Tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion.



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.

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