If you want to fulfil your potential, you’re very likely to take up meditation sooner or later. It’s worth trying out more than one technique, to find what works for you.
As I mentioned in my last blog post (Friday 12th October) I learned to meditate by accident, without realising what was going on. Since my business in Paris had ground to a halt, I was looking for a new opportunity. I considered trading futures and options, so I bought a course that consisted of some manuals with video and audio recordings. Most of it was about how to analyse the markets, so you could decide when to buy or sell. But in one of the audio recordings the instructor said that the most important factor was the mind – which made all the difference between success and failure.
This made sense to me. I’d been trying to succeed through sheer hard work, as many of us do. I couldn’t work any harder, so the next obvious place to look for clues was the mind. I bought a novel which he’d written, called A Rich Man’s Secret, in which he used phrases such as “Now knows” and “Return to now”. The protagonist kept noticing that his attention had wandered, and kept bringing it back to the present moment, over and over again. I tried it out for myself, and this is what happened:
• I quickly noticed that I felt much calmer and less stressed, so I carried on doing it, over and over throughout the day.
• At one point, I suddenly realised that my intuition had become much stronger. (That particular breakthrough enabled me to work as an executive search consultant – or headhunter – which I’d wanted to do for years.)
I later discovered that I’d learned mindfulness by accident. After I returned to London, I attended some courses and it became a regular practice. Knowing how to be present and observe my thoughts and emotions was extremely valuable during the five years I spent at Heidrick & Struggles, one of the world’s largest executive search firms. I was able to stay calm and not be distracted by other people’s stress or by office politics. I hit the necessary targets without taking them all that seriously – and was promoted to partner.
After I left Heidrick & Struggles I carried on with mindfulness for a year before an American friend suggested I try Transcendental Meditation, otherwise known as TM. I was aware of Marahishi, the Beatles and all that, but this was the first time I’d met someone who practised TM regularly. I decided to give it a try.
I turned up at the Maharishi Foundation’s headquarters, in a mews house near The London Business School. I remember the introductory talk, which involved images of people’s brains before and after meditation. Although I’m interested in science, what really counts most for me is personal experience. In common with many Eastern traditions, TM is passed on directly from teacher to pupil. During the initiation ceremony my teacher chanted in Sanskrit for a while and gave me my mantra, which I’ve used ever since. You don’t say it out loud – you just think it for a short while.
For the first few days when I practised on my own, nothing much seemed to happen. Then I noticed what felt like electrical impulses on my scalp, crossing from one side to the other. When I began to meditate a few days later, I suddenly felt as though I was falling into a deep pool, while continuing to breathe normally. (They call it ‘going deep’.) Suddenly, I was in another state of consciousness, where there were no thoughts or feelings. It was bliss.
The major changes I noticed after learning TM were:
• If I felt tired before meditating, 20 minutes of TM gave me lots of energy. It felt like rebooting my system.
• The jet lag I used to experience on long-haul flights fell by around 90%, whether I was flying to North America or Asia.
• Lots of creative ideas and solutions to problems appeared during or shortly after TM.
• My blood pressure fell and stayed low – at a healthy level. My doctor and his staff have remarked on it several times.
• I began to see myself in other people and in animals. There was a new sense of connection.
I’ve continued to practise TM quite happily for most of the last 16 years. At one point I took a break and learned silent Sufi meditation with the Naqshbandi order, in Shoreditch, London. Sufism is the mystical aspect of Islam, and most of the participants were Muslim. I went every week and also attended retreats in East London and Fez, Morocco. The meditation began with a phrase – in English – designed to turn your attention from your head to your heart. I noticed:
• Some new sensations in and around my physical heart.
• My intuition seemed to benefit from sitting in silence for 45 minutes, twice a day.
Silent Sufi meditation was a valuable experience. I also saw places in Fez which I would never have seen if I hadn’t been accompanied by a small crowd of enthusiastic Sufis. However, I realised that I wanted to carry on experiencing transcendence, with all the benefits it brings.
So I returned to TM, which I practise twice a day on average. I should also mention that I’ve since learned to surrender – and become automatically mindful during daily life. I’ll write about that soon.
Silent Sufi Meditation: