I finally did it. I took the leap and signed up for Transcendental Meditation. I had known about TM for most of my life. After all, I am a major Beatles fan, ever since I first saw Yellow Submarine.
If you think about it, the Beatles have always been in my life. As a kid growing up in the 70s, I was exposed to cartoons and children’s shows with characters who were caricatures of the Beatles (and the Byrds, the Who, the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five, etc.). Not to mention that the Beatles were still all over FM radio along with their solo work. Then Yellow Submarine was introduced to me in the second grade. That cartoon movie was and still is, everything to me. It was funny, interesting, cleverly intelligent, had wonderful artwork, was filled with the Beatles music, and displayed all the archetypes that we are familiar with.
But I digress. The point is that as a child, and straight through to my adulthood, I was a huge Beatles fan. I even read extensively about them, from the encyclopedic book I was given as a gift (and I read the fuck out of it) to John Lennon’s Playboy interview. Thus, it should not come as a shock that I knew about TM through the Beatles and their music.
In case you did not know this, the Beatles went from psychedelic acid heads to Transcendental Meditators. They still partied, but they also became practitioners of TM. They spoke of it often and were very frank about it. Throughout my life I would be pleasantly surprised by different celebrities who would open about being TM practitioners. Howard Stern and Jerry Seinfeld are just two I can state right away. Another famous practitioner is (and this surprised me but made total sense) David Lynch.
I read more about Meditation as I grew into my 20s. I was a little fundamentalist Christian as a child. My Mom used to take me to Baptist churches when I was little. After we moved to Massachusetts when I was in the second grade, we went to the Adventist church my Grandmother attended. I had a lot of ideas that were driven by fear of sin. Eventually I started asking questions that could not be answered by the church or the Bible. When I turned 12, I left Christianity behind in the dust. I recognized it for what it was: bullshit.
In my 20s I was reading so much, literally morning, noon, and night. When I worked in blue collar jobs, while everyone else was talking about sports and beer drinking at lunch, I was reading a book. I preferred history, politics, philosophy, and religion. You read that right. I left the church, but I still read about other religions. I have read a few books that touched on TM or were about other people’s journeys.
One of the problems I had with starting TM was availability. Literally, you cannot learn it from a book. You need a guru, a guide, at least at the beginning. Growing up, and even into my 30s there were not a lot of TM centers around the South Shore or any of the other crappy states I lived in. When I finally did find places to go, the other problem came up…the money. It costs money to learn TM.
And so, I knew of TM, I was interested in TM, but I never took the leap. That is not to say that I have not meditated because I certainly did that. Not all meditation is the same. There is contemplation, which is used in all the Abrahamic traditions. That was never my cup of tea. Instead, I followed Buddhist forms of meditation. When I took Shaolin Kenpo, we meditated at the beginning and end of class. We also had a session of breathing exercises. I had to move away from the area where my Kenpo classes were, but I kept reading. Among the books I read was a lot of Deepak Chopra and Thích Nhất Hạnh. Consequently, I meditated off and on for the rest of my life the way I knew how: deep breathing, clearing my mind of thoughts, and focusing my mind on a single point of light. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? Well, it worked for me. The periods of my life where I returned to meditation were always points where I moved into a more positive path.
Fast Forward to 2016 when I found the first TM center in South Weymouth MA. I did not have the money to join but I signed up for the email updates. Sometimes I received emails with some nice article. Other times I received emails with invitations to certain events. A few weeks back I received an email to join a Zoom call with Bob Roth of the David Lynch Foundation. After that Zoom call I reached out to the TM center in Cambridge and made the decision to take the leap.
What I did find out is that the financial cost is based on your income. Back when I was poor, I would have received free guidance. Now I am no longer poor, so I agreed to pay my fair share, which is a minute percentage of my annual income (literally less than a grand). This is a one-time cost, and it helps to fund the foundation. I liked what I read about the foundation and I had the funds to finally learn TM, so I gladly paid the meager fee.
Today was my one-time personal instruction, to which I drove into Cambridge for. I filled out a questionnaire that, coupled with a brief conversation with the local instructor, helped determine my mantra. Your mantra is secret, between you and the instructor. I am not going to give away the ritual, but it was beautiful to say the least.
I learned my mantra and then had two meditation sessions lead by my instructor. We chatted about what I experienced after each meditation. Then I had a third meditation by myself. It lasted about 10 minutes. What I experienced in that last meditation was two jolts. One jolt made my leg jolt and it snapped me out of the meditation. I continued the mantra in silence and then a few minutes later I got the second jolt. This one was a sudden rush of breath. I never felt that before. Then my instructor came back into the room and directed me to slowly open my eyes and after a few minutes asked me to complete a post-meditation questionnaire. I felt like I had just woken up (which is one of the questions) and I completed the questionnaire.
My instructor explained to me that the first jolt was my body trying to adjust to the position I was in while sitting in the chair. He said I can adjust my position during meditation because the goal is to be comfortable and relaxed. This is different than the Buddhist traditions. He later said I may feel similar jolts, which is my body releasing stress. The jolt of breath was a good sign as well. My instructor said that it was signs that the mantra was working. He went through the questionnaire and answered questions as well as gave advice.
What I did not tell my instructor was that I had an epiphany about a personal matter. It did not seem significant at the time, but I considered it further on my drive home. It became a deeper realization during that time.
Practitioners are taught to meditate twice per day for twenty minutes each time. The TM organization has a phone application. This evening I did my second self-guided meditation. I set my phone in Airplane Mode and then started the TM application. There is a feature that runs while you meditate and has an audible ding when the twenty minutes are completed. I chose to lay on my bed for this session. I had difficulty keeping my mantra going at first. A lot of thoughts flooded my head. Still, I kept returning to my mantra.
My instructor told me that if I get caught up in a thought and lose track of my mantra, “that’s okay because the mantra is always there. You just return to it”. And so, I did return to it. Then something happened that I did not expect. Those thoughts kept coming back and then they became very vivid thoughts (ideas and memories). Then “Ding” and I snapped out of it. Twenty minutes had passed, and it felt like it had only been a few minutes.
What an amazing sensation that came with my realization of what had just happened. I literally lost time. I felt like I connected with that creative part of my mind that used to drive my writing and artwork. This was spectacular. My instructor had said that your mantra will continue, even if I lose track of repeating it internally. It certainly seemed that way tonight.
The other thing I learned is that you must come out of your meditation slowly (three minutes of slowly adjusting). When the application made the dinging sound, it snapped me out of my meditation too quickly. You are supposed to open your eyes slowly and adjust. Instead, my eyes immediately opened. I sat quietly and moved slowly. After three minutes I got out of bed and had dinner with my family. It was a wonderful way to end my day.
As it is said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".