Here is a transcript of the first few minutes of the Radio 702 talk with Jenny Crws Williams yesterday:
Jenny: … it was the title of the book that interested me and the fact that it was to do with healing and transformation with Transcendental Meditation. And it made various claims that it is effective in reducing mild hypertension, and more effective than progressive muscle relaxation, or a usual-care program. It’s great with blood pressure, but what really interested me was that if you are suffering from—and many South Africans do—post-traumatic stress … whether you served at the border or whether you served with Mkhonto-weSizwe —where, it doesn’t matter. You still have post-traumatic stress. And apparently Transcendental Meditation can be of significant help in dealing with issues such as that. And it’s also great for chronic heart failure, and it improves the functional capacity and quality of life.
So rather than me going through all the benefits of Transcendental Meditation, and simply picking out bits and pieces, let’s speak to the man who actually wrote this book. And it’s not available in South Africa yet, it’s coming in February 2012, but of course you can order it online, so you don’t have to wait three or four months. So order it online where it is freely available.
So we’re talking to the author and we’re talking about transcendence, healing and transformation through Transcendental Meditation. And joining us online is author Doctor Norman Rosenthal. And Doctor Rosenthal, when we were speaking I thought I could detect a slight South African accent?
Dr Norman Rosenthal: indeed you have. First let’s me say what a pleasure it is to be on your radio show. My sister and many cousins are devotees of yours. I’m delighted to be here and yes, I was born and raised in South Africa. I left at age 24, came to the United States and I’ve been here ever since. I did my MD in South Africa at Wits, but then I went on to to do my psychiatry training at Columbia University and New York City and I became a research and a practitioner and I’ve got up to all kinds of mischief in the interim. So here I am.
Jenny: well, yes, it was almost a fluke wasn’t it that got you are aware of the seasonal effective disorder
Doctor Rosenthal: well, as we all know the climate in South Africa is lovely most of the time, most places, and Johannesburg where I was raised has really a beautiful climate. But I got quite a shock when I came to New York City and its dark winter days. And I personally felt some of the changes come about with seasonal affective disorder which I don’t think is common in South Africa but you get it in Cape Town during those dark winter months.
Jenny: But it was just chance wasn’t it?
Doctor Rosenthal: chance favours the prepared mind. One of my patients had the problem in a much greater degree than I did. I was prepared to listen. There was something going on here. That was the first patient I saw the problem, and he got badly depressed in the winter. We gave him light in the morning and evening and he came right out of one of his depressions and I thought if it isn’t just this very isolated case it may be part of a much bigger picture. And in fact the picture became much much bigger than I imagined, because in these parts one in five people struggles with the lack of light in winter to some degree or another.
Jenny: … and by chance I had started reading one of your books so it made a great deal of sense to me. Now, when you were a student at Wits university, you actually toyed with, tried to do a little bit of Transcendental Meditation. But in fact in the end you changed countries and you were studying long hours at that stage in your life, but you’ve picked it up in recent years haven’t you?
Doctor Rosenthal: that is exactly correct, yes I remember going to a little house near the zoo lake (Ed: this was the TM centre in Kilkenny Road) with a friend, and getting my mantra and all the necessary things to learn TM, but one of the issues was when you’re young, I was young, I didn’t really take it seriously. I thought this was a cool thing to do, but I didn’t really understand the power of the technique. Now with much more experience under my belt, and having seen many more things, when I see something that is, really, that has the power to transform, I’ve got a really delve into this, I can’t just be a dilettante, like I was in my youth.
Jenny: so you started again with your TM and you find to this day, you do your 20 minutes, and that is what is suggested you do in any event, and that it gives you: in fact you use a word that is quite difficult to achieve, you say you are happier, and lots of people that do TM say they are happier. That in itself is a remarkable statement.
Doctor Rosenthal: one thing they say people should do to realise how happy they are is to take what they call a gratitude checklist, to check all what is it in my life that I’m happy about, that I feel good about. So I do that quite often actually and sometimes at night I’m lying down just before I go to sleep and I ask myself what am I really grateful for. And the meditation is definitely right there in the list because it really changed the way my brain works. It’s improved my quality of life, my productivity, and there are not a lot of things that you can say that do that for a person.
Jenny: can we talk about what Transcendental Meditation is in the first place? Because when I see the words transcendental meditation I think of the Beatles and I think of the Maharishi. I can just remember them referring to the Maharishi and there was this guy with his long white beard and the Beatles then went into their long flirtation, and I think it was a very serious flirtation with transcendental meditation. Whether the surviving members are still doing it or not is another matter, altogether. But clarify what Transcendental Meditation actually is?
Doctor Rosenthal: great. Well it’s important to understand that there are lots of different kinds of meditations. Like there are lots of different kinds of dance, or therapy, or martial arts—meditation comes in different brands. And this particular brand uses a mantra which is a word-sound which you are given by your teacher when you learn it. And you learn how to think that mantra in a certain special way. I mean a lot of focus has been put on what is the mantra. Is this a magic word, is this a sacred word? Well, I keep my mantra private like you’re supposed to do. But I don’t see this in mystical ways. I see the technique as being largely how to use the mantra and this is where your coach or your teacher will really help you. And it’s not very difficult to do. In fact it’s quite simple to do, but like anything else it is in fact a technique, it’s a knack, it’s something you cultivate, acquire and practice and just get better at. But here’s the interesting thing, sit down anywhere you want, a chair, a couch, whatever—close your eyes, think your mantra as you’ve been taught, and the big deal for me, the big deal about this technique, is that it’s easy and joyful. I never feel “oh my God I’ve got to go and do my meditation”, and that’s not a universal with me because I feel that way about a lot of things. But, with meditation, it’s just a pleasure, it’s easy, there’s an effortlessness about it. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is the potency of it. I recommend it often to my patients. In one week my wife noticed the difference. She noticed I don’t get angry as quickly. I don’t get revved up … listen to the whole 39 minute interview here.
Listen to a previous 702 interview with Errol Ballantyne here.