“I meditate because I want to feel great every day.”
Will Williams was twenty-six when he hit rock bottom. He had been working too hard, partying too hard and generally not taking the time to nurture either himself or his important relationships. A friend of a friend introduced him to the idea of meditation as a cure for insomnia and he embraced the practice, which eventually led him to travel the world in search of greater knowledge and understanding. For the past seven years he has been teaching meditation. He has taught “artists and academics, housewives and hipsters, judges and janitors, lawyers and labourers, psychologists and scientists, bankers and billionaires, athletes and addicts” and with The Effortless Mind he aims to explain how meditation can help with pretty much all facets of modern life: “mental health, physical health, relationships, work, creativity and spirituality.”
In The Effortless Mind, Williams explains the philosophy behind the form of meditation he practices, that is, Beeja meditation, as well as the benefits that it can have for practitioners. Beeja meditation is inspired by the Vedic tradition and it is based on the power of sound. When Williams introduces someone to the meditation, he assigns them a personalised sound (or beeja) that he feels will resonate with them and optimally impact on their nervous system. During the meditation practice, the student repeats their sound very gently in their head for twenty minutes. There is no need to concentrate or to control the mind; instead, “the sound works as a vehicle to transport you beyond your cares and concerns, to a place of no thought”. The meditation renders practitioners more deeply relaxed than being in deep sleep and so allows both the mind and the body to recharge and reset.
According to Williams, the modern world’s need for Beeja meditation can be summed up in one word: stress. The symptoms of stress are fairly well known and include “anxiety, depression, insomnia, anger, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, digestive complaints, broken relationships, [and] toxic workplaces”. Due to the numerous potential triggers of our fight or flight response that characterise modern life, our stress levels are stuck in overdrive. In The Effortless Mind, Williams sets out, alongside relevant scientific evidence, how meditation can serve to counteract the triggers and symptoms of stress. In fact, the book explains how meditation can help people to overcome various problems affecting the body and the mind; assist them with tackling relationship issues; enhance their productivity, creativity and performance; and lead them to finding greater purpose and meaning in life.
The Effortless Mind also includes a number of illustrative case studies concerning people who have sought out Williams and Beeja meditation in an effort to tackle/overcome various problems. For instance, the pressure that musician Noel placed on himself to succeed both professionally and personally left him crippled by anxiety, so much so that he was having to attend a depression/anxiety clinic three or four times a week. He had tried yoga, mindfulness courses, healthcare apps and guided meditations, but each attempt to cure himself had only left him feeling worse. He read about the benefits of Beeja meditation in a magazine and, despite being very cynical about the whole process, arranged a meeting with Williams. During that first meeting, Noel was given his personalised sound and guided through his initial meditation with it. To his surprise, he immediately felt calmer and, from then on, he practised his mediation twice daily. His depression lifted after about a week, while after about four weeks he was free from anxiety and his confidence returned.
The subjects of the other case studies include Estrella, who turned to Beeja mediation to help cure her depression; Arjun, who sought help to manage his anger; David, who needed to overcome his chronic insomnia if he was to ever regain his health and vitality; and Dylan, who initially tired meditation to help with his work-related stress, but found that it also helped him to tackle his problems with alcohol and drugs. The inclusion of these case studies of real people with real problems who turned to Beeja meditation to help solve their various difficulties, often in desperation after other attempts had failed, really enhances the persuasiveness and motivational nature of The Effortless Mind. The real-life stories serve to compliment the scientifically verified benefits of meditation that Williams relates and make the whole thing more relatable.
The Effortless Mind offers an excellent insight into the theory and benefits of meditation. It contains all the information and real-world examples that readers who are pondering whether or not to take up meditation themselves will need to encourage them to look further into the actual technique involved.
Erin Britton 5*
The Effortless Mind: Meditation for the Modern World by Will Williams
Simon & Schuster UK 9781471167935 pbk May 2019