Can you tell a little about your first VR experience?
I have been drawn to new media technologies my whole so-called career and in 1986 my wife and I went a little insane and started a business selling PC-based imaging systems, a field still dominated by minicomputers at that time. As a small-time player in the larger field of computer graphics, I was at the 1989 SIGGRAPH convention in Boston where Virtual Reality got its first big public launch by VPL and Autodesk and June 6, 1989 was declared VR Day.
The excitement was sky high. We couldn’t actually try out the stuff, but we could imagine. This is the event where William Bricken stated that: Psychology is the Physics of VR.
Well, it took a while for VR Day to turn into something that normal people without thousands of dollars to spend could experience. For me that was summer, 2015. My son-in-law started a VR company back in 2014 called PlutoVR, which is still going strong and I was able to play some pretty intense music creating games and also be in some weird environments pretty early on the Rift and the Vive.
I used Google Cardboard in 2016, put my iPhone in the slot and experienced the New York Times amazing noir series, still some of the best stories ever produced for VR in my opinion.
I got a Go when they first came out and I’ve been mobile ever since, with Quests.
What makes VR meditation different from traditional meditation?
Essentially, nothing is different. If you are paying attention to the content of your experience and noticing when you’re not, you’re meditating. Wearing a headset doesn’t make it different. It’s what you’re doing with the headset that could.
If you’re using VR by yourself as an immersive technology that creates presence in another world, I see no difference between VR and so-called real world meditation. But if you’re using VR as an immersive communications technology that creates shared presence with other people in a meditation even when they are not physically co-located, then I would say we are in new territory.
There has always been a strong tradition of social meditation; in fact in many parts of the world it is primarily monastics who meditate at all and they frequently do it together.
What’s different is being together without being physically together. I think this is a strong advantage for meditating socially in VR. I think it is easier to be open and vulnerable with people we know and trust but we are not living in close proximity to. Many sanghas or location-based meditation groups can become in-grown and develop unhealthy power dynamics. We will see whether this is less likely to occur as meditation in VR grows.
What motivates you to lead sessions with EvolVR?
There are many layers to that question for me. The simplest is that I have meditated regularly for over 40 years and I believe that I am healthier for it, so I’d like to share that. I’m pretty sure it can help anybody feel better.
Another layer is that as a semi-old person, it is not obvious how to stay active and keep in contact with different kinds of people. Leading meditations in VR and hosting the check-ins before or after is a way to stay involved and be relevant, maybe even helpful.
One more layer for me is that our son co-founded EvolVR as a community based mostly on meditation. Probably the most meaningful thing, to me, that I’m doing now is supporting that community substantively by doing things I love doing.
How would you describe the sessions you lead?
Well, this is where I’m a definite weirdo. I feel free to completely invent my own style, just based on the idea that meditation is about training attention. My personal practice is silent but I noticed that most VR meditations are guided, so that’s mostly what I do.
My first EvolVR meditations were all based on Death. I called them Meditations on Mortality, a series of ten that got progressively more intimate and challenging. I went through the cycle three times and then stopped in March, 2020 when the pandemic began. People were meditating on mortality enough anyway without any help from me.
I changed my events to Meditations on Uncertainty, which I led on Sunday morning and Sunday evening starting in April, 2020. I gave an Uncertainty dharma talk meditatively and then people checked-in. It was the height of the pandemic and these were high energy events.
More recently I have developed a style I call Meditation TAPAS, noting how many people are discovering meditation in VR. My idea is to provide a sampler platter, a half dozen different objects of meditation, with 30 seconds to minute of silence, which feels like a long time in VR.
Last but not least is my idea of Uncomfortable Meditation, the flip side of the easy entry sampler — this meditation isn’t shocking, but it is supposed to take you just a bit out of your normal zone of meditation objects
What is your hope for the future of VR meditation?
I hope more people practice and want support in their practice so that excellent teachers will be able to devote themselves to a range of classes and make a living at it. I believe that large networks of educationally, ecologically, and spiritually oriented people will need their own platform which will be owned by participants and governed in an open manner managed on the blockchain.
What’s your favourite thing to do in VR, besides meditate or do yoga?
I like looking for and discovering cool new worlds. It is harder to make myself explore cool new platforms, but I like doing that too. I love taking friends on world hopping tours. I don’t play games much, but I do like Beat Saber.
Does your avatar look like you?
Do you have one piece of advice for someone new to meditation?
Forgive yourself and start again, don’t try harder, just start again.
Anything else you’d like to share?
There is no operating manual for being the founder’s father.
Tom leads Death Q&A Tuesdays 10AM PT and Saying Goodbye Tuesdays 8PM PT.
Find links to Tom’s EvolVR sessions in AltspaceVR.
Find Tom’s writing on Medium and Substack, or read a sample of one of his pieces here.