Releasing Stress in New York City
[00:00:45] No Appointments
Welcome to my podcast, The Vedic Worldview. I’m Thom Knoles.
I’m reminded today of the same time, some 21 years ago, when I had decided, after many, many years, decades, of teaching and having taught thousands of people, the practice of Vedic Meditation, as I was trained to do by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, my Master.
I had just moved from Australia, where I had been based for 30 years, and it was from there that I made all of my various forays to the places where Maharishi was. Over those 30 years, I spent either entire years and more or major portions of those years in Maharishi’s presence.
But when I returned home, home was Sydney, Australia. I had shifted from Sydney in the year 2000, and moved to my ancestral home here in Arizona, and settled my family in here, and I’d arrived at the conclusion that perhaps I’d made enough of a contribution to the world of consciousness, and I had an idea for a book, and began writing the book and postponing appointments, and then began saying no to appointments to people wanting to see me, courses wanting to be run, teaching that needed to be done…
[00:02:42] Retiring from Teaching
I managed to draft several chapters of a novel, A Consciousness Play, which was then submitted by me to a major publishing house in New York City who said they wished to publish it, and they sent me a very large advance to finish the book. That’s another story, and one day, we’ll get into what happened to that book, but the point was, really, I decided to announce my retirement.
And out went the emails to tens of thousands of meditators that Thom was retiring from teaching and that I might make a cameo appearance here and there, but that I was now living, raising my family in Arizona, in the mountains, in my mountain fastness here from where I’m speaking now, and that people should modify their expectations about having regular access to me, and that I had trained so many proteges, who are now qualified teachers, that people could simply direct their inquiries and referrals to the people whom I had trained.
So thought I, and as the summer went by and I continued my relaxed approach to writing, which meant start at 10 AM and finish at 12 noon every day, and the rest of the time spent with, who were then children, my children, who now, most of them are in their twenties.
And life was progressing along through the lovely summer, and then came the autumn. I had received a number of inquiries from a yoga teacher in New York City about coming there, someone whom I had initiated years before, coming there to teach meditation to the students. I resisted and sent a copy of the retirement email instead.
And August turned into September, and then that event took place on the 11th of September of 2001, Two Thousand One.
[00:05:22] “What About New York City?”
The massacre that occurred at the World Trade Center and further afield from that, the Pentagon and the other places, and the entire world changed in that pivotal moment.
The days following that, I had occasion to go into an electronic store where I had to pick up a few items that were needed for my new career of being a novelist, and I’d been wondering, the thought had come to me, “What about New York City?”
And when I entered the store, there was a bank of television sets. I want to say, just off the top of my head, probably 20 different wide-screen, large format televisions that were all on the same one channel. And, the store was nearly empty. People were still shell shocked about the massacre that occurred on the 11th of September. This was probably a week after that.
The mayor of New York City was being interviewed, and the interviewer asked the mayor on these 20 screens that I was looking up at, “What is your message to the world?”
And the mayor said, “Come to New York. Don’t stay away from New York. We need you to come to New York.”
And then the cameraman at the New York end zeroed in and the mayor’s face loomed large on the 20 screens on the wall of the electronics store. “Did you get it?” Said the mayor, “Come to New York. Come to New York.”
And I thought, well, “Alright, did I really need 20 screens?” I probably didn’t need twenty. One would’ve done, but I get the message twentyfold. And I immediately went home, made arrangements for my children to be minded, and booked my fare to New York City.
[00:07:24] Journey to NYC
I arrived there on about the 20th of September. As the aircraft took off, we were told that there were air marshals on board, and that if anyone felt like they needed to get up out of their seat or unbuckle their belt to go to the restroom or anything that, they had first to raise their hand and to get attention from a cabin attendant who would then accompany them, with an air marshal, to the toilet and back to their seat again.
But that nobody was under any circumstances to unbuckle their belts, otherwise, the flight would have to be diverted to the nearest airport and land. This was the degree of seriousness of the moment.
When we arrived in the airspace around Manhattan, the airplane was required to circle at quite a distance for about half an hour so that careful identification could be taken of the aircraft and its genuineness to simply land at JFK.
And I remember being able to look out the window and see the 40-stories-high rubble pile with smoke coming up out of it like the smoke of a giant bonfire. The column of smoke, it had already been many days, irrespective, there was still a lot of smoke and smoldering in the 40-stories-high rubble pile.
[00:09:34] Something Unusual in the Streets of New York
That was quite an alarming sight to see at the lower end of Manhattan, in the financial district, where one was so accustomed to seeing those two towers standing up above everything, glistening, for that all to be gone. It was a very attention-getting moment.
And landing there in New York City, I recall the change to the populace. Taking a taxi from the airport to my accommodations, which were in Soho, at 60 Thompson Street— that was the name of the little boutique hotel, 60 Thompson— and being able, from even that distance in Soho, to be able to see and smell the smoke of the 40-stories-high rubble pile.
And moving around, walking ,around New Yorkers gave an impression of being completely shell shocked.
And yet I saw something I’d never seen before in New York. Rather than a careful examination of the sidewalk in front of the walker, as New Yorkers are very studious about the sidewalk as they walk, and pointedly not paying attention to anybody whose path they’re crossing, or who might be walking adjacent to them. That had been my memory of how New Yorkers were.
Now instead of studying the sidewalk, New Yorkers were studying each other’s faces as they crossed paths on the sidewalks and footpaths of the city. And there was a genuine softening and outreach between the people that I’d never seen before. And I wasn’t the only one to comment upon it. It was being commented upon by all and sundry.
[00:11:44] Embraced the Stranger
One day, riding in the subway, there had been a sudden stop, and the standing passengers, one woman, her grip on the upright pole onto which people hold while riding the subway, became dislodged, and she lurched forward, and a man who was holding onto an upright pole of his own caught her.
And when he caught her, he had his arms around her, complete strangers, she said, “Thank you.” And then he was about to let her go. I was standing right next to them, and she said, “Could I just stay here for a moment with you?”
He said, looking a little askance, but accepting, he was an older man, “Yes,” he said.
And she said, “I lost my husband in that thing that happened.”
He said, “I understand you. Just stay right here for a moment.” She was so desperately in need of an embrace like that, that even a completely public embrace with a stranger seemed to do the trick.
This was something that, for me, was very telling of the entire collective of New York City when I arrived. The then manager of the hotel in which I was staying had learned that I was a noted public figure, teacher of Vedic Meditation, and he approached me and said, “Would you teach my staff? If you would, I’ll happily host you here for free and provide you with teaching space.”
[00:13:44] Healing the Wound of New Yorkers
And so I commenced a program of teaching all of the staff of the hotel, all of those who wished to learn. It was a kind of hands-up arrangement. They came to an introductory talk and about 80% of the considerable number of room cleaners and kitchen staff and managers, and so on, all learned to meditate with me, and my stay there was then extended.
There were also some celebrities staying in the hotel. I noticed one day when I got into the elevator, Billy Joel and my old acquaintance from Rishikesh, India, Paul McCartney, were standing in the elevator, who had arrived in town to hold a concert for the firefighters to raise funds for looking after the families of the lost firefighters.
There was a genuine atmosphere in New York City of New Yorkers wanting to heal the wound and help each other. And also, a considerable amount of angst and anger about, “Who did this to us?” But that aside, the primary feeling was a feeling of New Yorkers pulling together.
And one of the consequences of that was the way in which there was outreach and spontaneous outreach and a genuine sense of empathy between New Yorkers.
[00:15:26] Why Should We Need to Have a Tragedy?
It had occurred to me, as I’m sure it’s occurring to many of you now in my recounting of this tale, that why should we need to have a tragedy or a disaster for New Yorkers to have that feeling about each other, to bridge those gaps and to stop studying the sidewalk so carefully, but to actually look up and see who else is there in the social environment?
Because the speed with which New York went back to, and the New York collective consciousness went back to, business as usual, was to me, rather astonishing. It didn’t take more than a few months before the consciousness of the collective in New York City was, once again, being very studious about the sidewalk when out walking and about.
It occurred to me that though there had been an opportunity for many, many people, the number of people I taught in New York, I think I taught about 80 people while I was there for a good ten days, just after 9/11, but that 80 were the foundation practitioners, the ones who are the original referers, who enjoyed their practice of Vedic Meditation so much, they began to radiate. They began to radiate life for all to enjoy. They began to notice their friends were asking them, “Whatever it is you’re doing, let me know the secret. I want some of it.”
[00:17:13] New Tour in NYC
They began to put increasing demand on me to make a plan for a return to New York. And that was the beginning of the teaching of thousands of people in New York City.
I’ll be having a tour of New York City soon enough and, for those of you who live in the city, please do come to as many of my talks, lectures, follow-up sessions, and take advantage of opportunities to meet with me individually, privately. And also let your friends know that there’s an opportunity for them to learn with me.
Those of you who’ve already learned or who have friends who’ve already learned, you’re invited to attend all of my sessions. Many of those are free of charge. And for those of you who live outside New York City, this is an opportunity for you to let those who are friends of yours who live in that incomparable city know that I’ll be arriving and offering my full teaching program while there.
I very much look forward to returning to New York and to greeting my students, my established students, and upgrading and refreshing your practice, and teaching all of your friends and whatever family members would care to learn with me.
My tour of New York City that is yet to come will be the only opportunity this year for people to meet me in New York, and to participate in the full spectrum of my teaching activity.
[00:19:08] An Invitation to New York
Those who are already meditators, you’re welcome to attend my basic four-day training program, the foundational four instruction sessions, and invite your existing meditating friends, those who’ve already been instructed in Vedic Meditation, to do so.
The last time I was in New York, it turned into an international event. It became a destination event for people as far afield as Australia, Europe, and from all over the Americas. People arrived in New York City to be there during my teaching tour.
That was a lot of fun to see people from other countries and from all over United States coming to New York to enjoy the knowledge and the teaching and to turn it into an international event. There was a lot of fun and as it should be.
So, please, let’s have an opportunity to meet meditators from all over the world, all over the Americas, and let’s meet in New York City and create a memorable experience, a knowledge alliance, a festival of knowledge.
Jai Guru Deva.