Meditation meets VR at 18th Street Arts Center

By Christina Campodonico

A multi-sensory sound bath helps meditators find calm
Photo courtesy of Visual Reality

Is it possible to meditate while wearing VR goggles?

That’s what I wonder as I sit with dozens of meditators stretched out on the floor of 18th Street Arts’ Continuum Movement Studio during “Visual Reality,” a monthly showcase of creative virtual reality and audiovisual projects combined with a group sound bath and meditation session.

Some are sitting upright, wearing headphones and a Subpac, a backpack-like device that vibrates with the electronic music flowing to their headphones. Some are lying on their backs, tuning their chakras the old-fashioned way with just their minds, bodies and breathing.

But one guy is sitting cross-legged like a tricked-out techie Buddha, wearing a set of VR goggles, headphones and a Subpac. Is he in some souped-up trance — a virtual reality Nirvana?

If what’s going on behind his goggles is anything like the psychedelic visual projections swirling overhead — globes turning, fractals bursting with color — then it must be pretty trippy … and surprisingly relaxing.

In a world where we’re constantly inundated by technological interferences like email, social media and Netflix binges, could technology actually help us be more Zen?

Visual Reality regular Jonathan Lambert thinks so.

“The visuals kind of aid your mind’s ability to create whatever it wants,” says Lambert. “You can do whatever you want with it. And adding sound, adding the physicality of the [Subpac’s] bass … it puts you in a place you couldn’t be on your own.”

Visual Reality co-founders Torkom Ji, a sound artist, and Michael Strauss, a veejay, started holding this monthly meet up about a year ago not only to deepen people’s meditative experiences, but also create a platform for showcasing creative virtual reality and audiovisual projects.

“We’re kind of coming at it from an angle of the [VR] industry being dominated by video games and kind of boring travel content,” says Ji. “So we wanted
to do the more artistic and psychedelic and meditative type of virtual reality experiences.”

Before the sound bath, attendees could sample VR experiences at a handful of stations, from floating with fractals to flipping through art in a celestial gallery.

“The exhibition is almost like the launching pad. It’s the platform from which an individual can get lost in the rabbit hole of different experiences and then return back to this shared platform
in which everyone else is with you,” says Ji of Visual Reality’s format.

First-time attendee Christina Baglada appreciated the event’s communal quality.

“I think it’s kind of like being inside of social media, because everybody’s here socializing,” she says. “Instead of sitting in your living room and watching virtual reality on your couch, you can have an interactive experience.”

“Visual Reality kind of peeks into the future where every single communication is absolutely shared and it’s a hive mind,” adds Lambert. “It’s communal. Everybody shares their feelings, their depth, their insights for the entire month, and there’s no other way to do that other than this, so far.”

Visual Reality starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, at 18th Street Arts, 1629 18th Street, Santa Monica. Tickets are $30 at consciouscityguide.com/vr12.

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