As an overstressed and under-rested attorney, Ben Turshen knew he needed to make a lifestyle change. When he discovered Vedic Meditation his anxiety and insomnia melted away. Today, he is dedicated to bringing the benefits of Vedic Meditation to busy New Yorkers at his own midtown studio. We sat down with Ben to talk anxiety, skepticism, and evolving corporate cultures.
Why did you start meditating?
I was a first year law student and had never meditated before. When I started having panic attacks my doctor prescribed medication and suggested therapy. When I began therapy, my therapist asked me what my spiritual practice was and I didn’t have one, I didn’t even know how to answer. That’s when he recommended I learn how to meditate.
What was your initial impression of meditation?
Before I learned how to meditate the two thoughts that came to mind about meditation were:
Monks sitting in a mountain-top temple with shaved heads wearing orange robes with their palms in their laps and just sitting there in tranquil, bliss states with no thoughts in their minds.
The other thought was the Yogi in India sitting in full lotus position with mudra hands, in that same cosmic state of bliss. I didn’t think it was going to be right for me because I wasn’t a monk or a Yogi, I was a 24 year old law student.
What was your first meditation experience like?
My therapist encouraged me to visit a Buddhist meditation center. When it came time to meditate, the teacher instructed the class to “sit in stillness and experience it.” Anything but the stillness occurred to me. My mind started racing, I got incredibly anxious, and I felt like I was going to have a panic attack. Despite how anxious I was I sat through the class. It was torture; two minutes felt like two hours, and I just couldn’t wait for it to stop. When it was over, I felt like I had flunked out of meditation.
Were you inclined to try a second class?
I walked out knowing that I wasn’t going to go back, knowing that I wasn’t going to meditate. My idea walking into class was that meditation probably wasn’t for me and my idea after class was meditation is definitely not for me. After that experience I abandoned meditation for four years.
That’s the danger with any type of experience; if you don’t have a good first impression - it will really sour the whole thing.
How did you eventually start practicing Vedic Meditation?
When I got out of law school I thought my anxiety would get better. I was working in the corporate product division of a law firm in 2008 as the markets were crumbling and my stress levels skyrocketed. I decided to revisit the idea of meditation and dabbled in other forms, like visualization and guided meditations. These subsequent encounters with meditation were better than my first class; they were nice distractions from my everyday experience, but they didn’t do much. The moment was enjoyable, but the moment it was over, I went back to being just as anxious as I was before. It was nice while it was happening, but it didn’t have a profound effect and my day-to-day didn’t change.
I then signed up for a free Intro to Vedic Meditation class, and learned the design and outcomes of the practice. Vedic meditation sounded more accessible and I was really floored by the benefits. At the same time, however, I still maintained a fairly high degree of skepticism, because the visualizations and guided meditations I had been trying hadn’t done much.
But the immediate impact of Vedic Meditation was profound; after a few days my anxiety diminished and my insomnia was gone.
Can you describe Vedic Meditation?
Using the Vedic Meditation technique, a meditator experiences transcendence, the state of pure Being. When you are in this state, you’re beyond thought; you’ve entered your pure consciousness, unadulterated by thoughts. This is essentially a state of bliss, or supreme inner contentedness.
Why do you think people struggle to commit to meditation?
The idea that I give my students is that this is not a luxury, this is a hygienic experience. You wouldn’t not pack your toothbrush on vacation and you wouldn’t leave your house without brushing your teeth - meditation enhances the way you experience the world and the way the world experiences you. So I encourage my students to keep it up even without a structured routine.
With Vedic Meditation, once you learn, it’s effortless, which makes beginning again very easy. I tell my students you’re only one meditation away from having a daily practice again.
How has your Vedic Meditation Practice evolved?
For seven years, I would meditate within fifteen minutes of waking up in the morning, but my morning meditation practice changed dramatically when I had a baby. . We have many preferences for our practice but the idea I give my students is to be totally non-negotiable about it, and willing to sacrifice preferences. There are still good outcomes that happen from meditation even when it’s not done at the preferred time or setting.
You also lead corporate meditation sessions. What are the benefits of meditation in the workplace?
Employers are seeing increased creativity and collaboration among the employees who participate in these meditation sessions. These sessions are helping participants feel calmer and more relaxed at work; a calm environment naturally sparks more creativity and collaboration. When employees feel stressed, their physiologies are telling them to run away or go to battle. But when they meditate and rid themselves of that stress, they can see connections more clearly and approach problems more openly.
How do you think corporate culture is evolving to support meditation practices?
When I first learned I didn’t tell anyone at my law firm; I thought meditation was weird. I thought they’d be critical of me for doing it. Now I get hired by law firms to teach and there’s a growing corporate culture that supports meditation. If someone tells their boss they need to go meditate, it’s not seen as a waste of time, it’s actually seen as an incredibly productive use of time.
Despite the heightened awareness around meditation, there still seems to be lingering skepticism. What would you say to someone who doubts the value of meditation?
I encourage a healthy skepticism. I’m asking people to dedicate 40 minutes every day, which equates to 250 hours every year - it’s a big time commitment! I want students to question the whole thing because they’re making a huge time investment to learn this practice. I think skepticism is good, but cynicism is the most defeatist thing you can have. If a student approaches meditation by telling himself it won’t work, then it likely won’t, or, it at least won’t work as well. Just like a placebo effect, there’s a nocebo effect. You have to have at least some belief or be open to new knowledge.
Ready to try Vedic Meditation? You can sign up for Ben’s free Intro Class here.