A FEW MONTHS AGO, MY WIFE, SAM, AND I HAD DINNER WITH SOME OLD BONDI FRIENDS, LUKE AND VIKKI.
We hadn’t seen them in 18 months and had a lot to catch up on. In that time they’d become engaged, eloped, sold their house and car, moved countries, secured new jobs and bought a new house. And Luke, in particular, was in great nick. Mainly (I say this with love) because he used to look rough. ‘I’ve managed to control my insomnia,’ he said, to which I enquired about his secret – not actually expecting there to be one. They looked at each other, then at us, smiled beatifcally and said in chorus: ‘transcendental meditation’.
How I laughed. Luke is one of the biggest, mostmacho, least-enlightened blokes I know. His nickname is Dog, he drives a souped-up WRX and spends 90 per cent of his waking moments (and I’d wager a similar proportion when sleeping) scratching his genitalia. The thought of Dog, of all people, sat cross-legged and chanting a mantra in a state of blissful serenity was ludicrous. It still is. But they weren’t joking. Changed their lives, they said. Best thing they’ve ever done.
I like to think I’m a pretty liberal guy. But transcendental meditation? Seriously, Wt-actual-f? I’d never given the idea a second’s thought. Yet now I did think about it, words like hippy-dippy, cultish and bullshit sprang to mind, in that order.
Over the next few days I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Luke and Viks did seem really happy and chilled, and they’d got their lives impressively sorted. In the same timeframe Sam and I had done, well, not very much. Then I started to think about how tired and stressed out and irritable I am – which doesn’t always make me a great guy to be around. My mind pinballs with anxiety and I don’t fnd it easy to power down. I’ll be dozing off and then suddenly my heart will leap and the lights of my brain will switch on and I’ll remember an email I didn’t reply to or a call I didn’t return.
So, to cut a short story even shorter, Sam and I ended up going along to our nearest transcendental meditation centre for an introductory talk, cast over with a suspicious eye.
TM, as devotees call it, is having its 15 minutes of fame. Or rather, 20 minutes. Born out of the freethinking 1960s counter-cultural obsession with all things yogic, TM promotes 20 minutes of nonreligious meditation, twice a day, as a way of coping with the stresses, strains and general ennui of modern life. In recent years it has, like yoga, been reframed as a practical lifestyle choice rather than the preserve of joss stick-burning soap dodgers – openly touted as the panacea for today’s spiritually-bereft generation. From crappiness to happiness.
Jerry Seinfeld likens TM to a phone charger for the mind and body, while Russell Brand labels it a “shower for your brain”. Which someone with a mind as dirty as his could certainly use. Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres and Hugh Jackman are all practitioners while pompadoured flm director David Lynch runs a foundation with the aim of bringing TM to the mainstream. None of these people seem crazed to me (OK, apart from Brand).
But does it work for non-celebrities? I was sceptical. Especially when I found out about the $2000 sign-up fee for instruction and a lifetime membership. TM is like learning anything – from Pilates, to Spanish to the guitar – you could teach yourself, though you’d end up doing it wrong. Best, then, to seek expert tuition.
I spent more time thinking about it. Lately I feel like I’ve been sinking into the quicksand of mounting responsibility, sucked down by a bleeping, buzzing, blurring bombardment of screens and messages and lights and noise from all angles. Maybe TM could help me learn to switch off, to take a much-needed break. And it didn’t seem like hard work. Other forms of meditation require greater commitment, but TM is simple to learn and easy to practise. It’s supposed to be effortless – that’s the greatest attraction. You don’t have to believe in anything. There’s no philosophy, no deity. No meetings, no further membership dues, no tithing, no cultish leader. So, I gave it a go.
The basic premise is 20 minutes of quiet time twice daily, eyes closed, repeating a mantra – a meaningless word/sound you say over and over in your head so your mind’s cleared of conscious thought, allowing you to relax. Your mantra’s chosen for you and is meant to be kept secret (mine sounds like ‘chorrang’, but isn’t ‘chorrang’ so I haven’t given the game away).
I’ve now been doing TM for three months and the biggest challenge is making the time and quietening my mind. Often it’s a wrestling match between conscious thoughts and the mantra. Sometimes I fall asleep. I often fall into that dream-like state just before sleep. And occasionally I have Eureka moments where a great idea pops up and I want to write it down before I forget.
The question everyone asks is, ‘Does it work?’ To which the honest answer is, I think so. I almost always feel better after – less tired, less frazzled. I’m more creative, more productive, less of a dick. Plus Sam and I have made some big life decisions the past three months (which will be the subject of future columns).
There are all sorts of studies to suggest that TM has multiple physical and mental health benefts. But if nothing else, it feels good to spend 20 minutes completely unplugged, giving your busy brain a rest. In today’s hectic life, that is a true luxury.
Now, shut your eyes and count to Zen.