Psychiatrist and author Norman Rosenthal practices Transcendental Meditation, an ancient practice brought from India to the U.S. in the 1950s. A TM teacher gives the student a mantra or other sound and explains how to repeat it in an effortless way. A successful practice leads to “relaxation, joy and a feeling of being refreshed,” Rosenthal says. He explains in this excerpt from his new book:
Over the years that I have meditated, changes have occurred in me that were so subtle that often I couldn’t detect them at all — though I did, of course, notice that everyday stresses seemed to bother me less. If someone offended me or was rude, instead of having it out — as I might have done in the past — I instinctively adopted an attitude that the matter could wait till the next day — and in most cases, by then the issue didn’t seem worth pursuing. People were nicer to me and everything came more easily. But all that felt like no big deal. It took the observations of others — family, friends, and colleagues — to show me how dramatically I had changed.
Before going any further, I feel obliged to say that I have hardly reached some lofty summit of enlightenment. Like everyone else, I’m a work in progress. However, unbeknownst to me, I’ve made significant gains along the axis of happiness and self-fulfillment. Over time it became clear to me that I meditate for much more than simply stress relief. I meditate also to sustain and advance the changes I have learned to associate with the Super Mind.
By now, I had encouraged many of my patients to meditate — and a fair proportion followed through with good results. At times we would discuss their meditation experiences during sessions, and I saw in them as in myself, changes that went beyond relief of stress. Instead, they were more like the progress I was used to seeing from psychotherapy — growth in what therapists call “ego strengths,” by which they mean positive personality attributes. It became apparent that TM was not merely relaxing my patients, but also helping them change for the better.
Curiously, it was in discussing their experiences of transcendence that I first became aware of mirroring the states they were describing. Specifically, I would begin to slip into a transcendent state during our discussions — a sort of silence during wakefulness. There I was, actively engaged in listening, thinking about what my patient was saying, offering responses when appropriate, but at the same time . . . stillness. This was, I realized one day, the beginning of my personal awareness of transcendence and wakefulness mingling together outside of a TM session — my first awareness of the dawning Super Mind — and an enormous excitement came over me at the experience of this new state of consciousness.
The joy I felt then — and now as I write about it — reminds me of that novel state of feverish bliss mixed with quiet confidence that I experienced when I first became aware of transcending during meditation. Allow me to repeat how I described that feeling in transcendence.
It was a threshold experience, much like the ecstatic day when I realized I could swim, that I could actually take my feet off the bottom of the shallow end and paddle around without sinking; or when I realized — this was before the era of training wheels — that I had pedaled half a block with no one holding on to the bike. In all these cases I needed to persevere before I saw any payoff.
Even now, as I remember those first Super Mind experiences, a stillness comes over me, but along with the stillness, an energy, a focus, a sense of being able to tackle whatever might come my way. My friend Ray Dalio, a decades-long TM practitioner and founder of the hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, describes such feelings well. As Ray puts it, TM has helped him feel like a ninja in the midst of battle — who experiences things as coming at him in slow motion so that they are easier to tackle one by one.
Excerpted with permission from “Super Mind,” by Norman E. Rosenthal, from TarcherPerigee, a division of Penguin Random House. Rosenthal is a psychiatrist and former researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, where he identified seasonal affective disorder (SAD). “Super Mind” is available May 17.
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