Mariam’s journey from a war-torn country to peace of mind
September 11, 2015
Mariam (34) loves living in the bustling city of New York and providing relief to the Big Apple’s stressed out inhabitants by teaching them Transcendental Meditation.
Mariam’s own inspiring story of looking for and finding peace includes her family fleeing war-torn Afghanistan, years spent as refugees in Pakistan and migrating to United States where she has lived not only on both the West and the East coast, but also amidst the scenic countryside in Fairfield, Iowa.
You were born in Afghanistan. How did you and your family end up living in the United States?
MARIAM DAUDI: We left Afghanistan in 1984, when I was three and a half, because of the war. We fled one night because my dad had gotten a notice that the Soviets were going to come for him that night. They had already taken my uncles, my mom’s two brothers. We never saw them again.
So we just packed everything up and left. We were fortunate enough to be able to fly for the first leg of the trip because my dad knew people at the airlines.
We landed in Kandahar, a city in southern Afghanistan.
We spent one night with a person named Haji Sahib who knew how to smuggle families into Pakistan. The next day, after a long walk, we boarded a bus. There were no open seats on the bus, and my mother who was eight months pregnant at the time, had to stand.
Halfway through the trip, government agents on the street ordered the bus to stop. They had the passengers get off the bus and inspected them.
My mother, who had a burqa on in order to blend in, watched from the window of her burqa as they observed each passenger. Then they pointed at my father and asked him to come forward. She froze with fear.
And at this point Haji Sahib stepped forward and said, “He is with me. Don’t you bother him.”
They let us go and we made the rest of the long trip to Lahor, Pakistan and then took a train to Islamabad, where we would live for the next two years. Later Haji Sahib told my parents that my father hadn’t tied his turban the way the Kandahar people usually do, and that had drawn attention to him.
My parents hadn’t been so accustomed to wearing burqas or turbans.
My parents had been professionals in Afghanistan. My mom was a teacher, my dad was an accountant. In Pakistan, my mom did not work and my dad sold tea on the corner. We all lived in one room.
Two years later we got asylum in the United States. My aunt was already in the United States, in Kansas City, so that’s where we headed. Moving to Kansas City from Islamabad, Pakistan was a big change! It was such a huge contrast!
A lot of things happened during the two years we lived in Kansas City – my grandmother unfortunately passed away, soon after, my sister and brother were one day playing with matches and burnt down our house. Next, we moved to California when I was seven and I lived there until I was 25.
These are quite extreme changes for a small child. When you finally settled down in California, how easy or difficult it was for you to adjust to the life there?
MARIAM DAUDI: I never felt at home there. I always felt a little bit out of place.
When and how did you hear about Transcendental Meditation?
MARIAM DAUDI: It happened during my sophomore year at Scripps College. One of my classmates, Jenoa Cohen, was part of the Transcendental Meditation club. In the beginning of the year there was the Clubs Day when all the clubs had tables to introduce their activities. I saw the sign of her club, and thought, “That sounds good, Transcendental Meditation!” I think I even ended up going to an intro lecture, but I did not end up learning.
Four years later, I was working for HSBC and I was very busy. My hours were long and I had to commute. I was feeling discombobulated. I felt like I was never centred and always going, going, going.
I did not have anxiety, I was not depressed, but I did not have inner peace. It just got to a point where I decided I was either going to find that inner calm or die trying to find it! I felt that it was important.
I wanted to feel settled down and thought, ‘Maybe that’s what meditation does…’ I went to a library and got a book on meditation. It told me to stare at a candle. I did it once, and felt a lot worse. It was so hard!
Then I remembered the Transcendental Meditation technique and that summer of 2005 I learnt it.
Did you notice any changes in you after you had learnt to meditate?
MARIAM DAUDI: At first I did not notice a big difference. I just felt a little bit more refreshed afterwards, more focused. It was like a year or more into meditating that I, and people around me, started noticing really big shifts.
Later on, some of the really big stresses came out. I don’t even know how to explain the difference between how I feel now and now I used to feel. Of course I have my ups and downs, but my worst day now is better than anything I could have ever imagined as a child. It’s such a huge contrast!
You not only learnt TM but also ended up enrolling in Maharishi University of Management. What inspired that decision?
MARIAM DAUDI: My Transcendental Meditation teacher, Cindy Katz, told me about Maharishi University of Management (MUM) and in the US, when you live on the coast, you don’t think about the middle of the country. I was like, ‘Iowa!?’ But something in me, beyond my mind, told me I should go visit. So, that Fall I went for a visitors’ weekend at MUM. I loved it! It just felt right.
What was weird was that on the welcome posters at MUM there were pictures of Jenoa, the girl who introduced me to TM in college! I asked some people why her face was on these posters and it turned out she had graduated MUM the year before.
I got her phone number and called her up. I thought that was a very weird coincidence. The next year I moved to Fairfield and started the MBA program.
So your life was turned upside down in a very positive way by first learning to meditate and then going to MUM?
MARIAM DAUDI: Yes, my whole life changed. Not just my life path, but my inner experience of life. I had this difficult childhood and had all this stress in my physiology. Going from a war-torn country – extreme poverty, no happiness, no stability – to the United States, and again facing poverty plus a completely different cultural environment. The American culture could not be any more different than the Afghan culture! That difference also caused a lot of stress.
I didn’t know anything about happiness, really. I did not even know to want happiness… I just wanted to be normal!
Yet, in Fairfield I experienced happiness more and more and in levels I did not even imagine as a child. A lot of that stress and trauma that had been there just wasn’t there anymore! I was so grateful.
It is really hard right now to imaging you being anything but an effortlessly happy person!
MARIAM DAUDI: I think that by meditating, we uncover who we really are. When we are depressed or not feeling good, it is not that that’s who we are, but just that who we are has been clouded over.
Something in us always knows that there is a truth bigger than that sadness. I think this is why I was convinced that if there is a truth, I’m going to find it or die trying. It just didn’t feel worth it to live a life in misery, something felt really wrong about that.
What I discovered was so much more impressive and incredible that I could have ever imagined! It just makes life so much easier. I have not suffered for such a long time and at this point it’s almost easy to forget that this did once exist. I cannot remember it any more in my body, I just remember it as a memory – that there used to be times when I really did not feel good. This transformation is simply amazing.
And your story carries the important message that sometimes there are no flashy experiences in the beginning and that the Transcendental Meditation practice slowly chips away the stress and brings a person to bloom
MARIAM DAUDI: Yes, I really did not have big results for a long time. It was that regular practice, and suddenly recognizing one day, ‘Wait, I don’t get worried anymore!’
That’s a big deal! Even if something is going wrong right in front of me, I don’t worry, let alone something that could be in the future. And I don’t know how and why that happened. I certainly grew up in a household that worried a lot!
I just urge people to be very regular with their practice, the results can be so miraculous.
What did you do after graduating from MUM?
MARIAM DAUDI: I graduated in 2008, but stayed in Fairfield for another 5 years, working for the Maharishi Foundation, MUM , iPhone Life Magazine, and Centerpoint Investment Strategies. It just felt right to be there. In March 2013 I moved back to California.
Yet you ended up going back pretty soon, right?
MARIAM DAUDI: I got an email one day that there was going to be a teleconference about an upcoming Transcendental Meditation Teacher Training course (TTC). Something in me again said that I should dial in on that.
I remember I was at a Target store when the notice on my phone came up. So I was listening to the teleconference while shopping and, all of a sudden, a thought came up, ‘You’re going on teacher training!’
I knew, without any doubt, that I was going to go, even though I did not know how. That summer I had an impulse to go back to Fairfield and so I embarked on the five day drive on my own from California. I still did not know if I was going to TTC until the day it actually started, but I managed it! I was there on that unforgettable September day, sitting around the dinner with my course participants – women who I will never forget.
I became a teacher February 2014. At the end of my course, they told me I was going to teach in New York City and I’ve been teaching here ever since.
Having spent most of the past decade in a peaceful small town in Iowa, how has it been living and working in the bubbling and busy New York City?
MARIAM DAUDI: I’ve completely fallen in love with the city! It does not feel too busy, I guess that’s because we meditate. I don’t ever feel stressed out the way other New Yorkers do! There is always an underlying calm even amidst our very busy teaching schedules.
Whenever I rarely do feel stressed or overwhelmed, though, I’m happy because it helps me to better relate to the people who come in to learn Transcendental Meditation. Most of them come to learn it for stress and anxiety relief. And they experience it non-stop! They wake up with it, they go to sleep with it. Or they don’t go to sleep at all because they can’t fall asleep…
People are really suffering. It does not matter how wealthy you are, people are suffering across the board.
I know you have a big dream related to your home country and Transcendental Meditation.
MARIAM DAUDI: It’s a huge dream of mine to teach even just one person in Afghanistan. I believe it is going to take somebody born there to bring the technique there. Whenever the path opens, I will go. I’m not going to plan for it, it could be in the next year or next five years, it will happen when the time is right.
So far, no one in Afghanistan has been taught TM. I was wondering about that and then a few years ago it hit me that I was the very first Transcendental Meditation teacher from Afghanistan! It’s a deep desire of mine to plant the seed of meditation in Afghanistan.
In a way you have already planted that seed in a smaller form within your family, right?
MARIAM DAUDI: Yes, one of my brothers, my sister and my mom meditate. I have an aunt, uncle and cousins who do TM as well. So, we have planted the seed here – having probably the biggest community of Afghans meditating.
MARIAM DAUDI: I have memories starting from when I was around a year and a half. I remember the way it felt. I remember my grandparents. We lived in a family compound, nineteen of us. Everyone ate together, did everything together. I still have a very strong sense of how it feels there. It’s a very strong culture and I’m definitely still an Afghan.
It will be interesting to go back – having left because of war and coming back with a technology for peace.
What are the best moments for you in your job of teaching Transcendental Meditation?
MARIAM DAUDI: The day that we teach is amazing! One teacher can teach up to nine or ten people in a day. You get to the center at eight in the morning and work until nine at night. It’s so blissful and unlike any other experience – taking people through the process, not knowing how it is going to change their lives!
There is such a sweet atmosphere that has been ever so magical for me. It never gets old, I never get used to it.
The three days of checking up on the practitioners are also awesome. Some people have humongous transformations even in the first three days. Sometimes I just can’t believe what they say. For instance, when people who have had insomnia for a long time are saying, ‘This is the first night that I’ve been able to sleep like this!’ I remember asking one lady when was the last time she had experienced that kind of a restful night, and she said, ‘Probably when I was 2 years old…’
Another person who had anxiety commented on how she felt so much calmer. When I asked her when was the last time she had experienced this she could not even remember! I realized this is so profound. She has anxiety and for the first time that she can remember it’s not there. There’s relief!
Some people mention huge improvements in relationships. One girl saying there was someone she worked with who used to make her very nervous. She noticed that after she learned TM, somehow she was able to approach the person with calmness. In turn, the other person felt her calmness and was calm as well.
Other things are also interesting to me like people who drink a lot of coffee and they come back the next day or 2-3 days later and say I usually drink 4-5 cups of coffee but today I’ve only had one. It’s amazing that you can learn this technique and all of a sudden you have all this energy and you don’t need all that coffee!
It really shows me as a teacher that this is a simple, yet profound technique. We can transform the world with this.
I have no doubt about it based on what I have experienced myself, what my students have experienced and what my family has experienced. Something so simple can lead to something so big.
Something so simple can actually create peace on earth.