Over the years, I’ve tried many types of meditation; Zen, Zazen, Breath-work, Yoga Nidra, Guided, Visualization, Mandala and, before James Brown’s 4-day workshop, I opted to meditate daily by chanting a Sanskrit mantra. Loudly. And only in the comfort of my own home. A creative person with millions of ideas, I’d long since given up the idea that I’d be able to meditate in focused quietude, that I could practice anywhere, at anytime. But when I began James’ 4-day workshop, I had no choice but to follow the prescribed regime. And, since meditating regularly has been scientifically proven to help us look and feel younger, more rested, healthier, calmer, clear-headed, compassionate, even-keeled, and a whole host of other good things that I definitely welcome, I didn’t mind giving it a shot.
James, who came to teach Vedic Meditation after a long stint in the ad world, understands most of us need a practice that fits into our often busy daily routine. He teaches workshops on weekdays and weekends and focuses on coaching his students not only on the benefits of the practice, but also on how to utilize the technique to complement what we do otherwise - be it when we need rest in the middle of a busy airport commute, or serenity after finding out our next meeting’s been pushed back again. After all, Vedic Meditation, a practice that’s been around for nearly 5,000 years, has always been for Householders - that is, regular folk, like us.
The technique is simple. And while the one rule (well, technically there are no rules so let’s call it a suggestion) of the practice is that you keep your personal James-given mantra sacred (because what works for one may not work for some), the rest is refreshingly lax. James says my sacred mantra is intended to resonate with my consciousness and that it has no meaning. But, because I’m initially skeptical of most things, and often curious to my detriment, I google it when I get home. Surprisingly, I come across a definition that DOES fit with what I’d been hoping to achieve. Not that I recommend going against the age-old tradition as it’s taught, I just thought it was interesting to note.
But I digress…so as we repeat our sacred mantra silently, we simply focus on it. We don’t have to try or force or judge or even sit in a certain position. All we have to do is allow the mind to settle and notice what comes up. If we find ‘distraction’, for instance, we call it an ‘attraction’ instead - you see? No judgements! And the beauty is that as I begin to meditate this way, the attitude of not making painstaking effort starts to trickle into my daily life - if I make a ‘mistake’, I simply notice that I did something I don’t want to repeat, and call it a lesson instead…you get the picture.
A lovely thing about James’ meditation course is the sense of community. Beyond the people I meet in the nightly workshop, who turn out to be a lovely and supportive bunch, I go to one of James’ monthly Dharma talk at The Centre SF. The room is full of students past, current, and probably future. Everyone is open and excited to share about their spiritual journey in a way that helps the others. A young woman who’s practiced Vedic Meditation as taught by James for 3 years encourages someone else about to begin her practice, and tells her how it changed her life. She sounds not self-indulgent but sincere.
On the last night, James shows us his favorite Ted Talk with neuroscientist Jill Bolte-Taylor and we discuss the science of neuro-plasticity and the latest evidence in support of meditation. His enthusiasm for the technique is that of an excited puppy, and though I’m exhausted that day, my mind unfocused, his attitude is infectious and I’m able to sit for 20 minutes anyway. I barely remember my mantra that night, but I really feel better for having done the practice. The day after the workshop, as I’m sitting in a friend’s car in traffic, I close my eyes behind my sunglasses and recite my mantra. No seems to notice and I emerge 20 minutes later from what feels like deep sleep refreshed, renewed and excited for the Vedic path ahead.
To learn more about James Brown and Vedic Path Meditation, including an upcoming FREE info session, please visit his website.
Photo: Radu Emanuel
Post written for SFYogaMag.com