By MARY BETH MAASSEN
I meditate daily. Usually twice.
I began practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) when I was 16 years old. My older sister took me to hear the message of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and I was hooked. Prior to this event I had not given a thought to inner peace, and quite frankly I was not all that enamored with the benefits of TM. But the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was guru to the Beatles and the Beach Boys and I thought that was very cool.
At the end of my coursework a former DJ from Hawaii conferred my specially chosen mantra, and I was on my own. I practiced TM not because it brought me closer to enlightenment but because I thought it brought me closer to the Beatles.
In spite of entering into this spiritual relationship for all the wrong reasons, I still benefited from the practice. I have a chronic illness that, in retrospect, probably would have manifested much sooner if I had not been practicing TM.
I also came into the meditation practice with a patchwork quilt of spiritual beliefs. I was president of my Lutheran youth group, I played volleyball on the Latter-Day Saints team, and I regularly attended Catholic Mass (because that’s where all the cute boys were). I would pick and choose the parts of the belief systems that made sense to me and my teenage mind. The feelings of calmness and well-being I experienced after a twenty minute meditation created a safe port during my stormy teenage years. And sticking with meditation has made a lot of sense.
I started out strong with TM, but like the ebb and flow of any long-term relationship there were years when it did not receive enough attention. Then something would happen and I would suddenly be aware of my mantra pulsing in my brain and it would ground and calm me. I have trained in mindfulness and other meditations practices as well, but unless I am listening to a guided meditation, at some point my mind wanders and my mantra fills in the blanks, and the next thing I know, I am back to TM.
There are thousands of studies touting the benefits of meditation. Meditation can help manage stress, reduce anxiety, calm PTSD, and increase overall health and wellness. A recent study at Harvard documented that over time there are meditation induced changes in the grey matter of the brain. Which is good news for me, because meditating and attending church wasn’t the only thing I was doing in the 70s.
According to the Harvard study’s senior author, Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
I am thrilled there are longer-term physical and mental upsides to meditation, but I would do it even if there wasn’t. That twenty minutes of stillness and letting go keeps me from fraying at the edges. And if I start to fray, before too long I am completely unraveled. I have a very hard time weaving myself back together.
Lately I do feel as though I am meandering slowly, ever-so-slowly, down a path toward enlightenment. The path is pretty rocky and not well-marked, and I frequently wander off on side trails. But I am learning to let go of the frustrations and enjoy the blessed moments. I am learning, in the words of Paul McCartney, to let it be.