Deference? and Gratitude

When we got home that night, I asked my husband, “Did you notice that they were treating me with deference?”

He said, “Yes.”

We’d spent the late afternoon hours of tea time with our meditation teachers, and their extraordinary toddler, Lily.

I’d had a painful and frustrating underground journey from Saint Pancras station to Earl’s Court, where our teachers live; one of those frequent tube malfunctions that you take in stride – unless you need the lift; and the breakdown is the lift, in fact, all the lifts, because all the electricity in the station suddenly went off.

So I was in considerable pain, leaning heavily on my cane, when I arrived. Our teachers had never seen me look quite so affected by pain, and the worried look on their faces was touching, but also embarrassing. I assured them that I was all right as I asked for the water to take the painkillers the moment I sat down.

I was still aching two hours later, even after taking pretty strong painkillers , when we made our way to the Union Chapel where Tom Paxton was giving his last ever concert in London. Fortunately, we arrived late enough not to have to stand in the queue, and we found seats close to the stage. It was a perfect last concert, Tom’s voice as full and rich as when he started out all those years ago. He was going out in style, and I wept shamelessly through most of it. I felt drained afterward.

Yet by the time we arrived home, after midnight, greeted by our hysterically happy and hungry dogs, and had fed same, I was wide awake, elated by a wave of love and memory of the fifty years Tom was part of my life; and surprised but more or less happy to know that our teachers hold me in such esteem. I felt deep gratitude for the love and respect I felt in their company and tenderly delighted by Lily, with her devastatingly direct and real affection; and her happiness in her innocent ability to accept and love us as we were.

Meditate Anywhere

One of the best practical aspects of Vedic meditation is that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need a candle, incense or yoga mat. You don’t need to sit in a special posture or hold your hands in a particular position. In fact, the teacher’s guidance is very simple: Sit comfortably, close your eyes for a few moments, and begin your mantra. Don’t worry about thoughts; let them come; then gently bring the mantra  back.

Ambient noise isn’t an important factor, either. Yes, you can settle in for Vedic meditation anywhere. I’ve meditated on trains and planes; in churches, Quaker meeting houses, libraries, cafes, art museums; on park benches and sitting on the ground with my back against a tree. I’ve meditated inside quite a few theatres and adjacent areas, including the bar in the Swan Theatre at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the huge lounge area at the National Theatre. (It’s fascinating to me that, in over forty years of practice, I have never been approached or bothered while I’m meditating in a public place. I don’t know what the mechanism is –psychic? energetic? politeness? what?– but it just doesn’t happen.)

There are, of course, yoga asanas and breathing techniques that can be done before and after meditation to enhance its effectivenes. And a nice, quiet place is the ideal setting. But these are perfect conditions and not always possible.

Regularity of your practice is crucial to realizing its full benefits. There are lots of meditation techniques, and each person’s need is unique, as is his/her steadfastness in regular practice. That daily practice is important, however, and Vedic meditation is very flexible. When you’re running late, you don’t have to skip your meditation. You can do it on the train or during your lunch hour.You can reap delicious life benefits through this simple routine.

For more information about Vedic meditation, these links:                                  

This last one is being updated (as of March, 2016) but is a directory of Vedic meditation teachers around the world:




White Handkerchief

In the Vedic meditation tradition that I practice, a student makes a simple offering at her/his initiation: a few flowers and a piece of fruit presented on a pure white cloth– for which I chose a handkerchief with a lily embroidered in white thread on one corner.

The offerings are placed on a simple table altar for a brief ceremony which thanks the teachers of the last 8,000 or so years who have passed down the mantras, teacher to student. After this chant, each student goes with his/her teacher to receive privately the mantra chosen for him/her. After the initiation, students meditate together with their teachers. At the end, teachers and students eat the fruit together or each student is given fruit to take home; and students take a flower, not one of their own, but that of another student, home. Each student’s white cloth is returned to its owner.pujatable1 I carried my handkerchief for my marriage ritual– both times. And I brought it for my initiation into a more advanced mantra nearly 30 years later. I carried it again when I received another advanced mantra in 2015.

Symbols are important. Sometimes symbols become more important than that which they symbolize. But if a symbol is a reminder, a prompt for contemplation, gratitude, or forgiveness, then it is valuable.

My white handkerchief is a reminder of the deep spiritual understanding that humans can achieve when an open heart and mind are set toward enlightenment and the doing of good. If I were going to be buried (I’m not; I will be cremated) I would want that handkerchief buried with me. As it is, I will give it to a most loved person before I die, someone who, I hope, will seek the Light that it symbolizes for me.

The Qualities of Silence

Recently, at Woodbrooke, I had a startling revelation. Quaker silent worship is anything but silent.

I don’t mean only the shuffling feet, rustling papers, coughs and sneezes, or the occasional snoring. I mean that the room is not deeply peaceful or intensely quiet. Rather the space is filled with emotions: uncertainty, expectation, impatience, fatigue, distraction. The concept of waiting or expectancy means that at no time in Meeting for Worship is everyone completely silent within.

This realization struck me during the Woodbrooke course, “Quakers and Modern Spirituality.” During the course, we had periods of Quaker worship and of meditation. It was during a very deep group meditation that I suddenly recognized how full, enclosing and uplifting that silence of meditation is when compared to that of Quaker worship. Meditation is at the same time both the essence of self-awareness and the practice of connecting Self with the Divine Energy.

Quaker worship is assertive, grasping, reaching out. Meditative silence is accepting, open, inviting in.

India: Pictures from Shiva Country

Parmarth Niketan, the ashram where we stayed in March, is in northwest India, where Shiva is the revered local divinity. As Krishna is in Vrindivan, so Shiva is through this region. Here are some pictures of shrines to and images of Shiva.

This is the beautiful face of the Shiva statue that sits on the platform over the Ganges.  It is on this platform that major worship  and celebration events are held.

This is the beautiful face of the Shiva statue that sits on the platform over the Ganges. It is on this platform that major worship and celebration events are held.

Longer view of Shiva on a sunny morning. Sorry for the power lines; I took it from the window in our room.

Longer view of Shiva on a sunny morning. Sorry for the power lines; I took it from the window in our room.

Taken on an overcast afternoon, but it shows the lion and other symbols that usually accompany Shiva.

Taken on an overcast afternoon, but it shows the lion and other symbols that usually accompany Shiva.

Exterior of a small village shirne to Shiva and Shakti.

Exterior of a small village shirne to Shiva and Shakti.

Shiva (left) and, smaller, Shakti inside the shrine. Notice that Shiva is decked in flowers, and Shakti is dressed in silks. She reminded me of the Infant of Prague, who is often  dressed by devoted women in Italian Catholic churches.

Shiva (left) and, smaller, Shakti inside the shrine. Notice that Shiva is decked in flowers, and Shakti is dressed in silks. She reminded me of the Infant of Prague, who is often dressed by devoted women in Italian Catholic churches.

Incredibly, intricated carved Shiva shrine. Very Detailed, very colourful!

Incredibly, intricated carved Shiva shrine. Very Detailed, very colourful!

Close-up of one of the friezes on the shrine. There are hundreds.

Close-up of one of the friezes on the shrine. There are hundreds.

Dancing Shiva, in the garden of Parmarth Niketan

Dancing Shiva, in the garden of Parmarth Niketan

What Technology Can Be Used To Create Spiritual Experience?

This questions was asked on a discussion forum. The following was my answer:

No technology is needed. Nor are drugs, medical equipment or any other means outside your own mind and body, heart and soul. The possibility of spiritual experiences is often overlooked because we are not paying attention. And spiritual moments, in my experience, are more often small and meaningful than big and eventful. For me, spiritual experiences come every day. Meditation leads to spiritual experience; I meditate twice a day. Some people find prayer spiritually uplifting. The object is to connect with the Source (God, Goddess, Nature, the Absolute, the Spirit–whatever your terminology is), to feel the connection and carry that feeling into whatever you do in daily life. Connection is between you and the Source. Nothing else is needed to connect, just your desire and consciousness. When you experience the connection– a sense of joy, of elation, of contentment or comfort–you can carry that with you as you deal with people, work, situations, etc. all the time. You can have a “spiritual experience” all the time.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: An Appreciation

This was posted two years ago, shortly after Maharishi died. My husband wrote it for our web site and I suggested we post it in other places. But I took it down after only a few days because of the bitterness and hostility of some comments. One person repeatedly posted violent comments which were not only inappropriate, but also completely off subject. I just got tired of dealing with the guy.

But Maharishi brought a tremendous gift to the western world,  and it must be recognized.

Further, the practice that he called transcendental meditation is centuries old, passed by oral tradition from individual teacher to individual student. Vedic mediation enhances the lives and deepens the spiritual experience of people who practice it.  In the Vedas, vast and ancient knowledge is coupled with depth of spiritual intention and great wisdom. Whatever a person’s religious tradition or beliefs, the Vedas offer discovery and reflection as well as comfort and joy.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was born Mahesh Prasad Varma on 12 January 1917 and died on 5 February 2008, aged 91 years. He brought an important meditation training system to the West from India. The system, which Maharishi named Transcendental Meditation for the West, is based on traditional Tantric mantras, sacred words.

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, on hearing of Maharishi’s death said, “I feel so blessed I met the Maharishi. He gave me a mantra that no one can take away, and I still use it.”

George Harrison, probably the most spiritually devoted of the Beatles, practised meditation until his death in 2001. He commented, “The Maharishi was fantastic and I admire him for being able, in spite of the ridicule, to keep on going.”

You may have wondered why the Beatles’ song, “Across the Universe” refers to Guru Dev. The young Mahesh (the future Maharishi) studied Sanskrit under Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a Hindu leader known as Guru Dev (divine teacher). Following Guru Dev’s death in 1953, Mahesh retreated into the Himalayas for meditation and reflection.

He re-emerged in 1955 and started his mission to popularise his master’s form of Advaita Vedantist meditation. He gave it the descriptive English name, Transcendental Meditation (TM), to bring it, first, to the United States, and soon afterward to Europe. His students began to call him Maharishi, which means “great soul.”

Maharishi was able to speak to the West through the common language of science. He grounded his approach in scientific terminology and commissioned research into the physiological effects of the technique early on. He had graduated in 1942 with a degree in physics from the University of Allahabad and had taught physics for some years before beginning his spiritual work.

In 1959 he founded the International Meditation Society in the United States. He established his headquarters in Switzerland and moved to Amsterdam in 1990. At its highest, the movement had over 2 million member- followers worldwide and an unknown number of practitioners who did not affiliate themselves with a particular TM center.

In the 1960s the Maharishi achieved worldwide recognition by association with the Beatles (the massively successful pop group from Liverpool).  Some others who learned TM included 1950s torch singer Peggy Lee, the Moody Blues, and Mike Love of the Beach Boys. The Maharishi offered an alternative spiritual path to the restless seekers of the era.

In February 1967, George Harrison’s wife Pattie (who famously inspired both Harrison and Eric Clapton in their music making) was intrigued by a lecture on TM at the Caxton Hall in London. She told Harrison, who already felt a link to Indian culture. He had played the sitar on Rubber Soul (1965), and gone to India in September 1966 to study the sitar with its master, Ravi Shankar.

Two months after the release of Sergeant Pepper (1967) the Beatles heard the Maharishi speak at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane. He told the Beatles in a private audience, “The kingdom of heaven is like electricity. You don’t see it. It is within you.”  He invited the Beatles to a TM course at Bangor, which they attended. They took their studies seriously, and the following year they were invited to spend three months with the Maharishi at Rishikesh, about 150 miles from Delhi. Daily meditation helped the group.  John Lennon came off drugs completely at this stage in his life.

But, one by one, the Beatles drifted back to Britain. There were tensions. However, both Harrison and Starr appeared for a concert in 1992 to support the Natural Law Party, which had been formed to promote the Maharishi’s teachings in the world of politics.

Skelmersdale, a small town in Lancashire, England, has felt the Maharishi’s influence particularly strongly. They have a golden-domed community centre for large-scale group meditations. They also have a school with 100 pupils, where the children are noticeably calmer than at a typical 21st century school in England.  They have the state-required lessons but also take part in meditation sessions twice daily.  They are balanced, not controlled, according to the Head.

In the USA, TM has been taught in some high schools, where the test scores of students who practice it regularly are significantly higher than those of students who do not, and discipline problems in the classrooms are much reduced. It has also been taught in prisons in California, and reduced the recidivism rate. Maharishi International University, in Fairfield, Iowa, has built a strong reputation, especially in the sciences.

In 2005, angered by the Iraq War, the Maharishi called Britain a “scorpion nation” and banned the teaching of TM in the country. The ban was lifted in August 2007, about the same time that Tony Blair left office.

In TM, the body relaxes but the heart and brain experience heightened stimulation. Clarity and creativity are enhanced. Numerous carefully trained teachers are in place to carry on the development of the practice, despite the loss of the Maharishi. Some of the original and creative thinkers he has influenced include Deepak Chopra and David Lynch.

Maharishi’s ashes were scattered on the Ganges River, 13 February 2008.

©2008, Ian Freer. All rights reserved.

For information on Vedic Meditation in the ancient tradition, go to or to

For information on Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, go to

The Maharishi, The Biography of the Man who gave Transcendental Meditation to the West, by Paul Mason is an accurate, if uninspired, biography of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.