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The greatest teacher I ever had in my life was called Tobi.

I would do anything to please her. Which, it seems, is one way teachers have of getting you to learn. It gets personal somehow. In this case, the work we were doing together was very personal, and—we both felt—important.

Tobi taught Transcendental Meditation at the large West Coast TM Center in Pacific Palisades, California. She and her husband were co-directors of a very large organization, on a very impressive piece of ocean-side property.

I came to TM in quite a roundabout fashion. I was having a really bad allergy problem, which evidenced itself by skin inflammation, eczema, non-specific itching; I was just generally a pretty unhappy puppy. I went to a lot of doctors, who gave me a lot of drugs, and the problem would go away while I was on the drugs (as problems often do), but when my prescription ran out I’d be scratching myself raw in no time at all.

I had a dog with this condition once. The poor son of a bitch was miserable. He eventually got mean and bit my son. I wasn’t sure what I would do if the problem continued, but I knew I had to do something.

I had read about Ayurvedic Medicine. Holistic cures. From India. All that New Age stuff. The TM Center had an Ayurvedic physician on staff. A "real" doctor. You know, M.D. after his name. Charged a lot of money. Drove a Mercedes Benz. But he did his medical thing the Eastern Way. Ayurveda. My health insurance covered it, so I went to see this guy and he solved the problem. No muss, no fuss. No drugs. No follow-up visits stretching to infinity.

All I had to do, basically, was change my life.

He was very matter-of-fact about meditation. TM was at the bottom of a long list of things he gave me to help the problem. He should have put it at the top.

I decided to look into TM because of the vibe of the center. It just felt good to be there. I liked the people. When you work in a very stressful environment, as I do, you appreciate the little things. The Center was quiet. The people were gentle. There were flowers everywhere and the place smelled of incense. It was a spiritual haven in the middle of Babylon, and it came into my life at just the right time, as these things tend to do.

When I met Tobi I fell in love.

I read frequently about how spending money to learn meditation is stupid, and spending money to learn Transcendental Meditation is even more stupid because Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is this or that or the other thing. He did this to the Beatles. He did that to Mia Farrow. It’s a cult is one you hear a lot. And it’s all about money, yadda yadda yadda.

In the case of the TM Center, it was all about money. They had a very expensive piece of real estate to keep up. They had a payroll every week. They had a kitchen that routinely fed three or four hundred people three meals a day. So they charged money to teach me to meditate. Big deal. I had the money. That’s how I chose to spend it.

Tobi Weissman was the kindest, most caring, most thoughtful, most loving person I have ever known. She died of cancer after teaching me some important stuff, so I can’t ever forget her, can I?

I spent the better part of a year with her. I did not become just another fish in some sort of elaborate Spiritual Ponzi Scheme. I spent 600 bucks on one other very worthwhile two or three month course after TM, but basically I learned to shut up and listen; to other people, to nature, but mostly to myself. Inside. Where God lives.

In Ayurvedic health care, there’s a very useful process called panchakarma, which is basically about deep-cleaning the body and soul. Purifying yourself. You go into the spiritual place for a while, within you and without you, as the Beatles might have put it, and they practice deep sorts of massage, a cleansing diet, good thoughts, etc. You know. Hippy stuff. Six thousand year old religious stuff too, but....

Panchakarma is a vacation for the soul, and I needed one. I decided to check into this Very Special Hotel California and take back my Self. While I was there, for the better part of a week, I lived in a small room with no TV, no phone, and absolutely nothing extraneous to my existence. Which also meant no talking. You should try that some time. Just stop talking. Find out how much you really need to vocalize in this world. It’s powerful medicine.

I had never felt better in my life.

When my panchakarma was over, I was brimming over with love for everybody, and especially Tobi. It’s like when you get your purple belt , or you hit another level here on E2, there’s a specialness about having done it.

Tobi’s eyes were even deeper and shinier than they had been before I’d taken this most recent step on the path. And bear in mind, I had NO IDEA she was deathly ill. She never let us know, till the very end. Tobi was NEVER about herself. But she was ALWAYS about her Self. You know what I mean?

She was very curious about Vietnam. Why had I gone? What had I learned about my Self there? We had become good friends during all our time together and I didn’t mind talking about it with her. She had a way, talking with you, of making you think that she was the only other person in the world at that moment.

One day, as we sat so comfortably intimate together, I told her about the first minute of my tour in Vietnam, which I’ve written about here in How to Brush Your Teeth in a Combat Zone.

As I got off the plane, in the profusion of emotions I was feeling, Across the Universe, the Beatles song, drifted up out of nowhere and basically smothered me in love.

Try to imagine hearing that song at the beginning of a war you’re in:

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me.

Jai guru dev a om

Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe

Jai guru dev a om

Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing
Through my open views inviting and inciting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me like a
million suns, it calls me on and on
Across the universe

Jai guru deva om

Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.
In Nam I’d been soothed by the song, especially the part about nothing’s gonna change my world. It felt like an omen to me, that I might not die there in that hot place 8000 miles from home after all.

In Pacific Palisades, 25 years later, I was both excited and comforted, because we used those words every day,

Jai Guru Dev.

We used them at the end of every coming together, every class, every group meditation, in the same way our Teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used them: to honor His Teacher, His Guru:

Shri Guru Dev, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati.

It’s a tradition they have, paying love and respect to those who have come and gone before.

I had never known what the words meant until I met Tobi, and I met Tobi because I had an itch I couldn’t scratch enough.

Tobi smiled at me, that twinkling gentle smile she shares with the Maharishi, that smile I’ll carry with me always, and said:

"Wonderful. George Harrison is here doing panchakarma. Don’t tell anybody."

And I haven’t. Until now.

I had breakfast, lunch and dinner with George Harrison and neither of us ever said a word.


Across the Universe, John Lennon & Paul McCartney, Let It Be, The Beatles, 1970

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