No accounting for unhealthy stress relief

November 24, 2000

WHY do Jewish accountants chainsmoke? Because they don’t meditate. All right, it isn’t a very witty riddle.

Not nearly as good as the one a six-year-old asked me yesterday: ‘‘Why don’t cannibals eat clowns? Because they taste funny!’’

But when I walked into the office of a friend’s accountant on Thursday, I really wanted to know — what is it with accountants?

Are they trying to rebel against the staid image of their sensible careers, squinting like Humphrey Bogart through a blue and stinging haze as they tot up the VAT column?

Do all accountants secretly wish they were private detectives? I said something like this to Steven as I walked into his office.

Or I may have said: ‘‘It smells like Yasser Arafat’s ashtray in here. Why are you killing yourself?’’

Steven looked sheepish. ‘‘You sound like my kids,’’ he said. ‘‘I know, I ought to give up. But smoking helps with the stress.’’

I replied severely: ‘‘The only thing about smoking that eases stress is the breathing. Cigarettes encourage your mind to focus on each breath, and that’s the beginning of a meditation.

‘‘Good breathing calms you, so why not cut out the middle man and just breathe fresh air? Surely that makes good accounting sense.’’

‘‘It’s all very well for you to say that, you’re a mystic, people expect you to meditate. But it’s completely counter to my whole culture. Meditation is an eastern thing, and I’ve never been further east than Eilat.’’

‘‘You’d drive a Japanese car, wouldn’t you? You’d eat a Chinese meal? What’s wrong with trying an Indian idea — are you scared you’ll turn into a Buddhist?’’

But I sensed I was losing the argument. Steven feels comfortable controlling his stress with an expensive and foul-reeking poison which will eventually kill him, slowly and painfully.

He does not feel comfortable with a spiritual form of relaxation. My own accountant would tell me to turn this insane contradiction into a lucrative series of videos and audio-cassettes with an accompanying coffee-table book entitled The Jewish Guide to Meditation.

But the secret of meditation is to start small, so I’ll begin with this column.

If you are put off the idea of meditating by a fear of sitting stock still for six hours, saying nothing but ‘Om’, don’t worry. I have trouble sitting still through a movie. Or through dinner.

But I find it easy to meditate several times a day. For a start, you don’t need to be sitting. The only important thing is to focus your mind on one simple thing, and this can be done as you walk.

Go for a stroll around the block or across a field and back — try to be completely aware of everything you see, hear and smell. Let your surroundings fill your mind. Don’t think of anything else.

Or meditate in the bath: for a few minutes, just count your breaths. That’s all there is to it. Breathe in, that’s ‘1’. Breathe out, and it’s still ‘1’. Think about the breath, in your nose and throat and chest. Taste it. Feel yourself surrounding it.

And think about the number, how it sounds and how it looks in your mind’s eye.

Breathe in again, that’s ‘2’. Breathe out . . .

It is no accident that ‘breath’ in Hebrew can mean ‘spirit of God’, and that this meaning is echoed in many languages.

‘Inspiration’ means literally ‘to breathe in’. In Sanksrit the word is ‘prana’ which also means the life-force of the universe. ‘Pneuma’ in ancient Greek means ‘breath’ and ‘air’ as well as ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’.

The three Chinese characters symbolising ‘breath’ are, literally translated, ‘signifying the conscious self and the heart’.

‘Ki’ in Japanese and ‘qi’ in Chinese mystical traditions, mean both ‘air’ and ‘spirit’.

In five breaths it is easy to attain calmness if you mentally recite a poem said to have been written by the Buddha. This translation was made by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn:

‘‘Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath. ‘

‘Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.

‘‘Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.’’

In Kabbalah tradition, the mind may meditate on the Tree of Life after lighting it up with one of the many names of God. My favourites of these names are ‘shalom’ and ‘olam’ —peace and everlasting worlds. Simply to repeat these words in my mind is a sure formula for relaxation.

It is impossible to dwell on the trivial anxieties of daily life when everlasting worlds are re-echoing in the chambers of the brain.

Another absorbing meditation which uses the Tree of Life is to imagine the 10 rings, from the Malkuth at the base to the Kether at the crown, encircling the body like the orbits of electrons around the nucleus of an atom.

This visualisation is a popular one with the new wave of Kabbalah teachers who are promoting Jewish mysticism at Hollywood parties. The circles of the Tree of Life, or smoke rings . . . which do you suppose are better for you?

Read Uri Geller’s stunning online novel, Nobody’s Child, at
Uri Geller’s ParaScience Pack is published by Van Der Meer at £30. To hear an inspirational message from Uri, call 0906 601 0171. Call costs 60p per minute.
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