I first came across the idea of meditation as a lifestyle fourteen years ago, when I was eighteen and wheelchair-bound. I’d had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis since the age of two. My amazingly spiritual parents had taken me first to healers, psychic surgeons and homeopaths before ever considering embarking on something as preposterous as chemical drugs, so you could say that my quest for spiritual enlightenment had been prevalent from a young age – at least it had been something I was aware of, and it was the norm. But when a flare-up turned into something much worse when I was seventeen (it is a long story which I won’t go into here, but if you’re interested have a look at www.laurenvaknine.com), I had no choice (or so I was led to believe) other than to take a chemo-based drug which left me hairless, immobile and with damaged organs.
Conundrum. Especially when you’re eighteen and about to embark upon what you believe to be a life-long acting career. So there I was, an eighteen year old with half a head of hair, a whole body full of swollen and painful joints and the knowledge that my now-damaged liver meant I could not drink, which would subsequently lead to the demise of my social life. (According to my eighteen-year-old mind.)
Surely it was a mistake. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me, you see. I had a life to lead, dreams to achieve. So I set out to ‘fix’ myself.
I came across a book by a lady called Brandon Bays who had managed to shrink her grapefruit-sized stomach tumour all on her own using meditation. I started listening to her tapes and followed ‘The Journey’. It was an illuminating experience, and so a longing for meditation – not just for cure but as a lifestyle – emerged from within. Through that I was led to Louise Hay and Deepak Chopra books, and then to chakra and crystal meditations. I learned all about the chakras, how to open and close them and how to strengthen them, and my bedroom glistened like the skin of a My Little Pony from all the crystals that I had accumulated over the years but still, however wonderful it was, nothing ever felt like it was being ‘released’, which is something I felt that I should be achieving. I felt rested and more calm – which is always a bonus when you end up in anger management due to anger born of resentment towards something you cannot change – but nothing else seemed to happen.
Over time I looked into Buddhism, and frequented the Buddhist Centre in Holloway. Again, what a great religion / way of life. Peace, harmony, love for all creatures. This was how I wanted to live my life! But when in meditation, I was unable to sit comfortably in the Lotus position because my knees and hips and ankles were so painful, but no one offered me a chair. No one said anything like, ‘if you can’t sit on the floor don’t worry, grab a chair.’ Everyone just looked so effortless on their thin, Buddha-printed cushions on the floor with their legs all octopus-like, as if they could bend in any position with no pain. So I stayed where I was for fear of being judged and never asked if I could sit on a chair but decided that, although I liked their way of life, and the fact that their meditations send positivity out to the world – which, let’s be honest, is just fabulous – I wouldn’t go back there anymore. My poor old/young legs needed chairs.
I joined my mum at her spiritualist circle and went there every Wednesday evening to meditate, connect with life beyond what we can see, and share positivity. I also learned how to perform the healing that I had had on me as a child and spiritual healing became another part of my life. I went along to talks by rabbis and even once went along to a Methodist church where a healing ‘doctor’ claimed that, ‘Hallelujah,’ he had cured me. He hadn’t. More of that story in my book.
Then came Kabbalah, just another stop-off village on my pilgrimage towards enlightenment. I am Jewish after all, I thought. This is the ancient wisdom of my ancestors. Not for the first time in this arduous expedition in the hunt for spirituality, I concluded that Kabbalah was just not ‘the one’. A bit like if you’re single and dating, but you set your standards high and don’t want to just settle for whatever comes along, you can meet someone who you think would be great to have in your life and has all these wonderful qualities that would benefit you and others a great deal, but just isn’t the one you want to agree to spend the rest of your life committing to. That’s what all these avenues were for me; I could appreciate them all and loved how each and every one started from the same philosophy – love – and aimed to spread this out to the world in a bigger capacity. All of them believe they can change the world and make it a more positive place and after being a part of so many, I believe that this is a possibility. So many people are now out there trying to make a difference, something must be happening!
I didn’t regret trying any of these teachings, I learned so much through each one and I am glad to say I am all the more knowledgeable because of each and every one of them (perhaps not the ‘Hallelujah’ guy). But why could I not find what I was looking for?
What, when it really came down to it, was I looking for? Well, I knew that after years of learning about a myriad of different spiritual practices, after trying tirelessly to find the right balance of health, eventually curing myself of JRA through all natural means, that I held a firm belief system. That belief system was that to follow any one religion or movement wasn’t for me. All religions started for the same, peaceful reasons and we should be able – in this day and age of spiritual refinement and knowledge – to accept that willingly and be open and non-judgemental to the fact that taking the best bits of all of them should be a good thing. I suppose I had discovered myself as the non-fiction version of Yann Martel’s Pi Patel. I believe in being a good person, in helping others, in helping animals and caring for them as we would our own children, in caring for the environment and all that Mother Nature has to offer. I believe that in order to gain enlightenment we have to accept that what we can see and what science can tell us is only a tiny morsel of what actually is. We have to connect – and connect on a monumentally deep level – with something other than the five senses we are consciously aware of. We have to take our consciousness to another level and by doing that we enable ourselves access to a deeper, more profound level of happiness, ones we are not necessarily afforded through material means.
Despite all these deep-routed, unwavering beliefs that were an amalgamation of many belief systems put together, I was still looking for ‘the one’ in terms of a daily meditation lifestyle. And I was about to find it. My mother-in-law went on a month long tour of India and through a friend, met the unparalleled, indelible Radhanath Swami, the spiritual leader of the Hare Krishna movement. When she returned to London, she invited me along to an event that Radhanath Swami was speaking at, and I was sold. When I was in his presence I felt nothing but love and acceptance. I began reading all I could about him and Bhakti Yoga and I ended up making many friends through the Hare Krishna Temple in Watford. We would often – and still do – engage in group Kirtans (chanting) and Bhakti Yoga get-togethers and I adore the philosophies and ethos behind the movement. One thing was missing, still (and this is the last time, I promise!). Although the Hare Krishna movement is one I feel comfortable being involved with (and let me stress here that although I say involved, I do not confine myself or limit myself to being a devotee of any one set of rules), the chanting was not something I felt was an appropriate way of life for me on a daily basis (though I still love our group Kirtans) – my husband thinks I’m loopy enough as it is – and I was still, after all these years, looking for a form of meditation that would become an effortless part of my life, all the while incorporating all the wonderful lessons I had learned without excluding any of them.
Then one day, I’m on YouTube and in ‘videos that might interest you’, Russell Brand pops up, talking – as eloquently as ever – about Transcendental Meditation. This divine (Bill Gates / YouTube) intervention led me to that page for a reason. I watched video after video, in awe of how he spoke about this movement and thought, that’s it! I had always felt a connection to Russell Brand, and not one of those juvenile celebrity-crush types of connections. When I read his first book, I couldn’t help but marvel over how much of it was similar to the stories in my book. Our lives were somehow, perhaps spiritually, on a similar journey and I trusted this skinny-trouser wearing, big hair sporting man whose extensive vocabulary and pervasive knowledge makes it hard to believe that he was ever a drug addict, and whose views about people, animals, the world and the universe were so in sync with my own.
I didn’t know why it was so easy, but after twelve years in pursuit of the perfect meditation, I had found it in TM. It was effortless in the way I needed it to be. I found that it only encouraged all my beliefs and the spiritual lessons I’d learnt over the years, without asking too much of me in a meditation sense.
I took a course and within the first few days I had a hugely profound experience that only became apparent after our coach, Michael, asked, ‘has anyone had any strange dreams or nightmares since starting TM?’ Then it hit me like a slap in the face and it was as if the cartoon image of the light bulb epiphany appeared above my head instantaneously and I realised; Transcendental Meditation had given me exactly what I had been looking for all those years. Apart from the fact that it is an effortless, uncomplicated, unpretentious, yet beautiful way to meditate that is perfect to incorporate into the lifestyle of someone who isn’t a cave-dwelling Himalayan monk, I had this profoundly significant moment early on which released something in me (through a dream after 3 days of meditation) that had been living in my subconscious for a while, something I hadn’t been dealing with but didn’t realise and I suppose that was the ‘release’ I had been looking for earlier on in my journey.
I often find myself doing chakra meditations still, if I feel unbalanced, and I chanted my way through twenty-four hours of labour, so I really have learnt to incorporate all the wonderful lessons I’ve learnt throughout the years into my life without subscribing to one particular method, but Transcendental Meditation is the ‘easy’ one, the one I can do wherever I am or whatever is going on around me, which is sometimes necessary.
I’d like to bring my son up knowing that there is no one religion or way of life that is more important than another. I want to bring him up to be accepting of everyone, to be kind, to love animals, to respect nature and to find his own way. I want him to know that beneath the shell of someone’s image, there is a soul. I can draw the outlines of the picture for him, but he has to fill in the colours and my goal in life is to make sure he is encouraged to to this in a positive way.
My spiritual journey has been an interesting one that has led me to some of the most wonderful, interesting, kind people and I’d like to dedicate this to them – you know who you are!
Love & health,