Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Let It Be

I was never one for bandwagons. Fads are usually at best expensive and at worst dangerous. The moment a crowd starts doing something en masse is the time I sit back and watch to see what effect that fad has on that crowd in the long run. We in the West seem especially susceptible to health fads, and maybe it's just a universal human impulse to fear mortality--we want to feel young, we want our bodies to work right for as long as possible--I basically have no problem with any of that. But I do have a big problem with how prescription drugs, for example, are marketed to a broad public which has no scientific training to consider the claims made for these products. There was a time not long ago when medical professionals were in the best position to weigh the pros and cons of various medicines and then prescribe them according to an individual patient's needs. But with the current aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies, even the docs today have trouble running interference between consumer and advertisement. There can even be disincentives for doctors to play the mediator role, given the bonuses and other prizes Big Pharma uses to co-opt them. This is not a good thing.

So let's hear it for meditiation. It's drug-free and costs nothing. Remember TM? The Maharishi? As fads go, it was huge. I had a friend in the 70s whose entire family, mother, father and all his siblings, tuned in. One brother got a staff position at Maharishi University in Iowa, which, by the way, is still going strong. He claimed to be levitating, last I heard. My friend and his brother have graduated from pure TM to careers in various alternative types of personal counseling. I may sound arch, but I believe this is all to the good. Bless them for trying to teach people how to use themselves to find inner peace rather than drugs. (I hasten to say that I give drugs their place. I've seen the terrible effects of chronic depression brought on by brain chemistry gone awry. I just think our convenience-oriented culture prompts us to ask for drugs before we explore more rewarding and less expensive and harmful alternatives. We are creatures of the market place, to our detriment.)

I decided to try meditation out of desperation. The concept was completely foreign to me--I am a very linear, cause-and-effect type and the idea of sitting quietly and zoning out was definitely on the mumbo-jumbo side. But I was into my thirties and my life just wouldn't gel. I felt hounded by a chorus of well-meaning people who kept saying "You should...." and I of course internalized all those "shoulds" and felt not good about myself. I "should," but for whatever reason, I couldn't. So I plunked down a precious $100, got my mantra, and sat down.

Listen closely to the words of the Beatles song, "Let It Be." The song is familiar to the point of cliché by now, but John and Paul were really trying to tell us something. In a nutshell, the idea of "let it be" is the core lesson of this type of meditation. Stop trying so hard, whatever you do and however you do it are OK and by extension you're OK. How corny that looks, how "70s," even as I write the words! But it was the lesson I needed. And it wasn't easy. If our brains aren't literally hard-wired to make us driven and "success"-oriented, we are so imbued with the principal of material success that it is extremely difficult to see things in any other way. It still took a while for the pieces of my life to fall into place, but I began to feel enormously better about things as they were. The best things usually happen to you when you stop waiting for them, looking for them. TM taught me to stop waiting, stop looking, and to just be, content with my life in the moment. It worked.

Once my life did take shape, I drifted away from the discipline--I didn't have the time, was too happy just living. That's OK, too, in fact, it was the goal of meditation in the first place. (There are some die-hards who say, "If you're too busy to meditate, you're too busy!" How un-let-it-be-ish of them....) Now it's a part of my life's toolcase, and I can draw on the lesson of letting go when I need it. Nobody's life is all roses and I have drawn on it occasionally over the years. In fact, now that I have the luxury of time, I actually do sit down for 20 minutes every morning and just let go.

It's the best hundred bucks I ever spent.


Jay Davidson said...

Hi there, Ralph.

I just wanted to let you know that I began reading your blog -- right here at the very beginning. Thanks for letting me know about it.


Ralph said...

Geeze, Jay! Thanks for the interest. Now I'll start reading yours!