The anti-guru appears just in time. How autosuggestion paved the way to the
Meditational Mac Daddy, Jiddu Krishnamurti.
“The cessation of thought is the awakening of intelligence.”
My meditational odyssey began in 1972. I was a high-level athlete that had used Soviet autosuggestion (a mental recalibration technique) for many years. What is the definition of autosuggestion? Autosuggestion is a mental imaging technique wherein the athlete repeatedly visualizes themselves performing the about to happen athletic drill or effort.
Each successive visualization requires an increase in clarity, detail and nuance. The more vivid the visualization, the more successful the athlete becomes in blurring the line between fantasy and reality. The more real the imagining the more effective the result.
The autosuggestion protocol is simple: create and repeatedly watch a mental movie of the about-to-happen athletic task. After ingraining a mental pattern of repeated success, the athlete opens their eyes and turns internal visualization into external reality.
What I learned was that over time and with repeated practice, the line between fantasy and reality blurs and this is a good thing. After years of autosuggestion, the degree of detail I was able to conjure improved dramatically.
As my ability to conjure up vivid images improved, so did my performance. The better I got at autosuggestion, the better I got at lifting massive poundage. The best and truest autosuggestion mental movies are wordless, without internal commentary.
Let me put a finer point on it: in my autosuggestion movies, I observe myself and my training partners as I ready for my all-out top set or competition lift. My partners and I will talk in my visualization - but only in profane bursts and the usual pre-lift exhortations training partners tell one another.
I focus with all my being on the final internal vision of me conquering the about-to-happen poundage or drill. Then I do it.
I wanted to see if there was anything past autosuggestion – which had served me well and which I would continue to use. I decided to explore the different meditational schools. My goal was to learn about the individualized techniques and practices. How did they differ from one another? What were the meditational commonalities?
Coincidentally a flood of meditational information became available in the early 1970s. Every week I would head to the local “spiritual bookstore” to scoop up new material on meditational methods, gurus, protocols, masters and modes. Was meditation the next logical step beyond autosuggestion? I began my own formal daily practice.
I hoped to discover meditational practices that would catapult my performance to the next level. I was devoid of any spiritual aspirations. I sought to learn and practice the techniques, shorn of any spiritual ambitions. It was all about upping my athletic game.
I began my studies with the various types of Hindu meditation. I read the Bagavada Gita and the Upanishads. I studied Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, Ma and the meditational methods of the Pondicherry Ashram. I studied Gopi Krishna, from whom I learned Kundalini ‘breath of fire’ breathing techniques. The Ice Man, Wim Hoff, makes modern use of these ancient Hindu meditational breathing techniques to withstand cold. I pointed this out when I wrote the forward to Wim’s book.
Later in life I developed a relationship with Sri Chinmoy Ghose, the Indian mystic and guru to John McLaughlin, Santana, Roberta Flack, Carl Lewis, Clarence Clemons, etc. We talked about meditational techniques and techniques unique to the Pondicherry school. I asked him how the meditational mindset could be better “tuned” to aide athletics. He had highly specific recommendations.
I explored Rinzai and Soto Zen at length and in depth. Rinzai uses Koans, unsolvable riddles designed to short-circuit the logical conscious mind and allow the student to have a kensho experience, a glimpse of enlightenment. Over time and with practice, that glimpse, that sliver of kensho is expanded.
The Soto school is simplistic: “just sit” and good things will happen. Over time and with practice a vast mental silence is cultivated by “just sitting.” This approach appealed to me mighty. The Soto school was light on dogma and talk and heavy on practice: practice being sitting in a specific structural alignment using regulated breathing. Adherents would sit in Zazen posture for hours each day “lightly residing in the immediate present.”
I moved onto the Chinese Taoist and was particularly taken with the Taoist linking of the meditational mindset to movement. The martial animal forms were wedded to meditational mindset and set into motion. Formal Taoist meditational sitting sessions preceded the practice of the sacred “internal” martial arts. I began the study of the Chinese internal martial arts: Pa Kua, Hsing I and Tai Chi.
I dug deep and long into the mountain-dwelling Tibetan cave monks, initially alerted to them and the Dzogchen sect through Thomas Merton’s Eastern Journals. The hardcore cave monks live in mountainside caves year-round, sitting eighteen hours a day. They exhibited an ability to ward off cold with “tamo fire-breathing” techniques.
It took me ten years to work my way through all the schools of meditation that interested me. Right about the time I was looking around for another meditational cult to study – the Sufi mystics and Whirling Dervishes were on my radar – a happenstance occurrence caused me to put the brakes on further religious-related meditational exploration.
While riding on the Washington DC metro to Dupont Circle, I sat in a seat where someone had left a paperback book, Jiddu Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things. Thus, began a 50-year relationship with my psychological mentor.
What grabbed me about Krishnamurti’s approach was how he honed-in on the nucleus of the meditational atom: the goal of all schools of meditation is the ceasing of conscious thought. Only when thought subsides can reality be perceived.
Every school of meditation I had studied was just that: a school. They each presented highly formalized “methods” for meditating. Each school used a method that, if used right and consistently would enable the meditator to access the wordless, blissful, state of “pure being.” Krishnamurti said, how about we forget about the schools, gurus and methods and just skip ahead to the “pure being” part. And that it was possible and doable.
Krishnamurti felt all organizations were inherently corrupt. How can the meditator attain a non-mechanical state of wordless bliss using the “mechanical methods” taught by various religious sects? He sought a short-cut to that mindset of electrified hyper-alertness, characterized by a lack of internal dialogue.
K felt that it was an irresolvable conflict to use a rote method to attain an ethereal state. Besides, he asserted, anyone and everyone can attain the meditational mindset without Master, guru or method. His insisted that you don’t need a guru, religion or authority figure to teach yourself how to attain the profound mental silence that is the hallmark, the commonality, that links all meditational schools. Profound mental silence is true meditation.
His strategy for attaining deep mental silence was to “cultivate deep awareness.” And you didn’t need to run off to an ashram. The strategy is simple, “Can you simply observe? Can you look at something or someone so intently and completely that thought falls silent?” This is a slippery paradox, as Krishnamurti points out (and stated differently) it is impossible to observe an object or person fully and completely if thought is active and chattering.
Without thought to distract us we can observe deeply and wordlessly. A quality of consciousness emerges out of alert silence that offers us “freedom from the known.” Krishnamurti would talk about “emptying the content of consciousness” and how when allowed to grow quiet, our overheated, stressed-out brain would fall silent, and during these silent periods the brain would heal, repair, recover and rebuild. When called “back online” the quieted and rested brain thinks faster, clearer and more precisely.
I was routinely attaining the thoughtless state of mental silence during and after my hardcore training sessions. My post-workout bliss was characterized by a glow, a contented silence and feeling of euphoria bought on by a hormonal tsunami that was unleashed by my herculean, past capacity, efforts. When subjected to maximum physical effort, the body dumps adrenaline, serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, growth hormone and anandamide into the bloodstream. This hormonal bliss is compounded by physical exhaustion and mental euphoria.
I was routinely experiencing a post-workout state of blissful mindlessness, an electrified silence - which I later discovered, was the goal of meditation. Krishnamurti said that just because the meditator does not use some sort of formal, recognized meditational system, with ritualized posture, stylized breathing and breath counting (K viewed this as the height of mechanization) doesn’t mean meditational bliss is to be denied. On the contrary, Krishnamurti said anyone anytime anywhere can attain the core, the nucleus of meditation.
No guru, no method, no Masters – just learn to observe life so intensely and completely that thought falls silent of its own accord. Tasks that cause us to become totally immersed cause the conscious mind to fall silent. A jazz musician in the middle of an improvised solo is not thinking about his next note, the ballplayer moving to shag a hot grounder isn’t thinking, he’s mindlessly moving; an athlete driving for a basket or a man squatting 600 pounds is completely focused and not preoccupied or multitasking. Complete focus requires mental silence.
Krishnamurti’s magnus opus is a 450-page book, The Awakening of Intelligence. A careful reading of this guide to the inner universe reveals that that the book’s title is the second half of a single sentence that forms the bedrock foundation of his philosophy.
The sentence lies hidden within the bowels of the book – just another Krishnamurti quote, placed deep in the book with no special attention, no highlighting – how many people read that book and skimmed right over this essence of the nuclei, this all important sentence?
“The cessation of thought is the awakening of intelligence.”
Ultimately, all meditational schools seek to put the meditator into a wordless state. When the thinker, the observer falls silent, the inky film that obscures reality dissolves, allowing the meditator to perceive reality and reality always unfolds in the instantaneous present.
Krishnamurti encourages us to live a life full of immersion tasks. Engage in hardcore training and tasks that cause you to lose your sense of self. Allow that overheated, stressed-out brain circuitry time to heal, repair and recover. Mental silence is a learned skill that improves with time and practice. And no need to run off to the ashram.
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.