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The Art of Mental Travel

Why a calming scene or narrator is different from meditating.

Key points

  • Meditation aims to connect with higher consciousness, not just provide relaxation.
  • Disengaging the senses and a sense of time, space, and self is key to meditation but not to guided visual or audio meditations.
  • Self-regulation and agency are critical to the meditative experience but not guided meditations.
Source: RgStudio/iStockphoto

The word meditation stems from meditatum, a Latin term that means "to ponder." Davanger (2008) reviewed a cross-section of research looking at meditation and speculated that the practice might be as old as humanity itself with the potential meditative capacities of Neanderthals. Some of the oldest written records were found from around 1500 BCE in India and the third and sixth centuries BC in China.1

Many apps, programs, and videos claim to offer the experience of meditation, yet essential features of meditation are lost in such programs. While it may be tempting to conflate meditation and these apps, videos, or programs, it’s worth noting that key differences from the meditation process make it distinctly different, with potentially different outcomes.

The intention of meditation is different.

Watching a calming scene, or listening to a peaceful narrative or music, may offer some much-needed respite. Still, the original intention of meditation was less about respite and more about a practice to engage the inner spaces in mental travel to discover the unchanging nature of pure consciousness and the powerful creative potential in this consciousness space.2

According to Vedic science, the deep inner self activates the inner faculty or mind (working consciousness), which activates the physical body. The identity of this inner self is more like the witness than the ever-active mind we frequently call our "selves." One of the key goals of meditation is to live from the highest “level” of pure consciousness in a state of being that feels like bliss.

Meditation involves disengaging from the senses and not paying attention to sensory features.

In traditional forms of meditation, such as mindfulness meditation or transcendental meditation, the key feature is perceptual decoupling3—not enhanced attention. Yet, many so-called meditations are designed to engage the senses. As a result, the actual process is quite different and, one might argue, a little misleading.

Meditation often has one point of focus.

Calming stories, music, and images often take you through an experience with multiple shifts in attention. In contrast, meditations traditionally have a single focus of attention (a mantra, sound, or breathing) as a key part of the process. The idea is to “train” the wandering mind to be still enough such that the deeper inner consciousness can be experienced. Of course, certain distinctions, such as single focus versus open monitoring meditations, exist,4 but these are vastly different from watching videos or stories.

Meditation involves agency.

One of the most difficult parts of meditation is self-regulation. Apps, images, and meditative narratives may be well-intended in supporting the person who desires to meditate with help, yet giving up self-regulation equates to giving up a key aspect of meditation. These other experiences are more similar to hypnosis than meditation.5

We often lose a sense of time and space in meditation and experience the self differently.

Whereas many apps, videos, and programs are time experiences, even when meditation is constrained by time, within the meditative experience, we can lose a sense of time and space.6 As one group of authors described it,

At the beginning of a meditation session, meditators feel a subjective slowing of the passage of time and an expansion of the present moment, which is achieved through a transiently increased attentional focus on body states leading meditators to be more strongly aware of their bodily selves.

The representation of time and self is reduced later during the meditation experience. While this may happen with the apps, programs, and videos I refer to, the subjective experience is quite different.

Design Criteria for Truly Meditative Art

Based on these differences, I propose the design criteria for a meditative experience that modern creators can utilize when constructing experiences of immersive and embodied non-ordinary consciousness to resemble meditation using technology. These include allowing users to disengage from the senses and their sense of time, space, and self. In addition, creating a single point of focus and allowing users to embody the mental environment in meditation is important. Furthermore, it is important to allow the user to have agency in the experience and not just to measure how calm they feel but how they score on the Sat-Chit-Ananda scale, which measures being, consciousness, and bliss as well.8


When we examine this more closely, we can see that an experience that intends to relax people, engage their senses, and offer timed interventions and guidance, with storytelling that has multiple points of focus, is quite different from one that intends to have people connect with their higher levels of consciousness, detach from their senses, lose a sense of time, be self-guided, and have one point of focus.


BSc, E. M. The History and Origin of Meditation. (accessed 2023-04-01).

(2) Sharma, H. Meditation: Process and Effects. Ayu 2015, 36 (3), 233–237.

(3) Brandmeyer, T.; Delorme, A. Meditation and the Wandering Mind: A Theoretical Framework of Underlying Neurocognitive Mechanisms. Perspect Psychol Sci 2021, 16 (1), 39–66.

(4) Deepeshwar, S.; Nagendra, H. R.; Rana, B. B.; Visweswaraiah, N. K. Evolution from Four Mental States to the Highest State of Consciousness: A Neurophysiological Basis of Meditation as Defined in Yoga Texts. Prog Brain Res2019, 244, 31–83.

(5) Lush, P.; Dienes, Z. Time Perception and the Experience of Agency in Meditation and Hypnosis. Psych J 2019, 8(1), 36–50.

(6) Berkovich-Ohana, A.; Dor-Ziderman, Y.; Glicksohn, J.; Goldstein, A. Alterations in the Sense of Time, Space, and Body in the Mindfulness-Trained Brain: A Neurophenomenologically-Guided MEG Study. Front Psychol 2013, 4, 912.

(7) Wenuganen, S.; Walton, K. G.; Katta, S.; Dalgard, C. L.; Sukumar, G.; Starr, J.; Travis, F. T.; Wallace, R. K.; Morehead, P.; Lonsdorf, N. K.; Srivastava, M.; Fagan, J. Transcriptomics of Long-Term Meditation Practice: Evidence for Prevention or Reversal of Stress Effects Harmful to Health. Medicina (Kaunas) 2021, 57 (3), 218.

(8) Singh, K.; Khanna, P.; Khosla, M.; Rapelly, M.; Soni, A. Revalidation of the Sat-Chit-Ananda Scale. J Relig Health 2018, 57 (4), 1392–1401.

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