Saturday, May 3, 2014

Light Watkins, Teacher of Vedic Meditation (Previously Unpublished Article)

 I did an extensive interview with my meditation teacher, Light Watkins, on the Delirious Insomniac Freeform Radio Show a few years ago.  From that I wrote an article that never ended up being published until now.  The interview is much more comprehensive, but it wasn't the kind of flow that would be adequate for a straight transcription like many other interviews I have done.  It is here for archive purposes.  Thanks again to Light for taking the time shortly before Thanksgiving a few Novembers ago. 

“Meditation today is where yoga was 30 or 40 years ago, where people
just thought it was a weird thing that a bunch of hippies did”.  Says
Light Watkins, Chicago's teacher of Vedic meditation, and that's
sort of an understatement.    According to Light, there are about 15
people teaching this kind of thing across America, and maybe 40 across
the world, while NAMASTA, “The North American Studio Alliance”, claims
that there are over 70,000 yoga teachers in  America alone.  

Many people peripherally have a vague understanding of the concept
of meditation from the efforts filmmaker David Lynch has made to
promote it.  At least, this is how I came upon it.  I read his book
Catching The Big Fish, I tried to save up $1,000-$2,000 and prepare to
spend six months in Iowa to learn the practice.  I bought a book
called Everything You Need To Know About TM Including How To Do It .
Upon further investigation, I found out that the “Transcendental”
meditation that David Lynch promoted was very similar to the “Vedic”
meditation that Light Watkins espouses, and his relatively modest
alternative might very well be the only one in the midwest of its
kind, for those with a low income.

Eventually I followed through and found myself in an empty, rickety,
and chilly old church being given a spoken mantra, an abstract sound
in sanskrit that is assigned to you by your teacher based on your personality, it
is meant to assist in “transcending”; going “deep” into a state of
being, rather than a state of acting or even thinking.  I was  being
told to repeat it over and over, whispering and slowly becoming more
quiet, until I am no longer even speaking it. 

From there, once I closed my eyes, the effects were immediate.  I felt and saw waves of
light wash over the insides of my eyelids in a repetitive fashion, and
felt as if my veins had been excited by something other than caffeine
for once, something more respectful.   Every sound became pronounced
and jarring.  Rain bounced off of the windows like rubber pellets, and
it sounded like squirrels were quarreling inside of the walls.  Cars
whizzed by like jet planes. 

 But still, I have to admit that it felt like a restfulness that reached beyond the realms of the deepest
sleep, and while it was not like this every time I practiced, there
was a progression in its results.  Sleep became much more accessible,
emotional reactions or acknowledgment of stressful situations seemed
more out of step and unnecessary.   Scientifically, meditation has
been proven to reduce blood pressure and relieve headaches among other
things.  According to scientists, subjects who have been meditating
regularly for long periods of time have a proven resilience to outside
disturbance; their heart rates change much less when a dish falls to
the ground, for instance.

The generally accepted approach to Vedic meditation is that it cannot
be taught through a book, it comes from the Vedas, who originally
passed it down verbally from generation to generation without writing
anything down.   As a result, an emphasis on experience is favored
over studiousness, and the theoretical realm is given less merit than
one might expect.  While Light cites the practice of Deepak Chopra as
something of an inspiration, Chopra seems to be the proprietor of a
“less comprehensive” offshoot of this kind of meditation called
“Primordial Sound”; mantras are given by email, and they are varied
from the original sources.  

Other meditation practices such as Zen-Buddhist are more “monastic” in nature, requiring a certain
activity during meditation, a specific focus on breathing, and also
perhaps chanting or a commitment to becoming a monk.   Other  kinds of
meditation warrant more occult purposes like astral travel, remote
viewing, or “focusing intent” and “grounding oneself” for “magickal”
purposes.    Hearing these kinds of things as a person who tends to
identify with maybe 5% of what he is told, on average, Vedic
Meditation was rather refreshing; It fosters the world of active
movers and shakers more so than passive restraint of unsavory
thoughts, the suppression of things that one doesn't like .

“VM” is not without its New Age accoutrements though.  Introduction
classes bare a candle, a framed photo of an old master, and a bundle
of fruits and flowers as a sacrificial gesture in some capacity.
Meditators are advised not to meditate while their computers are on in
front of them.  Light does speak of “cosmic consciousness”, or
“unified field theory”, some other ways to explain the universe,
everything being connected, synchronicity as a symbolic divining rod
of a higher being etc. etc.   Regardless of this, the practice is
still ostensibly nonreligious, at least not in an intrusive or
indoctrinating way, and whatever the belief system is, it seems to
work.  This is fair enough, because I wouldn't want to go to a
meditation class in the fluorescent light of a Rent-A-Center.  The
symbolic gesture is enough to welcome serious, respectful
consideration, but not dogmatic voodoo "one of us" type talk.

One of the side effects that is a testament to the resilience of a
long term meditator can be seen in the experiences of Light Watkins,
who not only travels around the major cities of America to teach, but
also has such faith in his “inner voice” that he travels to  unknown
regions of the world without plans or much money.  He has testified
that most times, he ends up having a place to stay and a handful of
friends by the time he even gets off of the plane.  To Light, this is
not mere luck, it is the result of making immediate decisions without
the cerebral cluster of fearful "what if" logic; fight or flight instincts.  Events that eventually
suit our best interests come from following what charms us, a
characteristic that some form of “infinite intelligence” rewards, according to Watkins.
Even the most resoundingly atheist skeptic would agree that perception
has some effect on the subsequent events of a person's life.

In the distant past, people in all likeliness had to walk to the top
of a mountain with two pails full of water propped upon a stick against
their back, until Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came into the picture in the
late 50s. Even then, his academy existed inside of a cave within
the foothills of Rishikesh, India.  The Beatles, overall, were
enthusiastic supporters of this practice, and even included a common
phrase variation associated with these kinds of meditation practices,
“Jai Guru Deva Om” which is intended as a tribute to “the divine
heavenly teacher”, or the source of “all existence that comes from
vibration”, in their song “Across The Universe”.  Since then,
popularity in non-monastic meditation tripled, and has shown
exponential growth thereafter.  However, it's not nearly as widely
accepted as Yoga; it is not being funded in prisons or at disaster
sites, for instance, nor is it as popular as somewhat bastardized
practices like home video Tai-Bo aerobics.

This kind of meditation does seem to nurture the fundamentals of the
human spirit, with or without incense and exotic teas, and with enough
persistence, it doesn't even require you to believe in it.   Whether
it was passed down from ancient times precisely or not, Light Watkins
doesn't seem to espouse other flighty concepts of world peace, as some
kind of group ideal, as much as David Lynch does.  Light will be the
first to acknowledge that meditation only brings out the most pure
characteristics of a person, less inhibited by trauma or stress,
whether they are naturally passive and reserved or outgoing and
exuberant.  "People who practice meditation like Howard Stern, Jerry
Seinfeld, or Russell Simmons", he says for instance, "are not exactly
iconographic for the concept of inner peace."  And among all of this
stuff about a relaxed state of being and all that, I can't help but
think about survivalism.  What if I am in a position where I am forced
to knock someone's block off?   What if my taxi driver rips me off?
“Well, sometimes you have to pass consciousness onto someone in more
direct ways”.

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