The email screamed: “It’s not too late to join our global meditation community. Register for Oprah & Deepak’s 21-Day Free Online Experience Today.” A 33-year-old, Indian-born, overworked business consultant living in Tribeca couldn’t refuse an invite from Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey.
The power couple extended this offer at the beginning of the year, and on August 11th they kicked off their second 2014 self-help party, which ran until the end of the month. The pair had nearly half-million Facebook devotees and, statistically speaking, some of my friends were also their evangelists. Near relatives and distant friends pushed tales of tapping into higher consciousness for months. Since practicing meditating was now in fashion I was adamant to avoid it.
Given my divine pedigree, I wasn’t going to buy my ancestral lessons from An American celebrity. Surely, I held a recessive Indian gene that I could activate on command to transcend beyond the physical realm. Ironically, this fleeting thought got lost in the clutter of my brain, resurfacing when the spam from Chopra-Winfrey duo accosted me. They got me curious: can I really silence the incessant chatter in my head?
Seduced by the oldest trick in the marketing books, I registered for the program “at no cost,” for a trial period. Through an online portal, I gained access to 21 audio segments, scripted as follows:
Oprah, in a sure voice, drops some pearls of wisdom.
Chopra, calmly, drops a few more, and then offers instructions to guide the audience into meditation.
SOFT BELL RINGS.
Chopra asks the audience to gently open their eyes and wraps up with his closing remarks.
On an encore of this daily performance, I stumbled on some answers. I had left work late that night and took a taxi home from Flatiron. I decided to meditate on the 10 minute ride. What about being hurled in the back-seat of a yellow cab inspired me to unwind escaped now. I must have been trying to squeeze the most of out of an already squeezed day.
The driver was speedily on his way to dump me outside my downtown abode. I was warily on my path toward freeing my mind. We were hurtling down the west-side highway, but were on entirely different journeys. After several minutes of mumbling curses at the driver and few seconds of primordial music I was relaxing. But my eyes were open.
Ultimately, I abandoned the notion of meditating in transit and got lost in the view as we sped downtown from Chelsea. The IAC headquarters, Frank Gehry’s edgy wave of glass, cockily embracing its destiny to never crash on Hudson’s shore. The W-hotel, out of place in the New Jersey skyline, reminds me of friends who move to Jersey in a short-lived act of penance for living large in Manhattan. The face of my driver grinning at me from his ID card – held by a plastic contraption attached to the back of his seat. In scratched text, the quivering card informed me that his name was Demba.
Having learned his name, I was ready to make some imaginary conversation. I said to him, “Well, Demba, it’s been nine years since I arrived on this continent, to this city.” I silently rambled on, “I finally know that the IZOD billboard at Chelsea Piers is not persistently nudging me to go watch some golf-inspired sequel to IRobot. Now it’s just a reminder that I belong here.”
Without warning, my untamed brain swerved to another conversation, “Yoda, Am I a Jedi? Am I the guardian of my peace?”
Yoda, replied “Only a fully trained Jedi knight, with the force as her ally, will embrace her innate harmony. Beware of the dark side. Drama. Doubt. Fear. Easily they flow. Consume you it will.”
“But how am I to fight it?” I asked.
Yoda, “Patience. Only at the beginning of the training you are. You will. When you are at ease.”
This last piece of advice I couldn’t abide. As a New Yorker, I launched out of bed at 5 am daily to hyper-ventilate over office-emails, catch a morning-yoga class, skim the news between subway stops, and work during, before and after meetings, office hours and socializing. Meanwhile, I was balanced: with one hand I switched between flip-flops and high-heels, and with the other I commented on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Yoda, I don’t wind down, I do chamomile tea – to go.
But back to my quest to conquer my fickle mind. The last ten minutes elapsed exactly as I hadn’t planned. My head was like a hive that was rattled by external stimulation. From it, I, the riled queen bee, lost control of my thoughts that buzzed like disoriented minions and stung innocent bystanders. My star studded panel of advisors – Oprah, Chopra and Yoda – had a point, I must cultivate an ability to traffic my inner noise. Yet my prognosis wasn’t entirely morbid.
A recent study showed that people would rather subject themselves to electric shocks than entertain themselves with their thoughts. Left by themselves for less than 15 minutes, 58% of the study’s participants chose to self-inflict electric shocks, repeatedly. Despite my abysmal performance at controlling my mental actions I was preoccupied by my soliloquy. I bet, days earlier, I would have chugged the newsfeed on social media instead.
I no longer cared that I wasn’t under the tutelage of Buddha or his descendants. I purchased the meditation product. In order to find time for this new chore I could be an elevator mediator. My phone had no reception in there anyway. This was my chance to save those limited New York minutes from dying in vain.
As the door opened onto the lobby I recited Deepak Chopra’s parting words from today’s session “carry a sense of abundance with you. Namaste.”
Natasha Awasthi is a data monster by education and business designer by profession. She artfully untangles messy problems by discovering unexpected patterns–in behavior, processes, and technology. A self-proclaimed Jedi-in-training, she writes about channeling the force and embracing her creativity. Find her on Twitter or email her here.