Learning Meditation

I waited for eight days. Then one day, in the early morning mist, Raghvendra came through the gate. He said I could come in now and learn to meditate, and I could spend my days in the ashram, take my meals with them and continue to sleep in the tent at night. My initiation into transcendental meditation took place in Raghvendra’s quarters, with only the two of us there. We sat cross-legged on white futons on the floor and began with a short puja, a traditional Hindu offering of fruit, flowers, cloth and prayers. After Raghvendra sang ancient Sanskrit prayers, he told me my mantra, or incantation, that I would use in meditating. Mantras can be words, which lose their meaning through repetition, but mine was simply a one-syllable configuration of letters that gave a soft sound when pronounced. He instructed me in how to say the sound silently, within, and just easily follow it, listening to it until it faded to silence; and how to repeat this until I experienced a transcending of normal waking consciousness. I closed my eyes and tried it for a few minutes. Raghvendra asked me to describe what I was experiencing, to make sure I was using the technique properly. Then after reminding me that the mantra was mine, and secret, he left me alone to meditate for the first time.

I relaxed, shut my eyes, and let thoughts come and go. As I became engrossed in thought, the outside world seemed to recede. I no longer noticed the wind in the trees or the sound of faraway talking. Then, as Raghvendra had instructed, I gently replaced my thoughts with my mantra. I silently said my sound and listened to it, following it. Thoughts flooded back in, and again I replaced them with my mantra. I lost sense of time and for a moment only the sound of my mantra was in my conscious mind. As the sound faded no verbalized thoughts replaced it and I was left in a place without sound and without thought. I wasn’t actually conscious of this until a second later, when that faithful little observation voice in my head said, “Hey! That’s it!” which right away pulled me back into conscious, verbal thought.

I hadn’t fallen asleep, yet it had been a very restful place of silence and darkness. I didn’t know quite where I had gone, but I knew I had been somewhere deeply peaceful. I felt reenergized and I realized that I must have transcended. I wanted to experience it again and so continued meditating for about half-an-hour and transcended once more. It could have been for a second or two, or several minutes—I couldn’t tell. Most of the time, though, I just thought about things, and my thinking seemed clearer, less cluttered than usual.

When I stopped, I waited for about a minute, slowly opened my eyes, and walked into the bright afternoon sun. It took my eyes a moment or two to adjust. The scream was gone. The agony was gone. I felt like a newborn chick, having just come out of its shell into a whole new reality. I walked toward my tent feeling rested, calm, mildly euphoric, turned on at being alive. As I sat, I couldn’t help smiling at the friendly hills. I felt a soft physical vibration in my body and a warmth in my heart. I felt a new sense of oneness with the world. I realized, sitting there, that truly loving another person is not possessive or controlling, but expansive and supportive. Surprisingly, I felt happiness for my girlfriend. And, I realized I had abandoned her before she left me. I felt different, like something profound had shifted within me. Was this part of ‘finding myself’? Was this what I had been looking for? And was it to be found inside me? It felt like it, like the beginning of a new path—and I felt very grateful.

That night I sat alone looking up at the mountain stars for hours. The trees rustled faintly in the distance, the sweet fragrance of evening jasmine filling the air. Monkeys chattered and somewhere in the valley below a lone peacock called out. From the far side of the ashram another answered. Allowing the soft, velvet touch of night to envelop me, I felt at peace.