My first ever experience of meditation was in the prayer room in my secondary school; a class of 20 girls lying down on the floor, listening to our religion teacher read out a guided meditation. (Most of us using it as an opportunity to take a sneaky nap, let’s be real.)
I didn’t think any more about it until, in my first year of university, I saw a flyer advertising a short course in mindfulness and it was there that I learned a very basic form of meditation — following the breath, in and out.
Coming back to the breath when my mind began to wander. The breath was the only thing that mattered.
This focus on the breath was never something that came naturally to me, although I worked hard at it. I went to an ashram in India to learn more. I joined a Buddhist meditation group in New York and went to weekly meetings, jostling for space in that cramped room above a fast food chain in downtown Manhattan.
I took up yoga, I bought the Calm app and the Insight Timer app and the Headspace app. I would try to take 10 minutes every morning to focus on my breathing, and sometimes it would feel wonderful — my mind would be clear, my breathing slow and regular — and other days, it would feel like I was fighting an uphill battle, one eye on the clock, waiting for the buzzer to ring and release me from my torment.
For years now, I’ve been reading and hearing about transcendental meditation. TM is a non-religious meditation that was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was popularised in the west in the late 60s when The Beatles undertook a TM training course in India, later denouncing drugs in favour of the meditation and crediting TM for the fertile period of creativity that followed.
Since then, it seems to have become the meditation of choice for celebrities all over the world. Oprah Winfrey paid for 400 of her employees to take the TM course, declaring: “I’m a 1,000% better person if I do (TM)”. Others such as Jerry Seinfeld, David Lynch, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Ellen DeGeneres have all praised the practice for increasing productivity, making them more efficient and less reactive, boosting energy levels and improving their quality of sleep.
Their claims have been backed up by hundreds of peer-reviewed medical studies, and every time I would read such a testimonial, I would promise myself that I would investigate further. It wasn’t until a friend told me that she found her TM practice incredibly helpful in easing her anxiety that I decided to take a leap of faith and get in contact with the Cork branch of TM Ireland.
Stewart and Nora Anne Luck are a married couple who have been practicing and teaching transcendental meditation for years, both here and abroad.
I met with Stewart (everyone who is interested in learning the technique is encouraged to attend a free introductory session beforehand) and found him to be a gentle, calming presence, as well as being someone who is clearly very passionate about the value of transcendental meditation and its ability to change not only our own lives, but to transform the entire world.
For the next four days, I met with Nora Anne for an hour-and-a-half lesson each day. She gave me a mantra; one that I am told is for me only. (Am I very immature that I find this oddly thrilling? It’s like a secret password in a Famous Five novel.)
We meet again a week later for a check-up, and another session is pencilled into the diary for a month after that again. In order to get the full benefit, I am encouraged to sit quietly and repeat my mantra silently for 20 minutes, twice a day. Once in the morning and once again in the late afternoon/evening, in order to give me an extra boost of energy to enjoy the remainder of my day. And that’s it.
What has surprised me so far is how unbelievably easy I’ve found the practice to be. TM is supposed to be natural and effortless, ‘trying’ to get it ‘right’ is anathema to its very nature.
But unlike every other form of meditation that I’ve attempted to master, I don’t dread the twice-daily 20 minutes that I’ve committed to dedicate to TM. With other meditations, I would sit down and I would often find it difficult to get my racing thoughts to settle, giving up after 10 minutes because it seemed like a waste of my time.
With TM, I go to that quiet place deeply, quickly, and it feels almost obscenely enjoyable. I can only describe it as being akin to the space between waking and sleep, a blissful stillness.
I feel more rested. I’m much more energetic than I usually am, particularly in the evenings, and I managed to get through an intensive period of work in half the time it would
ordinarily take me.
I have a tendency to be evangelical when I find systems or routines that work for me, advising everyone to follow suit and I’m itching to do the same for TM.
However, I’m aware that it’s early days yet, so my intention is to keep practicing twice a day for the next six weeks and report back on any changes I see.
But for now? I’m hooked.
Perfectly Preventable Deaths by Deirdre Sullivan. Sixteen-year-old twins, Madeline and Catlin, move to the isolated village of Ballyfrann; a place where, for generations, teenage girls have gone missing in the surroundings mountains. Sullivan has an eye for the uncanny, a taste for the macabre, and a gift for beautiful prose.
If my column has whetted your appetite for all things TM and you want to learn more, pick up a copy of Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation by Bob Roth.