Transcendental Meditation, with Dr. Tony Nader (S3, Ep4)

Dr. Tony Nader, an academic, author, and the leader of the Transcendental Meditation movement, knows how you can find inner peace. TM is like a deep dive to the stillness at the bottom of the ocean, leaving the turbulent waves far above. Learn how the body and mind are inextricably bound, and how meditation can improve mental and physical health. Plus… what the Beatles taught us about meditation.

Phil StiegHello, and welcome to Dr. Tony Nader, head of the Transcendental Meditation Organization, globally and successor to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. How can we explain the brain body interaction? What can we do to enter our inner state of consciousness and achieve the state of deep rest and stress release? Transcendental meditation, or TM, is the answer. And beyond the individual, there is a collective consciousness. Let’s learn from Dr. Nader how we might find inner peace and more importantly, a reduction in societal stress. Tony, thank you so much for being with us today.

Tony Nader: Thank you for inviting me. It’s a joy. You have a wonderful program, and it’s a great pleasure to be with you.

Phil Stieg: In reading through your new book, “One Unbounded Ocean of Consciousness,” I was struck by your background.  When you were 17, civil war broke out in Lebanon.  So how does a 17-year-old kid living in the midst of a civil war even find out about the Maharishi? Was it happenstance, or were you searching it out.

Tony Nader: I was searching for techniques for ways to develop the full potential. So I thought yoga, of meditation, of exercise. And I happened to hear somebody saying, that is such a simple, easy technique that comes from many thousands of years ago, and you can learn it in three, four days. It only takes a couple of hours. It helps you in your studies, in your concentration. So I thought, Why? How to do it? And there was near the American University of Beirut a center, it happened to be on what they call Bliss Street. So the address was on Bliss Street, and it was under the light tower because there was a light tower for ships… the name sounded great, Light Tower and Bliss Street. So let’s try it.

Phil Stieg: This could have been by chance. That had to be by design! (laugh)

Tony Nader: Well, yeah, it depends how we look at it. But it was interesting. Yes, of course.

Phil Stieg: Is that how you eventually met the Maharishi, or was that later on in life?

Tony Nader: Well, I met first listening to him talk on a video conference that he was doing, and then learned from the local teacher and got interested in it. It helped me a lot in my studies and to face the war situation and the conflicts in the nation –  which was really terrible, kind of really severe war conditions. It helped me to stay focused and stable and be able to study and face the dangers and able to help others. And so I wanted to know more. And then I traveled before my internship to Switzerland where he had a conference on health. And a friend who knew me introduced me to him. And the story started there.

I still went back and finished my internship, then did psychiatry. I was accepted at MIT, did my PhD. I was at Harvard, the clinical and research fellow in neurology. And then he called me to India, where he was. I thought it was for a sabbatical. And it became a lifetime story.

Phil Stieg: And here you are now, leader of the organization globally. Fantastic. Tony, can you tell us how you prepare for transcendental meditation?

Tony Nader: It’s a very simple procedure. You first learn about it so you know it’s benefits. And that you can learn through the internet or a lecture that takes an hour.  And then you meet with a teacher. They give you a preparatory lecture and that then takes you to the instruction day. Instruction day is very personal. It’s personal. There’s a teacher who gives you your technique, that you start practicing right away on your own, you will need three more days of checking that you come 1 hour a day, usually in a sequence and then you’re on your own –  completely do it yourself technique.  

Phil Stieg: Is there a quick or an easy way? Or is it one of these things where you start very basically and then over time, you will grow into it?

Tony Nader: It’s a very simple technique. Even children practice it from the age of five or six. Is simply to sit in the chair, close the eyes, take a few seconds, and then you are taught a mental technique that allows the mind to follow its own desire or nature to search for more. The basic principle is the nature of the mind is always searching for more. We want more happiness, more joy, more charm. We want less obstacles, less stress, less disease. But we always search for more in the outside direction through our senses. This technique, based on the very ancient knowledge takes the inward direction.  All we say is just let the mind settle and go deeper within itself. We use a mantra, a sound which has no meaning, and we learn how to use it.

And then the mind keep diving deep. So why does it dive inside? … We are always projecting outside for pleasures and things.  But actually within ourselves is the most profound peace and quiet, settled restful state that the mind naturally starts seeking when we give it that direction. So within three, four days of one learns the technique and then one does it by themselves. And that’s why people enjoy it, because they say, okay, I’ve had a long day, a hard day, and now I don’t want to have to do something more. I want something not to do. Actually, transcendental meditation is not doing rather than doing do less and accomplish more.

Phil Stieg: So why TM and not mindfulness?

Tony Nader: It’s a different approach. Mindfulness is wonderful in different ways. It creates the sense of having the mind available for different aspects, but it’s still guiding the mind towards attention on one thing or the other, for example, breathing or another aspect of thought  Even though it’s kind of an open monitoring, which means you’re sitting there, you’re not trying to manipulate, you let it happen, but you guide your attention here and there. In this case, there is no really guidance. We call the term transcendence. .That’s why the name is transcendental. Transcendental means actually to go beyond, to go beyond breathing, beyond thinking, beyond even emotion, beyond worries, and just keep coming back to the self. In a sense. The technique just lets you go there because the mind seeks it naturally. So that is the difference.

Phil Stieg: So is the goal then of TM that state of transcendence and also the sense of inner awareness?

Tony Nader: Exactly. If we say the mind is like an ocean which is active on its surface and more and more quiet in its depth, so you have the wave on the surface and you go deeper and deeper. To have an awareness without activity is something we usually don’t experience. We imagine it. But even philosophers and thinkers throughout time, they said, every time I look inside, I find myself being aware of something. I’m never aware of nothing. 

And what happens in transcendence is actually that ability to have awareness of nothingness. Mentally, the person experiences rest, the electroencephalography, shows it’s a new kind of waves. It’s not the sleep waves or the dream waves, but a special wave level, which is different.  And so you have this combination of alertness with quietness. So wakeful alertness, we call it. 

Phil Stieg: How much of that state,  And my self-consciousness is affected by who I am on a daily basis. So I’m a physician. Somebody else is a Navy Seal. Somebody else is a high stakes hedge fund person, high strung. Where do they end up when they just start going into their mind? Is it more of that or is there a different state?

Tony Nader: Actually, this is a fabulous question which really gets to the heart of the thinking and the heart of the book, “One Unbounded Ocean of Consciousness” also.  It’s because no matter what one is, where one is coming from, as long as one has a human physiology, transcendence leads to the same place. It means whether one is an astrophysicist or a driver or a painter or a philosopher or a surgeon. And one looks inside and dives deep and dives deep. One finds that same stillness and silence where one is awake. That’s why it’s transcendence. We actually transcend the specifics and go to the place where everything merges. And so this is truly know thyself.  Ultimate wisdom of knowing thyself is not just knowing one’s qualities and shortcomings in order to be able to function in life. The true meaning of know thyself is to know that you are that unbounded ocean of being of consciousness. That’s why the book has that title.

Phil Stieg: But you make it sound very positive. Say, you know, are there any people that do TM and they end up in a dark spot?

Tony Nader: We haven’t seen that. We haven’t seen that. If they do it, they sometimes encounter stress and we tell them how to deal with stress. But if they continue to do it, they continue to open up their true internal value, their true self of everything. And that is this pure consciousness, what we call pure consciousness.

Phil Stieg: So then consciousness by nature is good, not bad.

Tony Nader: Well yeah, in this case consciousness is the ultimate essence of everything. we are identifying or redefining reality and the origin of reality. And we’re saying it’s that consciousness, it’s from myself that everything comes — which is also yourself. So there is no sense of small ego here. We transcend the small ego to the big ego.

(Interstitial theme music)

Narrator:  If you’re like most people in the western world, you first heard about Transcendental Meditation by way of the Beatles. In the late 1960s, having spent the previous few years conquering the music charts and transforming popular culture, the most famous band in the world found themselves physically and spiritually exhausted.

As Paul McCartney explained, “I think generally there was a feeling of: ‘Yeah, well, it’s great to be famous, it’s great to be rich – but what it’s all for?’” 

To find the answer, they went to India and to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation. The group had been introduced to the Maharishi the year before, at lectures in London and a conference in Wales. That led to their February 1968 visit to the Maharishi’s ashram in Rishikesh, India. 

Photographer Paul Saltzman later wrote, “The weeks the Beatles spent at the ashram were a uniquely calm and creative oasis for them: meditation, vegetarian food and the gentle beauty of the foothills of the Himalayas.”

The musicians tapped into a rich vein of creativity there. McCartney, John Lennon, and George Harrison wrote nearly 30 songs during their time at the ashram. Most ended up on the White Album and Abbey Road.  But more than just music emerged from the trip. The implied endorsement of the Beatles introduced the spirituality of the East to the West.

Author Deepak Chopra credits Harrison especially with spreading TM and other Eastern spiritual practices to the United States, like a “consciousness-raising Johnny Appleseed”. 

“Spiritual biographer” Gary Tillery has written that the influence of Indian gurus such as the Maharishi was common by the late 1960s. But, he says, it was the Beatles’ association with Eastern philosophies that impacts our lives 50 years later – contributing to the widespread availability today of everything from mindfulness training to meditation centers and yoga classes. 

(Interstitial theme music fade out)

Phil Stieg: Where does badness come from?  And when I’m referring to badness, I’m referring to evil behavior versus the goodness that you suggested is what consciousness is, right?

Tony Nader: You know badness can be due to ignorance. A person is trying to be good, but they don’t know and they make mistakes. So ignorance leads to decisions that are not right, they might have the right intentions, but they don’t know, and therefore their awareness is narrow. Maybe they are stressed and that’s another aspect. So when they are stressed, they don’t see a big way. They are seeing things through a filter, a filter of their prejudice, a filter of their fear, a filter of their anxieties. And so even though they have the best intentions, they can make terrible mistakes. So that’s one kind. Now there is the kind where you can have intentional evil. So does this exist? Yeah, of course we know there are psychopaths that have no emotions, no feelings, no empathy, no compassion, maybe even, and therefore they just think of their own little self. 

So evil can come from all of these aspects. And this is because we have freedom of choice. So even though we come from that unified consciousness, the paradigm that I present is a paradigm in which there is freedom of choice. And then even the psychopath is protecting their own personal benefits. So they have that positive side, but they don’t see their own self is also part of a society, part of a holistic value, and that actually over a long period of time, it is better to be what we call good rather than bad or evil.

Phil Stieg: So again, go full circle. Based on my earlier question, does an individual that’s evil or bad, eventually, when they’re finding their consciousness, do they get to that level where their consciousness is fulfilled by who they are rather than what their consciousness is, so that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that the evil person says, yeah, I’m doing the right thing.

Tony Nader: Who we are has two values aspects. There is this small ego, the individual self, which is the autobiographical self, which is the self that we identify with; name, nationality, profession, et cetera.  And there is the “Ultimate Self”, which is what we call the unified self, which is the collective self ultimately. But the ultimate self is different than the individual ego and the social ego, which is the outcome of the individual egos of all the individuals in society. So take a criminal for example. 

We’ve done research on criminals and prisoners. One case was very striking of a real criminal who has done big crimes and who learned Transcendental Meditation. And after a few days, he by himself came out saying, I never would have imagined that inside me there could be such silence or such peace and such quiet. I always imagined myself as a killer –  a bad person. And I was always acting and thinking based on who I knew I was. And so I was acting according to what I thought was my nature. 

And that’s what we see, actually that if they continue the process, they will transcend that self and experience the true ultimate self. And they would just then modify their reality. They can even modify their connections. They can re-prune their brain system, they can open up plasticity in the brain, that more coherence happens in the brain.

 Phil Stieg: Do you need a coach to do that? How does one do that without any coaching?

Tony Nader: It’s by direct experience. This is the beauty of it. Coaching,  But ultimately this person, for example, I just mentioned, simply discovered that their mind can be more settled, that’s all.  There can be more silence within.

Phil Stieg: But he wanted that right?  He wanted to get away from that crime ridden mind that he had. There must have to be an inner desire to find peace, correct?

Tony Nader: An inner desire to be real, to be exploring oneself. But in the Transcendental Meditation program, we don’t guide them to have a specific experience. Actually, we keep telling those who practice “no expectation and no anticipation of any results.”  That’s part of the technique, so that they are natural. So this person, for example, never knew what to expect. It’s not like we said, “you’re going to now find yourself”, mainly it’s you’re going to reduce your stress, you will feel better, you will become more balanced. But the experience itself is very personal. So it’s not like he can sit and think about being a better person and find the better person, because then he would be floating on the surface of the ocean and will be just tossed around by the waves. He always been like that. 

Phil Stieg: We all know that there are benefits, physiologic benefits related to TM. And can you go through those for our listeners?

Tony Nader: Actually, the benefits come from the nature of the body, that when it is given a chance, it can heal itself. And the nature of the mind and the body being so intimately connected that when the mind settles down, the body settles down.  And the nervous system and the physiology start working in a more balanced way. 

So there is reduction in oxygen consumption, reduction in Cortisol levels, stress hormones are reduced. And then gradually all the other factors start coming in blood pressure is reduced. This has been published. Even the American Heart Association has prescribed TM as technique. 

It’s a very powerful technique for PTSD, . It’s used in the Veterans Administration. It improves the ability to get over smoking and drugs and rehabilitation. It helps in insulin resistance in asthma patients. And there have been studies on infectious disease and immune system. And that carries on to also behavior, mental potential, grades of school…

Phil Stieg: That’s what I was most interested in is to find out that it can facilitate creativity, academic performance, and concept learning, which is,  as we age, those are good things to retain. I have a bias, I think the brain is where we sense everything, so we better keep it functioning as long as possible. 

I wanted to change tracks a little bit. And you talk about that TM can help enhance leadership. That’s important for a lot of people. How does that do it?

Tony Nader: Leadership is the ability to see more variables in a situation and guide towards the best choice that is possible for the individual and the group. And what we’re saying is that the broader the awareness, the greater the consciousness, the more ability to see and manage and experience variables for individual choices and for the choices of society. So a true leader is somebody who can see differences, accept them, see variables, and look  forward to future decisions that are long term benefits for society and for the people they are leading.     

We have done actually studies on collective consciousness influenced by large groups of people coming together to practice this technique and studied the changes in society in terms of conflict, accidents of the road, crime, et cetera. There is something very profound that happens in consciousness, and there is collective consciousness which can influence the behavior of the group that can be modified by large groups practicing this technique of transcending and enlivening that field of consciousness, not individually only, but collectively.

Phil Stieg: Yeah. The problem that I have with it is when it’s negative, you know? What did Hitler do? Or Jim Jones down in Guyana, where people just get compelled to do something stupid or evil. What  drives consciousness? What makes it good? What makes it evil?

Tony Nader: The consciousness is not good and not evil. It’s just consciousness. And manifestation of consciousness allows for freedom and then all possibilities can emerge. And as we grow in consciousness, as individuals and society, we have a responsibility and we have a choice. We can make the wrong choices. We can have large stress as individuals. And then the collective consciousness doesn’t mean it’s good, it doesn’t mean it represents the original field of consciousness. It represents maybe a wrong dynamic of that consciousness, a mixed up, stressed, tense consciousness. And so the collective consciousness can be very negative and then can lead to destruction. And at the end of the day, it destroys itself.

Phil Stieg: So I guess what I’m hearing is it’s wrong for me to put the good or evil construct around consciousness. Consciousness just is. 

Tony Nader: Exactly.

Phil Stieg: And then when it comes down to the human element and whatever our neurotransmitters and nerve cells do with it is how it gets impacted into being good or evil and how you develop a social consciousness.

Tony Nader: Exactly.

Phil Stieg: I’m educable! What a deal!

Tony Nader: You’re wonderful. You’re educating many people.

Phil Stieg: And if the public could only see your face and as I’ve been watching it during this time, it clearly provides an inner sense of peace which is emitted from your facial expressions during the full time that I’ve been talking with you.

Tony Nader: Well, I’m very flattered.

Phil Stieg: Well, this has been a real pleasure.  Dr. Nader:, thank you so much for spending this time with us. I think the transcendental meditation is an important component in life. It’s something that everybody should do. There are physiological benefits, but I think also psychological and quote, consciousness benefits. Thank you so much for being with us.

Tony Nader: Thank you. It’s been my pleasure.