First: a huge thank you to everyone who contacted me in response to my last post. I’m troubled that so many women are in similar situations, and have felt the same reticence (and shame) to speak out about it. I am also beyond touched by the incredible support shown by everybody. I thank you each from the bottom of my heart. Now onto cheerful matters!
“I admire the willingness to simplify. We live in a world where many people complicate to profit. Because if what you do is simple then they think you’re dispensable.” — Tim Ferriss
For quite some time now, my days have been relentlessly packed due to work. Even when I’m not working, I’m still sort of working. Or if I’m really not working, I’m too exhausted from work to do much else.
So I was rather envious when I noticed Leena, a filmmaker I admire and adore who always exudes calm and good cheer – despite having multiple projects and tons of places to go and shitloads of people to see. What was her secret? Green juice? A cult? Drugs?
“Transcendental Meditation,” she said.
Oh boo, I thought. Boo boo boo. Let me explain.
I’m not a stranger to meditation. I took a series of classes at the London Buddhist Centre for several months. We’d spend ages figuring out how to sit comfortably using a pile of cushions and mats of varying thickness and firmness for our legs and backs; and then, eventually, we’d do a form of guided meditation. The practice didn’t really register with me. Even now, my only memory of that time is of rearranging the cushions.
A doctor in London tried to get me to participate in “mindfulness” classes that were really meditation just dressed up as the new cure-all for everything from depression to addiction. This terminology alarmed me even more. Dude, my mind is already full! I bailed.
Two years ago, I went for Vipassana, a ten-day silent meditation retreat. I spent eight hours a day (trying to) sit still in the lotus position, back straight, hands in chin mudra (thumb and forefinger touching), while mentally practising the art of Letting Go. It was the most difficult thing I’ve voluntarily done. Ever. Sure, it had a lasting impact and yes, it was transformative for my creativity, but the actual practice had me – literally – running away, gasping for air.
So when Leena – bright-eyed, amazing energy, all glowy, able to simultaneously keep a dozen balls juggling in the air, etc – credited TM, I at first resisted. But she spoke of it very eloquently, so I asked her for a referral.
The instructor required a minimum of three people to sign up at a time. With my jet-setting friends having their own hectic schedules, finding a mutually suitable window took some time. But we managed it at last and took the classes three weeks ago.
The instructor came over to my place for two hours a day for four days. Three friends and I took the course. The instructor gave us the background and science of it. We meditated daily together then went a little deeper into our understanding of the practice at each class.
The bestest thing about it is how simple and straightforward it is: sit comfortably (like on a chair), close your eyes and repeat the mantra given by the instructor (this is given to us individually; we are not to disclose ours to anyone else). Do this twice a day for about 20 minutes. That’s about it. No chin mudra, no lotus, no chanting, no laboured breathing, no body scanning required. And – mega bonus for me – fidgeting totally allowed.
Our mind exists in endless chatter, like waves constantly in motion. We want to reach the stillness that is deeper in the heart of the ocean. That’s the meditation part.
The transcendental part is when your mind and body slip into a state that is neither consciousness nor sleep. I’ve had glimpses of it already and it feels exquisite. Not dissimilar to when you’re about to fall asleep yet you can hear everything around you; kind of Here but also There and Everywhere at the same time. Eventually, we were told, the whole session will feel like that, and then – with more practice – even some of our non-meditative time as well.
I asked my instructor if he gets road rage. (I was checking if becoming good at this means my personality would change…) He said he absolutely does, but the impact isn’t deep and it doesn’t last long.
When I mentioned that I am a perpetual wanderer, he said TM would help me find my home in myself, grounding me even as I roam. This, probably more than anything, has given me great solace.
While TM is non-denominational and untied to any religion, it can become something of a sacred practice. Its sacredness lies not just in how it unlocks the mind, but in what can feel like a revolutionary act of taking out 20 minutes twice a day just for yourself.
Sitting quietly had always seemed overwhelming to me earlier. Too much to do, too much to deliver, busy busy busy, no time to breathe. I know that sounds ridiculous but that’s modern life (or my current life) for you. There was even a time when trying to take three deep breaths in a row had me hyperventilating. Rearranging my schedule to make time and space to do this has sent the strongest message to myself about my priorities.
It’s early days yet and I haven’t been entirely regular with my practice. Though with meetings running back to back until late evenings most nights, I have now started doing it while sitting in the back of a cab.
The morning practice has saved me from my usual habit of cracking open my eye and immediately reaching for my phone to check on email and messages. Now I meditate first thing and then get going with my day.
The measure of its effect, the instructor says, is not how we feel when we’re practising, but how the rest of our day goes. TM has been proven in countless studies to be one of the best aids for reducing stress and anxiety. It also increases creativity and boosts intelligence.
This makes sense. If we imagine our mental state as a glass of water, then we are constantly having mud thrown in it in the form of external stimuli. When we stop throwing mud, the cloudiness settles, allowing us to finally See Clearly. This is what I’d experienced at Vipassana. With practice, I’m told TM will remove the mud altogether.
As with learning a new word, I now see references to TM everywhere. It feels as if authors of books I read, hosts of podcasts I listen to, directors of films I admire – all ardently practise TM. The reason for its popularity must in part be due to its ease.
The more I move through life, the more I find myself rejecting the overly complicated and going for the simple. I find an honesty in ease that helps click into position within myself. Ease makes it easier for it to feel “right”. When something – anything – is accompanied by a complicated set of rules, then I spend more time fretting in case I’m getting some aspect of it wrong.
I’ve also realised I can often cling to the convoluted to prove I’m Doing Something or Making an Effort. But it’s choosing an easy route that – crucially – relies on trusting myself that really is a winning formula.
What has been most helpful is understanding how our mind-body works in meditation. I can’t do justice to the instructor’s words here but basically: old feelings will come unstuck and be released during TM, especially in the early days of practice. These can be unsettling, even traumatic, but by the nature of our experiencing it, it means they’re already out of the system. There is no need to analyse them – the thoughts attached to the feelings are simply post-rationalisation, and have no merit.
This no-need-for-analysis is a massive attraction for me. I tend to be verbose, analytical, intellectual – words come to me easily yet are often inadequate to capture the spirit of what I feel. For some time now, I’ve been experiencing how the more I turn to body therapy over talk therapy, the more deeply I heal. TM is a profound tool for body and mind therapy, and one that doesn’t require finding a therapist every time I need help. TM practitioner, heal thyself.
*Find out more about TM here.
*Don’t miss Parched, directed by Leena Yadav, a film I love madly. Coming to Netflix in the US, and Amazon Prime in India soon. (Eight months on, it’s still showing in French theatres! This is the longest for a non-French film to do so.)
*Many filmmakers are long time practitioners. David Lynch started his foundation which promotes the teaching of TM. He says on his site: “[TM] has given me effortless access to unlimited reserves of energy, creativity and happiness deep within. This level of life is sometimes called “pure consciousness” – it is a treasury. And this level of life is deep within us all.”
“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.” — Albert Einstein
I’ve always rather dreaded cooking. I’ve bought many recipe books over the years and kept wondering why, despite following instructions carefully, I rarely felt happy with the results. Then I read unplugged kitchen by Viana La Place. Aside from making me ache to return to Italy (which it does, very much so), it’s about removing the dazzling accoutrements of the modern kitchen (food processors, measuring cups and spoons, electric gizmos) and relying instead on the simplest ingredients prepared in the simplest of ways with the simplest of tools. Just reading it makes me relaxed and happy.
I was taught the Five Tibetan Rites (often called the Five Tibetans) once, and I have never forgotten this exercise routine. It’s so simple and effective for the whole body, and can be done anywhere, at any time, without any special equipment in less than 10 minutes. It’s great for travelling. Alternatively, there’s the ever-popular Sun Salutations.
Derek Sivers is an entrepreneur who eschewed the usual rules about profit-seeking expansion and ended up with a multi-million dollar business, CD Baby, by operating on his own startlingly simple and authentic principles. You can hear him discuss many points from his brilliant book (which was a game-changer for me), Anything You Want, in this episode of the Tim Ferriss Show podcast, titled David Sivers on Developing Confidence, Finding Happiness and Saying “No” to Millions.
This is such a fab love story! Long-ish article but so worth the read. I cycled from India to Europe for love, written by Camilla Palmer for The Guardian. When the heart is honest, it finds its truth without trouble. I heart PK and Lotta.