We’ve raved before about the bestselling book Ancient Wisdom for Modern Health. Now we have its author, Mark Bunn, talking about iPhones, Jerry Seinfeld, and meditating in the men’s room.
“A closet meditator”
Mark, please tell us the story of how a football player became a motivational speaker and a health coach!
MARK BUNN: As a boy, all I wanted to do was to play professional football. Girls – secondary. Studying – secondary. Football was it.
When I was 19, I made it to the professional league. About three weeks in, my brother, who was a professional cricket player, and my sister both learned Transcendental Meditation (TM).
They told me it could help me get better at sports as well. And I needed all the help I could get! So I went ahead and learned.
It sort of helped my football, but it was great for my life! It expanded my whole vision of what life was all about and what I wanted to do. I’ve loved it ever since.
Back in the days when I learned TM, almost no one meditated – and that was particularly true in football circles. In football, you had to be all macho and smack your head against the wall. So I never told any of my teammates what I was doing and just snuck into the toilet cubicles before games to meditate!
You can imagine the scene before a game: all these players banging around, headphones on, with their blasting motivational music, smashing footballs into the wall… and I’m in the toilet with my eyes closed, trying to meditate! (laughs)
And I would come out and do sun salutations along with nasal breathing and they’d all look at me like I was the biggest weirdo!
You were just ahead of the time!
MARK BUNN: That’s true! (laughs)
Now they all do yoga and meditate, but it was funny at the time!
Then three years after I had learned TM my teacher gave me a book on Maharishi Ayurveda, an ancient traditional medical practice. The book focussed especially on sports, fitness, and health. As soon as I read it, there was like a light bulb that switched on in my head.
It made so much sense! I was trained in the Western health sciences – I studied Exercise Physiology – and that was okay, but what was in that book made so much more sense: the daily cycles and living in tune with them, how different diets work for different people, and so on.
So when I finished playing football I went to Cambodia, where there was a Maharishi Vedic University, and I worked there with the students, many of whom were orphans of the war. When I returned to Australia, I studied Maharishi Ayurveda formally and, combining it with my western degree, started consulting in the area.
Watering the root of the tree
When you encourage people to switch to a healthier track in life, then what’s the role of Transcendental Meditation in that?
MARK BUNN: It’s Maharishi’s concept of watering the root of the tree, rather than the branches and leaves.
People know what they need to do to be healthy – eat good, balanced food; exercise regularly – but they often don’t have the ability to change their old mental patterns. So they still keep on leading a lifestyle that is ultimately not beneficial for them.
TM nourishes the non-physical part of us which is the basis of physical and mental and emotional health. So it becomes easy and more natural to choose better food, exercise, and build more harmonious relationships.
Without the consciousness aspects, it’s all about willpower – hard work, strict discipline. People keep going for two weeks, then the novelty wears off and it gets tough…. And before they notice, they’re back at their daily pizza and soda!
That’s why I’ve always recommended TM. Meditating helps people make changes toward healthy living.
It’s as if meditation gives you a template: what we do with our mind and body changes how we view the world. But what are the non-meditators options for breaking bad habits? Say, that of staring at computer and phone screens late into the night, even though this leads to disrupted sleep, which leads to a miserable next day, etc.?
MARK BUNN: Generally, we change in two ways. One is through pleasure. So TM helps with that; it makes us happier and more blissful, expands the mind, and creates balance, and we change naturally.
The other way is through the opposite – pain. When you tell people something logically, theoretically, or rationally, it goes in one ear and out the other. Even if they understand it intellectually, they won’t change until the pain is great enough.
So when we violate these laws of nature, we get away with them for some time. Yet, eventually, the pain becomes great enough – in the form of sickness, disease, or a mental breakdown – that people change their ways. This is what happens with most people, unfortunately.
The habit you mentioned, computers at night and sleep, is a huge issue in how it impacts the human body.
There is even a study showing that after a bad night’s sleep, couples are more likely to get into arguments. So if you want to have an unhappy marriage, go ahead and stare at your iPhone in the evening!
MARK BUNN: Yes, and it’s not just marriage – your whole life is colored by what glasses you wear. If those glasses are foggy and cloudy from a bad night’s sleep, everything and everyone is cloudy and foggy.
But if you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you wake up fresh, feel great, and everyone seems friendlier than usual. In a traffic jam, you wave to people instead of banging on the horn! (laughs)
That is why traditional cultures, which I have studied a lot, have very good health. They are lucky in a way because they don’t have TV, artificial lighting, or Facebook and YouTube, so everyone goes to bed at the right time. This is much easier to do when you don’t know that everyone is out there having fun while you’re in your bed, sleeping!
I remember a great episode on Seinfeld where Kramer was sleeping over on Jerry’s couch because his apartment was being worked on.
So Jerry and Kramer are sitting on the couch watching television. All of a sudden Kramer just turns the TV off and says, “Okay Jerry, I’m going to bed!”
And Jerry goes, “What are you talking about? It’s only 9 o’clock!”
Kramer says, “Don’t argue with the body clock, Jerry; that’s one argument you can’t win!”
Kramer certainly was the enlightened character, taking life as it came!
MARK BUNN: Yeah, he was! Everyone thought he was weird and zany, but it is often the weird and zany people who are more enlightened.
People often say to me, “If I do that people will think I am weird!” And I say that weirdness is the prerequisite to being healthy because it means you are doing the opposite of what almost everyone else is doing. And that’s when you have a good chance at good health, at least in our modern world…
When I’m in the airport, I do sun salutes, I put Vata aroma oil all over myself on the plane, and I smear my head with sesame oil! People certainly look at me like I’m insane.
You’re a professional speaker. Could you give us an unprepared 2-minute pep talk on “Why should I learn TM?”
MARK BUNN: Can I have a while to think about it? (laughs & laughs) Everyone wants to be happy. It is the universal goal of everyone. How can you be happy? Most people choose to be happy by getting more external things: “If only I get this new car, job, relationships….”
However, we know from hundreds of years of experience that anything on the material level never makes you happy permanently.
But there are people throughout history, particularly in traditional cultures, such as in the East, who are permanently happy. We call it enlightenment!
So regardless of what’s happening in their world, whether they have their job or lose it, win the lottery or lose all their money, or a relationship ends – they are still happy, whatever comes their way.
How do they do it? They do it by nourishing the internal part of themselves, called consciousness. And that’s what TM does.
It is a universal technique that is totally natural and easy. As Maharishi said, “With TM, trying is prohibited.” So when people hear that meditation is difficult or needs discipline, they are doing the wrong technique.
TM is totally simple, totally easy, and directly nourishes that part of ourselves, our consciousness, which enables us to be happy regardless of the circumstances in our lives over time.
So, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s the simplest thing, easy to do, completely blissful – and as the end result, you become more established in that part of yourself that brings you happiness in all the different parts of your life.
That was perfect!
MARK BUNN: If you had asked me to write it, I would have probably said, “Give me six months.” But if you ask me to speak, I’ll just say something on the spot!
Here’s a task for imagination: What would your life be like had you not learned TM?
MARK BUNN: I’d probably be one of those ex-footballers with a big pot belly who can only walk around with a cane because of arthritis throughout his whole body! (laughs)
Every day I think, “How would I have survived without TM?” You get to the end of the day, you are a bit tired, yes, but still – how do people survive without TM?
My life probably would have still been okay, but nothing like it is right now! I thank Maharishi and his teacher Guru Dev every day for this blessing.