THERE is no shame like that of having your mobile phone sound its chirpy ringtone in the middle of yoga class. The well-being and mindfulness boom has been encouraged by our self-loathing of smart-technology addiction: apps that take us out of the moment, so as to interact with people and situations far, far away. There is nothing like the ping of a smartphone to break the atmosphere.
So how does Rohan Gunatillake justify his meditation app “Buddhify”? As he argued on Heart and Soul (World Service, last Friday), it is only the older generation that is hung up on the “dualism” of here and there, real and virtual, which digital technology offers. Those, like him, who have grown up glued to a smartphone can be here and there at the same time; an existential multi-tasking analogous to that which teenagers insist that they can manage when they do their homework, watch YouTube, and WhatsApp their friends all at the same time.
In practice, Buddhify provides resources for meditation rather than attempt to convert people. Similarly, it is not at all clear whether the Church of England’s various prayer and reading apps are managing to convert downloads — of which there were five million last year — to bums on pews. But the various uses of such resources in daily life — such as the grace before a meal — witness both to a deficit and an appetite. And, in this respect, Sophia Smith Galer’s four-part series on religion in the digital age, of which this was the first, promises valuable insights.
Of the examples that she offered here, the most wholesome was surely that of the One Table app, which enables young Jews in overwhelming cities such as New York to find a community with whom to share Friday-night shabbat. If Generation Y is, as described here, “the loneliest generation”, then we might, on the one hand, blame digital technology and, on the other, turn to it for salvation.
Ramblings (Radio 4, Thursday of last week) is, in contrast, a celebration of the real: real people and real physical exertion. If, like many a public schoolboy, you’ve been brought up to regard the spiritual life in terms of a jolly good hike, then the sound of Clare Balding and her company panting their way from Winchester Cathedral to the labyrinth on St Catherine’s Hill last week will have been as edifying as the finest choral evensong.
The excursion was led, on this occasion, by Brian Draper, a veteran of spiritual retreats and walks, who likes to talk not of rambling but of sauntering. His outings allow time for pause and reflection; and his obvious charisma was here attested by his power to summon up a kingfisher merely by invoking its name. He encourages us to offer as prayer the pounding heart and the aching legs; and, within the labyrinth itself, to trust the path, even when it seems that it will never reach the centre.