Nicho Plowman exudes a near elemental wisdom. Like spiritual seekers throughout history, the Australian meditation teacher spent years wandering, experimenting, exploring both inner-self and outer-world in search of the mysterious place where the dual aspects of existence merge. Though we doubt Nicho would cop to it, seems like he’s found the exact place.
CONVICTS’ fearless leader, Peter “Dad” Maiden, recently sat down with Nicho in Chinatown. Serene amongst the pigeons and chaos, Nicho spat high-grade wisdom re:the self-service of our current political moment, the gnarls of life in a stressful world, and the source of world religion.
Morning, I’m Pete from Convicts, and I’m here with Nicho Plowman. How’s New York treating you?
It’s good, it’s always good to get back. It’s the place where so much happens, it’s the center of the world for a lot of people. You always think of the idea that if you get things happening in New York you can get them to happen anywhere.
What is it that makes New York such a unique place?
It’s an energy. I came here first in my twenties, I was working for a US television company and – whatever age you are – there’s something going on.
So you’re based in Paris now. How did you get there?
I was born in Sydney, I have two brothers. I went to boarding school at a young age, went to school in Sydney, then when I left school I took off and travelled, left Sydney for a few years then went back to university and didn’t do much there. I had a lot of fun, then after that I took off again. I was in Hong Kong for some time, working for ESPN and then I travelled after that and back to Australia in my early 30’s. I got married when I was thirty-two, I have two daughters and for the last few years I’ve been living in Paris. It’s been a life of lots of different places. Sydney, London, Melbourne, Hong Kong, here, Paris.
What’s drawn you to travel?
It’s not so much the idea of travel. To use the word “charm”, that often pops up in the meditation world – I think I’m just open minded about things that seem interesting or charming to me. If someone says, “let’s take off and live in Paris” I’ll say, “fantastic, let’s do it.”
How did you get into the meditation world?
I was always looking for something to alleviate stress or anxiety. That started for me at about thirty. Sitting here, in Chinatown, watching people do Tai Chi – I tried that for a while. In all seriousness, I’ve tried different types of yoga and meditation since the age of thirty. I’d also go to those retreats in Australia and elsewhere, where they featured beautiful food, really nice massages, and for about seven to ten days you feel fantastic. But when you get back to your real life, a month later, you’re back to your old patterns of behavior, you’re drinking again, eating bad food. Regardless of what I tried, nothing was maintainable. So I guess up until a point, six years ago now, when I learned the meditation practice that I now teach called “Vedic Meditation”, meditation was just not that simple to me.
How did you develop the discipline to stick with your practice?
To me, discipline may be a word that suggests more effort than is required if you have a regular meditation practice. If you meditate once and you think about how you feel for that one hour after you’ve meditated, it is unquestionable that you feel better. You can either get to the afternoon and be like “Okay, I’m gonna go ahead and have a coffee or a beer,” that’s just not discipline, that’s just deciding that you can’t be bothered and that you’re gonna put it off till tomorrow. That’s laziness. But once you’ve meditated once, twice, for a week, a month, then it’s no longer discipline it’s second nature. For me now meditation is second nature. I don’t think about it when I do it because it’s become a way of life.
How does meditation alleviate your stress? Can you talk generally about stress a bit?
Stress is a byproduct of an approach to life. Stress is a really valid and powerful human condition. When we have to engage to go and do something, our body turns on. Just think, it’s twenty thousand years ago and I’m lying by a fire and a bear’s coming at me. I want my body to be stressed because it’s gonna put me into fight mode or it will put me into flight mode. It’s an incredibly physiological reaction.
Think about what a female body needs to do to give birth, it says “let’s take everything on and push”. So our most fundamental, monumental human experience is birth and that is a body going through a full engagement.We don’t turn around and say ‘hey let’s avoid stress.’ It’s more, ‘hey if I do get stressed, how do I bounce back?’ Meditation is one of the ways we can do that.
Can you talk a bit about Vedic meditation specifically?
Vedic meditation is a traditional form of meditation that dates back thousands of years. It’s a mantra-based practice that’s practiced for twenty minutes, twice a day. There is an idea that humanity has lost its connection with a state of consciousness that’s very simple and very dynamic. We’re not sitting there thinking, we are not sitting there stressing, we’re not sitting there worrying, we’re sitting there with our eyes closed with the body at rest, releasing stress. Vedic meditation gives us the ability to access that other state of consciousness.
Back-stepping a bit to stress, but on a larger scale. Do you think macro-levels of stress are causing all this turmoil in the world right now?
Self preservation is what’s happening in the world, I think. Look what happened in Britain, what happened in the US. There’s a self-serving movement that probably comes from fear and stress. It says, I want to look after my own so I’m going to turn inward. I can’t worry about the world because I’ve got to pay my rent. In some ways that’s almost a flight mode mentality.
So what’s to be done about it?
We have to remember that we react to the drama. Even while we might be sitting around thinking ‘Geez the world is looking a bit challenged’, sitting here in this park this morning, there is creativity. Creativity is dominant right here. I can look at the trees, I can look at the people, I can look at children, the whole thing is creatively dominant. But what we’re thinking about is a climate accord that might be about to get ripped up because that’s what’s in the newspaper.
How do you go about turning people onto meditation?
Ultimately, I’m never going to talk to someone about meditation unless they ask me. Because there is the idea that advice offered is never often very welcomed. However, once someone has asked me about meditation, I will talk to them about what I think will relate to them. I will talk to them about insomnia or anxiety or stress and emotions but it will always come back around to something that they can relate to.
How does that relatability translate to your teaching method overall?
I have found that the process is better served in New York holding a meditation course in a nice space in SoHo, because that’s what people can relate to. They will not relate to me if I shave my head, put on robes, grow a beard and sit somewhere un-accessible. That’s not relatable. And then there is an exchange of value. People support my ability to engage and in return they take away meditation practices that you will have for life. In my experience, most people never regret the decision.
What do you think about the mass popularity of the mindfulness movement?
So now, I think we have seen the evolution of two types of Mindfulness. The first is the attempt to bring meditation to the masses faster and it has been bottled up in this word called Mindfulness – a repackaged form of the traditional meditation that gets dropped into ten minute bite-sized things you listen to in your headphones. The busy guy and busy girl can just sit there and take a little bit of time out of their hectic day and everything will be fine. The second is the more traditional Mindfulness, which has lasted alongside other original forms of meditation. They’ve all ebbed and flowed, we’ve seen other things come and go, but they’re still here. We don’t yet know what the impact of this existing meditation movement may have on the future because we’re also judging things on a very, very limited time frame. We’re playing a really really long game on a planet that has been around for a long long time.
Could mindfulness be a sort of gateway drug to deeper meditative practice?
I think the intention of Mindfulness is really nice start and, if taken deeper with proper instruction, will produce transformative results. I own a meditation app with my brother Christopher called Insight Timer – we have over two million meditators now and Mindfulness is a really lovely part of the mix. People come along, listen to a guided meditation on Insight, or maybe they check out an app like Headspace. You have to start somewhere, and then after a month they’ll be like, “I think there’s more to this” and that will lead them on a journey to a teacher, or a traditional practice and then maybe down the funnel – boom, they’re having a transitional meditation experience and a life-changing conscious shift.
We’re gonna end on a deep one. What’s the relationship between meditation and religion?
If we go back to the source of all religions, to the people who founded those religions, they would probably have said ‘Go beyond thought.’ Transcend. Access the God within. Christianity started with a simple message, which is that “within us, is God” as its religious connotation. Think about what Jesus said. His message was “I am the son of God” and that got him crucified, because of course that ran against all the rules of the time that people wanted to believe. He died for that. Now, thousands of years later it feels like some of these traditional messages have been lost. In America, it has been explained to me that there are hundreds of different, registered forms of Christianity in this country alone. In Buddhism, Buddha first learned to go beyond thought. He learned to transcend. So yes, the branches of the true religion have one core base: the one source, the one I, “I am that.”
Boom. Right on Nicho and thanks. Really enjoyed this.