The three apps described below offer a combination of levity and seriousness that belongs to any healthy meditation practice. With its tongue-in-cheek name, the app WeCroak sends five daily reminders about death’s imminence; Sand Garden lets you design a digital Zen garden with rocks and rakes, offering a dose of meditative focus; and Relax Meditation serves up helpful meditations with a selection of sounds that range from the soothing to the aggravating (apparently for those who like a challenge).

Read our entire archive of meditation app reviews here.

WeCroak app screenshot with an Ursula K. Le Guin quote: "The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next."

WECROAK
($0.99)

According to a Bhutanese saying, contemplating death five times each day brings happiness. Now the glibly named app WeCroak can help you make contemplating your mortality a habit.

WeCroak’s basic message arrives while you’re crossing a street, fixing dinner, brushing your teeth, or waiting in line: Don’t forget, you’re going to die. When you open the app on your phone’s lock screen, it displays a quote about life and death from various literary sources. That’s it: five brief, pithy messages a day, some uplifting, some somber. The app is simple—just white text on a black background, no settings, no feeds, and only one screen (apart from an “About” link).

Like death, the messages arrive unexpectedly. At different times each day, you receive a reminder like: “Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic” (W. H. Auden); “I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you— Nobody— too?” (Emily Dickinson); “The end is nothing, the road is all” (Willa Cather). And just as in life, there’s no way to revisit the past or view the future—at least in terms of the quotes. While using the app, I found myself appreciating my immediate situation, no matter how mundane. I’d hold my child’s hand more tightly, step more carefully off the curb, bask in the glow of a candlelit dinner.

My only quibble with the WeCroak app is that the primary message that displays on the lock screen is always the same: “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” To see the actual quotes, you have to unlock your phone. After a week I stopped swiping through to read the quotes and just used the “Don’t forget” message as a reminder to breathe and center myself in the present. The extra step of swiping started to feel like a burden. After all, life is fleeting, and time is of the essence.

Available for iOS and Android

Sand Garden app screenshot of three rocks and rake-marks.

SAND GARDEN
($2.99)

Have you ever found yourself aimlessly trailing your finger along the screen of your device, hunting for a social media feed, a message, or a game to click on? Sand Garden channels this gesture—the mark of a restless mind—into meditative use, offering Zen-inspired sand gardens ready for you to rake and design from the palm of your hand.

When you open the app, you see your screen filled with a layer of smooth sand. Click on the three dots at the bottom, and a menu pops up: you can add a rock and tweak its size, polish, type, and shape; choose from among six different rake styles; select the lighting; and change the sand color from natural to neon. Reposition your rocks or have the app randomize or duplicate them, and use the rakes to trace paths in the sand around them, fast or slow, thick or thin, experimenting with different strokes. (This is one app that might work better on a tablet, as a typical iPhone screen doesn’t offer much room for raking.) Tracing your finger through the virtual sand can produce a quasi-meditative state, though an essential element is lost without the tactile sensations that attend raking a real sand garden. Also, there’s no option to delete a garden without saving it first or sharing a screenshot, which toys with the notion of attachment. I found the most meditative experience in removing my rocks and, using the broadest rake, smoothing the sand back to its original state.

Available for iOS

Relax Meditation app screenshot displaying Timer settings

RELAX MEDITATION
(FREE; various prices for pro version)

Relax Meditation offers sensible guided meditations, a timer for silent practice, and a panoply of sounds to accompany your practice, housed in a mostly intuitive interface. Unlike comparable apps, Relax Meditation presents its guided meditations on one screen: just scroll through the list to find one suitable for the moment, avoiding the confusion of tabs, links, and buttons. For each topic, choose between a five-session program and “singles,” one-off meditations. Topics include an obligatory and helpful “intro to meditation” program, but also relationships (including a “genderless affection” meditation, encouraging you to imagine your friend or lover as a different gender), self-esteem, creativity, success, the increasingly popular “commuting” category, and a catchall “life coach” section, which includes topics as familiar as focus, self-criticism, and deep sleep and as unusual as “third eye opening” and “chakra cleansing.” The meditations are guided in an authoritative but slightly robotic tone and are also particular about body positioning. They do skew more toward lecture than silence, however. If you don’t feel like listening, the app includes a tab for unguided meditation with reminders, and a nightstand clock with adjustable sounds as well as optional alarms and timers, which are, unfortunately, rather confusing to set up.

One entertaining aspect of Relax is the extensive choice of sounds to accompany timed meditations or to run beneath the guided ones (if cacophony is your thing). Relax is the latest update of an app called Relax Melodies, so its offerings include lapping water, monks chanting, a singing bowl, composed music, and varieties of white noise such as “truck engine,” “keyboard,” “playground,” and even “womb.” You can layer as many of these as you want: for example, combining “vacuum” with “city ambience” and “humming”—a woman humming a lullaby—created an urban domestic symphony that seemed completely incompatible with practice. The app also includes a “community melodies” tab, which links to sounds uploaded by other users. But don’t let the sound effects distract you from the helpful and insightful meditations.

Available for iOS

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