Friday, April 02, 2010

COLUMN: Meditate

I know what you're thinking. Something seems different this week about your favorite newspaper columnist, am I right? Could it be that your loveable hero has suddenly become more relaxed and less stressed-out? More in-tune with the world? It's almost as if I spent the week diving into a blissful sea of pure consciousness and restful alertness.

The events of this week actually started several years ago, when some friends and I discovered that film director David Lynch was giving a lecture in Fairfield, Iowa. To say that I'm a huge fan of Lynch would be a massive understatement. I'm a nerd for his work, and to find out he was lurking around in central Iowa was pretty epic. I didn't even care what he was lecturing on, I just knew I had to be there. If that lecture had been on "How Best To Murder Puppies," I'd have been first in line with a schnauzer under each arm.

Happily for the midwestern puppy populace, Lynch's lecture instead was on a subject he's most passionate about: the benefits of Transcendental Meditation. The ancient Vedic practice of TM was revived in Western culture back in the 60's by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (famed for his encounters with The Beatles.) Years later, when the Maharishi decided to open a school for what he called "consciousness-based education," the Maharishi University of Management settled upon the former grounds of Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa. Thanks to the school, Fairfield has turned into the Midwestern epicenter for new age philosophies and green living. Lynch is but one of the many people who practice Transcendental Meditation every day.

At that lecture, I ended up meeting David Lynch and it was the thrill of a lifetime. Years later, I travelled back to Fairfield to interview him for our paper. Since then, I've done a number of gripping and/or Pulitzer-worthy pieces on the weird little town of Fairfield and the practice of TM.

Too bad that I've never exactly bought into the whole thing.

Parts of the TM technique seem really cool. Folks who meditate on a regular basis lead heathier and happier lives, and the school's got statistics galore to back it up. Meditating relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, improves brain function, and encourages creativity. I buy into all that.

Then they kinda lose me a little. According to the principles of the practice, when you meditate, you descend into a form of pure consciousness that's known as the Unified Field -- the primordial ooze that makes up all of everything, the basic building block of existence. And when you tap into this Unified Field through meditation, you create waves of positivity that can have an effect on everyone and everything around you. Ergo, if I were to meditate right now, my cats might feel a little better. My neighbors might feel a little better. And, as the college suggests, if you were to take a group of meditators skilled enough and drop them into the Middle East, you might just attain world peace. This is the part of TM that the realist part of my brain calls advanced hocum-pocum.

Still, every time I visit Fairfield, the people there and at the College are just so stinkin' nice. Like, bordering-on-creepy nice. And everyone seems so earnest in their attempts to turn the town into this Utopian existence that I can't help but admire their efforts. So when the opportunity came to me to learn the practice of TM from an accredited teacher, I couldn't refuse. That's what I've been doing this past week: learning to meditate. If at any point in time this past week, you've felt happiness or enjoyment, clearly that was me sending positive ripples into your little niche of the Unified Field. You're welcome.

If there's one thing I've learned this week about myself, it's that I have a very difficult time trying to shut my brain off. Or turn my inner brain on. Or whatever I'm supposed to be doing (I still don't know for sure, I'm only halfway done with my classes as I type this.) I just know it's gonna take an awful lot of time and practice before I bask in the true bliss of pure consciousness.

I can't really tell you much about the actual TM practice. It's principles and technique are rather closely guarded, and they're not really keen on amateurs giving away trade secrets. I can tell you, though, that like many other forms of meditation, TM utilizes what's called a "mantra" - a noise without meaning. Your trainer gives you this mantra and you focus on it during your meditation.

I thought I would be really good at meditating. I mean, I practically do it every day in front of the television watching reruns of "Law and Order." My best mantra might as well be, "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups..."

I'm not supposed to divulge the mantra given to me by my trainer, and I won't. But suffice to say, my noise without meaning sounds like a very similar noise belted out by Beyonce in the chorus to that song you couldn't escape from last year. So every time I try to repeat the mantra, I have to fight the Beyonce song from leaping into my head.

Here's how it's been going:

Mantra... mantra...
(Beyonce! Beyonce!)
mantra... mantra...
(get out of my head, dumb song)
mantra... mantra...
(ahh... that's better)
(kind of relaxing)
(I'm doing it, I'm totally meditating)
(no you're not, because if you were truly transcending, you wouldn't be having this conversation with yourself)
mantra... mantra...
(why did I just think of a duck? Stop that.)
mantra... mantra...
mantra... mantra...
(Aretha? What're YOU doing here? Get outta my brain!)
(Billy Ocean? You're here, too?)

Etc., etc. My brain appears to be immune to internal relaxation. Still, I'm gonna give it a shot and see where it takes me. I'm all for anything that reduces stress. And in all honesty, as I was leaving class tonight, the world seemed a little more... visceral, I guess. Whether that's due to meditation or Sudafed or Billy Ocean, I dunno. The way I see it, it's a win-win: No longer will I be Shane-the-guy-who-zones-out-at-his-desk-sometimes, I am now Shane-the-master-of-pure-consciousness-and-transcendence. Your Unified Field can thank me later.

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