A Founder’s story of bringing meditation to real-life to “wake up the world”
- Meditate Awake Founder Erik Howerbush (Director of Delivery at Team One)
We took a virtual moment to chat with Erik Howerbush, Founder of Meditate Awake and Director of Delivery at Team One Los Angeles about how a life-long fervor for mental wellness (and a career in agency project management) helped him navigate the journey of bringing a passion project to life amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Erik is on a mission to “wake up your world” with the launch of the Meditate Awake app and online community. A unique addition to the booming realm of accessible self-care, Mediate Awake is the first app to combine the power of meditation, personal insight, and mindful action for daily transformation.
[T1] What inspired you to create Meditate Awake? What can you tell us about the day and moment you decided to do it?
[EH] 5 years ago I was involved in a startup that began as a Lifestyle brand called Best Day Ever. Its basic premise was that today is the “best day ever” because all we have is today. The [brand was] centered around merchandise and events (think Life is Good™). Over time, the company began to focus on meditation and even changed its name to match the shift. We were trying to figure out a way to help meditation be widely adopted in today’s society. Headspace was making a big impact at the time and we thought we could do something similar, but instead focus on creating a platform for meditation teachers (kind of like a Spotify of meditation… before Spotify had meditation on their platform). Unfortunately, there were so many conflicting viewpoints on the direction of the company and what the actual product was, that it never got off the ground. We raised close to a million dollars but after all the time and money, it didn’t go anywhere. I learned a lot from this experience. Most notably, that it’s important to go with your gut instinct when creating something from passion and go off on your own if necessary.
The day and moment I chose to follow my own passion was the day that I decided to leave that partnership at the end of 2019. I was finally on my own, which was scary but at the same time liberating. I had a faint idea of what I wanted to create but hadn’t even thought of the name Meditate Awake yet. Even though I decided to part ways and begin my new endeavor, it wasn’t that simple. I was now working a full-time job and my focus was on that. For many months what was to become Meditate Awake was on the back burner. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that a light bulb went off. I knew out of this tragedy an opportunity arose. Up until the pandemic, I had led meditations with friends in person. In March 2020 that all changed and for the first time we were confronted with the reality of isolation. We were now alone with ourselves, our minds, in a new uncertain reality and knocked off our daily routines. That’s when I went into overdrive on weekends, spending hours pouring over my plan to put my experience out in the world for the benefit of others.
You mentioned in your founding story that a big moment of inspiration and transformation for you was a 10-day silent retreat you went on. What came up for you on that journey and how did it inspire the creation of Meditate Awake?
I had just completed my annual 10-day silent course called a “Vipassana” where I was meditating 10 hours a day for 10 days. I experienced something after the 3rd day. I was struggling very much the first three days. There was physical pain of sitting, combined with the mental anguish of simply observing every thought, emotion, and physical sensation without moving. It was intense. Then something happened on my 4th day. As I observed the pain and thoughts arising in myself, I also noticed the impermanence and fleeting nature of my experience. It was only when I held on to my experience and mistakenly identified my experience as “me” that it persisted. The more I was able to observe without identifying with my experience on a personal level, the more I was able to sense a deeper connection and knowing. After the morning session on the 4th day I walked outside into the desert and looked around. Everything was different, life made sense. Nature was in harmony and I was a part of it. I was one. I was whole. I understood the nature of reality not with my mind but with my deepest being. That moment gave me hope that even though the loudness of life can overtake me, I know there’s a stillness and wholeness present if I choose to observe it. My challenge up to that moment was I didn’t trust anything other than my mind, beliefs, habit patterns I’d conditioned over a lifetime. This process of observation and insight helped loosen the grip and opened a door to a totally different perception of reality.
How do you define “flow” for yourself? Is “flow” about finding a path of least resistance? More peace? Success and abundance?
Flow for me feels like a deep knowing. It is a presence and wholeness that exists prior to thought. Peace, success, and abundance already exist in this moment, NOW. What happens when we say to ourselves, “This shouldn’t be happening”? We create resistance to what is. Simply observing these thoughts, feelings, and emotions and allowing them to be there will naturally dissolve this resistance. In fact, trying to combat resistance with more resistance only amplifies it. Surrender, acceptance, and presence help align to the natural direction of life… this is the flow. The way to get there is to get still, look inward, and take action with intention.
You’ve stated that you “had a life-altering shift as a result of what I created and call the A.P.P. (Awakening Paradigm Practice)™ which makes up the Meditate Awake Flow.™” What exactly does A.P.P stand for and how does the Meditate Awake app utilize it?
A.P.P. stands for Awakening Paradigm Practice… paradigm simply means a pattern or model of something. The place for awakening, or another way to say it, raising consciousness, is in the here and now. The level of conscious awareness varies by how distracted and fractured a person’s attention and awareness is. Many people get lost in thought about the past or future and spend little time aware of what is happening inside of them and around them at this moment. The Meditate Awake Flow™ uses 3 steps on a daily basis – meditation, insight, and action. Meditation is the foundation for creating stillness; detaching from our story and mind as who we are. The insight question that follows meditation allows for introspection on an area of life. The daily action is meant to bring mindfulness to life in that area of intention. The functionality of the app is focusing on those 3 steps to help a person awaken one day at a time, and over time, change their life.
You’re a full-time agency man, who in true ‘hustle’, has found a way to add “Founder” to your About Me list. What has been the best thing about seeing a side hustle/passion project come to fruition?
One of the best things about seeing my passion come to life was watching how my agency skills transferred over into the startup world. The weekends working alone, late-night calls with a development team off-shore, and literally creating a team from all over the world and paying for it on my own. When I first saw the app in the Apple app store I was overcome with a mix of elation and relief. Additionally, it humbled me even more and gave me more patience.
What challenges or growing pains came up along the way?
I went through multiple teams of creatives, developers, and had to restart multiple times. This cost a lot of money, but I learned a lot. Sometimes I’d wake up on a Saturday thinking, “why am I doing this? Nobody cares. I’m all alone, wasting money that I could use to travel or buy something fun!” The mental and emotional toll it took on me was pretty extreme. I wanted to quit many times. The fact I didn’t quit and paid for it myself feels like a miracle.
Tell me about the six areas of intention that the app is founded on?
The 6 areas of intention make up a balanced, whole, integrated life. They’re based on my experience over the years, working with coaches, and studying holistic, mindful living. The 6 areas are Stress Relief, Better Sleep, Fitness, Mindset, Closer Connection, Deeper Purpose. Originally, I left the user’s intention open-ended. It was up to them to decide. But, after doing research and gathering feedback it was clear that people needed (and wanted) direction. [ In the app, users can ] choose an area of intention and practice the Meditate Awake Flow™ of meditation, insight, and action, each day. Switch your intention whenever you’d like or to whatever you’d like to unlock and awaken.
I understand community is a big part of the app. What does community mean to you and how has yours supported you through your founder journey?
I have a tight-knit group of guys who I tell everything to. I tell them when things are going well and when things (seemingly) are falling apart. It’s so important to me to have that outlet. They understand me without judging or criticizing me. I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing without that level of accountability and trust. I have a friend who was going through a similar situation, and he was creating an app during the same time. I was able to hear his experience and get clarity on my own. Many of my friends are entrepreneurs and artists so they’re able to relate to what I was going through. I believe experience is the best teacher. Learning from the experience of my friends helps me understand my own journey. I realize it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s being in the moment, the process, and the relationships, that matter.
Meditate Awake is geared towards creating daily actions. What’s a daily action that you take each day? How does the app help users bridge the gap between intention and action?
Besides the obvious action of meditating, I also write a gratitude list, and have a stack of books that I read out of every morning. I give myself an hour before I check my phone and get into anything work-related. I’m usually up by 6 a.m. so I have a few hours to get my mind right before I get started working. The app helps users bridge intention and action by asking them to commit to doing something that day to bring meditation to life in their area of intention. They can post their answer in the community section and share on their social channels to encourage others.
What do meditation and mental health mean to you?
Meditation and mental health have many layers and components; mental, physical, and emotional. I’ve been active in the recovery community for over 11 years and have seen personally that mental health is a life or death issue, literally. Unfortunately, people can suffer so acutely that they give up the fight and never come back. Meditation when combined with personal insight and daily action, has a way to bridge the gap between the heart and mind; to be more than a relaxation tool, but be a tool for daily transformation. Of course, this doesn’t replace the need for doctors or trained professionals in the mental health field, but it is a tool to aid in the improvement of mental health. I see mental health as one of the biggest crises we face today and will face in the future.
What sets you apart from other meditation apps like Headspace and Calm?
I always say the best meditation is the meditation you’re able to practice consistently. For those who use Headspace and Calm and are getting results, I say “congrats”. For me personally, meditation alone is not enough. [I found those other apps] offer no routine, no way to take what meditation provides and take the next steps of insight and action. Calm for instance has an attractive look and feel, but it treats meditation as just a relaxation exercise. Headspace does the same thing. Meditation is so much more than just a break from life, it’s an entry point into a whole new way of being. Paired with insight and action, I believe that meditation is the foundation for a conscious, awakened lifestyle.
What’s next for Meditate Awake and your community?
Currently, Mediate Awake is available in the Apple app store and later this year it will be available for Android. The app and the community are in the beginning stages and growing. My hope is that it will continue to grow and once the world opens up some of the online community can connect offline in real life. My vision for future app updates is to have an accountability feature/reminder that follows up with the user on their daily activities. I’ll be working with the developer and a UX designer to come up with that functionality.
Download Meditate Awake in the Apple app store and post your insights and actions for others to see and learn from. It’s like your own personal journey… with others.
Erik Howerbush is Director of Delivery at Team One. Interviewed for Team One by Tessa Hayward, Agency Marketing Group (April 28th, 2021).