- Published by:
- Liverpool Echo
- Interview by:
- George Harrison
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Paul McCartney and I were standing in the quadrangle of Normal College at Bangor. All the other newspapermen who had besieged the Beatles’ headquarters of meditation had been given a few brief answers to questions and had left.
But Paul and I are old friends. He wanted to tell me as quietly and simply as he could what was happening to him and to John, George and Ringo at the feet of the man they were calling “Master,” the 57-year-old Himalayan mystic, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was not much easier for Paul to express than for me to understand, but we both tried.
And then, from the alcove inside the front doors of the college hostel where they had their rooms, came the burr-burr or a phone bell.
Everyone else had disappeared. Only Paul and my cameraman colleague, Steve Shakeshaft, were there to hear its buzzing. It broke into Paul’s thoughts. He said: “I’d better answer that George. Excuse me.“
A few moments later he returned and said: “There was nobody on the line. That’s odd,” and went on talking.
The phone bell started up again. Paul answered it. This time I could hear his voice but not what he said.
The next minute I saw him racing upstairs to the quarters where he and his Beatles colleagues were staying. He did not come down again until pale-faced, he and his girlfriend, Jane Asher, emerged with their luggage, got into a friend’s car and left for London.
This friend, an American, whom I had met when he accompanied us on one of the Beatles’ tours of the United States, confided to me before they left: “The call that interrupted your talk with Paul was from London to give him the news of Brian Epstein’s death. That is why he went straight up to tell the others and why he didn’t come down again as he had promised you, to bring Jane Asher with him for a photograph of them together.“
The news was too incredible for belief at first. It brought a sudden sense of utter disaster over the quiet cloisters of Normal College — and blasted away all thoughts of meditation.
In place of the deep contemplation with which the day had started there was deep mourning as the realisation of Brian’s death hit the Beatles and their girls, John’s wife Cynthia, George’s wife Patti, and the elfin-like red-head Jane Asher.
The girls wept and tears streaked their mascara. But they did not care about appearance now.
A few hours went by. Paul and Jane had sped off towards London. The others were waiting for cars from London to arrive and take them back, too. The three who remained agreed to talk to us.
Almost fiercely, George put forward his belief: “Brian isn’t dead. There’s no such thing as death except in a physical sense. Life goes on. He will return because he desired bliss.“
One thing stood out like a beacon. The previous 48 hours of being with Maharishi and learning from him the secret of deep meditation was standing them in good stead at this time of tragedy.
John Lennon told me: “If it had happened while we were all in London we wouldn’t have known where to turn. But Maharishi has given us comfort and we feel a sense of calm and peace in spite of all the disturbance going on around us.“
What is this teaching of “transcendental meditation” that has gripped such unlikely converts as the sophisticated, wealthy Beatles?
Come back with me to that conversation I was having with Paul McCartney in the Hall quadrangle.
“We aren’t thick, you know, George,” he said. “We can think for ourselves and we certainly wouldn’t latch on to this unless we were convinced it was good. How can I explain it? Well, suppose a doctor offered you a pill and said: ‘Take this and it will wipe out all your anxieties and tensions; enable you to concentrate, make you work harder and better: give you a great feeling of well-being and, above all, will have no ill effects of any kind — only good ones.’
“If a doctor said that to you, what would you do? Throw the pill away or take it? Because in a way, that’s what the meditation of Maharishi is all about. They enable us to relax as I, personally, have never relaxed before. The others feel the same as me, although we’ve only just started to learn what it is all about.”
I asked Paul: “What is the feeling you get when you are practising meditation as you are doing?“
He thought a few moments and said:
“It’s rather like sitting in a big armchair in front of a blazing open fire. As you watch the flames leaping, your conscious thoughts seem to mingle with the flames and disappear into nothing. Your tensions go, you become more and more relaxed and at peace. For a while. the worries of everyday life and the world around you fade away. When something stirs you and you come back to the normal state of consciousness, you have a feeling of well-being that you didn’t have before. You can get up and go about your normal life, but you somehow feel better, fitter. more able to cope with anything that comes along.
“And that is how Maharishi’s teaching of transcendental meditation affects us. With it, all feelings of needing drugs to relax or to stimulate disappear. They aren’t necessary. Meditation takes their place in a clean healthy way.
“I suppose we have all taken some kind of at one time or another when we felt depressed or needed to carry on working late and required an artificial up-lift. But never again. This form of meditation does away any need for drugs.
“Yet the great thing is that all it demands of you is half an hour every day, just to put your feet up, if you want to, in your own home before you start off for work.
“Here at Bangor, we’ve been having breakfast, then going in for a session of meditation with Maharishi, for, of course, we are still novices and need to be taught the correct technique so that we can go home and follow it.
“Maharishi tells us that this method can be practised anywhere by any normal person. All other Indian mystics have always thought and taught that meditation can be practised only in solitude, isolation and under hard self-discipline. This one doesn’t require that. And it doesn’t interfere with your ordinary way of life, either. If you want to drink or smoke, just go ahead although not obviously, while you are actually in meditation.
“This isn’t like wrapping your mind in cotton wool and shutting yourself off from the world for months. You live energetically but peacefully with the world and people around you in your everyday life.”
“It isn’t a matter of possessions. It makes no odd how much money a man’s worth, it is still a certainty that he suffers from most of the anxieties that affect everybody else. His bank balance doesn’t come into it.”
I said to Paul: “A lot of folk are going to ask why four boys who have made fortunes so quickly and are young enough to enjoy every minute of your lives and your wealth should have any stresses and strains that cail for this kind of meditative treatment.“
With a serious face he replied:
“We are no different from anybody else. We have our problems just as you do. We find tensions and frustrations slowly building up inside us until we have to blow our tops. And that makes things worse.”
“Even things like having to give Press conferences have caused us a load of worry. You know, wondering what questions we shall be asked and if we would come through all right.
“Yet even after only a few hours of listening to Maharishi and learning the rudiments of deep meditation, we’ve reached the state of being so relaxed and at peace that when we were asked if we would have a Press conference today, I found myself saying: ‘A Press conference? Oh, good.’ Sounds daft, doesn’t it? After such a short time. But it shows how situations that used to make us sweat can now be met with a feeling of confidence and relaxation. The tension has gone.”
Then came the telephone bell ringing nearby. Paul broke off to answer it.
He and his fellow Beatles have never been so much in need of that inner peace and tranquillity of mind as they are right now.
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