By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Prakash laughs. "You don't have to go to Colorado," he says. "You can do it here, but you have to be disciplined. I can teach you, but the discipline has to come from you. It's important that you make that commitment and never feel guilty about taking care of yourself, because no one else can do it for you."
He asks what time I usually wake up.
I say 9:30 or 10 and immediately feel like a loser.
He raises his eyebrows. "Oh my," he says.
"But I go to bed late," I say, justifying myself and the collection of alarms that I keep in various places so that when they jolt me awake I have to walk a few paces to turn them off.
"If you get up after 6 a.m. you're lethargic," Prakash says. He asks what time I'd like to get up. I say 8. He recommends 7. We settle on 7:30. He prescribes an 11 p.m. bedtime, which means brushing my teeth at 10 and doing a 15-minute meditation at 10:30. That way, he says, I can rise at 7:30 and do my morning meditation. Since this regimen would eliminate two to three hours normally dedicated to CNN and 30 Rock reruns on Hulu, late-night e-mails and Facebook, not to mention books and the occasional all-nighter to make a deadline, it seems a daunting task.
Prakash himself has adhered to the same rigorous schedule for years, decades even. He says his wife can tell the time by what he's doing at any given moment. He wakes at 4:45 a.m., drinks an 8-ounce glass of water and makes his bed. At 5 he shaves and listens to the news, then goes over his schedule for the day. By 5:30 he's on his stationary bike for a 2-mile ride and after that he does yoga for 20 minutes. At 6:40, after his shower, he sits down for his 20-minute meditation and then eats breakfast. He's at the office by 8. "Routines are boring," Prakash tells me, "but they're life-sustaining."
As part of the routine, he also says to plan the week each Sunday, scheduling every day so I know how everything will get done and when. He suggests spending a few minutes each night updating the next day's schedule. "That way you won't always have tasks in your head," he says.
Now he moves on to meditation and explains that the practice is key to resting an overworked and never-ceasing mind, that it balances the right brain (associated with emotion and creativity) and the left brain (associated with logic and reason) and restores equilibrium to crucial brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. "In this culture the left brain—where there's constant chatter—is dominant," he says. "The right side just sits there like a bum. Meditation lets the left and right brain work together as one unit."
He puts on music that sounds like a combination of running water, wind chimes and some sort of gong. "Now close your eyes and be aware of your breath," he says. "Don't focus on your breath, just be aware of it." The difference between focus and awareness, he explains, is akin to staring intently at a lamp versus simply knowing it's there, which takes much less effort.
I try that, but moments later I'm engaged in deep conversation with myself about the distinction between focus and awareness when I suddenly remember that I'm not supposed to be thinking. This is harder than I remembered.
"Breath is life," Prakash continues. "Breath controls the mind; the mind controls the body."
I pretend I'm in yoga class and extend my inhales and exhales. As soon as I relax, though, something about the babbling brook music makes me think about fairies, which makes me think about this childhood jigsaw puzzle I had that depicted a fairy castle with a unicorn in front, which randomly and for reasons unknown makes me think of my childhood imaginary friends, Scott and Chris. Chris wore blue and was very, very good and Scott wore orange and was very, very bad, so whenever I did something like carve my name into my father's favorite hardwood table, I blamed Scott....
From far away, Prakash's voice interrupts my reverie and reminds me that I've been lost in a swirling tunnel of thought. "Don't resist or try to stop the thoughts," he's saying.
"Just notice them and let them pass."
It seems impossible to keep the thoughts at bay or let them go, but somehow, when I open my eyes a few minutes later, I feel more refreshed than I have since the last time I slept outdoors in Hawaii. I look around the room, and strangely, everything looks...clearer.
Prakash nods in apparent approval. "You'll get better," he says. "You're a high achiever, and I have to tell you, the more you try, the harder it is. Just let it happen."
Great. After knowing me for less than an hour, he's figured out that despite my morning slothfulness and disarray, I'm also an analytical control freak who would much rather mold the future to her liking than welcome it with relaxed detachment. Maybe I'm not cut out for this...