I recently attended a three day course on Transcendental Meditation (TM).
Just before starting the course I had mixed feelings. I began to feel a subtle, but noticeable shift in my emotional state. I would say that my natural curiosity for what I was about to experience; was met with an equal amount of anxiety at the not knowing what I was going to experience.
The following morning I scanned through my thoughts to locate the source of my anxiety.
I wondered if my feelings of malaise and concern for my safety were in fact a defence mechanism of my Ego? That perhaps the outcome of today’s session may not appear to have the most beneficial impact on it… or “Id”, as Father Freud would say.
Suddenly this realisation gave me a deeper understanding of how easily my mind gets locked in a vice of self-absorption, because the ego can, and in reality will, think of nothing but itself.
Yet, thanks in large part to TM, I am now beginning to discover that we are more than the inner (and often critical) voices that exist in our minds. Once observed through the lens of unconditional positive regard; pernicious thoughts appear to lose their potency.
The session starts. I daydreamed about being enveloped in a cloud of incense and soothed by ancient chimes… Instead, however, the sight of my teacher, Chris, handing over a routine Health and Safety form snapped that dream like a fortune cookie.
One thing remained evident though: this man exuded a sense of calm and balance; a person brought into action more by reflection of thought than reaction to it.
The first session is conducted one-to-one and in the name of tradition the mantra I was assigned must remain private. However, the details of my experience are something that I can, and indeed want, to talk freely about.
Perhaps the most telling sign of TM’s power is what happened that first day… After meditating with my teacher present I was left to practice on my own. The voice was almost instantaneous – it didn’t miss a beat! “You’re alone now.” It said. This disembodied voice spoke in a sharp and cruel tone that seemingly came out of nowhere. With its speed and severity perhaps it was a deeply repressed thought?
Yes, I was indeed alone in a dimly lit room with my eyes closed and the faint but recognisable scent of incense circumnavigating my nostrils The voice repeated itself, quickly and forcefully this time. I instantly recognised at some level I had always hated being alone, and in doing so: feeling abandoned. Instead of staying too long on this thought I turned to focus gently on the mantra and the transition from who I once was, to who I was becoming.
Day two started out well. The first time that we meditated as a group was straight forward enough. There was no ‘picking up on the energetic deficit of others’, no psychic-vampirism going on (to the best of my knowledge). Then, however, a curious thing happened. I heard a faint, but distinct sniffling coming from the man opposite me. At first I merely observed the sound; trying to resist this distraction, but as the sounds grew louder I realised that he had started to cry. Knowing his back-story I was not surprised and in fact my only thought at the time was: “I can imagine that he is having some painful realisations right now.”
What washed over me, in that moment, was a deep feeling of interconnectedness, brought about through an empathy that extended past me, my mantra, and my previous ‘this is my time to shine!’ mentality. “I genuinely hope that this person is alright”, I thought. Wanted to think, even. In fact I hadn’t felt this level of compassion for a perfect stranger well, ever.
The last event of the course left me feeling stunned. We were shown a flowchart, designed by a Harvard undergraduate. The chart described the process of TM and was incomplete – needing myself and other members of the group to guess the missing words. The teacher asked and no-one answered. He laughed and told us not to worry; that in all of his years of teaching TM no-one had ever really been able to guess what all the individual letters meant.
The minute I glimpsed the puzzle I knew the answers! It was strange. Whilst the rest of the class were stumped I managed to guess practically every letter to each word in record time. At school I’d never aced a test, but now even our mentor was impressed. Could this clarity and calm knowing be a direct result of spending time in meditative focus? Or do I just have an untapped talent for word games?
Whatever the case, I now try and take this calm knowing into my day to day world: a knowing that in fact I don’t know where my own special set of biased thoughts and assumptions come from. In actual fact I don’t always need to know. As long as I can unconditionally observe in those moments, I am freed from the cycle of unconscious repetitive thought for long enough to catch a glimpse of myself as both the observer and the observed.
Perhaps instead of scanning thoughts to locate their potential sources and definitions, there is something to be said for allowing thoughts to locate in you a sense of acceptance of all that you actually are; verses all that you think yourself to be.