What do Oprah Winfrey, Clint Eastwood, Hugh Jackman and Russell Brand have in common?
In fact, let’s add David Lynch, Rafael Nadal and Paul McCartney to that list. No clue? They all practise transcendental meditation (TM). And if their general level-headedness is anything to go by (minus Lynch and Brand – one makes films that can only attest to a dark and disturbing centre, while the other, though we love him, is completely mad), it must be doing something right.
So what’s the appeal for us non-rich-and-famous folk?
To get a rounded idea of meditation, we quizzed two dedicated meditators, who come from separate traditions. One is Gerard Valente, a Scottish/Italian high-school teacher who has been practising TM for more than 30 years, and is a consultant and communications officer for UAE-based organisation Transcendental Meditation, which organises meditation sessions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The other is Mumbai-born Sona Bahri, a teacher at the Inner Space Centre in Abu Dhabi, who has been practising meditation for 18 years. Both confirm the techniques they use are universal and not connected to any one tradition – they are practised globally by people of all faiths and cultures.
So how does it work?
‘TM is a natural and effortless technique,’ says Gerard. ‘It allows mental activity to settle down, so you can experience more subtle states of awareness. Led by the mind’s own nature to seek out greater happiness, TM spontaneously reduces and refines mental activity and guides the mind effortlessly to its silent, unbounded source – a state of pure awareness or consciousness. Daily contact with pure awareness means that both body and mind are able to enjoy a state of deep rest, peace and rejuvenation.’ Sona’s description of the process isn’t too far off. ‘Inside each one of us is a core of peace and serenity, an inner space of stillness,’ she explains. ‘However, in today’s hectic world with so many distractions for the mind, most of us hardly ever connect to this place.
In meditation, I learn to slow down other thoughts and create feelings of my original nature of peace, thus reconnecting my mind to that stillness.’
The similarities seem rife, but what makes one form different from the other? ‘The speciality of meditation taught at Inner Space is that it is an open-eyed meditation which allows me to create a peaceful and positive frame of mind in any scenario that life might present,’ Sona explains. ‘I don’t need to pull out a candle or sit in a corner and dim the lights. I can be at work, in the shopping mall and just tune into my inner silence and hey presto, nothing can disturb me.’
‘TM requires none of the effort or discipline that other techniques require,’ offers Gerard. ‘In fact, it’s so natural that belief has no impact at all on its success and, as a result, we can teach it to anyone – including the very sceptical. Once the person is sitting comfortably and begins the practice, the minimising of mental activity takes place automatically – applying effort by manipulating breathing or mental activity actually interferes and minimises the effectiveness.’
Now, we put some stock in the importance of sound spirituality, but what’s the appeal for more sceptical folk? Gerard and Sona both draw on the physical benefits, as well as the mental. ‘The mind and body are intimately linked and therefore what enriches one will automatically enrich the other,’ offers Gerard. ‘By delivering regular deep rest and tranquillity to the mind, the body takes on the desirable habit of throwing off debilitating stress spontaneously, and this has an enormous impact on the body’s ability to heal and rejuvenate itself. We spend so much money and time seeking “outside” interventions and cure-alls, when really the greatest doctor, clinic and pharmacy is the body’s own inner intelligence.’
‘I personally find it has not only given me a very hands-on way to deal with my negative thoughts and reactions, but it has also had a very beneficial effect on my relationships and my physical health,’ adds Sona. ‘It really is amazing how a happy mind is the key to a happy life all round.’
All sessions at the Inner Space Centre are free. Near Shangri-La Hotel, Bain al Jesrani, Abu Dhabi, email@example.com (050 515 9646). Prices of classes at Transcendental Meditation vary, with courses organised in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. To attend a free introductory talk about transcendental meditation in Abu Dhabi, contact Mahnaz Emami, firstname.lastname@example.org (050 114 0117, 056 644 2247). For more info, see www.tm.ae, or search for ‘Creative Intelligence Consultancy UAE’ on Facebook.