Excerpted from STRENGTH IN STILLNESS Copyright © 2018 by David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Used with permission of Simon & Schuster, New York.
I have been fortunate to learn Focused Attention and Open Monitoring from some of the best instructors, so I know firsthand that there is value to both practices. But the one that I have practiced regularly for nearly fifty years—the one that I find the easiest to do and that delivers the most immediate and long-term benefits to mind and body—is the third type: Automatic Self-Transcending.
Transcendental Meditation is in this category. Let’s return to the ocean analogy: there are active, often turbulent waves on the surface, but there is calm at its depth. In the same way, we hypothesize that while the mind is active on the surface, deep within is a level that is calm yet alert; silent yet wide awake. The ancient meditation texts refer to it as the “source of thought” or “pure consciousness”—a field of limitless creativity, intelligence, and energy within. Scientists give it a more clinical description: a state of “restful alertness.” It is there. Deep within. Right now and at all times. Believe it or not. The problem is, we have lost access to it.
The purpose of TM is to open the door to this unbounded field. There is no concentration or control of the mind; nothing guided; no suggestion or passive observation. Instead, TM simply allows the active-thinking mind to settle down to its own state of inner stillness at the deepest level of awareness, one that actually transcends, or goes beyond, all thoughts and feelings. It is your own quiet inner self, before you start thinking and creating and planning and making lists and deciding and worrying and celebrating. It’s always been there, within you. It just gets lost or overshadowed easily by the constant noise and distractions of the day.
In the context of the ocean analogy, we don’t try to control those turbulent waves on the surface, and we don’t watch them dispassionately, either. We simply access the calm at the ocean’s depth.
It’s like a sprinter who decelerates from a fast run, to a slow jog, to a leisurely walk, to standing still, to sitting down. Same guy, just different degrees of activity. Easy.
EEG readouts and brain imaging reveal that Transcendental Meditation strengthens the neural connections between the different areas of the brain, including within the prefrontal cortex, to promote better learning and decision making. It calms the amygdala, the sensitive stress alarm center in your brain, which is important because a hyperaroused amygdala makes you overreact to both small glitches and big challenges in your day. Or it can immobilize you, making you shy away from new but doable challenges.
During TM practice, your brain wave signature shifts to alpha-1 (8 to 10 Hz), which is seen mostly in the front of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. Alpha-1 indicates that the mind is deeply rested, reflective, and wide awake. TM activates the default mode network, a large-scale network in the brain that is tied to improved creativity and decision making. It also acts on the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s reward center, which is associated with happiness and even euphoria. At the same time, there is increased blood flow to the brain, which means your brain is getting more nourishment. Finally, and uniquely, the body gains a profound state of rest and relaxation that goes along with heightened mental alertness. This means that TM provides more than just rest. It produces deep rest and inner alertness, together—or, as I said, a unique state of restful alertness.