Living is easy with eyes closed

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Namaste.

I started Transcendental Meditation last week. I was very generously given a gift certificate for my birthday and it took me a few seven months to finally use it.

I was daunted by the whole thing, daunted by the notion of having to practice something, in theory, every day for the rest of my days. Twice every day. I was daunted because I’ve tried meditating in the past and have never been able to clear my mind or focus on my breathing with much consistency. And I was daunted by the notion of change — positive change, sure, but change nonetheless. Like many of us, I am very adept at holding onto things long after they’ve stopped serving me well.

In the days leading up to my first lesson I did some research — there’s tons of material on line about the practice, medical studies done at reputable institutions, celebrity testimonials, and so on and so forth.

Turns out you don’t have to clear your mind or concentrate on your breathing to practice this. At the orientation we were told that TM is not something you need to believe in, because it simply works. It’s not a religion or a philosophy or a cult … it’s a very simple technique that, they say, “Anyone can practice.”

Here’s how TM works: you sit for twenty minutes twice a day with your eyes closed, silently repeating your mantra as effortlessly as possible. Well, first you go through your four days of training, which is where you’re given your mantra, taught the technique, taught the mechanics of stress release and the physiology of the whole thing, where you watch charming, very 70s videos of the Maharishi (who emerged from the Himalayas in the 1950s to teach TM to the rest of the world), and where you can ask every question you might have, e.g. What time should I practice? What if the phone rings? What if I miss a day? Can my dog watch me meditate? What if it doesn’t work? What if I think while I’m doing it?

You’re allowed to think while you do this. In fact, you’re supposed to and to acknowledge your thoughts — you’re just not supposed to actively follow them. Whatever pops into your mind is fine; they say thoughts are the release of stress, which is one of the goals of this practice.

The cost of TM is, essentially, a lifetime membership to the club … you can go to as many followups and work with as many teachers as you wish to, and you’re welcome to visit any TM center in the world. You can attend group meditations and lectures and guest speakers and all the rest.

However, it does cost money, and that’s an obstacle for many of us. I certainly wouldn’t have done it were it not for my gift certificate. But I think the very basic mechanics of it all might be effective without the formal training — I told a friend about it and she’s going to try it on her own, albeit with a mantra of her own choosing and without someone who really knows her stuff guiding her through the beginning.

I already feel some positive results in the week+ I’ve been practicing. David Lynch, who is a huge proponent of the practice and who has a foundation that offers scholarships for learning the technique, says in a video that he had a lifetime of depression and anger before he started practicing — anger, he says, that he would take out on his first wife. After he practiced for one week, his wife commented, surprised, at how much his anger seemed to have dissipated. He says he wasn’t even aware this had happened, but then yes, he realized he felt a lot calmer, a lot less stressed. Despite the fact that nothing external had changed.

Harvard Medical School did a study in which they took a group of students, taught them the technique, and then strapped them to all kinds of devices to check heart rate and brain waves and red blood cells. The students who thought they weren’t doing it right, because they were distracted by a breakup or a failed test or some other life event, or that they just weren’t “good at it” — had the same positive health results as the others, the ones who nailed it.

In this week+ I have definitely been sleeping better and waking up earlier. I’m feeling the effects of the things I consume and the exercise I do more readily. And I’m calmer, better able to listen to people, more sure of what I need to do. I’m a fairly self-aware person to begin with, but I am very good at numbing that self awareness and sabotaging my productivity. At giving and receiving less than I deserve. I feel stronger, emotionally, and I am so very grateful that I do.

Still daunting to think this is the new normal for me, this daily practice, but it is definitely something I will try hard to practice consistently. If you have to skip a session, the good isn’t undone. The twice daily twenty minute session is the guideline for optimal results. Apparently once daily for twenty minutes is better than twice for ten — it takes about twenty minutes (fifteen according to some of the literature) for the mind to really settle as it’s meant to.

The mantra they assign you is a Sanskrit “sound” — not a defined word — and you are meant to keep it to yourself. You are also meant to not concern yourself with how it’s spelled, which is challenging for a writer … the idea is that the less you attach to it the more it can function as it’s supposed to, to bring your mind into a deeper, more reflexive state of calm. My teacher described the mantras as “charming sounds” — and it’s funny to think that this charming little sound is now an integral part of my daily life. The first few days I felt oddly maternal toward it.

I had a conversation earlier about the mythologies we grow up believing about ourselves, mythologies based mostly on external factors — our role in the family, the mistakes we’ve made, the things, positive and negative, we’ve been told over and over about ourselves. It can be hard to break free of these fabricated identities and it is very important to be able to do so. This is, I think, one of the positive side effects of things like meditation — as we become more in tuned with ourselves and our essences, we access a more pure version of ourselves and can move forward accordingly, less susceptible to the negative influences of external forces.

I am in transition these days, and this is a historically challenging place for me — for many of us — to be. But as my lunch companion said, transition is necessary for positive growth. And that is my mission.

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