There are a plethora of techniques we adopt in our daily lives to remain relatively “sane” in our western society, which is heavily dressed with stress and societal pressures; one of these techniques being meditation. “Take a few deep breaths.” “Silence your thoughts.” “Try and listen to your gut feeling.” These and many more are the instructions we have all received at some point in our lives and they pertain mostly to the practice of meditation. The popularity of yoga, meditation and growing acceptance of the value of embracing ones “spiritual self” has lead many to adopt meditation as part of their daily routine. A mosaic of meditation techniques exist, you don’t necessarily have to sit cross-legged chanting “ohm”. Some surf, dance, swim, write – meditation is personal and as such each of us finds the method we need to re-connect with ourselves.. No matter how you meditate or whatever you may call it, be it relaxing, getting some alone time, the important part is not the name but the act and taking the time to find the right “meditation” “de-stresser” “re-focusing” technique. Some of us, however, shy away from this. Why? No time? Too busy? These are mere excuses. Recently somebody mentioned to me that when we think of delving within, many of us in the Western philosophy fear the darkness, the cobwebs and the compartmentalized issues we would rather leave untouched. In Eastern philosophy, however, delving within is not associated with darkness but with light and as one learns to transcend ones various levels of consciousness you approach the ultimate light namely a state of enlightenment. How very true. How many of us avoid dealing with matters because we know that the repercussions of doing so will involve dealing with emotions we like to avoid such as sadness, anger or remorse. How many techniques are there for delving within? And most importantly, which one works best?
Transcendental Meditation, or as it is commonly called TM, is a very popular form of meditation. It was formally introduced to me on December 2nd 2011 at a news briefing held at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which announced the launch of the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) initiative, Operation Warrior Wellness (OWW) in Los Angeles. As part of this launch David Lynch presented a one million dollar cheque for the teaching of TM to veterans. Prior to the news briefing Wikipedia enlightened me with my basic knowledge of TM and the DLF: TM is a form of mantra meditation, which was introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the mid-1950s in India. TM is based on Indian philosophy and the teachings of Krishna, the Buddha and Shankara as well as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and is a version of a technique passed down from the Maharishi’s teacher, Brahmananda Saraswati. With TM you are given a mantra and instructed to never speak it to anybody (I fear to even imagine what happens if you do).
Millions of people have been trained in the technique of TM. The late John Lennon and George Harrison were devout practitioners and many public figures practice it today including Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Eastwood and of course David Lynch. Mr Lynch was so impressed by the effects of TM that in 2005 he established The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. According to their website this Foundation has been instrumental in spreading the scientifically proven benefits of TM. The DLF has created programs to teach the technique of TM to at risk populations including inner city kids, the homeless, Native Americans as well as veterans and their families suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Operation Warrior Wellness is a DLF initiative which teaches TM to Veterans, active soldiers and their families suffering from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). It started based on a friendship between Jerry Yellin and Ed Schloeman. These two veterans met in March of 2010 on the Island of Iwo Jima to commemorate the battle that was fought there during WWII. Jerry had been a P-51 fighter pilot in WWII and Ed Schloeman had been a Marine in the Vietnam War. It was friendship at first handshake and when the two met again in Florida, Ed discovered that Jerry practised TM. This had been a part of Jerry’s life since the 70’s; he found that TM radically reduced the effects of traumatic stress that were governing his life. Ed was intrigued and started to practice TM himself. Sure enough he too was amazed by the massive improvement TM made on his life. Thus the inspiration to share this technique with other military personnel, veterans and their families was born.
I confess I cannot reconcile meditation and the military and as I entered the elaborately carpeted Conference room in the Beverly Hills Hotel I was not sure what to expect. Not sure what was about to occur, clutching my questions for David Lynch in my sweaty paw I was directed by Alan Cruz, the talented photographer who had kindly invited me to the briefing, to take a seat. Obediently I did. The man sitting next to me turned out to be Mr. Jesse Berkowitz, the Director of Marketing of the David Lynch Foundation. We started to talk. This lovely man started to explain TM to me and I slowly began to understand what the hype was all about. As Jesse spoke I couldn’t help but notice his calm and bright personality almost forming a glowing hue around his body. “Is this the effect of TM?” I wondered. “Or…any form of meditation in general?” A friend from high school whom he hadn’t seen in a while sat next to him. She too seemed to glow from deep in her core and I found myself staring at them in awe (and a tad bit of envy).
David Lynch then entered the room. In a mad frenzy I was squeezed before Mr. Lynch and directed to ask my one question. I had been calm as a cucumber up until this point but as I stood before this master Director I lost my cool completely. As if suffering from a severe tremor I found my whole body shaking violently as I shook his hand, presented myself and then asked my question – pitiful. It must have been pretty evident that I am no TM meditator. My question was how he reconciled his foundation, which suggests a move towards world peace and an initiative (OWW) that supports the military which some would consider a disruptor of world peace? Mr. Lynch responded, slightly befuddled at first that, “a military doesn’t disrupt world peace. They are trying to get the peace. It’s unfortunate that…it seems…what is happening these days may be the old way.” Mr. Lynch then said, “Real peace. Real peace is within and when that real peace is enlivened it’s like turning on a light and what that light removes is negativity. Real peace removes all negativity. There is no need for war. But the veterans, bless their hearts, they’ve gone off to defend their country, they’ve gone off with the right reasons and they come back and they’re not really being taken care of and it’s very unfortunate and they’re quietly suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and we are here to tell them there’s a technique that’ll get their life back and bring great, great, great happiness and freedom. And it’s very, very beautiful and important that they get that.”
Real peace is within and the removal of negativity is pivotal – amen. Saying that the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq went for the “right” reasons, however, assumes the wars were “right” and necessary. There have been many wars and few could be described as necessary. Slightly confused and perplexed by Mr. Lynch’s answer I decided to focus on this idea of finding peace within in order to ensure peace without. Regardless of your political affiliations or opinions about the Afghanistan and Iraq war- wars which have lasted since October 2001 and March 2003 (a total of 18 years cumulatively) – the veterans, active soldiers and families suffering from the psychological damage of PTS that goes hand in hand with war, have a right to be cared for and importantly their pain acknowledged.
Sitting on a stage, facing the audience of reporters and fellow meditators sat a panel, which included Jerry Yellin, Ed Schloeman, Col. Brian Rees, M.D. Dr. Norman Rosenthal, OIF Veteran David George, Vietnam Veteran Dan Burks, Dr. Sarina Grosswald, David Lynch, Tara Jones Wise, and Dr. John Hagelin. As the presentation unfolded I heard story after story of how TM had changed these veterans and active soldiers lives. When talking about the research that has been conducted about the effects of TM on the brain renowned psychiatrist and researcher Dr. Norman Rosenthal said, “It occurs to me that as a researcher I look at the data and I say, wouldn’t it be great to have more studies, larger number, more controls, (researchers always say that by the way). But as a clinician, I say you know we just can’t afford to wait for the results of those studies to come out. The situation is too dire. The potential and promise of this technique is too great.”
Everybody who spoke pledged that TM was going to be part of the solution to deal with PTS. Tara Jones Wise, the founder of the National Military Women Veterans Association of America, in a moving speech finished by saying, “ A year ago this month I felt suicidal. I felt so low that I wanted to just not be here. Today I can say I am a meditator. It’s that simple. TM saved my life.” Such words firmly underline how powerful TM has been in changing the lives of thousands of veterans. It is important to note that you don’t have to suffer from PTS or be a member of the “rich and famous” to benefit from TM. As Clint Eastwood said in a video shown at the briefing, “ It’s a great system to use in life in general. Otherwise why would I have been doing it all these years?” We can all meditate.
So what is it about TM that is making all these people feel so much better? Dr. Fred Travis is the Director of the Center for Brain, Consciousness, and Cognition at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. On the Transcendental Meditation Program webpage he explains how TM makes the brain healthier and more “integrated” meaning that it functions together as a whole. The frontal lobes or association cortex of the brain does not get direct information from outside, it puts together what the senses have brought in through touch, hearing etc. “The Frontal lobes are like a conductor who takes the talent from different sections of the orchestra and puts them all together into a whole piece of music”.  The brain is constantly changing and that means new brain circuits are always being formed. If you repeat something for a long period of time stronger and stronger brain circuits start to form. Ever wonder why they say practice makes perfect? Stress, however, keeps the frontal lobes from developing and the brain stops working as a whole. Luckily no matter what has happened in the past we can always introduce new experiences and thus new brain circuits in our brain. TM exercises the frontal lobes and as Dr. Travis points out within a few months of practising TM, high levels of integration of frontal brain connectivity can be seen.
The type of meditation you choose is very personal – this is not a one size fits all system. As I saw on December 2nd, TM has saved the lives of many veterans who suffer from traumatic stress and PTS. From my research TM has enriched the lives of thousands, but so have other forms of meditation. We live in a time in which stress and anxiety play a lead role in our daily lives. Serious health disabilities are on the rise such as depression and obesity. Depression is in fact the No.1 cause of years lost to disability in the western world and it is projected that by 2020 Depression will be the 2nd most disabling condition in the world for all ages and both sexes (the first being cardiovascular disease). If we have a healthy mind we have a healthy body. Ever notice that when you are very stressed you get a cold? We invest so much time and money in our car, house, trips, apple products – why not invest in our mental health? Mental health lasts far longer than the MacBook Pro no matter what warranty you have.
Meditation, taking the time to really know thyself, knows no boundaries, it connects people to themselves but also each other – it is a unifying force that values individuality and serves as a tool, to improve the lives of thousands of people from every walk of life. Growth and change are inevitable, yet human beings often shy away from challenging ourselves; we are creatures who become easily complacent with the status quo. As we ring in the New Year I think of what Maharishi told Larry King when asked what one needs to have in order to start practicing TM. Maharishi simply said, you need the intention, the desire to become a better person. A principle of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is “water the root to enjoy the fruit.” Perhaps meditation, whichever type that suits us, is the water we need to fully blossom in 2012 and (drum roll please) beyond.
I would love to hear back from you….
- What Meditation techniques function for you?
- What do you think of “Meditation” per se – what does it mean to you?
- Do you find or make time to “meditate” every day/week?