Releasing the Mantra
Posted On Jun 02, 2017
BY KIMBERLY WILLIAMS-PAISLEY
Our favorite countryfied mama and Nashville star has shrugged off a childhood prejudice, adopting a daily meditation practice that helps her transcend the stresses of the everyday.
Maybe I had the wrong teacher when I first tried to meditate at age 10. My dad is a good guy but a lousy guru. “Pick a word that makes you happy,” he told me. “Rainbow” was the second thought that popped into my head—after “pistachio ice cream.”
Then he left me alone in my bedroom without much more instruction, except that I was to repeat the happy word over and over silently—it was a “mantra” he said—and relax. I sat on the edge of my bed, working as hard as a kid trying to beat the cartwheel record in gym class. Muscles tight. Eyes clenched in concentration. Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow. Maybe I should have gone with “ice cream.” Rainbow. I hate rainbows. When Dad finally showed up a lifetime later—it was only 10 minutes—I had decided I would never meditate again.
But last November, more than 30 years later, I started to change my mind. I was anxious. Sometimes I felt short of breath, with a tightness in my tummy. Mom guilt, I figured. Some of it was based in reality: How far am I willing to go to pursue my creative dreams of acting- producing-writing and still be a good mom? Are my kids going to be OK? And some of it was nutty: How are we going to handle Armageddon?
I knew I needed some stress management. A couple of friends had been talking about their experience with transcendental meditation (TM), and how much it helped them. Many celebrities were touting its benefits. Ellen was doing it. Oprah’s entire company took breaks during the day to meditate. Last year, the American Heart Association noted that there was evidence that TM could lower blood pressure. Despite my early failure in meditation, I decided to try again.
I got in touch with Lynn Kaplan at the David Lynch Foundation—founded nine years ago by the film and TV director. Lynn has been teaching TM for 40 years. She agreed to come to my home for four lessons. When she rang the doorbell on the first day, my children welcomed her with screaming and light sabers. Lynn took it in stride. Of course, I thought. She meditates. I couldn’t wait to find out how this supposedly life-changing technique was going to help me solve my problems.
The first thing I learned is that TM doesn’t offer you a way to drop out and blissfully disconnect from life’s challenges. It does provide techniques to help you handle them differently.
After about an hour of explanation, I was ready to receive my new secret mantra in a short ceremony. This new word— a meaningless “sound” I would repeat silently to myself—didn’t make me happy or sad and didn’t seem to have any agenda. Far back in history, meditators have used prayers as mantras. However, TM has no affiliation with any religion or philosophy. Lynn left me alone in a room to begin my first meditation. This one was very different from my experience at age 10. I was a lot more relaxed. But the biggest surprise was that almost as soon as I started, my stomach burned. When I came out of it, the sensation was gone. According to Lynn, I had been working through whatever stress I had been feeling, and letting it go. The pain recurred in the next two or three meditations. Then, blessed relief, it stopped and hasn’t come back.
That’s not to say that it’s always easy to meditate. Finding time to do it is tricky, especially when the lives of two young children are intertwined with my own. Ideally, I was taught, I should practice it for 20 minutes twice a day. I’ve had to get creative in carving out this time and, admittedly, sometimes I just can’t get to it.
I often meditate in the early morning hours when the house is quiet. If the kids are awake, Lynn suggested leaving my door open and explaining to them what I am doing. They can be with me quietly, but may not talk for 20 minutes. She also suggested finding something fun they can do only while I’m meditating. That’s worked so well that often the kids encourage me to meditate so they can play their special game. Sometimes, grocery lists or other to-dos haunt the session. Lynn says studies have shown that no matter what thoughts come up during TM, the effect on the brain is the same. Deep rest occurs. Many studies show that it is unlike sleep, although occasionally I do drift into a peaceful slumber.
Aside from the physical relief, I enjoy a greater accumulation of patience and a better sense of humor on days when I meditate than when I don’t. That’s also good for my children. They’re intrigued by what’s happened to their mom. It didn’t surprise me the other day when my oldest son sat on a big rock by himself and shut his eyes for about a minute. He told me afterwards that he was meditating. In my heart, I pictured him sitting peacefully under a happy rainbow.