The Beatles’ group was three weeks behind the other students, so they received extra tuition and lectures every afternoon. These were mostly held in the open air, sometimes on the roof of Maharishi’s own bungalow, or inside if the weather was cooler.
The meditation sessions were increasingly long, they were as long as you could handle. It was a very sensible thing. He basically said, ‘Your mind is confused with day-to-day stress so I want you to try and do twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening.’ That’s what they start you on. Twenty minutes in the morning is not going to hurt anyone. You sit still, I suppose you regulate your breathing and, if nothing else, you rest your muscles for twenty minutes. It’s like a lie-in. That’s pretty good. The meditation helps your productivity that day. And then twenty minutes in the evening; I used to liken it to sitting in front of a nice coal fire that’s just sort of glowing. That sort of feeling, that very relaxed feeling, a twilight feeling which I quite like. Are you dreaming or are you awake? There’s a nice little state that they recognise halfway between it…
After one of those sessions, I remember having a great meditation, one of the best I ever had. It was a pleasant afternoon, in the shade of these big tropical trees on the flat roof of this bungalow. It appeared to me that I was like a feather over a hot-air pipe, a warm-air pipe. I was just suspended by this hot air, which was something to do with the meditation. And it was a very very blissful feeling. It took you back to childhood when you were a baby, some of the secure moments when you’ve just been fed or you were having your nap. It reminded me of those nice, secure feelings. And I thought, Well, hell, that’s great, I couldn’t buy that anywhere. That was the most pleasant, the most relaxed I ever got, for a few minutes I really felt so light, so floating, so complete.
The difficulty, of course, is keeping your mind clear, because the minute you clear it, a thought comes in and says, ‘What are we gonna do about our next record?’ ‘Go away!’ Meditate, mantra mantra mantra. ‘I still want to know what we’re doing on this next record.’ ‘Please go away, I’m meditating, can’t you see?’ There’s inevitably all sorts of little conversations you can’t help getting into.
The time away from England also put a strain on John Lennon’s relationship with his wife Cynthia. Although he had told her that the trip to India would bring them closer together, she found him becoming increasingly distant.
I was not having the second honeymoon I’d hoped for. John was becoming increasingly cold and aloof toward me. He would get up early and leave our room. He spoke to me very little, and after a week or two he announced that he wanted to move into a separate room to give himself more space. From then on he virtually ignored me, both in private and in public. If the others noticed they didn’t say so.
I did my best to understand, begging him to explain what was wrong. He fobbed me off, telling me that it was just the effect of the meditation. ‘I can’t feel normal doing all this stuff,’ he said. ‘I’m trying to get myself together. It’s nothing to do with you. Give me a break.’
What I didn’t know was that each morning he rushed down to the post office to see if he had a letter from Yoko. She was writing to him almost daily. When I learned this later I felt very hurt. There was I, trying to give John the space and understanding he asked for, with no idea that Yoko was drawing him away from me and further into her orbit.
Songs written in India
The Beatles’ stay in India resulted in one of their most productive periods as songwriters. When they returned to England in March and April they had more songs than could fit on a single album, and the subsequent recordings resulted in the eponymously-titled double album commonly known as the White Album, plus a number of songs which appeared on Abbey Road in 1969.
Some of the songs were directly inspired by Maharishi’s lectures. John Lennon wrote the unreleased ‘Child Of Nature’, later reworked as Jealous Guy, and Paul McCartney’s ‘Mother Nature’s Son’ explored similar themes.
Other songs were connected to the people who were also at the ashram. Mia Farrow’s 19-year-old sister Prudence chose to spend lengthy periods meditating in a semi-catatonic state in her room, against the advice of Maharishi. Lennon and George Harrison were asked to try and coax her out, and Lennon wrote ‘Dear Prudence’ for her.
Another White Album song, ‘The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill’, was inspired by one of the fellow students at the ashram.
Oh, that was written about a guy in Maharishi’s meditation camp who took a short break to go shoot a few poor tigers, and then came back to commune with God. There used to be a character called Jungle Jim and I combined him with Buffalo Bill. It’s a sort of teenage social-comment song and a bit of a joke.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Paul McCartney wrote many songs in India, including ‘Back In The USSR’, ‘Wild Honey Pie’ and ‘Rocky Raccoon’. Several had little to do with Maharishi’s teachings or their surroundings.
We went down to the village one evening when they were showing a film; the travelling cinema came around with a lorry and put up a screen. It was a very pleasant Indian evening so Maharishi came, everyone came, and we all walked down as a procession. And it was very very pleasant; walking along in the dust slightly downhill through a path in the jungle from the meditation camp with my guitar and singing Ob-La-Di, Ob-La Da, which I was writing, accompanying the procession on the way. Of course Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da has got no connection with meditation except ‘Life goes on…’, it’s a little story about Desmond and Molly. In actual fact, I think they quite enjoyed it. Maharishi quite liked someone strolling along singing.
Another White Album song, ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?’, was written back in England, but was inspired by an incident observed by McCartney in Rishikesh.
I was up on the flat roof meditating and I’d seen a troupe of monkeys walking along in the jungle and a male just hopped on to the back of this female and gave her one, as they say in the vernacular. Within two or three seconds he hopped off again, and looked around as if to say, ‘It wasn’t me,’ and she looked around as if there had been some mild disturbance but thought, Huh, I must have imagined it, and she wandered off. And I thought, bloody hell, that puts it all into a cocked hat, that’s how simple the act of procreation is, this bloody monkey just hopping on and hopping off. There is an urge, they do it, and it’s done with. And it’s that simple. We have horrendous problems with it, and yet animals don’t. So that was basically it. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? could have applied to either fucking or shitting, to put it roughly. Why don’t we do either of them in the road? Well, the answer is we’re civilised and we don’t. But the song was just to pose that question. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? was a primitive statement to do with sex or to do with freedom really. I like it, it’d just so outrageous that I like it.
While in India, the singer Donovan taught John Lennon a method of fingerpicking his guitar, which Lennon then passed on to Harrison. The style was used on Dear Prudence and ‘Julia’.
Lennon also wrote songs including ‘Mean Mr Mustard’, ‘Cry Baby Cry’, ‘Polythene Pam’ and ‘Yer Blues’. ‘I’m So Tired’, meanwhile, was written during the beginning of The Beatles’ stay, when Lennon – free of drugs for the first time since 1964 – found himself unable to sleep.
I’m So Tired was me, in India again. I couldn’t sleep, I’m meditating all day and couldn’t sleep at night. The story is that. One of my favorite tracks. I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well.
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
What I would have given to be in India at the time……
I wish I was there too.
Yoko? Not really. They meditated days and weeks together in India. Then returned to England and went their 4 separate ways. Twas India that broke up the beast. They’ve all said the White Album was brutal. Ringo & George walked out. John shrugged and tried to get Clapton. We’ll never know what happened from the time they arrived in India and returned to England. But it sure wasn’t Bliss.
Amazingly, they produced a brilliant collection of pretty much solo songs. For that I’m grateful. As Paul said in Antholgy, Sod off, it’s The White Album.