There’s a number of items that I write on my Things To Try This Year list each January, never actually do, then faithfully carry forward to the next list.
Top of the list was meditation. I’d tried about nine different meditation apps in an attempt to calm the chattering mind, but always found a petty reason to abandon them. Like the one with waterfall sounds that made me need the loo. Or the one with the husky, manic pixie dream girl voice that left me a confused mix of highly annoyed and… excited.
Last summer I heard Jerry Seinfeld talk about his 40+ year meditation practice on Alec Baldwin’s podcast. He credited twice-daily transcendental meditation for getting him through the madness of prime-time sitcom life. I hadn’t heard much about TM before, I’d mistakenly assumed it was woowoo hippy stuff. But if it worked for Seinfeld, whose ability to get shit done was something I aspired to, maybe there was something to it…
Next thing it was January and I was yet again writing “learn to meditate” on the list. I was also emerging from a grim period of work-related anxiety. It had gone beyond the usual low-grade rumble of self-employment to barely sleeping, barely eating (!?!!), racing heart, daily tears and throwing up.
Of course managing such a thing takes a multi-faceted approach, but I felt drawn to adding meditation to my toolkit. At the Magic Cottage I asked Sas about her practice, knowing she’d been happily meditating daily for over a year. Turned out she was a TM person, too.
In the spirit of Foxy by 40 and armed with evidence of two awesome get-shit-done TM people (along with… Katie Perry!), I signed up for a class.
I had my first lesson in a little room in Edinburgh with flowers and incense and a painting of Maharishi. The technique took all of two minutes to learn. I couldn’t believe the utter simplicity of it. I was given a mantra, then all I had to do was sit on a comfy chair with eyes closed and repeat the mantra inside my head. Unlike other methods I’d attempted you don’t try to stop your thoughts or notice them or do any kind of thought kung fu at all.
It didn’t take long to get into it. The traffic outside faded and the mantra gently rolled between my ears, like socks in a tumble dryer. My body felt pleasantly still and heavy in the chair.
But then that Maharishi painting floated into my head. I started thinking about George Harrison. Then I heard the broooooooiiiiiiiinnnnng of sitar that kicks off Tomorrow Never Knows.
Specifically, it was Tomorrow Never Knows as heard at the end of Season 5, Episode of 8 of Mad Men. Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. I watched Don Draper put on the record and sit down in his swanky Eames lounger. I sang along in my head as my thoughts raced.
This has GOT to be in my top five Beatles songs. Nooo. Top three!
I love that apartment he had with Megan. I want a sunken living room!
This incense smells like musk sticks. Or is it musk sticks that smell like incense? Could you set a musk stick on fire?
Crikey Don, what’s it like to be so good looking? I still love you even though you clearly didn’t think much of this song.
I felt a giggle rise up in my belly and told myself to focus on the bloody mantra. I found it again. And I started to feel good. Heavy and light at the same time. And hyperaware that under the flesh and lard and innards I was just a freaking SKELETON omg how cool is that?
The mantra, still accompanied by Tomorrow Never Knows, retreated to mere soft background music. I felt a delicious stillness. Then a spooky awesome sensation that my arms weren’t there at all.
Soon the lesson was over. I felt a lovely quietness, yet wide awake and energised.
I floated out of the building and decided while I was in Edinburgh I may as well get the bus along to Waitrose to see what’s new in middle class groceries.
(Waitrose does not service us riff-raff north of the Forth Bridges, you see. So I like to go along a few times a year to check out the adjectives and buy something ridiculous.)
I sat up the back of the bus beside a nanny and her two charges. The misbehaving one was named Zephyr. Zephyr! That was worth the ticket price alone.
I toddled round Waitrose, got some poncy cave-aged cheese then hopped on a bus back to Fife.
The instructor had said you could do TM anywhere, so I decided to try a bus meditation.
I settled in to my seat, closed my eyes and got ready to transport myself to my new personal temple of zen. But… I couldn’t remember my bloody mantra.
It was GONE! Curse you Zephyr, for distracting me.
I googled I forgot my mantra. Google was feck all help, but I did learn that Jeff Goldblum says that very line in his Annie Hall cameo appearance!
(How hot was he back then, by the way?)
The next day I went back to Edinburgh for a group meditation session. That just means a bunch of people all sit round in comfy chairs at the same time. I slinked up to the teacher and confessed I’d forgotten my mantra.
“Ahh,” he said, “Happens all the time!”.
Four months on, the mantra is firmly fixed in the memory bank. I’m still building up to the recommended two 20-minutes sessions a day. It’s more like 15 minutes. But I’ve stuck with it!
It’s been the biggest factor in toning down that January anxiety (Ziggy comes a close second!). The more I do it, the less I run away with unhelpful thoughts. I’m in there here and now more often than not.
It’s bonkers that something so mundane can be so helpful. It’s like a tiny superpower, a cloak of calm I can throw over my head, any time or any place I need it. Sometimes when I’m meditating my mind is blissfully blank. Sometimes I figure out problems. Sometimes I just lay back and think of Don.