Winter Light – Transcendental Meditation and Healing from Violent Traumas
Weightless, suspended, dipping through darkness in a cocoon of soft light, a safe papoose of the Cosmos.
That pretty much describes my first experience with Transcendental Meditation when I took instruction last July, and is the reason I strongly recommend it. When I come out of my twice-daily twenty-minute meditations I feel rested, generally pleased – sometimes able to do the difficult things with a flick of the wrist, then wonder: what was that?
The practice is comparatively simple, straightforward, and effective. As a disabled adult with special needs, over the years I have discovered a constellation of activities that, taken together, allow me to function and lead a life of creativity, fulfillment, and helps me be a better husband. These other forms of self improvement I practice include creative writing, gourmet cooking, scholarly research, gym exercise, making music, visual art, maintenance health care, and Worship of a more traditional nature.
Twenty minutes twice a day, the simple practice of TM compliments all these things. Each session delivers calm, resulting in greater focus that allows me to move from one thing to another with greater ease. A few times a day I remark to myself how easily I had been able to perform this or that task, or at how by two o’clock in the afternoon, I’d already crossed items off my to-do list that I otherwise wouldn’t get to till five. That, “oh, where are my car keys. . ?” nonsense happens far less frequently.
Most important is the subtle awareness TM delivers, providing me a sense of any given gust of emotion coming up so I can hope to adjust my sails.
I experience a lot of them due to chronic pain, which can bring pain-related depression; in 1997 I was rear-ended by a truck full of roofing shingles. I had to be removed from that taxi with the Jaws of Life. This added another dimension to old PTSD, causing a heightened startle response when I drove. And in that car crash I also popped a disk in my back, requiring surgery that didn’t resolve the pain. Again in 2007 I was injured, this time disabling me, and destroying any financial stability I had built up over the years. TM helps me with all of this every day.
In practical terms, the small amount of time required to practice TM stacks up favorably against another form of meditation I used to practice -- an ashram-based, ascetic lifestyle that required four hours’ meditation per day, strict vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco -- even celibacy. I was twenty years old then, and I practiced this more rigorous method for two years with excellent results. But I’m human, and was a young strapping carpenter back then; one spring day I ran off with a pretty girl in search of cheeseburgers.
That day, sadly, I also parted with something very dear. Because in meditating I had learned to focus at a time in my life, when focus was impossible. I was a mess, because I suffered severe PTSD due to violent injury I sustained during my teens. The dissociation caused by the PTSD was so extreme at that time that I had real trouble performing the most rudimentary framing carpentry; I recall the summer of my twentieth year, working for a rather angry builder and how I would often nail in a stud on the wrong side of the line, only to be harshly scolded and then rip it out, and then instead of nailing it back correctly I would repeat the mistake.
I felt like a loser. It was a wonder I did not get fired. In fact I somehow finished that house! To self-medicate the PTSD, I was drinking. So the rigors and abstinence of that meditation back then delivered huge benefits. Within months after I started meditating I surged forward to become a licensed builder, soon started my own company, and then landed a part time job as a newspaper columnist – my first step in a thirty-year approach to becoming a writer.
What I remembered most, for years after was the light I experienced during meditation. The meditation I practiced then, just like now with TM, produces the most wondrous light, with a calming effect as though it’s flowing through the meditator to illuminate every aspect of existence. A florid claim? Give it a try!
I did last summer, at fifty years old. And I found it easier, the meditations more pleasurable than the method I used years ago. The ramp-up time to reach maximum effectiveness for TM is also far quicker than my old method.
Transcendental Meditation is simple and does not require any self-denial in terms of diet or lifestyle. At the same time, I find myself making much healthier food choices – because of an ambient level of self-satisfaction that comes with meditation. I have long term sobriety, and haven’t smoked anything in ten years. But I can knock off a pint of Haagan Daaz on short notice. Less so, though, since beginning TM last July. (Although as a non-vegetarian who reaps the benefit of meditation I have discovered that the grilling time for ribs coincides with a twenty-minute meditation – which seems to suggest perfection and synchronicity does exist in the Universe.)
The people who teach TM in West Seattle and in Kirkland have been wonderful to work with. After I explained my disability and financial circumstances, they helped me get a scholarship to cover costs of instruction.
TM is well run. They provide a safe space, view every potential meditator or practicing meditator as an individual, which means they are open minded to accommodations, ideas, or needs.
They provide “tune up” help to meditators for life as part of the initial instruction fee or scholarship.
Their mission is based upon clinical studies that show improved physiological and psychological health as result of TM, and belief that if more people meditated there would be far less violence in the world.
I thought, why not?
TM teachers I have worked with are committed to doing what’s necessary for their students to succeed. They are generous with their knowledge and resources. When a weekend retreat came up a few months ago they helped me, once again, with yet another scholarship. The retreat would allow three days intensive, guided meditation -- as such guidance is necessary if one is to go beyond twenty minutes, twice a day ( because one can get a bit swimmy in all that bliss and needs an experienced hand or two around as designated driver).
I have never in my entire life felt as good as I did during and after those three days, and for months after. And the camaraderie was a blast, as I met a wonderful group of individuals all on different and fascinating paths, all of them denizens of the groovy light taking time away from what’s “important.” The food was wonderful, and the day and night time walks with other meditators were a joy as we shared a fizzzz of something like golden sunlight within each of us, talking of this and that, and silently acknowledging its presence.
How does TM work? Or, more precisely, what’s under the hood?
The teachers in West Seattle and in Kirkland provided this information in an easy to understand framework in one or two information sessions lasting about forty minutes each. In each of these sessions, I learned about the innumerable published clinical / medical / psychological studies that provide proof the technique worked, and how profoundly the practiced helped people be better at what they do – all of it hard data. This was simple to understand - which was important -- because remember, I’m a carpenter. (Actually it’s worse than that; I’m a carpenter with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature -- which is something like an elephant with fins.)
At the TM information sessions, I paid a lot more attention to the teachers. Because watching them, the ease with which they presented and attended to the few of us who’d Googled TM one day and then showed up at the meeting, I knew instinctively, or by looking in the teacher’s eyes that this cat had something I wanted.
A week later, after sorting out my scholarship, the teacher provided me instruction to meditate, providing me a one-word mantra that I then used to try the technique. It was simple, and I can only describe the immediate result as slipping into a deep state of rest that is wondrous and beautiful, that lowers the heart and breathing rates, and dissolves the mental gunk.
Meditations I enjoy every day prove it was worth a try. As analytical as I know how to be, I’ve also realized that a lot of that can be a defense mechanism. We all want to feel as though we have done our diligence, and it feels good to label this or that as “hokey.” (Most things are, to some extent.) However we all accept that every time we flip a switch we get “light.” We don’t question light the veracity of this assumption, and pretty much think we’ve got this light thing sussed -- even though the bandwidths of light visible to the naked eye are a tiny faction of the entire spectrum. With all intellect, technology, and education, I’ve often thought I’ve had my eyes open, only to come back later to realize I’ve missed out on the power of things that lie outside of “reason.”
At the same time, my long term Spiritual path gathers backbone as much from skepticism as curative momentum from faith. Call it pure consciousness, God, or some brushing up against a universal stream of peace -- I’m often quick to dismiss a particular Spiritual method that suggests it might lead to something powerful. ... Yet I admit to having no problem in believing that Black Holes swallow both light and time, even though I know nothing of physics.
Perhaps this is part of the human condition – a function of our standard sensory equipment driving out of the showroom -- that allows us to grasp the sinister more easily than the Divine. Meditating with TM is the less obvious aftermarket, like adding grippy radials to navigate curves, or the supercharger to increase daily functioning horsepower and yield greater efficiency in angst mileage. And speaking of driving, since learning TM my highway PTSD is pretty much nonexistent.
Before learning to meditate in my twenties, my spiritual path, my path to find light, had been a long one, and one crucial to my survival. So I’m glad now to have found in
TM an easy way to meditate. From my earliest memories of a tumultuous household I have sought peace and whatever I think of as the Love of God. At times, with the various injuries I have sustained, I can become convinced I’ve suffered from an unlucky streak.
Yet before all this, somehow a stripe of Spirituality got laid down, and I’ve had a fascination of the “why” of evil and cruelty, the “how” of mapping its sources, and the hope of one day helping to help others heal or avoid suffering in the first place. (When they asked us in first grade what we all wanted to be, one kid said a fireman, another said, a policeman, another said a doctor – and when they came to me I think I said something like “I want to reconcile the idea of a forgiving God with the ideal of Hell . . . and what of this notion of Divine Retribution?”)
I’m fortunate to have come by these questions, and I cherish the path upon which they have taken me.
I come by questions of good and evil by honest means. The “violent trauma” of my youth I refer to was my childhood sexual abuse. As a high school student in distress, I went from being an A student during my first two years to a teenage alcoholic and daily drug user who almost didn’t graduate. Yet during those years I was a soloist in several choruses, performed on stage, was a paid singer at a wealthy church each Sunday, studied voice and piano, and received a full scholarship to study vocal performance. I was arrested the night before graduation for a drunken escapade, confused and filled with self-loathing.
Caring adults could get only do so much, a cultural disconnect of that era. The day of my graduation, I remember my guidance counselor calling me into his office. If he had an idea of what affected me, in those days nobody talked about it. It was against the rules to disclose what he was about to tell me: that according to the standardized tests, I had an IQ of somewhere around 145. He was telling me this, he further explained, because some day it would make a difference. I wasn’t holding my breath; unfortunately it would be many years of living stupidly, in ignorance, self-abuse, and self-blame, with no clue or resources to help me get on track.
I would then blow off the music scholarship I had been offered for the surer bet of learning construction – a more “manly” role to seek out in the shadow of abuse that had struck at the very root of my budding teenage masculine identity. As a carpenter I found security in earning a living. Yet in this lucrative job I graduated from alcoholism to workaholism to help me avoid the pain, feel legit, and maintain some belief in having some control – always proactive, always doing.
Teachers describe TM as “the art of not doing.”
I think of it as the art of letting go, and that twice-daily leap rewards me with an increasing sense of safe wellbeing.
I spent my twenties years in hard labor, sort of wandering as a male survivor in a culture that, up until a few years ago, kept silent about this issue affecting a minimum of one in six men. Those darker times offered few resources to help survivors like me heal.
I have battled anxiety and depression and addictions. But along the way I have discovered much about the culture that had tacitly agreed to silence about violence against kids, just as I have explored what I could about myself: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Now at age fifty, the practice of TM arrives in my life at precisely the right time.
Throughout the years I researched and rooted out every possible resource, sometimes to simply stay alive. My goal -- to one day write a book that would help others heal. So throughout my lucrative fifteen year career as a master carpenter and licensed home builder, I took classes part time at five different community colleges in hopes of becoming a writer, and of studying issues that plague so many. Then at age thirty-two, after taking a fiction writing workshop with a very special teacher, I decided to leave the trades and go back to school full-time to earn my B.A. degree in English at one of the nation’s finest universities, where in my first year I discovered I had I had a learning disability, and received accommodations to help me succeed not only in school, but thereafter.
As a full time college student, from age thirty-three to thirty-seven, I was able to study how cultures greet, or avoid, or come to terms -- with certain ideas that might be difficult to face or to understand. I was also able to study advocacy and the history of nonviolent passive resistance with one of America’s premier Civil Rights leaders. I graduated with High Distinction, and then entered a very different work place in the electronic publishing and dot.com tech industry.
Unfortunately another accident a few years ago disabled me.
TM has made hard days easier. Easy days blissful. All days carry hope.
I am heartened by the TM organization’s program for homecoming soldiers who struggle with PTSD (clinical data shows it works), as well as other programs to teach school children to meditate. Brighter days ahead.
I have been so fortunate in so many ways. A couple of years ago I was blessed with the opportunity to be one of 200 male survivors to appear in two episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show, along with the psychologist Howard Fradkin who co-founded malesurvivor.org, and film maker Tyler Perry, who spoke out about his own abuse (view the first episode in which I was fortunate to have the first speaking line in the opening “couch montage”, here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Full-Episode-200-Adult-Men-Who-Were-Molested-Come-Forward-Video).
Flying to Chicago to tape those shows was a wonderful experience, and an eye opener; in a show of hands on one of the shows I learned how many of us had contemplated suicide, and how many had actually made an attempt. (This did not surprise me; I have two brothers whose deaths were caused in part by sexual abuse – one of them by suicide. And over the years I have watched friends who are survivors die untimely deaths because of their abuse and related substance abuse).
Along my path to healing I have taken workshops and courses in Advocacy and Treatment for Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse with Mike Lew, the author of Victims No Longer, the groundbreaking self help book on male childhood sexual abuse ever published. Twenty years ago this book led me out of isolation and self abuse, caused me to find a better life through education, helped me work toward self-awareness, and ways in which I can transform tragedy into strength through creativity. I wish I had discovered this book at age sixteen, instead of age thirty.
Fifty now -- I have written my own book, a novel in which light as power for personal transformation figures heavily, a book that will help other survivors as it explores the moral dilemma of crime and punishment for victims of violence for whom healing is often understood as acknowledging outrage, yet asking us to act the better man. The process of writing this thriller has neutralized every trigger of my abuse-related PTSD.
In editing the book I count myself extremely fortunate to have received the patient, expert guidance of the writer Laura Davis, author of The Courage to Heal, a first-ever self-help book for women survivors of rape and incest which has sold over a million copies.
Who knows? Maybe this piece of writing I offer today will inspire other survivors of sexual trauma to find comfort from any of the resources I list here; I would recommend any of them in a heartbeat.
Same time I have learned there is no silver bullet, no “the answer.” TM is the drawstring in a net that allows me to carry the many means to answers hand-picked or hand crafted, as for a time after each meditation can still see glimpses of light, hear the music, choose the right words, and not burn the food.
During these shortest of days of the Solstice, these darkest of nights, by meditating I can close my eyes and see new light, to emerge more focused and energized.
It seems my path has led somewhere, and yet I work and pray I will improve on so many things.
I’ve written a great deal here, and things I have disclosed might make some readers uncomfortable. Others, I hope, will find something of use.
When I think of kids, I think too many little lights have been extinguished.
But many, many, many more lights shine and flicker strong and bright.
So I offer these words as a holiday wish for the safety of all the world’s children, of any age.