayurvedic Daily Tips offers health advice and recipes from The Chopra Centre, which is co-founded by alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra. I whip up a batch of today’s recommended recipe: pesto humous (1 can garbanzo beans 2 cloves garlic, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 3 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp tahini, salt & 1/2 cup of pesto sauce) to serve with salad and pita bread. Admittedly, there’s a primal satisfaction in prepping this ancient Middle Eastern dish — using a very modern Cuisinart, of course — for my family.

6:30 p.m. Instead of lighting candles at dinner, I place my phone in the centre of the table and use the chalice lighter on the Unitarian Universalist app, Illuminations. After one tap, a flickering flame appears in the centre of the chalice. Although I think it’s pretty cool, my kids aren’t all that impressed. But they patiently endure a pre-meal blessing from the app: “We light our flaming chalice/To illuminate the world we seek/In the search for truth, may we be just/In the search for justice, may we be loving/And, in loving, may we find peace.”

8:30 p.m. I’m tempted to watch the latest episode of Call The Midwife on Netflix but opt for some edifying reading instead. The Spiritual Life app, which provides a free issue, offers articles on cultivating happiness, the power of affirmations and resolving conflict. It’s a refreshing change from the usual women’s magazine fare like how to get rid of belly fat.

11 p.m. It’s bedtime. I haven’t prayed since I was a kid but try out the Prayer Beads app. Each tap on the finger icon corresponds to a single bead. At the end of my round of giving thanks 100 times, I’m rewarded with the pleasant ting of a bell. It takes 20 seconds, and no kneeling is required.

11:01 p.m. Oprah says that keeping a gratitude journal is the single most important thing she’s ever done. The Gratitude Journal app tagline is “Change your thinking. Change your life.” It’s easy to think of three things I’m thankful for, and I type them into the app: the crabapple tree in bloom outside my bedroom window, a productive day of writing and a lively dinner with my family. This one is a keeper and totally worth $2.99.

11:05 p.m. Now, it’s time for a bedtime story. Calm offers adult sleep stories to send me off to dreamland. For 30 minutes, I’m lulled by the elegant and oh-so-proper accent of British novelist Andrew Martin, as he reads his non-fiction tale, Sleepy Sunday. A love letter to  “the sleepiest day of the week,” Martin reminisces on how the spacious boredom of his childhood Sabbaths helped him to become a writer. 

11:40 p.m. Close to midnight, I turn on Relax Melodies, an app offering 52 free melodies and nature notes. I finally unclasp the phone from my hand and press my hands together under my cheek. I lay myself down to sleep with the comforting sound of rain landing on a tarp. And it won’t be long before Sleep Junkie wakes me in the morning light with its gentle alarm and another positive affirmation.



Author's photo
Anne Bokma is a Hamilton-based journalist (www.annebokma.com). Her column, "Spiritual But Secular," appears monthly in The Observer. Her blog, "My Year of Living Spiritually," will appear every second and fourth Friday of the month. Sign up here to receive updates automatically and follow Bokma on her 12-month journey to living more soulfully.
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