Message from the Head
May 10, 2024

Message from the Head

What do St James schools have in common with The Beatles?

The answer, of course, is mantra meditation.

Both our founder, Leon MacLaren, and The Beatles – John, Paul, George, and Ringo – met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and learnt the practice of meditation from the man who went on to found Transcendental Meditation (TM).

This is the practice we offer to pupils if they wish to take it up, and which I have been practising daily for over thirty years. It is the greatest gift I have ever received. I could not have lead this unique school for the past eleven years without it.

In February 1968, the Beatles travelled to Rishikesh in Northern India, at the behest of George Harrison. Here, they were to learn transcendental meditation at the Maharishi’s ashram on the banks of the Ganges, a long way from the banks of the Mersey where the four Mop-tops had grown up. What subsequently happened is a matter of conjecture and debate among Beatles historians which I cannot discuss here, however, John Lennon certainly fell out with the Maharishi. If you are interested in reading a balanced view of this I recommend John Higgs book, ‘Love and Let Die’.

The meditation the Beatles learnt, although rooted in ancient Hindu thought, is not religious itself. It is though, simple and effective. Over the years, many studies have shown its effectiveness in improving physical and mental health, for instance helping to reduce hypertension and anxiety.

The quietening of the mind and the centring of attention are of enormous benefit. Creativity and productivity are also increased. Paul McCartney described his early meditation experience in this way: ‘It appeared to me that I was like a feather over a hot air type, a warm air pipe. It was a very blissful feeling.’

When the Beatles returned to England, in their post meditation state, they produced a double album that became the White Album. The cover of the album could be seen as a product of the transcendence they had found. For the next three years the band recorded their greatest period of productivity ever: Harrison was elevated as a songwriter, recording ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’, Lennon wrote ‘Imagine’, ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and ‘Come Together.’ McCartney ‘Let it be’, ‘Black Bird’ and ‘Hey Jude’. Even Ringo wrote his first song, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’.

TM meditation grew in popularity since its early days and a whole raft of celebrities subscribe to the practice, including such diverse names as Clint Eastwood, Nick Cave, ex England football manager Sam Allardyce, President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige, Jennifer Anniston, Hugh Jackman, Madonna, Harry Styles and Smokey Robinson. The film Director David Lynch is perhaps its greatest advocate; he certainly explains it well on YouTube.

Individually, the Beatles have continued to support it since those heady days on the banks of the Ganges. Harrison was the most committed to the Vedic culture and his connection is well documented. Ringo, for his eightieth birthday, held a virtual concert for the David Lynch Foundation that promotes TM and said at the time, ‘One of the best gifts I ever got was from the Maharishi, who gave me the Mantra and taught me to meditate.’ Paul McCartney said in the 1990’s, ‘I still use the Mantra; when I was in prison in Japan it came in very handy.’

This academic year, two groups of pupils have visited the School of Meditation in Holland Park and been given their mantra to begin the practice of meditation. This is open to all pupils and parents each year I can thoroughly recommend it. It has made my Christian faith brighter and made me a more bearable human being (or so my wife tells me).