LYME DISEASE HAPPENED TO THÉO WHEN HE WAS 34. It changed him so dramatically that he almost didn’t recognize himself. Among the symptoms was a punitive, seemingly untreatable sleeplessness. (The same curse the witches dreamed up for Macbeth.) But Théo hadn’t killed anyone – he just wandered into some grass one day, and was bitten by a tick he never saw.
Diagnosis was slow in coming. The insurance companies were impossible. And the disease progressed inexorably.
Desperate and declining, he went to a meditation class. He was embarrassed to take life cues from an old guy with a beard and turban – but it worked.
This Tasmanian Devil New Yorker, a hell-raiser party boy, not only became a convert, but also a teacher. Soon, he relocated to Santa Fe and started a practice. For 18 years, he studied an array of Indian philosophies, including meditation, Vedic astrology, and Yoga Sutras. He had fixed his life.
Then at 52, he had a relapse, collapsing at a party. What he did with this – as opposed to what it did to him – is what I went to find out.
How did you get Lyme Disease?
In the summer of 2002, I was on a camping trip with my cousins. One of the hikes was through tall grass in a marsh.
When I got back from that trip, I got what I thought was the worst flu of my life. I couldn’t shake it. After ten days, I went to see doctors. They didn’t know what it was, and they didn’t know what to do. They just gave me antibiotics.
In the following six months, it started to proliferate in my body. By March, I was having trouble walking, and by summer I had bilateral Bell’s palsy. I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t think straight. And I was hallucinating, and I couldn’t sleep. That’s when I was finally diagnosed.
It took a while to diagnose because in 2002, no one thought Lyme disease was in California. And also no one knows what Lyme disease really is. They’re still not really sure what the signs are. They always say you get a bullseye rash. I never got a bullseye rash.
Lyme disease is in every state. Baby ticks get on birds and then fall off, so they’re in every state now. I think it’s gonna be an overwhelming crisis.
How did this lead to meditation?
I became a meditation teacher because of Lyme. When I got it, I began investigating different types of meditation modalities to help with stress because there’s so much duress on the nervous system. You’re having all these ailments like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, depression, and anxiety – all from Lyme disease, from spirochetes eating your cells.
So I started experimenting, but every meditation technique I tried didn’t really work. Until I tried Vedic Meditation. I became a twice-a-day meditator. My insomnia went away. Vedic Meditation worked so well that I became a teacher.
I was hanging on to the meditation practice for dear life, because I never wanted to go back. I had eight years of insomnia and you know how dark that can get? Just six months of insomnia. It gets really dark. After eight years, I was starting to lose my marbles.
I had my life back. I was sleeping again, and was even more conscious. I’m merging with pure consciousness in a way that I am not defined by my thoughts. My identity is from within. What’s informing me is within. That’s what meditation gave me. So, this debilitation turned into this superpower.
You weren’t the usual candidate for meditation.
Not at all. In fact, when I met my meditation teacher, I was ashamed for him. I thought, What an embarrassing job. This guy must have failed at everything else.
How did meditation help with sleeplessness?
Most people have a surplus of stresses in their physiology. The only way that we can remove stress from the nervous system is through deep rest. The automatic purification process of removing stresses from the nervous system happens when we’re resting deeply. And when that happens, there’s a laundering effect within the nervous system which causes excitation to sort of scrub those stresses out, and that will cause thinking.
Now, one thing that every insomniac has in common is lots of thinking. When you learn how to meditate, that laundering effect happens within the meditation. So, then when you go to bed later that night, it’s already handled.
I’ve taught more than 1200 people, including insomniacs who find themselves sleeping again after two days of practicing.
Yet, you got a re-occurring attack of Lyme.
Yes, I was better for years, but now the Lyme is back. But it doesn’t scare me. It’s not my preference to have Lyme disease, but it’s not attacking my happiness. It’s just attacking my body. I still feel creative, I feel interested. I just feel like I’m carrying around like a hundred extra pounds of weight that expresses itself in fatigue.
I don’t like being on the medicine because it makes me feel worse. But it kills the spirochete. I wish it wasn’t happening, but there’s a certain thing it can’t reach, and that’s my state of consciousness.
Who were you before all of this happened?
I was a clown. I was a party animal. I had tons of friends and I just wanted to be wild. I just felt wild. I wanted to play. I was a bachelor, living in New York City, and I just wanted to have fun.
Getting Lyme disease was like putting a straight jacket on the Warner Brothers’ Tasmanian Devil! I felt suddenly pushed down, constrained. I still had all that wild energy, but couldn’t do anything with it.
Is that Tasmanian Devil still alive?
Oh yeah. But now it’s just more directed. It’s like Tasmanian Devil in a wheelchair. He is a little bit, just calmed down, more focused. Part of what the meditation teaches you is to conserve your energy. It gave me the willingness to let go of irrelevant behaviors or patterns so that I could live a better, more meaningful life.
Is Santa Fe receptive to what you’re doing?
To some extent, it takes a leap of faith. A lot of people have tried meditation on their own and feel like it didn’t work. They quit. But what I teach is something completely different than that. And it works with everybody.
What is Vedic Meditation exactly?
There are three basic types of meditation. There’s concentrative, like mindfulness, where there’s a point of focus. You concentrate on one thing at the exclusion of everything else. Then there’s contemplative, guided meditations with imagery.
What I teach is self-automatic transcending. I call it Nishkama Karma yoga, which means, Unity achieved by hardly doing anything. It’s a completely effortless technique that leverages our mind’s tendency to move towards greater happiness through charm. We get very, very specific, poetic mantras that are charming. Your mind effortlessly follows this mantra to fainter and fainter layers of thought until you transcend thought altogether.
You had a dramatic change in your life. Are you suspicious of people that haven’t had some dramatic change in their lives?
Sometimes I’m a little jealous of them, but they don’t seem to grow. When you go through something like this, you have more interesting stories. The story becomes part of us. I’d rather be in the company of people who’ve had massive changes because they’re more interesting. They have greater resilience.
So predictability, repetition in life is bad?
We call that The Ever Repeating Known. This is the most dangerous place according to nature. This is maintenance mode and when there’s too much maintenance in someone’s life, it starts attracting destruction operators.
Maintenance means having too many predictable patterns. Hoarding. Being resistant to change. Going to places where people are smiling, and not going to places where people might disapprove.
The safest place is actually when you get in front of change and you are initiating the change yourself. That’s when anything good that’s ever happened in anyone’s life happens, when they leave that ever repeating known and change. Embrace change, get in front of it, because if we don’t, then Shiva – the law of nature that destroys – will come in and destroy everything.
In my life, I think it’s very possible that consciousness or nature didn’t think I was aiming high enough and pushed me in a direction where I could have a much better life than I could have conceived. It’s not exactly what I was going for, but it is what I got.
Yeah. I got bitch slapped by the universe.
See more at TheoBurkhardt.com