Some things you never forget. Like riding a bicycle, or mixing the perfect vodka martini. It’s the same with Transcendental Meditation, TM for short; the simplest and most effective way I know for, well for lack of a better description, getting rid of the crap.
Simply, once learnt the TM technique is never forgotten. Decades passed since the last time TM’s curative effects are invoked it’s always there, and as rejuvenating as a new day.
I mention this consciousness altering technique – a grand and often misunderstood phrase for feeling relaxed and better equipped to handle the stuff that modern life throws our way – for two reasons: The first is I have returned to TM these past few months after a good many years away; the second is because the 21st century’s most celebrated adherent, film maker David Lynch, the guiding light of his own transcendental meditation foundation, is back in the news.
Searching for something to clear out the synapses I’ve taken to quiet rooms, closing my eyes and entering the world of emptiness revealed to me as a teenager. The method remains the same, but I have discovered that the passing of time has the same effect that years of patient waiting has on Rhone wines.
Looking back I think I had it all wrong. Encouraged by the celebrity appeal of TM (its supporters included The Beatles, some of The Beach Boys, Britain’s Dylan, aka Donovan, and gamine movie star Mia Farrow) my friends and I attended a sort of TM clinic in a comfortable mansion flat close to the Thames, at Richmond, Surrey. The inductees spoke in hushed voices of calm pools of consciousness. One man said his wife had become more genial.
To put it into context this was a time when everyone was looking for something, defining; some sort of inner meaning. While contemporary disciples are primetime news for queuing up overnight to buy the latest smart phone back then people sought a more spiritual dimension, and TM, whilst not having any religious, quasi-religious, was part of that scene.
The key to TM, practiced twice daily for 20 minutes, is the mantra. Once given I was advised not to divulge it to anyone as then it would no longer be unique to me. While suspecting every TM practitioner has the same one as me I have never divulged it. Described it variously as either a word or a sound (and certainly not ‘om’) it’s a sort of mental key. I suppose if every TM user does have the same mantra, so what? But I don’t know if they do, and frankly I’d rather not know. Your mantra is your own and you might as well keep it that way.
The mantra is repeated, silently during the course of 20 minutes, in a method designed to clear the mind and focus purely on a sort of emptiness. As thoughts and events drift into view the mantra is reasserted thereby pushing any distractions away.
Initially, perhaps poorly instructed who knows, I’d rattle the mantra off like a camera shutter on motor drive, never feeling any different when my 20 minutes were up. I stuck it for four or five months, and I’ll admit I wound up thinking it was all a load of baloney, agreeing with Lennon when he dedicated Sexy Sadie to TM guru, and spokesperson The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. With his long grey beard, and cartoon laugh – a gift for a sceptical media that loves a good caricature – the Maharishi is thought to have trained over 40,000 TM instructors worldwide, and until his death in 2008 oversaw an organisation with an eye watering income. Estimates claim there are five millions TM practitioners worldwide.
But a lot of things were different then. I was different, and my recent return to TM has been a much more fulfilling experience. As Lynch, promoting the boxed set of his Gothic television soap, Twin Peaks, told the Guardian’s Jeremy Kay this month, “…more happiness in the doing…” You bet.
Instead of blitzing the mantra I now take things much slower. Making the mantra more, well, emphatic, a more resolute barrier for the distractions to penetrate. The effect is to make the self induced cognitive calm, the state of consciousness where there is nothing but (I know this sounds loopy) the here and now, actually very enjoyable.
There’s the warm rush in the arms, and sometimes – I know not why – a sudden twitch or shift and a sort internal gasp in the solar plexus. Funny things happen when you’re mind stops thinking.
Strangely the second 20 minute session is proving the superior. Perhaps those more able to concentrate than me can enjoy both sessions. But I’ve always been easily distracted: my primary school end of term reports said as much. I can’t even read a newspaper with the radio on. It’s as if by the the second 20 minute shift my concentration is honed, more concentrated.
I put all of this to a lifelong friend who yelped with untrammeled delight as though his pal had finally thrown off a lifetime’s blindfold to really see for the first time. “Write that, right there, write that,” he implored.
My friend was never taught any accepted method of meditation. A former child actor, professional dancer (he’ll kill me for this, he was one of The Young Generation), an artist and now mariner, he nevertheless instantly recognised the physical effects as described by me, before claiming to have enjoyed an altered state himself, that very day, in the car, on route to the supermarket. I tell you, you learn something new every day, although I’m not sure I’d readily accept a lift from my friend if I thought for a second he was enjoying an out of body experience behind the wheel.
With his Stan Laurel hair, buttoned up white shirt and fixed expression, David Lynch has just the sort of cookie look to make anyone unacquainted with TM run the other way. I like his website (http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org.uk). It goes out of its way to demystify TM. No Holy Men or intergalactic space cadets here. There are soldiers and vets discussing the help TM gives them, and regular people from all walks of life with one thing in common; they each want to find some space in which to function. For each the bottom line is stress, and if TM can do away with that, without resorting to Prozac or the couch, then ok.
We all need a hobby. It’s just that mine, and those the other five million, is quieter and cheaper than most.
Lynch sums it up: “…when you start diving within and infusing that pure consciousness: happiness, intelligence, creativity, energy, peace, love. It’s like gold coming in, garbage going out.”