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Acting for peace: Talking with Steve Collins

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11 October 2005

Stephen Collins, star of the TV series '7th Heaven', has practised the Transcendental Meditation Programme for more than 27 years. In this interview, Stephen speaks about his experience with meditation and his role in promoting world peace.

Question: How did you learn the Transcendental Meditation technique?

Stephen Collins: I was a New Yorker, but in 1976 I came out to Los Angeles to do my first movie, 'All the President's Men'. I decided to spend a year out here to get to know the place. I wanted to test the waters of L.A. After the movie, I did some television.

I was staying at a very Melrose Place-like apartment building— sprawling, relatively inexpensive, filled with young actors and models, directors, and writers on the way up. The place had a tennis court and an olympic-sized swimming pool.

Sitting by the pool one day I struck up a conversation with a guy who had taught Merv Griffin to meditate. I'd been aware of the blast of publicity on Transcendental Meditation over the previous two years. We sat by the pool over a couple of afternoons. I asked him about TM and he explained the simplicity of it, the portability of it. He showed me a book that had some of the research on TM, and it was very impressive. I learned in June of 1976.

Right away, it was so pleasant as to be almost overwhelming. I had never experienced that kind of peacefulness. TM was all the things that the guy by the pool had said it would be. It was truly a transcendent experience, an experience that was so clear and consistent that it was easy for me to keep doing it.

Question: Did you notice any influence on your acting?

Stephen Collins: At first I didn't notice a direct correlation between me and TM and acting. What I did notice was something subtler—I was taking better care of myself. I felt less in the grip of the insane business side of show business. And it is insane, and it does get you in its grip. I started to find my own inner centre, which I never really had before. That helped me a lot as an actor. It was a slow but steady process. Stephen Collins, star of the TV series '7th Heaven', has practised the Transcendental Meditation Programme for more than 27 years. In this interview, Stephen speaks about his experience with meditation and his role in promoting world peace.

I think really the biggest effect was that I naturally started to think more about the projects I wanted to be a part of. The idea of a job for the sake of a job became less attractive, and the idea of what the piece was going to put out into the world seemed more important.

'7th Heaven' has been a wonderful gift to me. It has enabled me to work hard and to put something out into the world that I feel really good about. That's a wonderful feeling. The show has been extremely successful. Over eight seasons we've built up an audience and have been the WB network's highest rated programme for over five years—higher ratings than much more hyped shows. Had I not been meditating all these years I just don't think '7th Heaven' would have come my way, or if it had come my way, I'm not sure I would have seen the value of it. Reading a script is an art in itself. I've made some big, dumb mistakes in my career—turning things down because I couldn't see the value of the script. Most every actor does. I'm not sure there's any way around that.

But I also know an actor who read '7th Heaven' and turned it down because he didn't get it. There's something about meditating, over what feels like most of my adult lifetime, that has really tuned me differently to the things that I read and the things that I want to be a part of.

Question: What would you say to someone who seems open to learning the Transcendental Meditation technique?

Stephen Collins: I would say if you feel a little open to learning it, that you owe it to yourself to follow your gut. If you feel that stirring inside that draws you to it, go with that, just as I believe you probably should go with any strong stirrings from deep within you.

By now, it's just so much a part of my life. But there was a period where I stopped meditating. My daughter had just been born. It seemed too difficult to fit in. I thought, 'You know, I just can't do this anymore.' It was purely a matter of what seemed to be convenient.

What I noticed after a few months was that, subjectively, I simply wasn't enjoying my life as much. I missed that rest, what I've always called the little vacation that you get to take twice a day. I realized that meditation was what had enabled me to see my world more clearly, to be more present wherever I was, to smell the roses more from moment to moment, so I started meditating again.

It showed me in very clear terms that I needed to give myself that gift in order to be more productive. Probably most of us don't feel we're productive enough, but I look back sometimes and think, 'Well, I've done quite a bit.' I'm not sure I would have done all that without meditation. But more important, I might have done exactly the same activity, but I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much.

Question: What benefits from meditation do you notice today?

Stephen Collins: There's a strange kind of quiet boldness that comes with meditating. I look at '7th Heaven' and know it touches people tremendously. Part of why it's successful is that it moves people to tears and to laughter, which is a wonderful thing. I don't think I'd be able to do that as well without the kind of quiet inside that I've cultured through years of meditating.

For me acting has to be very real. It's 'acting' in the sense that you're playing another character, but you're still trying to behave as truthfully as possible under imaginary circumstances. And if my character is supposed to be a man of God, with a deep love for all people and particularly for his family, I can contact those feelings more readily because of years of meditating.

And I'm bold enough, because it does take a kind of boldness to be willing to act, first on a film set where 60 people are watching and waiting for you to do it, and then knowing that millions of people are going to see it. There's a real vulnerability to it that I wasn't comfortable with 25 years ago. Part of that was from being a young man, but there are a lot of young actors who can do that. I was not one of them. I couldn't get in touch with my deeper, quieter, truer emotions back then. I'm very grateful because meditation has been a tool that's helped me with that.

When I feel quiet inside I can get to where I need to get, even if where I need to get is not a quiet place. If I need to get to a scene of anger, whatever it is, I find I can access my feelings more readily. Some of that comes from studying acting, some of it comes from growing up, having a family and going to church, and some of it comes from TM.

Question: How did you get involved in promoting world peace?

Stephen Collins: From the first time I heard the research about the Maharishi Effect, the one per cent effect, it made sense to me. The basic idea is that large groups of people can create an orderly, coherent influence that could actually emanate outward like waves and affect their locality, and indeed if there were enough of them, the whole world. I thought, 'Yes, that makes sense to me.'

I know the effect that I alone have on a film set. There are about a hundred people on a film set, so it's a good place to test the Maharishi Effect. The theory is that one per cent of a population meditating has a profound effect on the harmoniousness of the area, and I've seen that. It's not something I try to do, but so many people have told me over the years, 'Gosh, you just put out something that makes everybody comfortable.'

I think it's truly a big part of the reason I get hired. If it's a tiebreaker, one of the tiebreakers is that people know if I'm the star of something, that it's probably going to be a pleasant work set. It's probably going to be a set that people will be happy on.

It's a cliche in show business that the vibe on the set is generated by the star. If the star is nervous and angry and moody and unpredictable, then everyone is touchy. I've seen that many, many times. It's very predictable. If the star is comfortable with himself or herself, everybody is.

I've seen this effect in my work areas. So it makes sense to me that if you put thousands of people together doing that, it might have a very profound effect on the world.

Question: And the world could use a new approach.

Stephen Collins: It is so clear to me right now that conventional 19th and early 20th century military thinking isn't going to solve our security problems. Attacking countries over and over again, trying solve terrorism by military might, it's like trying to kill angry hornets by sticking a knife into their hive. We need a new paradigm for creating peace. What I love about the peace-creating technology of TM is that it doesn't require any other changes for it to work. Elections can go on, kings can come and go, coups can happen, armies can do what they to do; but if the right numbers of meditators are in place, those other things will settle down and correct themselves. We've seen it happen so many times with large groups of meditators. It just seems to me that it's the only hope for getting the world to settle down.

So to the extent I can help put that out, I want to, because it feels like the best possible use of my time. I even enjoy the fact that people might think I'm a bit of a flake. A lot of people's initial response is, 'Oh, yeah. Sure. A group of people meditating is going bring on world peace. Right.'

But what's really interesting to me about all this is that if you can have five minutes of someone's attention, if you can explain the underlying principles to them, I've never known anyone who didn't come away and say, 'Wow, that's pretty powerful.'

Copyright 2005, Maharishi Vedic Education Development (MVED) Corporation

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