How meditation helped me with overcoming the trauma of losing my son

By Tracy Mayo, author of “Childless Mother: Search for Son and Self”

It’s been four years and five months since I gave my baby away.

It was 1970 in pre-Choice America.  The lonely only child of a high-ranking naval officer and a socially ambitious mother, after our eighth move in thirteen years, I longed for a normal adolescence – to have lasting friends, to feel rooted.  What I got was a pregnancy at fourteen and exile to the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers, where I was required to give up my baby boy at birth and never speak of him again. 



Duke University, junior year.  Depression.  PTSD, though the term had not yet been coined.  I was nineteen years old and miserable.  But I didn’t connect my silent tears at night with my daily pot smoking and acid tripping on the weekends.  A part of me was clearly trying to escape my trauma but couldn’t.  

  I met friend Katie O at our favorite restaurant, Somethyme.  It’s a funky establishment with hand hewn wood beams, hand thrown pottery for tableware and an herb garden between the entrance and sidewalk.  When my veggie burger with sprouts arrived, I asked Kate about Transcendental Meditation.  I knew she had recently received instruction in the technique.  Was it hard to do?  How did it make her feel?  How long until one experiences any meaningful effects?  According to Katie it is an effortless practice and had quickly yielded results – for her, an infusion of energy and optimism.    I wasn’t sure that either energy or optimism lay in my immediate future, but it seemed clear I could use a fresh viewpoint on life.  

And so, I unlocked my Schwinn 10-speed bike from the shiny rack in front of my dorm and spun over to the antique neighborhood east of campus where huge Victorian houses mingled with 1920’s bungalows.  I arrived at a modest moss green bungalow with tan trim and a purple front door. I chained my bike to a maple in the front yard, one younger than most of the old, scaly oaks that dominated the canopy of this historic enclave.   Ascending the painted wood steps I spotted the lone sign, an understated three-inch by five-inch metal plaque, white with black letters, right side of door:  TM Center.  The purple door opened in welcome, and sandalwood incense flowed out in waves.  I was at the precipice of a new world.

Ten people were seated in folding chairs in the large, high-ceilinged living room, facing the fireplace.  White roses and fall asters decorated the mantel, which was the source of the sandalwood.  No one was speaking.  Most seemed to be students in their blue jeans, earth boots, white T-shirts and flannel long-sleeved outer shirts.  Our instructor entered from an adjacent room, and I was surprised to see a young man in a navy-blue suit, attorney-like, not the ancient guru I was expecting.  He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five or thirty.  He introduced himself as Phil.

For the next hour we learned about Being, the all-pervading, omnipresent state of absolute consciousness, where peace, calm and even bliss reside.  In order to live it, the conscious mind first must become acquainted with it.  Using a diagram of an ancient tree and its root system, Phil explained how TM allows the mind to touch pure Being: 

 “Just as roots draw nutrients from the soil and the sap ferries those nutrients throughout the tree, so the roots of thought touch the very nature of creation and carry the experience of that essence up to the conscious mind.  Through practice – touching the realm of the transcendent and back out into the field of activity – the mind becomes gradually more aware of its own essential nature.”  

How could I not want this?  Who would not want bliss consciousness instead of grief consciousness?  I eagerly signed up for formal instruction.

A day later, I returned in the blue light of a late November afternoon, clutching my offering of lilies and apples.  The folding chairs had been replaced with two forest green upholstered chairs, still facing the fireplace.  The incense was different today, more herbaceous than the sandalwood.  Phil began with a recitation, or an incantation, in Sanskrit.  And then, the instruction:  

Close the eyes, take a deep breath.  Now slowly open the eyes.  Breathe deeply again, now again close the eyes.   Your mantra from this moment forward is_________ .  Say it aloud, three times, so I can know you understand the sound the thought makes.  Now you will never speak it out loud again.  With eyes closed, please begin to think the mantra to yourself, easily, and let it take you where it will.  

I breathed deeply and absorbed the pungent incense and the dusky wood smoke from a recent fire.  Quiet breaths and the vibration of my mantra.  Thoughts came and went.  My newborn son swaddled in white cotton. . .  The endless stream of tears. . .   Swirling the pastel pills with my index finger. . .  A pause between the end of one breath and the beginning of the next . . . All things in transition. . .  The way in which muslin, when dipped into dye, wicks up color and is forever changed. . .  From the roots of thought I see the universe unfold. . .  I look up and out of the darkness. . .  And the moon makes the phosphorus shine.

After the longest and shortest twenty minutes of my life, my first meditation came to an end.  Phil explained I must return daily for four days to have my meditation “checked,” but TM had already transformed Tracy Mayo.  

 I glided out of the front door into a sparkling new world.  The young maple’s leaves dazzled crimson and fire. How could I have not noticed this before?  They shimmered, creating a halo around the tree.  The ambient light approached midnight blue in tone and in the cool linger of twilight the nighthawks began their day.  I was extremely high on my new perceptions, and grateful.

After a languorous ride back to campus in which I was tempted to stop and caress several smooth-barked trees, I secured my bike and wandered out to the main quadrangle to further explore this sensory adventure.   Someone had installed uplighting on the Magnolia Grandiflora, so old and broad that it spread out over fifty feet.  I’d always admired the enormous tree but it had never stood out like this, illuminated so against the darkening sky.  Its muscular branches dipped down toward the ground and then flexed upward again.  I stood dazed by its beauty.

I wished to be solid, like the magnificent old magnolia – not like the dry leaf on the ground left to the mercy of the wind, fluttering aimlessly, with no roots to anchor it.

I sent a silent message to young Thomas.  “Please know that I have not forgotten, that my spirit has slipped through the open window and touched your forehead as you dream.”


Tracy Mayo lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and Flat-Coated Retriever.  Her memoir, Childless Mother:  A Search for Son and Self will be released by Vanguard Press on March 28, 2024.