From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: Transcendental Meditation
10 September 2012
I would like to add my TM experience. I quit TM 25 years ago. I'm finally feeling like I'm normal again. TM at first was a godsend, it really helped me get badly needed relaxation. I thought so much of it that I attended MIU for one semester. After two years of TM I went to MIU. There I noticed that I was having difficulty holding my train of thought. Everybody was telling me I was getting "spacey". Then intense anxiety began to manifest into the meditation and then into my daily life. The anxiety developed into a full blown mental disorder. I was at MIU when I chose to quit TM. Within a week I felt so much better, my thoughts seemed to be crystal clear.
MIU was an eye opener. The classes were the most horrid I have ever taken. I thought the next class has to be better, but no. It was worse. Soon I was talking to the other students about the lousy classes. Some would agree and others said I was "unstressing". This left me confused, but in time I figured out what "unstressing" is all about. "Unstressing is the main method of brainwashing or mind control they use at MIU. When I was noting the truthfulness of worthless core courses to a teacher, I was told I'm "unstressing". I immediately replied, "how can I tell the difference between my conscience and "unstressing"? She was dumbfounded and actually broke into tears. They tell you, you are "unstressing" to get you to not pay attention to your very own inner voice that is saying: "Something is really wrong here". So anybody that buys "unstressing" is already brainwashed. I began telling all the students I could about my discovery. A handful listened and left MIU, but the majority said I was... you know....unstressing. Staff began to harass me. Security was on my case.
I was working in Anapurna as a townie and they fired me. I could not go anywhere without staff or somebody hassling me. It's time to leave Fairfield. Some I had become friends with had joined the Siddies course. Upon leaving the program their personalities had changed and I didn't like what I saw. They were constantly complaining of "lack of rest" and they began to isolate themselves leaving behind their social lives. This can't be good. I was called into meeting with the faculty, I was told higher education is not for me and I'm.....you guessed it....unstressing.
They expelled me from MIU for speaking the truth. Certainly I was quite pleased with myself for standing up to them. Dr. Shapiro was actually siding with me, until he was corrected for unstressing. The majority of students and staff were good people. I never saw any drugs, violence or gross misbehavior common to universities. Unfortunately Maharishi took a lot of good sincere people to the cleaners and screwed up their lives too. It took me quite a few years to mentally recover from the effects of TM. Thank God that I only wasted one semester there. I can't imagine spending 20 years there for absolutely nothing. That is what I began calling the town of Fairfield, the "City of happy emptiness".
reply: TM advertises "stress control" as one of its most important benefits. Weird that it doesn't work out that way for many people and that some former TMers have found it necessary to form a group of recovering meditators looking for some stress reduction.
19 Aug 2002
You speak of adherents of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi [in the entry on levitation] who say they feel lighter than air. I have done the flying sutra and I have felt lighter than air. That was when Maharishi was first introducing his TM Siddhi program. I suppose it must have been in 1977.
Let me try to explain the context. I was a young, serious man concerned about questions like what's it all about? The meaning of Life, The Universe and Everything. Stuff like that. And then there was a strange concatenation of circumstances. A friend of mine, generally level-headed, told me that he was thinking of trying TM because his University room-mate was a teacher of it. There was an article in the Guardian (a fairly well respected Brit Newspaper) to the effect that someone had shown that doing TM did something physiologically, and another friend of mine invited me to an Introductory Talk.
So I went, and since my attempts to find answers to the adolescent questions I describe above by thinking about it rationally were not doing very well, I though I d try something else, for it did promise enlightenment.
My initiation was a very powerful experience, with physiological results. Every muscle in my body, it seemed, started to twitch, and I felt so At Home. It was very pleasurable, and I dismissed (at the time) the possibility that it was a hypnotic experience, because I hadn't been told about the possibility of muscle twitches.
So I threw myself into it. I was young, idealistic, thought I had found something precious, and wanted to share it.
So after I graduated, I volunteered for Work Study with the TM movement in order to gain credits to become a teacher of TM. I was around the centre of the TM movement for about 2 1/2 years, though I never became a teacher of it.
I put myself in a state of suspended disbelief. At that time, the Maharishi started the TM Siddhi program, I was working in the press, where his pamphlets and posters, etc. were printed. We were getting pictures to print which purported to show people flying, moving along for perhaps 20 feet, about six inches from the ground. We at the press got very excited by this we didn't imagine that they were taking pictures at the top of successive hops, though they were.
Shortly after that I was initiated into the flying sutra myself, and we used to go and practice it in the Flying Room. Lots of people bouncing around. I didn't take off at all. I was told that I had to help it a bit , which started to ring alarm bells. Now, I look at phenomena like what happens at Toronto Blessings, the Quaking of the Quakers, the Shaking of the Shakers, and see it as the same thing.
But I did, several times, feel Lighter than air. And it felt wonderful. I now view my experiences as being hypnotic. Suggestion can, in my view, be very powerful. I've seen a stage hypnotist make people known to me do very silly things. But adherents of Mararishi (and I am no longer one) DO feel lighter than air. The trouble is that they are not really, and the feelings are illusory.
It is easy for bright, idealistic people to get trapped in all sorts of nonsense, because the experiences they have seem so real. Those people I've seen on TV at evangelical churches falling over and twitching are having very powerful experiences, as are those who think they can fly because they use one of Patanjali's yoga sutras.
(who found his mystical time an interesting experience, but is glad to be out of it)
20 Jan 1997
There are many very legitimate reasons to criticize the TM organization and to question its hyperbole. As an independent 21-year practitioner of TM, I'm frequently dismayed by the movement's antics, but not anywhere near as dismayed as I am delighted by the results of TM in my life. Whatever the movement's questionable behavior, I've found practice of the techniques to be more than worthwhile.
I guess it takes more objectivity than most people can muster to separate the issue of the potential usefulness of some specific approach or practice from the issue of the reliability of those who promote it. Just as it's possible, as you suggest, for a person of apparent integrity to be cynically deceptive or deluded, it's also entirely possible for someone whose integrity you suspect to be promoting something of genuine value. It would be a shame to dismiss a potentially useful modality out of hand simply because you don't trust the promoter.
Where TM--or any group or movement that has a significant "anti" faction--is concerned, I would suggest consulting with an informed current member of the group (preferably one who, like myself, is not a "True Believer" and at least makes an attempt to be objective) before swallowing whole what the "anti" faction provides, and then doing some independent checking of your own about points of factual disagreement. That should help weed out illegitimate or inaccurate criticism and will make your reporting much more useful.
Hard-core skeptics will uncritically accept whatever you tell them. True believers will uncritically reject whatever you tell them. It's the group in between you are most likely to be able to influence, but if you appear to be as biased negatively as the True Believers are positively, you'll have less of a chance of reaching them. That's why accuracy and fairness are so important to your effort.
12 Jun 1997
I like your Skeptic's Dictionary, it's interesting and fun to read. Today I read your entry on Transcendental Meditation (which I used to practice myself for a few years), and I'd like to make two particular comments on it:
1. One thing you do not mention that is typical of sects like the TM movement: They're are after people's money. They offer series of courses (as well as the health and beauty products you do mention) and a number of other things at greatly exaggerated prices. You may want to point this out more clearly.
2. I think you are in danger of disparaging meditation in general.
There are a number of techniques designed for relaxation and stress relief
only; they do not cost a lot of money, they have no religion attached etc.
If you referred to such approaches in contrast to TM, this might help
reply: You are right about the benefits of non-religious meditation. Too many people in our society think that relaxation means having an alcoholic beverage, smoking a joint or snorting some cocaine while watching television or a movie. I prefer napping, but meditation is a good way to relax for some people.