Monday, April 23, 2018

"they need to... take out the guru crap"

This was meant to be a followup comment, but the comment it was supposed to follow up on was deleted by its contributor while I was writing. Oh well. So I made a full post out of it instead...

"they need to... take out the guru crap"

A perennial suggestion I've heard, in some form, for literally decades. This will never happen, for at least two reasons.

The first of which is what could be called  a term borrowed from the context in which psychedelic drugs were used: "set and setting." The experience of meditation, I think, really does completely depend on the setup, or what they used to call with respect to TM, "initiation."

The "guru" (technically, he's a "yogi") is a central part of the setup, he's an authority figure. So is the real "guru" whose picture is central to the instruction/ritual (puja). The prospective meditator is flooded with an overload of information, much of it metaphorical, bullshit, or both. At instruction, there's also a lot of probably unexpected sensory input, right down to the use of candles and incense. It's supposed to be special, and the fact that most people paid a lot of money for it, relative to an app, book or tape, magnifies its importance.

All of this is by design, and as much as the organization denies that belief and ideology are part of the process, they are always present, in some form, from the beginning. The basic "bubble diagram" of the introductory lecture is both a metaphor that I think (from personal experience)  sets up an expectation of what the subjective experience of meditation will be like, and at the same time it's an ideological, if not subtly religious, statement about the nature of the mind.

Second, the long-term goal is to put some people on, and keep them on, something of an escalator of involvement with the TM organization. If you find endless droning Maharishi tapes are what drives you away, be glad! They don't want you around either. But if you're part of that subset of people who like it, think what he's saying is somehow important, feel pangs of devotion and love in the direction of the old man that are then redirected toward the organization... well, then, they really want you to stick around. They want you to meditate no matter what - that's why the so-called "checking procedure" is a flowchart with no way out (in which the meditator gives up meditating). And over the very long-term, they want enough people to contribute their labor and wealth to sustain and grow the organization, for reasons and purposes that are completely opaque to most beginning meditators.

The teaching/learning of TM is just a tiny bit of what the organization is ultimately about. It's intended to be, for some, a recruitment process. All of that is best avoided, whether one goes through with TM initiation/instruction, or not.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Simon and Schuster misleadingly sells the latest TM promotional book

It's that time again. Every few years, another book selling Transcendental Meditation, written by a nearly life-long TM teacher or satisfied customer, lands on the store shelves, with the backing of a major publisher. The latest is "Strength in Stillness," written by David Lynch Foundation executive director Bob Roth as part of the Foundation's efforts to eventually recruit government and major institutions to promote and pay for the teaching of its particular version of meditation - a product of what's actually, by any measure, a fundamentalist religious sect originating in India - to vulnerable people, including public school students.

As has been true throughout the many reruns of this routine for the past fifty years, Roth and his movement actively recruit celebrities and wealthy people to publicly testify to their view of the personal value of TM. Since we can't read their minds, it's impossible to tell if we're just looking at people who are eager to further promote themselves by following the herd and latching onto what they think will be, yet again, a superficially popular cause, or if they're just a few of the still small minority of people who learn TM and stick with it for more than just a few months. It seems likely to me that some combination of both may be true, and that given the nature of celebrity and media, those who dissent, are indifferent, or think the whole thing to be ridiculous are very rarely, if ever, heard from. In popular culture and media, we almost always only hear from those with a positive, endorsing story to tell about such celebrity-endorsed causes and charities, because the nature of the process of image-making, publicity and stardom usually filters out any other message.

Once again, we have a book with a whole pile of endorsing celebrity quotes attached, that appear in every description of the book online, in promotional press releases and on the back cover. These are the words of satisfied customers who probably never took the time (or had their assistants take the time) to do a little research on what they're getting involved in. The David Lynch Foundation is founded on the premise that Transcendental Meditation is absolutely perfect in every way and is a panacea for almost anything that ails you, anyone, or society as a whole, because the anti-science, unchallengeable, absolutist, fundamentalist Vedic religious tradition from which it springs dictates that that is so. Prospective buyers of Transcendental Meditation must look elsewhere for even slightly critical or skeptical evaluation of the practice, the rest of the products they'll eventually be offered, or the history and purpose of the organizations that ultimately benefit, over the long term, from the promotion and practice of TM in the Western world.

Obviously some of these endorsing celebrities have no idea about even the basics of what they're now practicing, and that seems to be the case for one of the endorsers of Roth's book.

Here's one line from the "Editorial Reviews" of the book found on Amazon, that can also be found in the promotional copy for the book on the Simon and Schuster website.
“The beauty of TM is that it’s so forgiving. You can’t do it wrong.” —Robin Roberts
As a matter of fact, according to TM teachers or virtually anyone in authority associated with TM, you can do it wrong. In fact, there's a minor obsession with "correct" TM practice that's supposed to be ensured by a procedure they call "checking."

Anyone who's actually gone through the whole process of learning TM, and who didn't completely ignore most of the propagandizing and existential/philosophical material offered over the course of five daily sessions, would remember that they had their meditation "checked" after they learned it, because that's what happens at the beginning of the three follow-up sessions after learning TM. "Checking," in fact, is frequently offered, perpetually, to meditators for the rest of their lives.  The stated intent is to ensure no deviation from the allegedly pure and always beneficial method that supposedly is the unmodified product of some ancient Vedic tradition from India. But if you look at the actual "checking" procedure itself, you might notice that it's really an endless loop with no exit; it reinforces the absolute necessity of regular TM practice over every other individual concern, even when the meditator is experiencing negative consequences of the practice.

But TM teachers, when "checking," are to avoid anything that might cause the meditator to stop, or to view meditation in anything other than the most positive light.  It says so in the "General Notes" that are part of the checking procedure instructions dictated to every TM teacher in training: "Checkers should be careful to mention negative aspects as little as possible." "World peace" and other claimed collective benefits of TM, that they call the "Maharishi Effect," are to them completely dependent upon maximizing the total number of meditators on the planet, thus the constant insistence upon "correct" and regular practice.

Those of us who've stepped back and critically examined TM and the teaching of it often notice that, when something bad happens to a meditator, others will likely reach for a few standard excuses for the fact that meditators often don't experience the benefits that are claimed to come with the practice. Very high on that list, if not the top two excuses, are "unstressing" and a blame-the-victim gambit that can be summarized, among other ways, as "improper technique" that should be corrected through "checking." (Even we critics are sometimes told that we're "unstressing" and "need a checking.") 

For an example of how these habits play out among meditators, you can read the undisputed facts in a Federal court decision in the lawsuit that followed the 2004 murder of Levi Butler in the TM Movement's own Maharishi University of Management cafeteria. To my critical eye, long-term involvement with TM and the organizations that teach it, and this particular preoccupation with how meditation is practiced, contributed to the inability of school administrators to get help for a student experiencing a psychotic episode. In the middle of that kind of crisis, an administrator was questioning the correctness of the student's TM practice and effectively blaming the student for his psychotic state. Avoidance of anti-psychotic medication, possibly encouraged by the well-known anti-medical views of the school's authorities preoccupied with medicine's "side effects," may also have been a contributing factor.

On March 1, 2004, suddenly and without apparent provocation, [Shuvender] Sem stabbed fellow student John Killian (Killian) in the face and throat with a pen. Two fellow students were restraining Sem when Dr. Samuel Boothby (Dr. Boothby), a MUM administrator, approached the group. Dr. Boothby led Sem into an adjoining conference room and discussed the attack. Dr. Boothby questioned Sem about any relationship Sem might have had with John Killian and what Sem had done earlier that day, including Sem's TM technique. Dr. Boothby informed Sem he was using an improper technique when completing his TM exercises. MUM administration did not summon law enforcement or campus security; instead, Sem was placed into the custody of MUM's dean of men, Joel Wynsong (Wynsong). Killian went unassisted to the hospital, where he received several stitches.
Wynsong took Sem to Wynsong's on-campus apartment. Once at his apartment, Wynsong began his own meditation exercises, and, after completing his meditation, Wynsong discovered Sem had left the apartment. Wynsong located Sem in the campus dining hall and decided to allow Sem to mingle with the students. Sem began another abrupt and unprovoked attack on fellow student Levi Butler, stabbing Levi multiple times with a knife. Levi died from multiple stab wounds to the chest.3
Sem was taken into custody, and on March 3, 2004, Dr. James Brooks (Dr. Brooks) performed a psychiatric examination. Dr. Brooks noted Sem had a history of chronic paranoid schizophrenia and had been treated with anti-psychotic medication but ceased taking the medication several weeks before coming to MUM in January 2004. Dr. Brooks also noted Sem had been to the MUM health clinic in January but had not been treated for psychosis at that time.


As for the rest of Roth's book, no, I haven't read it. I'd expect it to be yet another book-length infomercial that leaves a lot of readers disappointed that the book doesn't actually teach TM, it just sells it. The critical reviews on Amazon uniformly point out this discrepancy between buyer's expectations and the content of the book. This has been true of every book that Transcendental Meditation promoters, teamed with mainstream publishers, have offered for the past 50 years. 



Sunday, February 04, 2018

religion and politics: two sides of the same coin of any given cult

There was, or at least seemed to be, a time, before Mahesh went totally crackers with his narcissistic obsession for fame and fortune, that TM had a side that recognized the personal worth of those who got involved. Individual personal worth wasn't particularly marketable, however (or Mahesh couldn't bother to focus on that kind of thing) and so, it went the way of all flesh before the juggernaut of religion and politics, entities only concerned with their own continued existence.

Religion-Politics, a collective noun meaning me first; CULT = ORGANIZATIONAL survival comes first. Experience demonstrates that "cult" is not all that different from religion-politics, something CNN documents on a daily basis most days and elected officials (appointed favourites in the case of Mahesh and cults) forget and behave as if they never knew their obligations to those who support the cult/religion-political entity.

Since raping and pillaging went out of fashion at the end of the Viking era, what was Mahesh to do for his ego-organization to survive? That, unremarkably, is sadly obvious to everyone, except those true-believers to whom it is totally invisible. But this has not been different with any cult/religion-political-entity. The CULT comes first, and YOU owe it everything (otherwise your personal worth is less visible than a boson particle).

The point of this tiny rant? If it isn't obvious, you are CULT-ified. But, if it is obvious, then, perhaps you owe some obligation to those lost boys and girls still imagining that what they truly fantasize is not the same thing as Reality.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

An excerpt from "Meditation : A safety guide"

Here's an excerpt from a book written by a "meditation mentor" in Singapore. My posting of this excerpt is not to endorse any system of meditation or any religious tradition. It does serve as a rather thorough exploration of the downsides of meditation, and why it may not be recommended for a lot of people.

REAL DANGERS OF MEDITATION
[Abridged from Piya Tan, Meditation : A safety guide, Singapore: The Minding Centre, 2013 Intro.]
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The meeting of western science and eastern meditation has not always been smooth [1]. On the positive side, we now know more about the nature and effects of meditation—and how to recognize the “real” thing—or at least avoid the negative aspects.
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PROBLEMS WITH MANTRA MEDITATION

By the mid-1970s, clinical reports of negative outcomes of various mantra meditation programs began to appear in psychiatric literature [2] These included people becoming unemployable because they were unable to control their mental states (for example, everything around them seemed unreal), and even more serious problems ranging from depression and agitation to psychosis.

Leon Otis, a psychologist at Stanford Research Institute, found that adverse outcomes were related to how long that person had meditated using such methods [3]. Michael Persinger, neuroscientist at the Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, found that, for some people, meditation can bring on symptoms of complex partial epilepsy, such as visual abnormalities, hearing voices, feeling vibrations, or experiencing automatic behaviours [4].

SELF-HYPNOSIS

Another concern, explored by Esalen founders, Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan, was that advanced practitioners of mantra meditation ranked high in suggestibility [5], not surprising given its similarity to self-hypnosis. A number of people in the US have successfully brought legal suits for damages suffered as a result of their participation in meditation programmes, especially commercialized methods such as TM (“transcendental meditation”) [6]. Legal suits against TM for damages were common [7].

Many people doing TM suffered from problems and difficulties regarding thinking and attention. Other impairments included emotional difficulties, blackouts, anxiety, “spacing out” [feeling drowsy, weak and bored], amnesia, and losing track of time [8]. In short, TM is not safe [9].

In the early years of Buddhism in the US, two approaches were common. The first was the empty-mind mantra meditation based on the Hindu tradition. The second, from the Judaeo-Christian tradition, is reflective meditation, where you reflect as a way of focusing the mind.

In the former, a close relationship between teacher and pupil included attention to individual differences and any problems which might arise. In contrast to earlier approaches, meditation today is often being sold by mass marketing, and often by individuals who have no religious affiliation or do not declare it [10].



FOOTNOTES

[1] This section is mostly based on http://www.ex-premie.org/pages/ismeditation.htm.

[2] Clinical reports of negative outcomes. A A Lazarus, “Psychiatric problems precipitated by Transcendental Meditation,” Psychological Reports 39 1976:601-602. For full biblio, see Meditation: A Safety Guide, 2013.

[3] N Mead, “Why meditation may not reduce stress,” Natural Health 23,6 Nov-Dec 1993: 80-85. For full biblio, see Meditation: A Safety Guide, 2013.

4] Michael A Persinger, “Transcendental Meditation and general meditation are associated with enhanced complex partial epileptic-like signs: Evidence of ‘cognitive kindling’?” Perceptual and Motor Skills 76, 1993:80-82. For full biblio, see Meditation: A Safety Guide, 2013.

[5] Michael Murphy & Steve Donovan, The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation, Big Sur, CA: Esa¬len Institute, 1989.

[6] On the dangers of TM (Transcendental Meditation) (a detailed insider report by Joe Kellett), see http://www.suggestibility.org/. Another comprehensive insider’s website is www.minet.org.

[7] Legal suits for damages. John Doe I-VI and Jane Doe vs Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; World Plan Executive Council-United States; Maharishi International University for the US District Court for the District of Columbia, 95-2848, 2849, 2851, 2852, 2853, 2854 (consolidated); Jane Green vs Maharishi Mahesh Yogi et al. US District Court for the District of Columbia, 87-0015-OG. Patrick Ryan vs World Plan Executive Council-United States et al. US District Court for the District of Columbia, 87-0016-OG.

[8] Problems found in therapy. M T Singer & R Ofshe, “Thought reform and the production of psychiatric casualies,” Psychiatric Annals 20,4 1990:189-190.

[9] On the ineffectiveness and problems of TM, see A Lutz, Donne & Davidson 2007:41-43.

[10] On various aspects of the commercialization of meditation and pseudoscientific claims, see eg Barry L Beyerstein, “Pseudoscience and the brain: Tuners and tonics for aspiring superhumans” at http://www.sfu.ca/…/…/articles/06Pseudoscience-and-Brain.pdf.

More of this excerpt from the author's Facebook page

More on this book

Introduction of this book


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

the end of playing the game


TM: religion, cult, science? 
Sure, why not! 
It's how you play the game, plain and simple. 

An old-time friend wanted to know why I, such a devoted, committed, true-believer (in the old days), quit TM. When I said I began to feel that I was living a lie, he declared a whiff of bovine excrement. He was right.

It was so much more than that. But the words that told the story were short in coming, suddenly. Hard to believe, I know, given my propensity for rants.

What was really going on? what had really gone on?

Some folks find that TM is ok, lets them feel rested and lets them go about their business feeling free-er ... ok, less stressed. Is that a lie, too? Mahesh said, I thought quite rightly, that we judge the effectiveness of meditation by our results in activity. I don't know any TMers any more. Haven't met one in years. Are they good, kind, effective, happy people? Does anyone know? Or is expecting to find good, kind, effective, happy people anywhere a contemporary myth and fantasy?

Unfortunately, like drivers on the highway, we only notice the ones who cause accidents, vehicular trouble. Just as unfortunately, I met lots of TM casualties. To me, they were "proof" that there was something absolutely NOT universal about Mahesh's panacea. Something whiffy about the TMO party-line.

When I compare the true-believing big-wig organizational whoo-has on YouTube (including the head whoo-ha, David Lynch) I wonder just who Maheshism is benefiting, other than whoever is in charge of Mahesh's bank account. I don't see and hear solid-based logic and clarity. I hear proselytising and belief-based fantasy. Perhaps I am jaded (oh, horrors). Yet, I think that is not the case. Logic is logic and I hear alternative-logic, alternative-facts and lofty "spiritual" crap-speak.

Any ideas? experiences, commentaries?

Friends tell me that Leigh Remini's TV episodes on Scientology are informative, worthwhile watching. I shy away from even clarifying-cult talk; it's just too full of the old days, somehow. Will there, ever/someday, be a post-TM-version of Leigh Remmini's courage, clarity and forthcoming? I hope, but do not restrain my respirations.

Mahesh envied Hubbard (his apparent success, anyway) and I guess, like the current U. S. President, tried to outdo what he considered a rival. I see a lot of similarity between Mahesh (the one I knew in private) and the very public current President. One shudders at the thought of what goes on in private in the oval office one hears so little about! but that's probably another story inappropriate for this Blog.

So, what are current TMers like, the Fairfield variety, the ordinary other-than-Fairfield variety, the run-of the mill variety? do they talk like the YouTube variety? are they really successful, skilled in action and so on?

 I, a curious reader, want to know.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Transcendental Meditation for Everyone, but at what cost

This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Most of us might well see some less than rigorous search for facts. Following this article is a former TM teacher's response.

←↕→


Bob Roth, chief executive of the David Lynch Foundation, teaches transcendental meditation to a range of students, from elementary-school children to CEOs

 

by Alexandra Wolfe


June 30, 2017 1:07 p.m. ET

 
Bob Roth knows his field sounds a little like “woowoo” spirituality, as he says. But as a teacher of transcendental meditation, he now works with a wide-ranging clientele that includes celebrities such as Katy Perry and Jerry Seinfeld, hedge-fund managers, inner-city students, prisoners and veterans. He has the same goal for everyone: to teach them the virtues of T.M., as it’s called – a practice that involves silently reciting a mantra over and over for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day. 

Proponents say that the practice reduces stress and raises self-awareness. Bridgewater founder and co-chairman Ray Dalio, a student of Mr. Roth’s for more than a decade and a donor to the foundation, is a believer. The practice has been “integral to whatever success I’ve had in life,” he says. “It makes one feel like a ninja in a movie, like you’re doing everything calmly and in slow motion.”

Mr. Roth, 66, is chief executive of the David Lynch Foundation, a nonprofit he co-founded with the film director in 2005 that is dedicated to teaching transcendental meditation, particularly to at-risk populations, “to improve their health, cognitive capabilities and performance in life,” as the foundation’s website says. Some of its funds come from teaching courses to companies and individuals; a four-day training course costs up to $960 a person. The foundation has 60 employees in the U.S. as well as partners in 35 countries.

In early June, Mr. Roth opened the nonprofit’s first office in Washington, D.C., where he says he is currently teaching a dozen members of Congress. His organization has also been participating in studies in prisons recently. In a study published last year in the Permanente Journal, 181 male inmates at the Oregon State Correctional Institute and the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem either took a transcendental meditation program through the foundation or did nothing outside their usual routine. The researchers found greater reductions in anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms in the group that had taken meditation.

Mr. Roth finds an analogy in the sea. “The ocean can be active and turbulent on the surface, sometimes with tsunami-like 30-foot waves, but is, by its nature, silent at its depth,” he says. “The surface of the mind is the active, noisy, thinking mind – often racing, noisy, hyperactive, turbulent. But like the ocean, the mind of everyone is quiet, calm, silent at its depth.”

T.M. was developed in India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a physicist turned meditation teacher, in the 1950s; it gained popularity in the 1960s when he worked with the Beatles and other celebrities. 

The son of a doctor and a teacher, Mr. Roth dreamed of being a senator when he was young. He started meditating in college at the University of California, Berkeley, after a friend suggested it as a way to relax amid the student riots on campus. 

·         Response Posted In Transcendental Meditation for Everyone 


 I was a TM teacher who worked for the National TM office for 5 years in the 1970s.
It is disappointing that the Journal would publish an article without due diligence. While promoting a safe meditation practice to alleviate stress, TM conceals that Maharishi chose mantras that he said were the names of Hindu gods.

The initiation ceremony – the event during which a person first receives his or her mantra – takes place in a candlelit, incense-filled room with a TM teacher chanting Sanscrit prayers before an altar. At the conclusion, the inductee bows before the altar. The altar holds offerings that the student brought to the ceremony and the teacher used to worship Maharishi’s predeceased teacher. Every monotheistic religion considers this idol worship.

All this was documented by the New Jersey courts which tossed TM from the public schools in that state.

People can do what they choose. They should have honest information which TM withholds from them.

 


There are some more exchanges between our former TM teacher and Bob Roth. If possible, these may be posted later, perhaps in a separate article.