“The sun is up / the sky is blue / it’s beautiful and so are you...” We all know the opening lines of the infamous Beatles song “Dear Prudence”, but many don’t know that this song is, in fact, a remarkably literal account of a real experience that John, Paul, Ringo and George had with a real woman named Prudence. In 1968, Prudence F. Bruns (sister of Mia Farrow) left her home in Manhattan to study in India with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation. The Beatles just so happened to be doing the same. Upon arrival, Prudence secluded herself, rarely leaving her room in an attempt focus all her energy on seeking internal peace. Her dedication to the practice inspired John Lennon to write the universally beloved song that would come to define her.
After being made a Transcendental Meditation teacher and receiving a PhD in South Asian Studies, Prudence now resides in Seagrove Beach, Florida, where she continues her work with TM. In 2015, Prudence published her memoir "Dear Prudence: The Story Behind the Song". She recently stopped by our shop in Watersound, Florida for a book signing and we were able to talk to her about her history with TM, why she decided to write the book, and her fears and hopes for future generations.
What exactly is Transcendental Meditation? Can you break it down for us a little?
Transcendental Meditation is from the yogic tradition, so it’s basically yogic meditation but it was refined and simplified by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when he brought it to the West. It can really be as simple as just 20 minutes, twice per day, to give you the full benefits of the practice. The basic idea of TM is that deep inside of each of us is a part of the mind that is silent, stable, unchanging, creative and peaceful. And we can tap into this part. We can begin to cultivate it and bring it into our inner life.
So, we have our busy mind and we also have the foundation to that, which is the silent part, almost as if we have two minds. And when you start to cultivate that "silent mind" it gives you more stability. It helps the busy mind settle down so that you have more control over your thoughts and your feelings and your reactions to things. It’s truly a wonderful thing and it’s a part of us that we’ve never really cultivated. But it’s there to be cultivated and this ancient yogic method is profound, it really makes a huge difference in your life.
People start yoga (which now we have close to 40,000 practitioners in the United States), for stress. I know I did. This is for deeper stress. Not just does it help with dealing with how you feel in the moment, but it also works on healing and bringing peace to the mind so that your emotional "baggage" begins to be mitigated. This is basically what I felt was the most important part of my life, bringing this practice to people’s awareness.
How did you begin your journey with TM? Could you tell us a bit about your personal history with the practice?
As a short overview, this is really easy and enjoyable to do and that’s one of the most important things about it. You can actually do it. So, that was a major player for me when I was young. I had a lot of stress and I really felt like this could help me. I had read about Buddha and great yogis in India finding peace and so I knew it could be possible. I began looking into meditation but everything was just so complicated. They never told you what to do. I would go to the Zen Center regularly in Manhattan in 1965 and we would just sit for a half hour and nobody would say, "Here’s what you do, this is what you should be looking for, etc..." You just closed your eyes and meditated. Nothing was explained really and when I asked how to do something they would say “well... you just do it.”
I first heard about Transcendental Meditation in 1966 after I had been seeking a meditation that these real yogis practiced. A friend of my brother's introduced it to me after he had been in India with Maharishi. The simplicity and directness of what he described to me was just so straightforward compared to everything else I’d been looking into and right away, just from what he said, I felt that this was what I was looking for. I started practicing, and it was truly amazing.
Next, I wanted to study with the person who knew all about this, who could teach me about this silent part of the mind that I needed to tap into. I tried to go to India in 1967, but I was turned away because I was too young. I got another chance to go in 1968 and I ended up staying for four and a half months. That’s when I met the Beatles and they wrote the song “Dear Prudence”. John and George were taking the course that I was taking and Ringo and Paul were visiting. The whole experience turned out to be life-changing.
You often talk about the organic movement and "changing the world by changing yourself". Could you tell us what this means to you and why it's important to be conscious of what we put in our bodies?
The events that I grew up in (the world wars, the cold war, the development of the H-bomb etc.) really brought about a generation that realized that we had to change things if we wanted to go forward. Otherwise, there could be another world war and perhaps one that would really finish us off in a major way. So, we began looking for a solution to how we could become better at living together with our differences and become more conscious of the world around us.
You hear a lot about the 60’s, the war protests and the music revolution and all of that, but you don't hear as much about this revolution of consciousness that was taking place. For the first time, the West turned to the East for answers. And that really meant we turned inward. We made a conscious decision to be more conscious. We had to do that, we had to start caring about our world more and how we treat it. How we take care of our air, how we take care of our food, how we take care of eachother, what we put in our bodies and what we put in our minds, all became important. What we put in our bodies has repercussions, but what we put in our minds does as well.
That’s when yoga started to really enter the culture, when people started talking about being more green and the environment and all these different things. But it didn’t happen enough. There has to be more. And that’s where younger generations really have to step up to the plate to realize that we are the problem and we are also the solution. My generation will all be gone in the next two decades or so. It’s the younger generations that have to realize that if they don’t do something, nobody will. Because the world can change. We just have to start small, with ourselves.
Right now we’re just sort of following our basic instincts, you know, getting angry, being afraid, reacting, etc. But we can become wiser, deeper, and bigger. And that really is our responsibility. Younger generations have done a lot, they're much more conscious than those that came of age before them. They're not in control yet, unfortunately, but they are much more conscious of things like eating locally and organic and dealing with stress. We've done a lot, but we have to do more. We’re in a kind of hurry, I think.
What made you decide to write the book and why did you feel like it was the right time to share your story?
The idea to write the book really started with my grandson. He invited me to come meet his friends because they knew I was "Dear Prudence" and they had a lot of questions for me. They asked, very innocently and sincerely, "Did you and The Beatles really believe we could have world peace?" There was a certain cynicism they had. And I said” yes!” I did believe it then and I still believe it now.It was so disturbing to me to see that they had lost hope. I felt that since I was “Dear Prudence” I wanted to show them what we felt was that hope.
In the 60’s we were dealing with all these assassinations (MLK, Robert Kennedy, etc.) and there was a definite lack of hope, but we truly did have the belief that there was a solution. These kids didn’t have that. What a hellish world we’re presenting to them, all divided and violent. It doesn’t need to be that way. I know a lot of people agree with me, a lot of people feel this way but it’s like we’re stuck and we don’t know how to do anything about it. Just remember the adage “start with yourself”. One of the best ways to start with yourself is your mind, and that truly is meditation. I felt like it was my responsibility to share what I felt like was a solution, because we are the problem and we are also the solution. My generation will all be gone in the next two decades or so and it’s the younger generations that have to realize that if they don’t do something, nobody will. We just have to start small, with ourselves, because we can change, we can truly expand our potential. And that’s real, I’ve experienced it. My book is really that story.