Maybe I’m a little late to the hashtag-mindfulness movement, but I just recently started trying out a meditation app. There are plenty of articles touting the supposed benefits of meditation practices — ranging from from “charting new pathways in the brain” to remaining in a zen-like state when having a conversation about politics; and in recent years the market for mental wellness and meditation services has grown to more than $1 billion. But for me the impetus was convenience: my gym app started offering meditation practices for free, and for awhile they were shoved in my face every time I opened the app.
What’s surprised me more than my almost-immediate taking to this new feature in the app (which the gym has labeled “Headstrong”, not to be confused with the wildly popular Headspace), is how much I like wearing Apple’s wire-free AirPods while I’m using it. I know, I know: fetishizing an Apple product while trying to achieve mental clarity, through a practice that at its roots is supposed to help quell earthly desires, is borderline ridiculous. Also, big caveat! AirPods don’t fit everyone well, and ill-fitting headphones are just as irritating as having Donald Trump’s tweets read aloud to you while trying to meditate (good luck with that).
But unlike my Verge colleague Sean O’Kane, the AirPods feel good in my ears, and when I wear them I can pretty much forget they’re there. I can sit up, or lie down, or lie down and then sit up, and they’re there, but I don’t realize they’re there. There’s no neckband behind my head or cables snaking over my ears or tiny shark fins poking my ear cartilage; and there’s no dangling wire tickling the side of my face and keeping me leashed to my smartphone. I’m completely unencumbered for six or ten or fourteen minutes, or at the very least, able to convince myself I’m unencumbered, since the whole thing is still powered by a smartphone.
Since they’ve come to market I’ve worn the AirPods during a variety of activities, and in general I’ve been impressed by their staying power. I’ve walked, hiked, run, jumped rope, and lifted weights while wearing them. Somehow, they stay in my ears. The only time I’ve been in danger of losing the tiny ear dongles was when I pulled a sweatshirt over my head and one got caught in its laundry-bound path.
But during almost every activity I’m still very much aware of them, whether it’s because I’m consciously listening to a music playlist, or because someone comments on them, or because I’ve caught a glimpse of myself in a gym mirror and thought, Oh god, I’ve become one of the AirPods people.
When I’m sitting there attempting to use the meditation app, the AirPods become one less thing I have to remember to forget. I can still hear ambient noise from the outside world, but there’s also a voice whispering directly into my ears, one that feels like it’s curling up along the edges of my brain. If you’ve ever used headphones to fall asleep, you know the sensation: there’s the low hum of a TV, maybe, or the murmur of voices from another room or in the car, just enough to keep you aware of what’s going on around you, but your attention is focused on the thing you’ve chosen to listen to.
Lots of people use meditation apps without AirPods. Lots of people meditate without the use of any kind of app or guide at all. You don’t need AirPods to meditate. But for me they’ve become the surprisingly perfect accessory.