I used to be fucked up as long as I can remember. Growing up in a highly dysfunctional family with two completely emotionally unavailable and unbalanced people as parents, I hardly could have been anything else.
At 12 I developed an eating disorder and a total hatred of my body (no rational reason for that, trust me, apart from the fact that I simply hated myself). In my early teens I remember being terribly socially awkward and insecure and masking it with fake confidence. I had behavioural problems at school, was thinking about suicide, every romantic relationship I had would trigger massive rejection and abandonment fears in me that would result in some pretty hysterical behaviour. At 20 I went through a period of intense anxiety attacks. My first stint on antidepressants ensued.
At 22, while studying for final exams for my journalism Bachelor’s degree, I developed serious problems sleeping. Falling asleep would take me hours. Sometimes I wouldn’t fall asleep at all. Sometimes I would fall asleep at 5 am only to wake up two hours later totally drained. I was trudging through every day. There were whole weeks, which I survived without a single night of solid sleep.
There was no reason for me to be nervous about the exams. I may have been difficult but always a great student. My memory was super sharp, everything would go straight in. At high school, they used to think I was a genius and if only was I working a little harder. But at that time, the pressure of the exams added the final drop to the bucket of my unprocessed stress and got me to spend the next four years popping sleeping pills, which sometimes wouldn’t even help.
I always knew I didn’t want to go this way and was exactly the type of patient shrinks dislike, cutting down my dose of pills as soon as I felt a little better. I was determined to get myself out of the pit of shit doing yoga and reading Carl Gustav Jung and it sort of worked. But my equilibrium was never solid and every external stress would rock the fragile boat of my mental balance sending me back to the clutches of insomnia and anxiety. On the surface, everything may have looked fine but inside, I constantly struggled with this omnipresent tension and discomfort, which would only really leave me for very short periods of time.
The tipping point came when I was 32. A relationship I was in for four years and which I used to believe was my future collapsed. The guy I used to call the love of my life turned into the jerk of my life while I turned into an insecure clingy needy wreck.
All the emotional wounds of my fucked up childhood flared up. My abandonment and rejection fears were virtually sending me through the roof. I remember one night, lying in bed, shaking and feeling a knot in the middle of my abdomen radiating pain all over my body. I thought I may not make it. I thought that this time, I was really going crazy.
I knew I needed a boost. I knew I had to do something that would do more than my existing yoga practice. I decided to learn Transcendental Meditation and it happened to be the single best decision of my life.
The week before my Transcendental Meditation induction I was averaging on two hours of shallow intermittent sleep a night. I couldn’t relax, couldn’t focus at work, felt like something from inside was tearing me apart.
I arrived to receive my mantra on a Saturday morning completely exhausted. The teacher told me the mantra and meditated with me, then left the room and instructed me to keep on meditating. Is this really it? I was thinking to myself? The miraculous technique for which I had to pay £240? It seemed all a bit too simple. No rocket science really.
But I felt something was happening. I calmed down, started feeling good. I went home and as instructed meditated for twenty minutes in the afternoon on my own and again in the morning before coming back to continue my training.
The night after my TM induction was the first in weeks I was able to get some proper deep resting sleep. It may not have been full eight hours but I was sold. I knew this wasn’t a coincidence. Over the years I tried many things to sort out my sleep – breathing exercises, yoga nidras, herbal teas, mindfulness. But nothing ever delivered much for me.
I didn’t need more to keep up the practice – which is twenty minutes of mediation followed by five minutes of rest twice a day.
I felt like I was finally able to plant my feet onto some solid surface in that deep pit of shit in which I was drowning.
Some people thing that once they start meditating, they will become those Zen super-calm individuals that can’t be shaken by anything, spreading positive energy all around 24 hours a day. It doesn’t entirely work like this. Yes. Overtime, you will become more and more of that amazing shining Zen person but first you have to deal with your shit.
The transcendental meditation teaching calls it stress release. The presumption is that whatever emotional trauma or stressful situation you have experienced in your past and have not dealt with properly (that means fully acknowledged the emotions) stays imprinted in your body and leads to discomfort, depression and illness. By connecting with yourself in meditation, you allow the stress and trauma to be released and gradually unblock the flow of positive energy.
It’s quite similar to psychoanalysis digging out your past and Jungian psychology asking you to face your shadow self. This process is not taking place during meditation but all the time.
The more stress you have in you, the more intense this stress release is going to be and the longer it is likely to last. But it doesn’t let all of it out at once. It will start peeling the layers of your mind like an onion. One by one, all those layers containing dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behaviour that you created in the past as a defence in situations you weren’t able to handle properly (mostly in your childhood), will be washed away by the suppressed stream of emotions that created it.
Every time you peel off a layer and learn what’s behind, you will experience a massive surge of good feelings. But that only lasts until you reach another layer and then another. With every peeled-off layer, you are feeling calmer, more confident, more yourself, more positive, stronger, more complete.
The stress release can get pretty intense. When I started doing TM, my body was a pressurised container filled with stress. At that time, all the emotional trauma of my childhood together with all the wounds I created to myself with patterns of behaviour I originally developed to protect myself against my parents, were stirred by that disappointing break-up.
For weeks I oscillated between uncontrollable fits of crying and feeling extremely elated and optimistic. But while in the past my crying would not make me feel any better, the day I started doing TM, crying started providing massive relief. Immediately, I felt much more in control of my life.
The journey I experienced on TM feels like from a textbook of Jungian psychology. It felt as if I was given a flashlight, which allowed me to shed light onto all that was unhealthy in me (or I’d rather say all that is unhealthy in me as the journey is probably still not finished.)
This is not a journey of rational logical processing. It’s a journey of reliving all those deep emotional wounds and releasing them. The learning takes place in the process.
I noticed that frequently, situations would happen in the outer world that would re-trigger a particular wound, which would allow me to experience it in great intensity that would subsequently allow me to see what is behind.
Some of the discoveries I made were quite straightforward. I remember one of the early ones had to do with me thinking how my ex used to reject almost everything I ever proposed to do. I was feeling angry about it and then I realised that that’s very much what my parents used to do when I was little. However, the real breakthrough came when I realised that even as an adult, I used to react to those ‘NOs’ of my ex or anyone else in the same way I used to react to the NOs of my parents. I would either withdraw and be upset like a little child or get angry and lash out instead of arguing my point as an adult individual. Discovering this was really quite empowering.
There were other, darker secrets of my mind I had to face such as feeling hated by my own family as a child and subsequently projecting this feeling into the whole world.
I could go for ages describing all those smaller and bigger breakthroughs as well as the massive revelations I have had since having started doing TM. Some were birthed easily, others were preceded by weeks of discomfort, emotional tension and irritation. Some even needed me to clash with someone to finally see the lesson.
But after every one of those, I would feel better more confident, more at ease, more myself, more complete, empowered.
My sleep after a year on TM
I realised that it was all these supressed stresses and emotions that kept me awake all those years I was struggling with insomnia. And I also realised that my attempts to cure my sleep using all sorts of relaxation techniques couldn’t have worked until I found a valve to release the pressure from inside. And that valve for me came with TM
It would be a lie to say that I haven’t experienced a sleepless night since having started TM. When some of the more difficult stuff was being released from my unconscious and subconscious, I would find myself flooded with thoughts and discomfort at night. My mind especially likes to talk to me in the early morning hours between 4 and 6 am. But while in the past I would be angry and wanting to chase all those thoughts away in order to fall a sleep, now I accept that whatever is happening in my mind is happening for a reason and is probably telling me something.
I always have had vivid dreams but they got even more vivid with TM. And they quite frequently contain a message.
The biggest success for me is that I tend to fall asleep quite easily while in the past, even on my OK days, I could take hours to fall asleep. My sleep generally feels much deeper and more refreshing.
TM and health
I firmly believe that taking a good care of your mind is an absolute prerequisite for maintaining good health. There is enough scientific evidence that stress is a major contributor or even a direct trigger for the development of many serious health problems including autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances or even cancer.
And meditation, transcendental in particular, is the best tool to take care of the mind.
Terry Wahls counts Transcendental Meditation among the essential tools for anyone who is trying to reverse a serious autoimmune condition and so speaks Sarah Gottfried when it comes to reversing hormonal imbalances.
It makes sense. Chronic stress leads to chronically elevated cortisol levels, which wreak havoc with the entire hormonal system and subsequently the whole body.
Transcendental meditation has been found benefiting those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and heart problems. A recent study found that those practicing transcendental meditation have more telomerase, an enzyme, which has to do with the length of telomeres. Telomeres are little caps on the end of our chromosomes. These caps get shorter with age. The longer the telomeres the better. The more telomerase, the longer the telomeres.
It all really starts in the mind. If you change your mind, you don’t only change your health but your whole world. Just accept that on the way to enlightenment and that perfect happy Zen personality, you may need to dive into the pool of shit first. As my beloved Carl Gustav Jung said ‘there is no coming to consciousness without pain.’ And I believe the gains are well worth the pain.