“With machines coming to seem part of our nervous systems, while increasing their speed every season, we’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off – our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk.”– Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness
A bit of context goes a long way……
For most of us, a fervent drive dominates our lives. A drive to be the best. A drive to earn more money. A drive to be a better parent. A drive to compete for our next bonus or that new job. A drive to be on time. Throughout the compartments of our daily lives, we are shackled to commitments and deliverables. It is an axiom that we are a more stressed society today than in previous decades.
Meditation, I am sure, conjures up a variety of images. Perhaps we associate it with a culture of free-loving and peace, Buddhist monks or Eastern philosophy. I believe Meditation had its origins as a movement, but in more contemporary society, it is now viewed as a lifestyle tool. A tool, like many smartphone apps and exercise regimes, to help manage stress.
During a few years of personal turbulence, I felt my general energy levels depleted, and my ability to maintain concentration was a constant battle. Irritability, recycling past events, a mind that felt too cluttered and busy, were all symptoms. This was the catalyst to begin researching about how to improve my body function, including physical and spiritual health (that latter being what Mehmet C. refers to as mental resilience). During my research for a solution, meditation was frequently referenced as an enabler for personal growth.
In London, there are many open-lectures, where anyone can turn up and listen (just Google ‘London Mediation Class’ and see how many hits there are). My first foray was a Mindfulness course, and post the lecture I downloaded the app “Headspace’. I enjoyed the experience of Mindfulness but found the level of concentration required for breathing and clearing your thoughts quite a challenge.
Not discouraged, I next came across Transcendental Meditation. I watched a video with the notable film director David Lynch (of Twin Peaks fame – link below). His narrative resonated very deeply: an ability to maintain concentration, improved retention of information, less emotional volatility. I was sold. These were all states that I desired. Vedic Meditation it was, and thus my quest for spiritual harmony with the world now had a name!
What to expect……
Honing my Google skills, I zeroed in on a meditation school specialising in Vedic (or Transcendental) Meditation: Will Williams. During a dark & bleak January evening, I attended the inaugural introduction and listened to one of the meditation teachers describe the benefits and how it works. Before deciding, they recommended reading a book called Transcendence (link below), written by Dr Norman E. Rosenthal, a world-renowned psychiatrist and author. I recall reading one passage which really captures the sentiment of why this could help so many people:
“After a few years of practice, it [meditation] has allowed me to enter a place inside my mind that is difficult to describe with any better word than transcendence. It is a blissful state that encompasses elements of serenity, peace, and acceptance, but also exhilaration and a sense of new possibilities, both for now and for the future.”.
Going in, it is clear there are three fundamental elements to success: discipline, a receptiveness to a new idea, and discipline again. I signed up for the ‘Meditation for Beginners’ course, spread across 4.5 hours and 3 evenings. Prior to the first session, which is a one-to-one with the meditation teacher, you are asked to bring a small selection of flowers and two pieces of fruit, to be presented during a brief ceremony. This is a symbolic gesture to acknowledge the transfer of knowledge from the original gurus down the ages. Of course, I promptly forgot this request, and it was only a mad dash to Waitrose en-route that was my salvation.
The remaining two sessions are with the other individuals subscribed to the short course. Here you practice group meditation and discuss how you felt during the process. The teacher facilitates this by Q&A, relaying of relevant information, and all done in a very low-key and unassuming way.
So what does Vedic Meditation consist of? There are two principal components that I will share. Firstly, it is a mantra-based technique, meaning you are provided with a sound that you intermittently repeat in your mind when meditating. Secondly, you are advised to invest in two twenty-minute sessions per day. The technique is designed to be portable. You don’t need complete silence, as the internal mantra helps calm the mind despite external distractions.
Finally, I wanted to comment on the link between meditation and religion. Many images we have of mediation are linked to Buddhism and the obvious question surfaces: “will I have to convert or adopt a new religion?”. A natural question, of which the simple answer is no. However, once starting meditation, one may find themselves contemplating challenges in a more methodical and less emotional way. Where this will lead is up to you!
Beyond these basic points, I will not divulge any more. I have learned not to bias or lead people down a path that is your own. Should you decide to embark, this will be a personal experience, that will ultimately reveal its own benefits to you. I have embedded meditation into my daily routine, and have found it liberating. This is not a project with a fixed finish. It is organic and evolves the more you practice. In the age of instant results & gratification, this teaches us the art of patience and slowly building our resilience.
I feel the most exhilarating meditative experiences are still in front of me. My meditation teacher articulated this in the most eloquent way: this is a tool designed to help you with the 23 hours a day when you are not meditating, and is not a hideaway from the pressures of our lives.
The essentials: prices and standards……
Will Williams mediation centre is located within a five-minute walk from Oxford Circus. Their inauspicious top floor setting is both welcoming and informal. They offer an abundance of courses, retreats, and get-togethers, that will appeal to both novices and more seasoned meditators.
The beginner’s course was a fixed cost of £350. Unlike other centres, where the fee can be linked to income, I found this one of the more reasonable and competitive prices.