Pillow Talk with Théo Burkhardt
Just the thought of mediation can be daunting. Technology has created meditation apps to make it easier, but aren’t we supposed to be disconnecting in order to destress? Luckily Jeffrey and I have a dear friend who has tried it all and discovered that meditation is not as unattainable as we think.
Théo Burkhardt, a Vedic Meditation teacher based in Los Angeles, experimented with various practices of meditation before ultimately finding Vedic Meditation, an ancient, simple and natural technique that practices the art of letting go by transcending into a restful state of consciousness. He describes his method as easy and enjoyable with immediate and long lasting benefits. You’re simply expanding awareness and discovering bliss within. Sign us up!
I was excited to sit down with Théo (on our new DIANI Living meditation pillows) for our Pillow Talk Series, where we chatted about his personal wellness journey, meditation process and the last thing he does before bed – it’s not as zen as you think!
When you were in school, what was your favorite subject and what did you want to “grow up” to be?
I was terrible at school. I loved it but refused to do my homework or study for tests. I just wanted to play and read. But I liked English class when we were reading books. I wanted to be a magician, inventor, spy, mad scientist, or a film director.
What contributed to you becoming the meditation teacher you are today?
I was bit by a tick in and was infected with Lyme Disease on a camping trip with my cousins. It went undiagnosed for a year. I was so sick I began looking into meditation as a way to help me sleep, remove stress, and boost my immune system. I started doing mindfulness but was terrible at it. I couldn’t concentrate and found it incredibly difficult. But I was desperate so I stuck with it for a few years. It didn’t help me at all so I eventually quit. I thought I would never be able to meditate until I learned Vedic Meditation.
What is your meditation technique and process when working with clients?
I practice and teach Vedic Meditation. It’s an effortless technique where we gently think very specific onomatopoetic bija (seed) mantras until we transcend into a 4th state of consciousness. That 4th state of consciousness is very different from our first 3 states (sleeping, dreaming, and eyes-open waking state). When this “event” of transcendence occurs, our physiology rests 3-5 times deeper than when we’re asleep. It’s basically deep rest technology that requires no effort, focus, or control. We do nothing and it feels wonderful. I offer introductory talks a couple times a month to give people the opportunity to ask questions and hear how it works and what kind of benefits they can expect. If they sign up, they learn over 4 consecutive days (about 90 minutes a session).
How has meditation shaped your life?
Meditation has completely transformed every aspect of my life. But more than anything, it’s made me more myself. The things I used to enjoy, I enjoy more. I sleep better, accomplish more, have a much better relationship with myself, all without depleting energy. It’s made me more courageous in areas I needed more courage, and has dismantled my neediness (for attention, or need to be liked). But more than anything, it’s proven to me that happiness is inside me. I don’t need to go looking for it. I don’t need to find it. It’s not out there. It’s in here. That’s not a belief, that a direct, daily, and repeatable experience every time I transcend. I’m more self-reliant than ever.
How have you seen meditation change other people’s lives?
Most people try to change their actions by behaving differently. Those attempts fail. There’s also a belief that you have to change your thoughts first, which is partially true. If you want true change, it happens in consciousness first where more relevant and healthy ways of thinking find fertile ground, then behavior changes. After that, circumstances change. Everyone who meditates regularly changes for the better. The change I see in my students is astounding. Everyone’s happiness expands. People take things less personally, they worry less, suffer less, drop whatever victim narrative they’ve had on autopilot, etc. And all this change happens naturally, quietly, and without much friction.
There are lots of people who meditate, but not every one of them pursues it for a living, so you obviously have an entrepreneurial spirit…
I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. Whatever entrepreneurial spirit I have comes directly from my mission to start people meditating and bring them into a state of relevance with the Universe. In terms of growing a business, I’m still not sure what I’m doing. Even though my classes aren’t cheap, I don’t come at this whole thing from a “I want to get rich and have a famous brand” perspective. I just want to find worthy students and teach them. It just so happens, that my mission takes me around the world and brings me in an income that supports me as a teacher. For that I’m grateful.
Which entrepreneurs do you admire?
Amanda Bacon. She worked her ass off and created one of my favorite brands, Moon Juice. I love how she’s integrated Ayurveda and spirituality into the brand. She’s a friend and a fellow meditator. Awesome woman. I also admire Eric Ryan who created Method and Olly, and Elon Musk.
How do you define success?
Finding and knowing that happiness is within. Discovering it within yourself is lasting success. Why? It’s permanent. Everyone’s success in the relative world is temporary. Giving up the search for happiness outside yourself, and arriving at the conclusion that it’s within you because you’ve connected with it, is true success. You cannot find permanent happiness or fulfillment outside yourself. It just can’t be done. Like Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is within you.” Go there first. Go to your deepest nature. Connect with it. Know it. Be it. Then all achievements in your life will be more enjoyable, more delicious, more fun. I know so many incredibly successful and famous people. They’re all struggling. They’re all greedier, more stressed, more isolated, more despondent, more paranoid than they were 10 years ago. With the exception of the meditators. If you want to enjoy fame, fortune, and success, get enlightened. Once you’ve stabilized that inner state of fulfillment, nothing can make or break you. You just relax and enjoy. If anything, I hope to convince people to rearrange their priorities. Consciousness FIRST. Then achievement.
What do you think the single most important ingredient to success is?
Stabilizing the field of pure unbounded consciousness into your eyes open waking state. From that comes everything else. Good ideas, support of nature, and a stress-free nature.
What’s the most challenging part of your professional life?
The business aspect. I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s hilarious.
How do you try to manage your work/life balance?
I wouldn’t say there’s a need to balance because I don’t see a difference in work and life. If anything, I’ve integrated both my career and my life. To a certain extent, anyway. I love that. I used to have to balance work and “life” when I had a job and I had the all the fun things I could do when I didn’t have a job. Integration is key. Everything is fun now.
Where is your “happy place”?
Where isn’t it? I used to find my happy place only in meditation. Everything else sucked or failed in comparison. This was during my early days as a meditator. Life would be stressful but inside, deep within my consciousness, I would find a divine stillness. But I’ve integrated that too. Now I’m just as happy walking to get coffee, teaching, reading on a plane, playing video games, walking in the woods, shooting photos, and laughing with friends as I am during a deep meditation. It’s all good. But if I had to pick anything, it’d be the moment someone signs up for my course. Because they’re going to find bliss-consciousness deep within, and I get to share this incredible knowledge.
What do you see yourself doing next to express yourself professionally?
I’m becoming more and more interested in jyotish (Vedic astrology). It’s a very complex science and there’s a lot of charm to exploring it. It will never take the place of teaching but I’m going to study it until I can read people’s charts.
How do you manage the fear and doubt that inevitably can creep in when you’re paving a less trodden path?
When I first began all of this, I didn’t fully believe in myself. But I believed in the efficacy of Vedic Meditation and the benefits. All I had to do was share what I know and people would sign up and tell their friends. I had to surrender to Nature’s intelligence. It was obvious that I was removed from my track as a screenwriter to teach this. I just have to trust it. Meditation helps with that too. It’s chips away at your fears. Now I love jumping in to the unknown. Stagnation and the ever-repeating-known scares me more than anything.
What have you been most afraid of trying in your career, but you did it anyway?
I teach how to live in harmony with Nature. To do that we trust our fine level of feeling and follow charm. Nature speaks to us through charm. Find something charming? Follow it. Don’t question it, just go. So in December of 2016 I moved out of my apartment and put everything in storage and decided to follow charm for a year. Just to see what would happen. I wanted to practice what I preached. What came out of that? Students, travel, love, adventure, evolution. One of the best years of my life. Nature has your back. You just have to start trusting.
Was there any opportunity that you had in your life that you didn’t take?
I’m sure there were plenty but I can’t remember any. Probably because it’s irrelevant now. Who cares, right? Now it’s all following charm. If someone hits me up with a great opportunity (in other people’s eyes) but there’s no charm, I’m not interested.
What is something you’ve accomplished personally or professionally that you never dreamed possible for yourself?
I sold a show to HBO a couple of years ago. But I can barely say it was entirely my own accomplishment. The details are wild and also a little heartbreaking. But still, quite a feat. It was like lighting in a bottle. The show didn’t get picked up and, sadly, friends were lost. But it was an incredible experience where I had to dig deep and show up for myself and stand up for myself against the slime of Hollywood. If I didn’t have 10 years of meditation under my belt I would have had a nervous breakdown. It was a remarkable growing experience.
Aside from meditation…
Any sleep rituals that you use to help quiet the mind after a long day?
Yes. Vedic Meditation. The reason people have trouble sleeping is because their minds are awake when they shouldn’t be. The nervous system, under duress from fatigue and stress, will release stress when the physiology can rest. Its the only way stress can come out – through deep rest. When the nervous system purifies itself from stress, this causes thoughts to effervesce up into our minds. Those thoughts keep us awake and we say “I have insomnia”. What we do about this is meditate twice a day and give the nervous system and opportunity to purge stresses in our meditations. Then, when we climb into bed, there’s nothing left to purge so we can drift off to sleep. I had chronic insomnia for 9 years. Cured instantly the day I learned meditation. My students aren’t so lucky. Sometimes their insomnia isn’t cured until day 2 or day 3.
What’s the biggest gift you give yourself to recharge?
Besides meditating twice a day? Travel. I love traveling because it changes your thinking. You just don’t have the same boring thoughts about bills and wondering what you’re going to pick up at Trader Joe’s. It forces you to see other things, experience other people with all their quirks, eat differently, speak slower, etc. You have to be aware when you travel. You have to be adaptable, kind, and resilient. It’s so much fun. So eye-opening. Travel makes your more compassionate, and drives away stagnation. Travel inspires awe and humility. I never feel more alive than when I’m in a new country or city and don’t know how to get back to my hotel.
What’s the first thing you do after you wake up?
I do a clumsy surya namaskar (sun salute), sing the Gāyatrī Mantra out off key, brush my teeth, and meditate. Then I walk to get coffee. Sometimes I’ll swim first if its summer. But basically I wake up and meditate.
What’s the last thing you do before bed?
Instagram or reddit. I know I shouldn’t. I don’t recommend looking at screens. It’s my job as a meditation teacher to instruct my students to not look at screen before bed. But I love instagram. That’s what I’m doing. I always feel better when I’m reading a book before bed.
What’s your most sacred space in your house?
I don’t have a house. I’ve been homeless for 18 months, traveling and teaching and living out of hotel rooms, sublets, and sleeping on airplanes. I’m enjoying it but it’ll be nice to have a home again.
Thank you Théo, your journey and practice is such an inspiration!
Want to learn more about Théo’s meditation technique? Attend his free one-hour Intro Talk at DIANI Living with the option to sign up for a 4-day course (four-90 minute sessions).
Théo Burkhardt Intro Talk
How meditation works, enlightenment, and what the course entails
Date: Thursday, August 23rd, 2018
Venue: DIANI Living, 1324 State Street Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Please RSVP at email@example.com