Last year I had to stop running due to a persistent and as yet undiagnosed leg/back injury, so to fill the gap and to cope with the stress of being still, I learnt how to meditate. I assumed, after all I had read about Transcendental Meditation (or TM as they call it in independent coffee shops frequented by youngsters) that I would suddenly be full of inspiration, bursting with energy, that I'd stop biting my nails down to the knuckle, and that my irritable bowel would miraculously clear up and I would become that person who could nip for a quick poo rather than it taking an hour out of my day.
I'd read that that during meditation, you become consumed by a feeling of bliss and an immense sense of happiness. I'd even read about one woman who said that she would laugh during her meditation because she was so overwhelmed with joy. The article didn't point out whether or not the woman wore a colander on her head and ate Citalopram for breakfast, but I didn't care as I was frustratingly out of action and ready for a dose of mild hysteria.
I'd read so much about TM, prior to attending the introductory talk that I had already convinced myself it was the right thing for me to do. I'd read everything from the cultish scaremongering to the hilarious yogic flying (watch the videos on YouTube, but don't try at home if you have a weak pelvic floor). David Lynch says that all his energy and creativity comes from meditation - I'd probably throw myself off a cliff if he told me to (just because I like his films and am easily impressionable, not because I'm suicidal). One thing all of the articles I read stated was that TM is "nature's stress reliever" so, in my fortieth year I thought it was only right that with my stress induced habits and a penchant for getting wound up at the mention of trigger words such as "anti-immigration" and "Cheryl Fernandez Vagina" (or whatever her name was at the time) that it was high time I de-stressed and chilled the F out.
After signing up online, I was sent a time and date for the introductory talk which was at a regular terraced house a few streets away from mine and not in some fancy TM temple as I had envisioned. My teacher was a Shaggy from Scooby Doo type, but very wise, warm and welcoming and so laid-back and serene I thought that if I took my eyes of him, he would likely evaporate alongside the Sandalwood incense that burned beside him. Along with three fellow enthusiasts, I sat in this bloke's living room listening to the many benefits of TM and then we watched a video and had a private interview with the teacher where he asked questions like "are you on drugs?" and "are you mentally ill?" After I vigorously shook my head, he ticked a few boxes and confirmed the details of my TM training day.
I had to turn up on the day with some fruit, some flowers, a white handkerchief for my teacher. I ordered a pack of 3 new cotton hankies from eBay and a silk one from China that only turned up last week. I bought a couple of Lisianthus flowers from the local florist and because we only had a brown banana in the fruit bowl at home, nipped into Sainsbury's on the way and grabbed a melon, some kiwi fruit, a couple of apples and a Radio Times, the latter of which was for personal use. The other items are used symbolically in the traditional ceremony performed by the teacher. When I got to the terraced house, I had to sort out the financial side of things. The whole thing set me back £390, which my teacher told me is a "tiny amount relative to how much it can change your life."
As all of us "trainees" were being taught on the same day, I waited downstairs for one of the men from the introduction group to finish his training before I could start. When his time was up, like a hybrid of the snake from the Jungle Book and a cup of weak tea, he slid into the room in a cloud of heys, wows and whoas which made me think, I'd accidentally booked myself in for a lobotomy but it was too late now, I'd paid.
What happened next is top secret. So top secret that you have to sign some papers to say that you will never let the secret out, so I can't possibly tell you what happened in that room but it was nothing bad, in fact it was pretty nice. Lovely actually. Something pretty magical happened to me in that room and it didn't involve a scalpel and my head being taken to pieces. When I left about an hour later, I felt a great sense of achievement. I felt like I'd conquered TM in my first session and it felt amazing, like I'd popped a pill and spent the afternoon busting out moves to house-tunes sung by session singers that had careers way beneath the ones they deserved. I couldn't wait to dance again in my own time, but I had to come back to get my technique "checked" and for some group meditation sessions the next day. As someone who way prefers my own company to the company of others (aside from my wife and children) the mere mention of a group session felt like a kick in the balls.
The group consisted of four personalities that would never be brought together under any other circumstance. The discussions amongst the group made me uncomfortable. I was there for purely selfish reasons. I wanted to get my thoughts in order and bring some clarity and structure to MY life. Others wanted to bring peace to the world (which, of course, would be nice) and to find out the secret of the universe. There was much talk about science, biology and the power of the collective mind but I didn't have time for wishy-washy poppycock so I just kept my mouth shut until it was time to meditate. Doing it in a group might have been quite nice if three of the group weren't squashed onto a 2 seater sofa, in a small bedroom and if one of the group didn't have a bad cold and another didn't have severe respiratory issues. During the session, I kept my eyes closed but really I was only concentrating on not jumping out of my skin at each sneeze, or the violent snores coming at me from all angles. The following group sessions didn't get any better. The snores got louder, to the point that my meditations were overtaken with aggressive thoughts of smothering the poor chap to death with the cushion that was propping up my back. The topics of conversation afterwards became so far removed from my reality, that I found them hard to stomach. That, however, is due to my intolerance of anyone other than myself and not a reflection on the people within the group.
Once left to my own devices, I hit the ground running. I'd learnt TM because I thought it would help with my writing, which it did as my word-count is at an all time high. For the first few months, I stopped biting my nails, only to realise that the damage had been done and I was doomed to have short and stubby ones forever. My daughter said that I had changed. "You've turned into a "time-out" dad." She said. A "time-out" dad is one of those parents who praises everything their child does and opts to discuss their mistakes with them rather than shouting at them or clipping their ear. "I preferred it when you shouted at us." She told me. So I started that up again to keep her happy. My bowel habits haven't changed at all and I'm a stone heavier in weight, but I'm patiently waiting for the "energy" promised so I can work it off. I do however, think I'm looking at things with a fresh pair of eyes. For example, I've seen Star Wars hundreds of times and with a 10 year old son, I get to see it quite often. Without sounding like a nutcase, post-meditation, I think I know what "The Force" is and I think TM is the way to it. It's a well-known fact that TM founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the inspiration behind George Lucas's creation of Yoda and the films, in a roundabout and fantastic way, tell us that we're all Jedi masters, we just need to know where to look. (However, it is unlikely you'll be able to use the force to strangle people from a distance, etc. I don't want to get your hopes up).
I would say that if you're at that stage in life where you want to find yourself, that you need to stop looking altogether and start listening instead. We're bombarded with information during our waking hours, and most of it is unsavoury, antagonistic and reactionary. By closing your eyes for twenty minutes, twice a day, with no distractions you'll find that the silence is a powerful way to filter out meaningless codswallop and a great way to help you think of new ideas and prioritise the things in life that really matter. I can definitely say that I have indeed experienced moments of bliss but they are few and far between and certainly don't come during every session. The clarity and the ability to process ideas I have experienced is worth the £390. I've definitely considered it an investment into my wellbeing. It also helps to know that the money goes towards teaching underprivileged schools, communities and prisoners to learn the technique, something which can only be beneficial.
I'm still unable to run, so now I get up at 6am every morning to sit still and meditate. I also do it each evening before a delicious meal, cooked by my lovely wife. I've yet to fall off my chair laughing though and I believe I still walk around with my feet firmly on the ground and I still have a good nose for sniffing out bullshit. Contrary to what I thought before, you don't need to be vegetarian or wear crocs with socks to practice meditation and it certainly won't give you a personality transplant. There is however a small chance that it might just help you become a better version of who you already are. I definitely don't feel as stressed out, although my bowel may suggest otherwise, and I don't get wound up about trivial things like Cheryl Hernandez Vaselinè, I just get wound up by stuff that matters when I allow myself to. Whilst I don't think the secret of the universe will ever be found or that TM will ultimately bring peace to the world, I do believe it would be a better place if we all found the quiet and shut up for a bit.
Find out more on Transcendental Meditation here http://uk.tm.org/