The crux of the biscuit, is the apostrophe.—Frank Zappa
January 1971. Ma parked the car and we walked down Bleecker Street toward the Transcendental Meditation (TM) Center. I carried my flowers, handkerchief, and fruit as offerings of thanks to the great line of teachers who had preserved the knowledge of the proper application of mantras, of meditation. I remembered the mugging I took on Bleecker Street at the hands of the not-so- Christ-like pupils attending ‘Our Lady of Pompeii’ Catholic school, and replaced that image with the Peter Max serenity-head floating above the clouds as we negotiated our way through enormous piles of dog shit. I was going to learn the practice of Transcendental Meditation, as brought to you by Guru Dev and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—Great Teacher Mahesh; Paul McCartney’s Fool On The Hill in union with life. All I had to do was give my ‘initiator’ the offerings and he (or she) would do the rest, I was told.
With Pop’s blessing and my acquiescence, Ma dragged me into Manhattan to learn. “It’s good,” they both said. “You should do it.” That was the extent of my knowledge as I walked in the door. That, and the fact that Peter Max meditated. That’s all I needed to know. If TM inspired the serenity-head, I wanted in. I was also told to remain off drugs for fifteen days prior to learning. It lasted one day. The night before, I shot a fat tab of blue morphan—the Blues, as we referred to them.
The learning experience was painless and quick. Jonathan, the initiator (who seemed a bit spaced), performed the puja ceremony of thanks to Guru Dev and the tradition of saintly people before him. Then he told me my mantra. I was to repeat this quietly until he asked me to close my eyes and think it. When thoughts come, he said, never mind them. Once you remember to think your mantra, begin again effortlessly, until another thought comes.
That’s how you meditate. There’s no strain to concentrate on a mantra—which is essentially a sound without meaning, or a sound whose effects are known—and no position to assume other than sitting comfortably. Repeating the mantra effortlessly calms the mind. When the mind is calm, the body follows. At the bottom of it all is a place without thought or mantra, but it is aware. Shakespeare described the feeling in two words: To be…
Brainwaves went coherent… Yeah, that must be it! If I could just be, I wouldn’t be mentally in another space and time, stressing about this or that and always wanting. I could appreciate now for what it is. It seemed to contradict itself, this feeling of wanting to not want anymore, but was self-perpetuated by the vision of my own head floating above the clouds.
The following three nights I went back to the center for further information about what I was doing, and to make sure I was doing it right. Basically, if meditating gave you a headache you were either straining or not taking enough time before getting up. Using too much concentration was never a problem for me, so I was always comfortable. And, I loved the feeling I got while meditating. It was a sinking feeling, a very pleasant one. When that mental dive to still waters took place, my body felt totally relaxed. Afterward, I felt clearer—as if my vision was better. Other than knowing my mantra and how to use it, I didn’t have to learn anything or study or go into seclusion or any of that. I just had to do it.
I meditated regularly for a few weeks, but before giving it a chance for the effects to accumulate, my meditations became intermittent. There’s no denying I liked the way it felt, but the results were too subtle for me to fully appreciate at the time, especially with my lifestyle of mixing narcotics and alcohol. When I meditated, I fell asleep—which may have been what I needed, but wasn’t what I wanted.
I didn’t care about their philosophy of life, their respect for the Vedic tradition, their holiness, reverence, cleanliness, their incense or their rice. I just wanted my head to be like the one in the Peter Max poster—floating above worries, paranoia and addictions. When that didn’t materialize after a few meditations, I cast it onto the back burner. Within a year, I would become the youngest teacher of TM.