A Brief History of a Meditator

Nice to laugh along with Gotham Chopra (Deepak Chopra’s son) about meditation.

A series of new studies have recently come out touting the benefits of teaching kids to meditate.

Well stop right there: allow me to say with utmost humility – here stands the expert.

My sister Mallika and I learned to meditate when we were about four and seven years old respectively (she’s older). This was early on in my father’s discovery phase of the transcendental meditation movement. Contrary to popular belief, he was not always the go-to-Guru that many now see him as. He was in fact a chain smoking, hard drinking, cantankerous by-the-book old school physician who ironically had little faith in the older school ways of alternative medicine and stress relieving techniques like meditation. Alas, on somewhat of a lark he discovered a TM Center in Cambridge Mass not far from where we lived and he worked and figured he may as well give the hippie delight a try.

And so began our regular attendance to group meditations and lectures down at the TM Center on Mass. Ave where while our parents meditated endlessly, Mallika and I (and numerous other kids of recently recruited meditators – my dad has always had an instinct for starting movements himself) were forced to entertain ourselves in spartanly furnished rooms that smelled of broccoli and tofu.

Soon enough, we too were brought into the (meditation) circle. It started with my father offering us a dollar for every minute we were able to stay completely silent. Mallika of course was a natural at it and she quickly amassed a great fortune. I, on the other hand, struggled greatly with such discipline, though I did eventually discover numerous loopholes – as in while I couldn’t say anything, I was not barred from making noise with other parts of my body, nor did it mean I couldn’t watch TV while “meditating.”

This forced my father to up the ante which he needed to anyway (Mallika was already into triple figures by this time). So came a more traditional sitting technique for meditation. Staying still, ideally in lotus position – yeah right, with eyes closed repeating a “secret sound” or “word of wisdom.” My rambunctiousness had settled down some by now (I think I was about 8) and meditation had its own appeal – my father told me that by meditating, I could eventually gain superpowers and end up like Superman or Batman. Hello!

Gradually it became clear that perhaps x-ray vision, spinning the world backwards on its access, and other such magnificent tricks may require lifetimes of focused meditation. And yet, there were in fact more attainable quests. In 1986 I was 11 years old, and I intensified my meditations all through the summer which seemed to be working as my team the Red Sox streaked through the regular season and then pulled off a miracle in the playoffs to reach the World Series. Then came Game 6 against the Mets. Bill Buckner, Mookie, (unsung goat Bob Stanley) etc etc. The benefits of Meditation became largely questionable and took a major hit as far as I was concerned. I was jaded.

Alas, I got back on the plan in subsequent years probably because by then heavy D was climbing the ranks of the TM Movement and had become somewhat of a star in cultural circles where all of a sudden things like Yoga were gaining momentum and trendy appeal. It was around that time that I was taught “advanced meditation techniques” during an intense series of group instructions back in those broccoli and tofu smelling rooms at the Cambridge TM Center. I think I can confidently claim to be the only teenager at the time who went directly from JV Football practice with a bunch of testosterone fueled teammates to hanging with born again vedantists who boldly believed that if we could just get something like 7000 people meditating at the same time, we could create world peace.

I’m not kidding. Now 16 years old, I went to DC for a two-week meditation course where we meditated like 9 hours a day, and then when we weren’t eating broccoli and tofu, talked about it for like another 9 hours. I was the youngest by about 6 years old, I believe. One guy described his feeling after a week of the course as if he were having a neverending orgasm.

“Yeah totally,” I agreed, not really having any idea what he was talking about.

The course culminated with our learning the “flying sutra” which basically was a sound that triggered spontaneous hopping – branded levitation. You’know the whole “awakening the kundalini” etc. At the time, it seemed some sort of miracle and I was really proud of myself for achieving such a feat. Over time, it became questionable what the real benefit was in being able to hop around a foam covered room with dozens of others.

Yeah, I’d say that was the summit of my adolescent meditation experience. Maybe it was because around that time was when my father started to untangle himself from the TM apparatus he’d become rather enmeshed in. Maybe it was because the whole 7000 people meditating in Fairfield Iowa didn’t create world peace after all, maybe it was that week in Fairfield Iowa, maybe it was that real orgasms were better than metaphorical meditational ones. In college, playing John Madden Football with my buddies seemed like a better usage of time than meditating all by myself. I was officially off the wagon.

Then I graduated and started working as a war correspondent in places like Pakistan, the West Bank, Chechnya, and other highly stressful global hotspots. Hanging out in these places, talking to the people who lived there, reporting on crumbling economies and suicide bombings and ancient hatreds, I started to get depressed, lose weight, and having chronic headaches. I treated them the way my father once had – I drank in various bars with other journos and smoked elaborate hookah pipes that offered sweet, though fleeting, relief. The eventual downside soon out-did the upside.

By then of course, my dad had been on Oprah and was a big deal. He’d personally taught Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the dictator of Zaire how to meditate. Hey – I knew how to do that! I could even hop around foam covered rooms if there was one available in Gaza! I decided to give it a spin…

And alas, it worked! I cleaned up my life, even group meditated with Madonna!

I’ve been back on that wagon for about ten years now and I think I’m somewhat addicted to my meds (I stole that line from my late friend MJ – go ahead and unpack that one of all its ironies…). I try to meditate at least once a day, sometimes when I just wake up around 530 AM, sometimes in my office around 530 PM. I also consider my regular bike rides in the canyons near where I live their own meditation, as are my early AM walks with my little mutt Cleo.

As a born again meditator, I can now point to tangible benefits – since I re-started meditating, the Patriots have won 3 Superbowls, and the Sox 2 world series. Yeah!

I noticed in a bunch of ads recently for the upcoming movie Eat, Pray, Love that Julia Roberts is sitting in lotus (damn her!) meditating in some beautiful Indian monestary. I couldn’t help but laugh at just how trendy meditation has become. She looks like she’s really enjoying it though, must be the neverending orgasm thing.  And now I am faced with my own dilemma, whether to take a stab at teaching meditation to my 3 year old. Inflation requires that I may have to up the ante from that old dollar a minute model. Then again, if I don’t say so myself, it seems to have been a worthy investment.

To read the original funny story at Intent.com click HERE


  1. Holly says

    Gotham, I love your recollection of your early meditation history. You may not remember me, your Cambridge TM teacher, but I carry you and Mallika always very dear in my heart. Love, Holly M. M.

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