Oprah: I recently read a book called The Twilight of American Culture. The author's theory is that we've forgotten that all great powers eventually fail, especially when there's not a recognition of what it means to live in the moment. The maxim for our culture is "I buy, therefore I am." We don't understand what "I am" means.
Hugh: Exactly. I walk into that school, and it's a different world. You can create an atmosphere of more wisdom, less ignorance. As much as I want to, I can't fix what's going on in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but I have to be awake to fix those things I can. That's what your show is all about—helping people to wake up and connect. When I did The Boy from Oz, audience members showed up with all kinds of stories, but within 20 minutes, all that melted away and I saw the kids in them. Occasionally, I would ad-lib with the crowd. Once when a woman came in late, I said, "What's the matter, darling—was the queue a bit long? You should always use the men's. It's a lot more fun, trust me." She was all embarrassed. I said, "Don't be embarrassed. Come up here and talk to me." It turned out she was there with her son, who was 8 or 9. So from the stage, I said to her son, "Have you ever seen your mum dance?" He shook his head. "Do you want to?" He goes, "Yeah." Meanwhile, she's dying! But I got her to dance. She was really embarrassed, but she got over it because she loved her son so much. I had tears in my eyes—it was such a joyful moment. Then she really let loose, and the crowd got behind her. It was powerful.
Oprah: And that boy will never forget it.
Hugh: Because it was in the moment, it was honest, not written or rehearsed. Every night during Oz, there was magic like that. I have this dense little book called The Supreme Yoga. My teacher at the philosophy school gave it to me. He said, "Don't worry about understanding it all. Just read a bit." So I read a page a day, and one passage has stayed with me for the last three weeks. It was a story about a queen who goes into deep meditation and travels to the spirit realm after her husband dies. There, she meets him in another of his lives. The point was that in the world of the spirit, our life here is just a blink. It's easy to get immersed in this life. But in the world of the spirit, you're not an interviewer and I'm not an actor. This is just part of the dream. What's real are the feelings we have—like the one I had with that woman in the audience that evening.
Oprah: I love that story. What was the most extraordinary moment you've experienced during meditation?
Hugh: During one particular sitting—I do a version of transcendental meditation—I felt like my body went away. I began with a mantra; then the mantra faded. Meditation is all about the pursuit of nothingness. It's like the ultimate rest. It's better than the best sleep you've ever had. It's a quieting of the mind. It sharpens everything, especially your appreciation of your surroundings. It keeps life fresh.
Oprah: Do you have supreme moments all the time?
Hugh: No. But there are moments when I have felt tingling in my body, followed by complete peace and calm. That's happened several times, but I never know when it's gonna hit. Meditation is like a party: You've got to show up to find out that it's amazing. The more you practice, the deeper the experience gets.
Oprah: What do you know for sure?
Hugh: In the moments of clarity that meditation brings, I know that I am limitless. That's an incredibly powerful feeling.