Transcript for Norman Rosenthal M.D. – Super Mind


welcome to the human experience podcast

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as we approach our Center please make

sure your frontal temporal and occipital

lobes are in their full upright position

as you take your seats consciousness

relax your senses and allow us to take

you on a dip we are the intimate

strangers thank you for listening norm

my good sir welcome to hxp well thank

you so norm you have quite an

interesting story can you just kind of

tell us a little bit about who you are

where you come from you were born in

South Africa isn’t that right born and

raised and I came to the United States

when I was 26 years old I had done my MD

in Johannesburg and I moved to New York

City to do my psychiatry residency at

Columbia which I did and I always wanted

to understand the workings of the human

mind so that led me to the National

Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda

Maryland where I did a fellowship

studied how to become a researcher and I

was there for 20 years and during my 20

years I would say my biggest

contribution was identifying and

describing and naming a condition called

seasonal affective disorder the

recognition that some people suffer when

is not enough light around and that that

can be treated actually with light

therapy so that was really the work that

I innovated there in Bethesda Maryland

that’s groundbreaking then I mean you

you kind of defined this disorder well

yeah I think my the heights my crowning

achievement was when I became a Jeopardy

question oh so you know they said do you

know what

condition you know I said something but

what do people then they say people

suffer from this condition in the in the

winter that was described by a Norman

Rosenthal and then they said what is

seasonal affective disorder I’m gonna

put that on my bucket list to be a

Jeopardy question that’s my crowning did

anyway yes there was there was a very

fun time of my life

then I ran my own clinical trials

organization so I sort of understand

about research and research design it

involved a lot of medicines but it also

involved alternative treatments and

complementary treatments has always been

a kind of special interest of mine you

know light therapy was an out-of-the-box

complementary treatment and it’s always

been interesting to me to see how much

can we do without medications hmm and

I’ve had a practice now in Maryland for

37 years

and then I became fascinated by

Transcendental Meditation that’s the

last eight years meditated myself I’ve

done research on veterans from

Afghanistan and Iraq with post-traumatic

stress disorder with the TM which is the

short way of saying Transcendental

Meditation and then of course I’ve

written two books on that subject the

most recent one of which is the one we

are excited to be discussing which is

super mind it’s a fantastic read

actually you’ve been covered by all

these major stations for this book ABC

Oprah Fox News Wall Street Journal PBS

NBC why would you say TM is so much

different than other forms of meditation

well I think it’s it’s a little bit like

exercise you know if somebody says well

I’m exercising that person could be

running they could be swimming they

could be cycling they could be climbing

a mountain exercise

sounds like a common thing but each kind

of exercise is very different and that’s

similar thing with meditation you know

we started off with a visualization

that’s one kind of meditation but TM is

a very different kind of meditation

which involves learning from somebody

who is a qualified teacher how to take a

mantra that they give you and mantras

just a word sound but you use it in a

very special way that becomes quite

effortless and automatic so it’s not a

question of focusing it’s not a question

of being mindful it’s a question of just

letting this thing very automatically

occupy your mind in such a way that you

go into a different state of

consciousness what do you mean what do

you mean by that so you mean you mean

that I just kind of let whatever happen

happen well to some extent yes but there

is this use of the mantra so in other

words I could say close your mind close

your eyes and let whatever happens

happen in your mind that would not be

TIA somehow the use of the mantra is

very central to how the TM works and one

thing we know is that when you’re doing

it right it shifts you into a state of

transcendence is the word you would use

to describe it what that is is you’re

very relaxed that your mind is very

alert and then you feel a disappearance

of boundaries you know where my body

begins and ends what day and time of day

it is these things become sort of

irrelevant as you slip into this

blissful unbounded state of

consciousness is what has been called

and when you’ve been there you realize

that that is in fact not an exaggeration

that’s an actual accurate description

now it’s fascinating I you know I spend

a lot of time meditating I try to do my

best to meditate every day I I don’t

have any specific practice I just am in

the moment

as it were and i mean i but i but i find

this interesting about the mantra can

you tell us more about is there a

specific mantra that you would use

during your practice you know people are

given different mantras they basically

are word sounds that don’t have a

meaning to the westerner who is learning

maybe they once upon a time did have a

meaning but they don’t currently and

it’s not only what the mantra is but how

people are taught to use it this

effortless accessing this automatic

accessing of the mantra and you know if

if you’re somebody who really loves

meditation and loves to understand the

different kinds you may want to just try

it i mean you may want to just consult

with the TM teacher and see if it if it

offers anything to you that maybe isn’t

happening already but maybe you’re

already more than delighted with what

you’re doing and well then your day is

more than occupied already well i’m

speaking to one of the foremost experts

on Transcendental Meditation so you

should tell me I like to know I mean how

okay so let’s let’s back up a little bit

what what would you say is happening in

inside the brain as felt as far as brain

waves alpha beta data where where are we

in our brain while we’re using TM well

that’s great question what what is

happening is that a special kind of

brainwave alpha waves begin to sweep

across the brain especially the frontal

areas of the brain

these are soothing self reflective waves

and the frontal part of the brain is the

part that has the decision-making

function the executive function for the

mind so all your decision-making areas

are being bathed in these soothing alpha

waves

in addition is something

or coherence and with coherence what

that really means is that different

regions of the brain are operating at

the same wavelength and that means that

when that happens in people there is an

association with increased competency so

it may be that your brain is being put

at its most efficient you see that’s

another possibility interesting and I

found what you said a little bit earlier

interesting as well it doesn’t have to

be necessarily that I’m sitting down

somewhere I can be exercising I can be

climbing a mountain

while I’m practising TM is that correct

no let me straighten that out that was

just to give you an analogy between

different kinds of exercise and

different kinds of meditation when you

do TM you definitely are encouraged to

sit in a comfortable place close your

eyes and then they encourage you to get

you a calm place in your head and then

begin to think your mantra and they say

you should do it effortlessly and

innocently now what do I mean by

innocently by innocently

I mean with no expectation as to what

this experience is going to be so you

know no expectation as to how this

experience will be that is what they

mean by innocently and effortlessly of

course this sort of self-explanatory

yeah and how would you say that this

affects the building blocks of of making

our brains better would you say that

this heightens creativity heightens

intelligence tightens a sensory

perception I would say all of the above

and I think the key is really to start

by thinking about consciousness you know

the description I gave you of

transcendental consciousness that is

what happens once you have just done a

little bit of practice of the tea and

that’s what happens in the session

itself then what happens is once you

meditate regularly they encourage you to

do it twice a day that feeling of

calmness stillness in the in the

side-by-side with activity and vibrancy

that extends into your daily life so in

one’s daily life one is simultaneously

alert awake vibrant and still and

peaceful at the same time it’s a

fascinating combination you know and

when you are like that you are more

creative you are more effective you

understand people better you listen to

others better everything seems to become

better so that’s why when I try to

assess what do I call this state of mind

that develops when you do your TM over

time what am I going to call this the

word super mind came to me because

that’s really what it is it’s the mind

in its full flowering in its maximum

capacity and joyfulness and that’s what

I describe and I describe it and not

only through you know the kind of

scientific explanations we’ve been

looking at and I did a survey of more

than 600 people but also in the terms of

vivid stories about people who have

actually you know undertaken this

journey and how well it’s turned out for

and these some of these people are

people you would never never know their

you know anonymous people or you know

people are just not well-known and some

are household names so yeah I mean it’s

funny I was just about to ask you why

you called it supermind but um you know

I I want to know there’s you know

there’s a there’s a sense of progression

when you’re meditating right when when

you first start meditating me perhaps

you don’t really feel anything and as as

you progress you you start to move

forward further and further and then as

you said you reach this state of

transcendence can you can you describe

the state of of transcendence some more

please yes well you know back to when

you’re meditating itself and I I think I

did mention it but let me just repeat it

because it’s so important it’s a stage

you know normally when you’re alert

you’re not calm and when you calm you’re

not alert but here you are those two

things together you’re alert and calm at

the same time and but the big deal with

a super mind is that when you practice

this for a while it moves into everyday

life so you have this benefit going

through the whole day and it’s very very

delightful and very very constructive

that’s what I’ve called the super mind

when you’re transcendent consciousness

filters into your daily life and huh I

mean how would you say that I mean as a

practitioner of TM how would you say it

affected your everyday life oh well

firstly other people notice it

tremendously it’s made me more creative

the creativity’s just doesn’t stop I’m

thinking of new angles at every turn

and you know very effective but also

very capable of settling down and

relaxing capable of sleeping capable of

enjoying myself when I’m with people

like you know people I care about or

just anybody really I love people and

it’s kind of just strengthened my

connections with people and my

connections with the natural world

you know if I’m things can seem very

vivid I mean I’ll give you really a

silly example the other day my bathroom

is tiled with some rather old tiles it’s

like an old design that if you went into

a bathroom store now and you wanted to

get a new bathroom that said oh you’re

not going to use those they’re so 1970s

or something you know that’s a you got

to use this kind of tile or whatever but

all of a sudden the tiles they looked so

interesting and so intricate and

fascinating and somebody said to me

yesterday everything old is new again

and that’s how it felt you know it felt

beautiful

whoever laid those tiles they were very

clever

they were very intricate so you know the

the way in which I think a lot of people

live is that things soon get boring you

know this car it’s two years old I have

to turn it in for a new model or this I

have to change all the furniture in my

house or all these paintings they’re so

boring I need to get a whole new set of

art it’s it’s a sense of getting jaded

with the world and getting bored and

having to get something new and I would

say at the sensory level the world just

becomes more intricate more intriguing

and more rich and beautiful and even

ordinary things take on a quality of

being rather special and ideas flow and

you’re very effective

so you become more productive you become

more effective you become more creative

but at the same time you’re just having

fun I’m having fun talking to you right

now do you know I can’t see you because

my skype is just locked I mean okay so

you know let’s let’s let’s go a little

broader here a little broader scope here

and and talk about how meditation is

affecting the West I mean why do you

think people are attaching or moving

towards meditation as a practice here in

the West well I think that people are

beginning to discover how much it can

accomplish you know I think that for a

long time cultures were separate and

then we now have this cultural mix you

know Chinese restaurants have been

around for a while but then we got Thai

restaurants and we got Korean

restaurants and then we got Asian fusion

where the fusion between the west and

the east you can see in the food well I

think we’re having this fusion of

cultures in our regular life in the life

of our minds we’re understanding that

there’s a lot of wisdom that’s been

developed in other countries and in

other cultures for thousands of years

and now that we’ve been able to break

down barriers we say wow let’s let’s

enjoy this let’s access this let’s use

it and they’re doing the same with the

Western ideas yeah it’s really amazing

how how prevalent meditation has become

would you say that TM is is easier to

learn than other forms of meditation

well it’s certainly easier for me I

can’t speak to somebody else but I

really tried mindfulness I tried to

focus people told me concentrate on this

concentrate on that

and firstly I’m not a very good

concentrator and secondly I’m not good

when people tell me what to do you know

what I mean

I’m much better if I’m left to my own

devices and that’s more or less what

happens with a mantra because once

you’ve been taught and I don’t want to

make it really clear the book is not a

how-to book if you get super mind you

will not come out knowing how to do TM

so then somebody has said to me maybe

well why should I even get the book then

if I’m not going to learn how to do TM

from the book and I say you know it’s

not a how-to book it’s a y2 book because

TM takes 20 minutes twice a day if you

want to get the full benefit from it and

our most valuable asset is our time it’s

finite it’s precious and before we go to

spend 40 minutes a day doing something

we’d better have a jolly good sense of

what that thing is gonna do for us so

that’s why it’s an explanation for why

this investment of time and money is

warranted you’re a Segway artist you you

seem to have all my questions there with

you how did you go from being the first

psychiatrist to diagnose seasonal

affective affective disorder to being a

person who writes a book called super

mind okay I think that’s a terrific

question

and I would say that there are two

things about me that have been the key

to whatever it is that I’ve done and the

first is the capacity to look at the

world in a fresh way and in the Buddhist

tradition they call that the beginner’s

mind I look at things as though I’m

seeing them for the first time so I look

at I looked at the the dark days and I

saw how they affected me after I came

from South Africa where I had had so

much sunlight and I came to New York and

I saw the New York winters

I felt down and and then spring came and

I felt better again and I thought wow

this is this is wild I never had this

before and it happened after a couple of

years and then I got to the NIH and they

were studying light and Bing Bing Bing

the pieces all fell into place

let’s let’s look at this let’s look at

this let’s let’s bring some of these

people in I called around our Hospital

doctors where are these people have you

seen them no no nobody’s seen any people

like this so I thought well you know

maybe you know if you don’t know what to

look for and if you’re not open your

eyes aren’t open you’re not going to see

anything so I thought let me go to the

media so we ran an article wonderful

journalist ran an article in The

Washington Post and I thought you know

it’s a big area that GC metro area maybe

I’ll get a half a dozen of these curious

people who get trouble in the winter

well we got thousands of people and that

became the first group of seasonal

affective disorder people and then I

brought them in in the summer they came

into our ward on the inpatient surface

and we watched them as the autumn

proceeded I mean they didn’t stay in the

ward all the time they brought them in

for a week did some tests sent him home

watched them every couple of weeks and

one of my colleagues said what if they

don’t get depressed in the winter won’t

you feel like a fool and I thought you

know feeling like a fool it’s not the

worst thing that can happen to anybody

this is a good shot this is a good bit

let’s give it a shot

so whatever feel like I looked like a

fool so anyway they did they all got

depressed just on schedule so it was it

was two things it was being willing to

look at the world in a new way keeping

an open mind is our Western Way of

saying it or the beginner’s mind would

be the Japanese way of saying it and so

that’s the first thing and the second is

the willingness to be amazed to say wow

this is in red

I am so fascinated by it I’ve got to

understand it better I’ve got to

research it I’ve got to write about it

I’ve got to tell everybody about it and

that been those were the same principles

that came into play with Transcendental

Meditation I you know I’m fascinated by

by this idea you know I’ve heard about

TM through and throughout my life and I

I can’t say I’ve ever sat down and and

tried it so I mean what you’re telling

me is that it’s not you’re not

contemplating on anything so you’re not

thinking about a specific any specific

thing but you’re not you’re not

completely empty minded either that’s

right

yeah the mind resists any instruction to

be emptied you know it’s like they say

don’t you think of the color red right

and the only thing you can think of yeah

so when I say clear your mind your mind

becomes full of the instruction to be

cleared and I see I see a rag over my

mind with Windex on it sort of clearing

my mind you know you can’t clear the

mind but if you think the mantra

automatically it takes you to a

different place in the mind it’s been

said you know that the mind is like an

ocean with huge waves on the top and if

you’re on the top of the ocean you’ll

think it’s so turbulent full of waves

but if you go down a mile into the ocean

or a half a mile into the ocean you’ll

be in the calmest most peaceful place

that’s what the mind is when you dive

down as you do your TM you go into this

very very peaceful silent place and

whatever’s going on on the surface of

the ocean is no concern of yours is it a

part of this sort of self-actualization

that happens within yourself are you

starting are you beginning to kind of

realize who you are what you are or is

it more of a

detach state where your your kind of

above it and you you see yourself for

what you are you know that’s a really

great question and in one of the

chapters in super mind I talked about

engagement and detachment a delicate

dance and you know when I studied

psychiatry I learned what Freud said

about what the purpose of life is to

love and to work that’s what we had to

do we have to know how to engage with

people and build relationships and then

we know how to know how to do our work

and be very engaged in our work and that

was all good things to do and it still

is those are very very important things

but what if a relationship isn’t working

what about withdrawing if a relationship

isn’t working or or disconnecting from a

relationship or if a job isn’t serving

you finding something else that will

work better for you you know as Kenny

Rogers said you’ve got to know when to

hold him and when to folder you know

when to when to get engaged and when to

disengage and so it’s a balance so I

think that when I did my and not on Owen

I did the questionnaire I asked people

since you started doing TM have you

become more engaged they said yes yeah

huge percentage said yes and I said have

you become less overly attached to

things and again they said yes they were

more engaged but they were less overly

attached you know when we get overly

attached to something and we won’t let

it go that’s also not good so it’s kind

of this balance in the Buddhist

tradition they say they’d say that maybe

they use the description of how you hold

the reins of a horse not too tight not

too loose so then that’s what brings us

back to the word transcendence you are

transcending this sort of material realm

well I think I think yes I think that

you know I’m very engaged with my

material realm I I you know

I work out I work out with free rape

free weights this morning as that

Pilates yesterday you know there’s

wonderful things to do with the material

world I can go out with friends and have

a meal and it’s very joyful so it’s not

like I’m some kind of ascetic monk but

at the same time I try not to get

over-involved

it’s in something if if something

doesn’t work out my way I did my best

and it doesn’t quite come out the way I

want you know I have to accept you know

the the bhagavad-gita says you have

control over action alone never the

fruits so you can only control what you

can do you can’t control the outcome

because many times that relies on other

variables that are outside of your

control so I would say yes I feel more

self actualized I feel more engaged and

I feel less over attached how would you

say this affects your focus your

concentration the things that you know

would you say that you are more focused

you have a better concentration you are

better at in your everyday I mean

through meditation I mean and to alter

my question a little bit there are

different types of meditation right so

right there’s there are there is you

know there is mindfulness how would you

rate TM versus other meditations is

there a scale of meditation or is it

just a kind of variable like what suits

one person better to another person

better well I think I think that there

are definite differences that can be

enumerated you know the tasks that

you’re asking the meditator to do in one

case you’re asking the person to focus

usually on something that’s going on

here and now in the other case you’re

asking them to automatically access a

mantra so in the first case what you

gain is the exquisite moment-to-moment

understanding of the present of

and now in the other case you’re moving

into a different state of consciousness

that’s going to reward you in in a

variety of ways and the one instance

you’re getting a sense of life as it

really is with its moment to moment

changes in the other case you’re getting

a shift in consciousness that pervades

your daily life and infuses your actions

and your perception so they’re two very

different journeys and I’ve got in my

book I’ve got a chapter on contrasts

between these two different types of

meditation but I’ve also featured a

couple of people who do both kinds and

say I got different things from my two

different kinds of meditation and I can

even it’s quite short I can even see if

I can read one description it’s just

about two paragraphs shallower yes

please entertainment marketing

consultant Chuck Lizzie Otis writes I

practice both TM and mindfulness

meditation they each serve unique

purposes I begin and end each day with

TM with it I’m able to still my mind

de-stress and start the day open and

relaxed my profession is entertainment

marketing a remarkable aspect of TM is

that some of my best ideas come right

off to practice while sitting quiet and

calm allowing my mind to drift it is in

the strip that I’m able to see the

connectivity of what I’m working on and

possible solutions or outcomes it’s

still exciting each time it happens I

end each day with TM practice it helps

to let the day wash out letting go

drifting off to a deeper sleep and a

more rested morning I believe that TM is

directly responsible for sharpening my

mind and intellectual memory-recall

and creativity it is part of my

foundation okay so that’s the first

paragraph at describe TM let me just

summarize you see in distress you see

shifts in consciousness they’re drifting

off

you see increased creates

you’re seeing a growth of the mind the

super mind you know it’s in this drift

I’m able to see the connectivity my best

ideas come right after practice so I

mean you will say you would say that

there is a dramatic shift in a person’s

character who they are after after using

this type of medication meditation

definitely yes I mean you’ve gotta do it

for a while but but it certainly

happened to me that’s why I wrote the

book I mean writing a book is a lot of

work you don’t do it frivolously you

only do it if you’re convinced that this

is a process worth explaining and worth

communicating okay so let me go on to

his second paragraph which is about

mindfulness

he says mindfulness works to facilitate

clarity focus compassion and truth as

humans we have the tendency to create

narratives I more than most and

mindfulness allows me to examine clearly

exactly what is going on what is being

said and noticed my reaction to it all

done by breathing slowly rhythmically

and being aware of what is happening

inside this practice allows me to take a

step back listen to what is being said

and respond with compassion that goes to

the heart of the issue at hand

it is difficult at times not to get

caught up in the heat of the moment as

well as to face what we truly fear

mindfulness takes courage to look at the

world as it is so there you see a very

very different practice a very different

outcome he does both so he finds both

useful the one that Superman couldn’t

concerns is TM because that’s the one

that grows the mind in the way that I

have described in the book and so norm I

mean what let’s get into the origins of

Transcendental Meditation where where I

mean the vedas came up with this right

such a vedic tradition yes it’s it’s

3,000 years old it was developed in the

Himalayas it’s the Vedic tradition that

is before Buddhism in

Hinduism split off that is the Vedic

tradition and they’ve been doing it for

thousands of years and then somewhere in

the 1950s a monk who had studied under

his master named Mary she Mahesh Yogi

the monk decided to take this wisdom and

training and take it to the rest of the

world from the Himalayas so he began to

understand how did the Western world

work and he packaged this meditation

into a way of fitting it into a busy

western day then he figured 20 minutes

twice a day should be manageable and he

distilled it down to that duration and

indeed it seems to be a very successful

formula you know at the beginning of

this conversation we took you mentioned

that as psychiatrist you looked at

methods that avoided using medication to

treat symptoms illnesses mental

illnesses would you say that you would

recommend TM to your patients oh I have

probably 20 to 25 percent of my practice

meditates regularly and what would you

say is is the difference in you know

these conditions after the meditation

occurs well let’s take anxiety disorders

and some of them I’ve been able to lower

the medications people have loved it

like I think of one young man very smart

young guy with anxiety problems he

introduced to his wife who’s a very very

busy professional and she meditates now

he does she does his father in another

city does because they have found it to

be so valuable so it’s just a way of

spreading it but you know here’s one

reason why I write books because if I’m

with one patient I’m teaching people one

at a time

the things that I’ve learned that are

going to help them but when I’m on a

podcast like this one then hopefully I

can get this message out to lots of

people and I can scale up the impact

that I have on doing good in the world

which is what I believe I’m here to do

so thank you for helping me to do that

and that also explains why I write books

and why I love being on shows such as

yours oh yeah you’re quite welcome and I

mean today is your birthday so it’s it’s

kind of a special day to be doing a show

like this a happy birthday thank you

thank you yes I mean normal where can

where can people find your website your

work and pick up a a copy of this book

oh sure yes my website is Norman

Rosenthal that’s just my first and last

name Norman Rosenthal comm and of course

on my website it’s got all my social

media but just for the record dr. Norman

Rosenthal is my Facebook page that’s dr

for dr. norman Rosenthal and then my

twitter is dr. now that just to make it

complicated that’s do ctor Norman of

course all of this is is defined by what

was available at the time when you

applied for your Facebook or Twitter and

so we’ll make that available to everyone

who finds the show we’ll make sure that

your twitter and facebook are linked

also in the show episode visit me on my

website my facebook my Twitter I love

engaging with people and I’m I’m really

so grateful to be on your show on my

birthday yeah thank you so much for

doing that and a big happy howl you sir

well I’m 66 and before I forget I should

just tell people the name of the book

once again it’s supermind how to boost

performance and live a richer and

happier life through Transcendental

Meditation I’m 66 and

the the dominant feeling of the day is

gratitude and I’m just so grateful to be

alive one more year and well and happy

and just have wonderful people in my

life that that I just feel the luckiest

man and their gratitude extends to you

for having me on your show and for

engaging me in this really wonderful

conversation well thank you sir I think

that’s a perfect note to close on guys

this is the human experience my guest is

dr. Norman Rosenthal his book is called

super mind thank you guys so much for

listening

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