“Do you just Google weird [stuff] to do in Virginia?” – anonymous friend
My latest life experiment has been a strange journey into the world of transcendental meditation. Strange the best word I can think of for the panic attacks, mild depression, hallucinations, and general, well, strangeness of TM that I’ve experienced. And while I can’t imagine anyone reading this will actually try this at home, this is my own strange recommendation for meditation as a game changing daily practice in my own life.
Now bear with me. It’s going to be very hard for me to explain my experience so far without sounding like a complete hippie touting a load of new agey bullshit. I will do my best to not say things like, “I feel more in tune with the universe.” I get it. This probably seems weird to you. I get it because I was you. And it is weird. Just a few months ago I was in the cave looking at the shadows on the wall calling Plato a lunatic. But now I’ve seen the light and I feel compelled to share my story.
Let’s start with how I found out about Transcendental Meditation. Here are the famous mediators that inspired to me look into meditating in autobiographical order (yes, that was a High Fidelity #90smoviereferrence):
- The Beatles
- George Lucas
- Jerry Seinfeld
- Howard Stern
- Tim Ferriss
Good company, right? The last guy, Tim Ferrriss, is the guy that finally got me to take the TM course. Tim is the author of Four Hour Workweek and the host of a podcast that deconstructs top performers to find common causes of their success. Tim found that 80% of his top performing guests meditate. The three guests on Tim’s podcast that really convinced me were:
- Chess prodigy and the subject of Searching for Bobby Fischer Josh Waitskin
- Legendary music producer Rick Rubin
- Mr. Olympia, action movie star, and governor Arnold Swartzenager
If all of these famous actors and athletes could use meditation to achieve greatness in their careers and lives, then maybe I could too. Plus, in addition to fame and glory, there were a number of other benefits meditation promised that were attractive, like improvements in:
- Clarity of thought
- Stress management
- Physiologiology: from lower blood process to better weight control to longevity
- Interpersonal relationships
I was sold. So about three months ago I Googled, “transcendental meditation fredericksburg va.” I took a leap of faith and exchanged texts with my local instructor. It took me a few weeks to find four consecutive mornings that I could set aside for my training. In the meantime I watched the introductory video at TM.org and read up on the basics, like some things that you do NOT have to do to meditate:
- Sit “cris-cross-applesauce” with your hands making gang-like symbols nears your hips
- Make humming or chanting noises
- Stare at candles
- Be religious – the TM website goes out of its way to state that this is a secular practice unrelated to and not in conflict with any religious beliefs or lack thereof
Day one of instruction. First things first, I had to sign a confidentiality agreement that prohibited me from telling anyone about the specifics of my instruction, which will limit the amount of details I can share. Ok, no big deal.
Next the instructor and I talked for a bit. I had tried to meditate on my own a few times over the past several years with no success. I told him I was super skeptical, and I really felt like changing my mind and backing out that morning, but I forced myself to show up anyway. He said all of this was great and common, and that the best thing for us to do would be to get started.
No one warned me that the opening ceremony requires an open mind, so consider this your warning if your ever take the leap. There were symbols and rituals and singing that were not religious per se, but certainly had a religious feel, and they sure were what most of my readers would consider a bit weird. Mid way through I remember thinking, “Well I have now officially gone off the deep end.” But this ceremony really was kind of cool, especially considering how important the ceremony felt to the instructor. After a few minutes all the singing and incense and symbols worked their magic lulling me into a relaxed and reverent state.
At the end of the ceremony I was given a mantra. The TM mantra is a sound more than a word, a meaningless albeit pleasant sound that I would be silently repeating in my head to facilitate meditation.
Five minutes later we were meditating. I sat in a comfy chair and silently repeated the mantra over and over again without stopping in my head. The radio program that is my regular inner monologue continued playing over the PA in my brain for a while, but rather than indulging the thoughts, I tried really hard to direct my consciousness to follow the mantra. After a while, there were longer and longer breaks between thoughts. The mud in my brain began to settle. I felt pretty relaxed. I felt pretty good. I remember thinking, “I don’t think I can feel my hands anymore.” Behind my eyelids I saw nebulous dancing shapes. This was cool. I was meditating. I couldn’t believe it worked on the first try.
Ten minutes later the instructor gently pulled me down from outer space back into his office/temple. I felt like I was sixteen years old – energized and refreshed. This was awesome. We finished up and he sent me on my way with homework to meditate two to three more times before our session the next morning.
Round two, my first freak out. A few hours after I left the instructor I felt exhausted. At one point I totally freaked out and had a panic attack. Out of nowhere, it felt like someone kicked me in the back of my head and I got super dizzy. I almost passed out and had to lay down for a few minutes in my car. I called the instructor who insisted this was great and a normal part of my development. “All righty. I came this far,” I thought. So I toughed it out and stuck with it.
Day two and three of my training included videos from the guy who brought TM to the western world, the Maharishi Mesh Yogi. The Maharishi was a character. He was aged but felt young, small but felt deep, confident, and powerful. He was happy to the point of seeming giddy, and he made strange high pitched grunting noises between sentences. He felt so familiar to me, and then I finally figured out why he felt so familiar. It turns our George Lucas loosely based Yoda on the Maharishi. I knew I liked this guy! (If you don’t know who Yoda is we can’t be friends. Just stop reading and move along)
The Maharishi helped me realize why I felt exhausted and freaked out the day before. It’s because I was trying too hard, TM was not about effort or concentration. TM was about taking it easy, and feeling good. Far out.
By the last day of instruction, I had meditated about seven or eight times. The instructor taught me a bit more about what happens to your brain during meditation, and he shared some science that helped quell a bit of my skepticism. We meditated one more time for about ten minutes. After that last session felt better than I have in years. All day I was in a great mood. I was super social at a kid’s birthday party. I was patient with my family. I had tons of energy. I just felt great.
For the next two weeks I consistently stuck to the roller coaster experience of meditating once or twice a day for fifteen to twenty minutes. I could not replicate that million dollar experience from my last day of instruction, but I kept at it, feeling great some days. And for whatever reason, real or imagined, I became depressed some days. Maybe I really was flushing stored stress out of my system, like my training suggested. Sounds like pseudoscience to me, but what do I know. Maybe it was just coincidental periodic melancholy. Call it existential angst, but I experienced some serious ups and downs for a solid week or ten days.
I slowly started to level out right around my two week check in with my instructor. He described my progress as great and ahead of schedule, but I’m 99% sure he says that to everyone. He said my body and mind were adjusting to heightened levels of consciousness and awareness. Maybe he was right.
It’s been about three months now of consistent practice. I’ve mediated once or twice a day everyday with maybe one or two exceptions. I still feel a little skeptical, but it’s hard for me to deny some tangible positive changes in my life the past three months. In that time I got promoted at work to a position I have actively worked towards for about ten years; I earned my blue belt in jiu jitsu which I have trained for for the past nine months; and I genuinely feel I have made some progress with my personal and professional relationships, something that has never come naturally to me. I feel substantially more focused, efficient, and confident, like I have an advantage on everyone around me, like I’m taking some secret performing enhancing drug.
I’m having an amazing summer, but I’m still not sure which results to attribute directly to TM. Is it the placebo effect or is something really happening? I’m just not sure. I’m not even sure I’m doing it right. Most of the time I think I fall asleep, but I’m not even sure about that.
But I am sure I’m going to keep meditating, because I’m on a hot streak right now, a heater, ITZ.