As I was growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, I had several ambitions. I wanted to be a psychiatrist, a researcher and a writer. I went to medical school in South Africa, then moved to the U.S. to study psychiatry at Columbia in New York City. Finally, I went on to a research fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland, where I spent the next 20 years. Along with my research, I saw patients in my private practice. One of my patients, a young man named Paul, said to me, “Doctor, your medicines are helping stabilize me but what is making me really happy 90% of the time is Transcendental Meditation. You really should learn it.” I told him that I had learned as a medical student back in South Africa but that I had dropped it. He kept insisting that I return to my practice and finally I yielded to his persistence.
Enter Bob Roth, director of the David Lynch Foundation, who refreshed my TM practice and with whom I developed a great friendship and collaboration. I started meditating regularly and soon began to reap the early benefits of the practice: I felt calmer, and less reactive to the minor irritations of daily life, and even major upsets. These were welcome changes which were greatly appreciated by others. My wife, for example, summed it up succinctly when she said, “You have become a completely different person,” and by the tone of her voice it was clear that the change was much for the better.
After a few years of practicing the TM technique, I slowly began to feel a more mysterious set of changes develop. I was frequently in “the zone”, that relaxed state of mind where thoughts go in a gentle and novel direction; where ideas sprout and grow like flowers and bloom. The world became a kinder, gentler, more supportive place. I realized that all these changes were originating in myself, not others, and that people responded differently to me because I had become a nicer person. The only thing to which I could attribute this was my TM practice.
I had become a psychiatrist and a researcher, but what had happened to my third ambition: to become a writer. I had written one book in my late 30s about my research on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and its treatment with light therapy, the fruits of my years at the NIMH, which was successful. A few books followed, each of which had its virtues, but none of which became a widespread success. Over 20 years lapsed until I was able to write in a way that satisfied me and my readers.
One day when Bob and I were walking around the neighborhood, he mentioned to me that an editor friend of his had approached him about a new book on the Transcendental Meditation technique. No books on the subject had been written for a long time and the editor thought it was time. How would I like to undertake the project? Bob asked. Not only was the idea exciting to me, but I felt that certain changes had occurred in my mind that would allow me to focus on a major project such as this. Bob helped me every step of the way to write the book that I called Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation. I felt as though it was the best book I had written since Winter Blues some 30 years earlier. And it went on to become a New York Times bestseller.
The shaping influence of the TM technique on my mind continued and I finally felt able to write some stories that I had collected from my own life and people I had encountered along the way. An organizing theme emerged from those stories: that we learn and grow most when things go wrong and when we encounter setbacks and obstacles. I called the resulting book The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life’s Difficulties, Setbacks and Imperfections. That book also sold well and, more importantly, made an impact on people’s lives.
My debt to the TM technique in helping me write these two books did not escape my attention. I realized that it was a result of what has been called cosmic consciousness–the subtle process by which experiences that occur during meditation gently enter our ordinary consciousness. Like flowing water that runs across the sharp stones of a river bed, smoothing them into rounded pebbles with intriguing contours, this alteration in consciousness helped create in my mind the shapes and contours that enabled me to write these two books. Was that not in itself an excellent topic for a third book in the series? I asked myself. The result was Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life through Transcendental Meditation. For that book, I conducted a research study of over 600 seasoned TM practitioners and found that the qualities of what I call the Super Mind increase with duration and frequency of meditation practice. In other words, the longer and more regularly you practice the TM technique, the more impressive the effects both in terms of quality of life and productivity (other factors being equal).
That brings us to the present, and the latest gift of my TM practice: another book. I have loved poetry all my life and have found it to be a source of joy and solace–benefits that I shared with patients whom I thought would appreciate poetry. For years, I hoped that someday I might be able to write a book on this topic so that I could share this source of consolation and joy with people outside my own practice. It was only by virtue of my continued TM practice that I was able to pull together the elements necessary to write Poetry Rx: How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy to Your Life, which is now on the verge of being published.
In addition, I invite all interested readers to a virtual book signing of Poetry Rx hosted by the David Lynch Foundation on Thursday, May 6 at 7 PM.
Bob Roth will be interviewing me and the evening promises to be a lot of fun. Click here to sign up.
All author’s proceeds from the sale of books from that event will go to helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder learn the Transcendental Meditation technique.