Léna is also a Regional Manager for Writopia Lab whose mission is to foster joy, literacy, and critical thinking in kids and teens from all backgrounds through creative writing.

"Well, the question is, what do you want to believe? Do you want to live in a world where things are possible, or in one where they aren't?" Cin, Edges.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

One Week of Practicing Transcendental Meditation and . . .

I began my Transcendental Meditation training in Bedford Hills a week ago, the day after my 46th birthday.  To refresh your memory, dear readers, the center has been quietly wooing me since I moved to the 'burbs four years ago, it's song growing stronger every time I stopped by the cafe it sits above, and then even stronger once my best friend and husband started practicing in the city, reporting feeling refreshed and less stressed.

I had been reading up on TM and how far it had come since it's slow introduction in this country in the 1950's with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, to it's blast in popularity with the "following" of the Beatles, turning some people off as being faddish, if not cultish. But it is the most scientifically studied and backed form of "treatment" for living in our modern society, to go back to the rhythm and flow of our own Nature, and it is most decidedly NOT a religion.

I was incredibly excited - as you all know, I am a seeker, fascinated with all things metaphysical. I thrilled at the thought of having my own personal mantra, and my own guide. Yet I was also feeling anxious about my overloaded schedule. How again did I think I could fit this in?

Yet taking care of oneself is a highly esteemable act. Although I consider myself  a  "happy" person, I am no stranger to bouts of anxiety, depression in my youth, and sleep deficits. And how about full brain potential? I know that I have more creativity,  intelligence, and executive skills to tap into. Who can't do with more flexibility of body, mind and spirit?  

So I approached my first of four sessions on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday with both excitement and trepidation. Each lasting 90 minutes, the first session was a 1:1 with a teacher who has been practicing for over forty years, Melody Katz, a lovely, ageless woman. (She, along with her husband Sam, are the directors of the Bedford Hills TM Center.) I felt a kinship right away.  After some instruction and quietness together, Melody gave me my own personal mantra,  a sound-word-vibration.  I found it easy - easier than any other meditation I have ever tried. 
Twenty minutes a day, twice a day, preferably not after eating a full meal. I was told not to have a timer on - that I could peek at the clock to check the time and that gradually my body would recognize what twenty minutes meant. And then I would need to take two to three minutes to come out of it - that being jolted back to reality would be counterproductive. I had a very enjoyable experience sitting in my back yard that afternoon, meditating for exactly twenty minutes.

The next morning though, I was due at the TM center at 9am and it proved to be not quite as easy. I had a terrible night of sleep and I felt worn down. I started meditating at 8:30am, again in my back yard, and my thoughts were racing with my to do list, my increased anxiety about not sleeping. Although my stream of consciousness didn't stop, my thoughts slowed down and I did feel more peaceful. 

The morning was the first in a series of three group classes. There were two recent college grads, and two Wall Street commuters as well as myself. First we each met with our teacher privately to check our mantras. Everyone had a similar experience of a "busy" meditation and had to be reminded that this meditation did not involve any concentration or effort—and not to fight it. I was a little shocked by how stressed out I was in the morning and then after a day in the city, I settled down into a quiet calm and almost fell asleep during my second meditation right before dinner.

On Monday morning I woke up with a cold, but I had to be at work so I was determined to muscle through it. I had exactly twenty minutes until I hit the road, so I sat through twenty minutes of the racing thoughts and received some relief when they slowed down and felt more calm. 

After work and before our third TM class, I meditated before practicing yoga, and found my postures to somehow be more relaxing.  In this class we explored the connection to the body, and how the stress is actually released from the body. It's tautological - the more the mind relaxes, so does the body - the more the body relaxes, so does the mind. It is then that we can experience transcendence, which I am coming to understand as a merging of mind, body and spirit. We watched a short video of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and I was glad of the chance to finally hear him.

Unfortunately, by Tuesday morning, I was sick. I worked from home in the morning and meditated in a chair in my room. I went to work in the afternoon and meditated outside when I got home. Tuesday was also my last class at the TM center. We explored the lasting effects of meditation, and we each had an individual TM Checking. Even though it had only been four days and I was sick, I was a believer. It was a revelation to see the transformation on my classmates. They reported greater energy, increased clarity of mind and an overall calmness in the midst of their busy lives.

I have been sick all week - I have bronchitis AND a sinus infection, something that had clearly been building up for a long time. Yet, through meditation and taking the mornings off, I have been able to hold workshops in the afternoons and give my best to my students.

Part of me is wondering: what took me so long to do this? But I think that actually this came at just the right time. I am older and already comfortable in my own skin, fulfilled by my work and my family yes, but also knowing there is so much more within and without to explore. If I was able to accomplish this much this week when I was sick, how much more effective will I be when I am well? 
Here are the books I am reading now to help deepen both my understanding and my practice.
1.  Transcendence by psychiatrist Norman E. Rosenthal, MD 
2.  Transcendental Meditation by Jack Forem.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Life WAS a Cabaret at Studio 54

The irony was not lost on me as I watched Michelle Williams-as-Sally Bowles sing the title number from CABARET last night, capturing the essence of the whole play in that one song: What good is sitting alone in your room/ come hear the music play: the manic denial of the emergence of Nazi Germany and the denigration of difference, the seediness and despair that comes with secrets and living for instant gratification, the disquietude of hallucinating reality and the self-loathing that comes with it.

No use permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away.

Studio 54 was New York's answer to Berlin's Kit Kat club. Although we weren't on the brink of WW2, the late 1970's began a stark period of disillusionment with ideology - we had punk on the left with it's angry young men and anarchic message, and disco on the right with it's feel-happy vibe and exclusivity. (And obviously, all eras have their fair share of pills and liquor.)

The first time I went to Studio 54 on 254 West 54th Street was when I was fourteen, maybe fifteen. It was on one of those rare occasions when I was home from boarding school, and I was spending the night with one of my best childhood friends, who had moved from our neighborhood in Chelsea to Queens. One of her neighbors worked at Studio 54 as a bouncer, and had agreed to bring us to work with him, and take us back home. (Is this true Johanna? It's what I am mining from my memory . . .)

I "borrowed" my mother's chocolate brown Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress which made me feel like a grown up. We didn't drink, but we danced, and giggled and ogled. It definitely was the beginning of my fascination with nightclub culture and a particular kind of performance art throughout my late teens. I went from wrap dresses to vintage clothes, ripped jeans and combat boots, favoring Danceteria and CBGB's as a junior, to the Palladium, Limelight and Paradise Garage as a senior in high school and a freshman in college. (A true punk/disco baby!)

It became boring and even a bit scary - I saw Sally Bowles everywhere - and I didn't want to become one of those girls like her - a third rate performer in a sleazy nightclub who pops pills, drinks booze and sleeps with anyone and everyone, who mirrors the negative aspects of the world by destroying herself.

Michelle Williams embodied that Sally Bowles I was so scared of. She starts off fun and shallow, but god, does she become brittle and cracked by the end. Studio 54 didn't need to do much to make one imagine a seedy nightclub, but it did a fabulous job with the cabaret seating and staging. (And I could do a whole separate blog post about Alan Cummings but I'll leave you with one word: DIVINE.)

Ms. Williams as Sally had tears in her eyes as she was singing Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret!
and I did too - grateful for the memories, and grateful for my belief in mirroring the positive aspects of the world instead - not by being a Pollyanna, no, but by embracing life and all of it's primordial ooze.