(Article originally published in San Diego Magazine).
My father’s death this past fall left me in a waking fog, completely adrift. I lost ten pounds and struggled through sleepless nights. I wondered if I would ever feel happy again. So I cleared my schedule and checked into a six-day spiritual boot camp. I had tried guided meditation before, but like most people, I never believed that I had time to do it who could possibly find an extra thirty to sixty minutes each day? What a luxury.
The Dalai Lama, Dr. Deepak Chopra, David Lynch, and Oprah have all touted the benefits of meditation, but my curiosity was piqued after reading the Harvard-affiliated scientific study that documented changes to the brain after meditating, specifically that MRI images revealed a reduction of gray matter in the brain’s amygdala, which is connected to anxiety and stress.
So I headed to Carlsbad, where the Chopra Center at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa offers meditation classes, yoga classes, wellness events, and life-changing workshops like Seduction of Spirit, which I attended. Two hundred and seventy-five people showed up to this yoga-meditation-music retreat – some to practice silence, some to become teachers, some for the fifth time; but mostly the group consisted of wide-eyed newcomers like me.
In a private ceremony, I received my Primordial Sound mantra (based on the time, date, and place of my birth). Not to be shared with others, these Sanskrit words are the ones I repeated over and over while learning to meditate. Each day unfolded with an optional sunrise meditation, followed by yoga classes, group meditations, mind-expanding lectures, Ayurvedic meals, and musical performances. The course also integrated Deepak’s book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, with guidance on how to live a more authentic purposeful life in harmony with nature and others. “Most people are human doings, not human beings,” Deepak told us.
The lectures alone by Deepak, author of seventy-five books, made it worth attending. Twice a day, he would glissade into the low-lit room in his signature crystal-studded glasses, and effortlessly speak on topics ranging from quantum physics and the new science of neuroplasticity to archetypes and divine consciousness. The gentle lilt of his voice was hypnotic.
Scientists from Scripps Research Institute arrived with devices to measure heart rates and brain waves, attaching them to volunteers for their study on the effects of meditation. As Deepak explained, science was finally catching up to what the ancient sages had known all along. Meditation has a powerful positive effect – it lowers heart rate and blood pressure and improves the immune system.
Beyond the science, meditation allows us to slip into the gap between our thoughts and into a state of restful awareness. And by repeating my mantra, I got there. At the beginning of each group meditation we all would silently ask, “Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose? What am I grateful for?” By quieting the noise in my brain, I started to hear the answers to those simple yet profound questions. While prayer is talking, meditation is listening. The key element in meditating is just showing up and doing it every day. “Rise, pee, meditate,” as our instructors would say. It doesn’t matter if you fall asleep or if your mind wanders. You can just return to your mantra. Often I would slip into the silence and lose track of time. Over the week, the grip of sorrow in my heart relaxed.
Now my mantra has replaced my melatonin, and four weeks later, I remain in this peaceful place of calm. I still miss my father every day, but each morning I wake up thirty minutes earlier than I used to to meditate, remembering what Deepak said with a smile: “If you say you don’t have time for meditation, than you are definitely the type of person who needs it most.”
You Try It:
Reserve a time and place. Wake up thirty minutes earlier than normal. Find a quiet and comfortable spot, preferably away from the distraction of pets or people.
Catch yourself and refocus. When you start thinking about your grocery list or dinner plans, return to your breath and repeat your mantra – to quiet your thoughts. Try “Om Bija Namah,” a common mantra.
Get Guidance. Try a guided meditation CD, like the Oprah & Deepak’s Meditation
Master Trilogy CD ($100), chopracentermeditation.com.