Bob Cowart is a certified teacher of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program. He started TM in 1972 and attended teacher training in Avoriaz, France in 1976. He subsequently taught Transcendental Meditation in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and Berkeley. In the 80’s he instructed high-security inmates in San Quentin prison. Bob is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern (MFTI), having graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco in 2008. He is (was) also a pianist, bassist, and concert promoter. For wider audience Bob is best known, though, as a best-selling writer of books about computing, having authored 47 titles. Several of his books have been best sellers in their category and have been translated into more than 20 languages.
He has had Lyme disease for an estimated 40 years, according to his diagnosis in 2006.
The following essay on meditation was originally published in Bob Cowart’s blog.
We all have read that meditation is good for many reasons such as lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, improving clarity of thought. It has even been shown to raise IQ and to slow the aging process. Unfortunately, there are many different schools and styles of meditation, each with a different approach, form, and technique. This is confusing to people who are interested in learning to meditate.
Since we are programmed in the West to believe that learning a new skill requires effort, concentration, and that if we don’t succeed, we should “…try, try again,” we are almost guaranteed to run into self-defeating thoughts about meditation. Sadly, I have met many frustrated would-be meditators along my path who gave up their meditation practice claiming that it’s too arduous, nothing ‘happens’ when they meditate, they get headaches, they get frustrated because they can’t make their thoughts stop, and so on. There is a belief in spiritual circles that all roads lead to Rome. I think this may in part be because we are well aware that it’s better not to talk about loaded topics such as religion and politics at the dinner table (and anywhere else, for that matter). These topics are too personal, and it’s easy for such topics to lead to arguments. I do this, too. But life is short and I feel like speaking up a bit more about this one particular area of spiritual endeavour.
In the 70’s I had the good fortune to learn Transcendental Meditation from a young woman named Susan Raymond. I was only 19 years old, but, probably because I was going through my first infection by Lyme bacteria (it wasn’t even named Lyme at that time), I was desperate for help. I was I was a student at Temple University at the time, and had some cognitive issues going on. I was very motivated, willing to try just about anything to feel better. I was also experimenting with yoga, dietary changes, and so on. In any case, I saw a poster in the student lounge announcing a lecture about Transcendental Meditation and so I went to it. It was given by two women who were so relaxed and self-composed that all I knew was that “I’ll take what she’s having!”
Literally, within a few weeks of learning Transcendental Meditation and practicing it twice daily for 20 minutes, many of my issues started to clear up. I felt not only a dropping away of my complaints, but there was much more benefit than I could have imagined. My mind at times would open up to vast, seemingly infinite, timeless place, zone, mode… well, I didn’t know what to call them. Only later did I come to understand that I was experiencing states of consciousness that mystical schools of all the world’s religions have names for. I was an innocent, naive beginner which was probably an advantage, because I didn’t have to unlearn any meditation-related habits. Suffice it to say that I was blow away by experiencing, with very little effort, what I would later learn was a type of Samadhi where the meditator’s true Self shines through the veils of their normal sense of small-s ‘self.’
I was taken by surprise because it was so simple, as simple as falling off of a log. How could this happen to me, I began to wonder? I started reading books on the matter by teachers such as Ram Das, Suzuki Roshi, Gandhi, Alan Watts, John Lilly, Abraham Maslow, Thomas Merton, William Blake, Paul Twitchell, Yogananda, and Mararishi Mahesh Yogi. Virtually, anything I could get my hands on that addressed these types of experiences that were so liberating that I couldn’t even begin to describe them to my meditation teacher nor to my friends.
The lingering question was, if this was so easy, why wasn’t everyone doing it? I guess I felt a little like Ram Das and Tim Leary were feeling about LSD: This is so amazing and easy and so changed one’s overarching sense of what humanity could be, that everyone had to try this. Maybe it was ‘the answer’ to the world’s misery. After all, this was a time of great upheaval and strife in American politics. The Vietnam war was raging, seemingly without end, as was the Cold War with the USSR. The Vietnam war was the first war Americans watch on television. We had a kind of prurient interest in how war works, while at the same time were disgusted by what we were, as a nation, doing over there. We were growing tired to watching napalm bombs dropped on villages, tired of monks self-immolating and little girls on fire, running down the road. We were watching this on the news while we ate our TV dinners in the comfort of our suburban split-levels.
Around this time we thankfully had myriad fantastic forms of new music. The Beatles had just released Sgt. Pepper’s and had started meditating, under the direction of their guru, Maharishi, the same guy who had trained my teacher, Susan. Whoa. The Beatles and I had the same guru, and were doing the same kind of meditation. How cool was that?
Well, Maharishi ended up on the cover of Time magazine, and the whole world was buzzing about him. Tens of thousands of Americans were lining up to learn Transcendental Meditation. Famous movie stars were coming out of the closet to announce their meditation experiences. Merv Griffin (the Oprah of his day) did three back-to-back shows about Transcendental Meditation, featuring guest stars such as Clint Eastwood, Mary Tyler Moore, Dennis Hopper, and Joe Namath. You can see snippets of those shows on YouTube.
Flash forward, and I decided I just had to become a teacher of this kind of mediation that was so simple, so easy, that is ‘just worked’ (just like the iPad I’m writing this on). So, I did sign up for a 9-month, in-residence, teacher training course, three months of which were to be held in the French Alps. Wow. I can honestly say I have never been higher (pun intended). About 6 hours of meditation per day, plus lots of lectures, book learning, memorization. Maharishi was a very organized man who had been to college, studied physics, and knew how to delegate and how get things done. He was deeply devoted to training thousands of teachers to spread his form of meditation that was simple, easy, and natural, throughout the western world as efficiently as possible.
Forty years later, I am still practicing Transcendental Meditation, even though I have had a number of teachers from different backgrounds such as Zen Buddhism and Advaita Vendanta. Why? Because it is still, I believe, the simplest, most effective meditation technique. It just works.
When I received this in my Inbox this morning while on a healing journey in Brazil, it reminded me of one the aspects of TM that makes it so effective — effortlessness, self-acceptance, and letting go of any attempt to still the mind, because even that effort itself will prevent the mind from settling down. The email is from Ligia Dantes, a woman I had the pleasure of meeting about ten years ago at one of the first Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy conferences, that are held each year up in the SF Bay Area. Ligia is an interesting and relatively unknown teacher who was a psychoanalyst who became a mystic and stopped doing psychological work after her ‘awakening’ experiences led to a complete re-evaluation of what her calling was. Here’s what her email said:
Trying to stop the “monkey brain” while meditating
is like trying to hold a river with your hands.
Let the thoughts be like the water passing by; relax,
and you will naturally calm the river of your thoughts.
May December bring you greater wisdom and understanding.
Friends of Ms. Dantes (12/1/12)
— Bob Cowart