Mindfulness apps = merde, says the teetotaling Rebecca Davis

When Rebecca Davis decided to quit drinking, she made it her mission to find 'alternative' options to stay sane in an insane world. Here's Part VI of our conversation with her about this arduous odyssey

23 May 2019 - 15:27 By Mila de Villiers
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Rebecca Davis, author of 'Self-Helpless'.
Image: Leila Dougan

Think "Rebecca Davis".

Adjectives including "South Africa's very best white" (merci for that one, Marianne Thamm), "award-winning journalist" and "the woman who puts the 'wit' in Twitter" ought to be conjured.

But "self-help author"?

If "nah, bru" is your initial response, not to worry. This born cynic would agree hands down.

'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
'Self-Helpless: A Cynic's Search for Sanity'.
Image: Pan Macmillan

Self-Helpless, Davis's latest contribution to the local literary scene, chronicling her year-long "journey" of immersing herself in the world of auras, chakras, sweat lodges, mindfulness and (much) more, was sparked when she resolved to undertake "one of the most difficult things I've ever done" - quit drinking.

Intrigued as to why the struggle was so onerous? Take a look at the facts:

The former Rhodent (all together now: "eat, sleep, mare, repeat!") discovered alcohol at 18 and pursued her newfound hobby with such a "passionate intensity" that by the time she reached 34, she calculated that she had spent roughly 9,984 hours of her 16 years as an imbiber, well, drinking.

Abstaining from the demon drink made Davis question How. The. Hell. Do sober people cope with an increasingly insane world? (And, as she writes, there's plenty to worry about - giraffes are facing extinction, Day Zero remains a shaky reality, the world is running out of sand ... Things are even bleaker now than in '87, R.E.M.)

Cue the alternative-method quest to stay sane inside insanity.

Keen to hear how that went down? Take a deep breath ... Hold for three ... Exhale ... Aaaaand read:

So, like, apps are distracting us, but, like, we rely on them to, like, track our mindfulness. Like, what?!

The contradictory nature of our main cause of distraction (here's looking at you, screens courtesy of Steve Jobs) as an aid to achieving mindfulness (here's looking at you, apps courtesy of Herr Jobs) is not lost on Davis.

"While writing the book I became aware of the extent to which I was relying on apps," Davis sincerely relates.

"Which, first of all, does not make for good material. You're like 'and then I downloaded an app'," she says mockingly. "But it is true - technology, as much as it's fucking with our minds, is also providing us with ways of escaping them.

"But, as I write, what comes with that is this strange, quite sinister sense of ... um ..." She considers her words in between mouthfuls of a chocolate croissant (courtesy of the good people at Pan Mac), before settling on "A - competition and B - excellence."

She elaborates that these mindfulness apps tend to keep a record of "how much you meditate; for how long a day they allow you to measure yourself to other people meditating.

"Which is fundamentally counter-intuitive for when you think about what meditation is supposed to be," she says incredulously. 

Davis maintains that the notion of apps pairs with the idea that "you need to be your best in the modern world.

"So, you're not necessarily meditating in order to produce a sense of inner calm for inner calms' sake, you're doing it..."

Her voice morphs into a gradual crescendo before she delivers the following - fortissimo - statement:

"... [i]n order to be as mentally healthy as possible, in order to ready you for your next ..." She pauses for a moment as she contemplates her assertion before settling on "commercial task".

"So!" she continues in fine form, "you need to be healthy and happy so that you can sell more books, or whatever."

The fundamental nature of apps - "they measure, they track" - does not sit well with her, nor a "kind of spiritual pursuit.

"Except for the death app. The death app just tells that you're going to die," she says in a more subdued tone.

"And there's something quite pleasing about that," comes the cheerfully ruminative sequential comment.


Stay tuned for Part VII: Soz, sweat lodges and shrooms - it's the old stuff that works