Saturday, March 31, 2007

TM and Trance Addiction: Kicking the TM Habit

Repost of accidentally deleted post

I've been in touch with thousands of current and former TMers over the last 12 years. One question that comes up again and again is whether I recommend that they quit Transcendental Meditation or not.

My response is always that's a very personal decision, one the individual can only make for him or herself. Many elements enter into the decision, including personal belief, comfort level, and emotional resilience.

Based on the experience of many that I've worked with, I believe there are some things you need to consider if you are thinking of stopping meditation.

There are some very positive reasons for ceasing the practice. I don't have hard figures, but many of the people I know who decided to leave the Org, but chose to continue TM, eventually ended up going back to the Movement.

As Joe Kellet's web site develops, trance is a sly seductress. Meditation is one of nature's miracles; it feels wonderful for most who practice it. But there's no doubt that trance states are states of increased suggestibility, states in which critical thought cannot be sustained. It seems likely that simply continuing the experience of trance makes one susceptible to maintaining TM beliefs and worldviews despite the decision to leave the Org.

Pioneering cultic studies researchers, Louis Jolyon West and Paul Martin, wrote about the development of a "cult personality" within members of high-demand groups in “Pseudo-Identity and the Treatment of Personality Change in Victims of Captivity and Cults.” They spoke of a variation of dissociative identity disorder, known commonly as “multiple personality disorder,” which they hypothesized developed in cult victims.

This concept resonated with my experience. I actually left the TM Org three times before I made my final break in 1995. The first few times I attempted to leave, I experienced within me a “cult John” who maintained the old attitudes, phobias, and beliefs from my TM days. When I returned to the TM Org each time, I had the feeling that I was abandoning my secular self – although I called my time outside of TM a period of “unstressing.” Others I’ve known have expressed similar feelings.

My hypothesis is that continuing to meditate after “leaving” TM keeps the cult personality lively, ready to pounce and reassert control of your life.

A third consideration: I have no research to contribute, but based on the anecdotes of many former meditators, I wonder if trance abuse induces physical addiction, not just emotional dependence.

Ever miss a meditation during your TM days? Many people report a feeling of anxiety that increases the longer they wait after their accustomed meditation time. And many people who don’t meditate for days after regular practice for years report some or all of these symptoms: mild confusion, fatigue, concentration problems, spaciness, irritability, an overwhelming need for sleep -- or difficulty falling asleep. Some report physical symptoms such as a mild feverishness, flu-like feelings, muscular aches and pains, a hyper-aroused state in which physical touch is irritating, and other vague physical sensations.

Readers who have experienced long-rounding courses may have had similar experiences as they “came down” in rounds.

If any former drug addicts or alcoholics have read this far, they may recognize these symptoms. They’re the signs of addictive withdrawal.

Now, TMers are indoctrinated with a different explanation. Meditators who have decided to quit meditation and begin to experience these symptoms frequently jump to the conclusion that they are now “unstressing.” They may see these mild problems as proof that meditation “works” and they are now suffering because they are re-entering a state of ignorance. Very likely, they will re-begin the practice with renewed conviction.

Not all meditators experience these problems. And the good news is that those who do usually only experience them for a week or two.

My guess is that TMers become mildly addicted to increased endorphin levels – or some other naturally occurring hormonal change. Fortunately, it’s an addiction that is relatively easy to overcome. The passage of time works wonders. (Kathleen Taylor writes in Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control, Oxford University Press, 2004 that trance stimulates serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin levels, creating receptive state to suggestions. H/t to Gina Catena.)

Many people have valid reasons for wanting to continue meditation whether they want to maintain good standing in the TM Org or not. They consider meditation a valid expression and experience of their spirituality. They may simply want to continue enjoying the documented health benefits of regular meditation. (I won’t argue here the extent or even reality of these benefits. Suffice it to say there is sound research that indicates the measurable health benefits are much less than the TM Org would have one believe.)

For these people, I have a few suggestions. Not based on research, but rather on the anecdotal success stories I’ve had the good fortune to have heard in counseling people who leave TM.

First, I recommend that you do consider ceasing to meditate if you decide to leave the TM Org. I believe the danger of being sucked back into a hurtful organization is too great to risk continuing meditation. I don’t suggest that you never meditate again. (This would be decidedly hypocritical of me. I meditate and do yoga regularly, although I haven’t done TM for many years.) But I recommend that you set a significant time goal for yourself during which you will break your TM habit. I recommend 6 months, although shorter or longer periods may prove optimum once this is researched. After you’ve experienced life without TM – and what may be an addiction, you are in a better position to make a rational decision about whether you will re-begin TM or another meditation technique.

Second, keep yourself open to the possibility that the mild symptoms of discomfort that you may experience do not prove that TM works. Consider, in fact, that they are proof that TM may create an unhealthy physical dependence. Just this simple change in viewpoint may serve to get you through your withdrawal period.

Thirdly, find other activities that meet the physical and emotional needs that TM met. As an example, vigorous physical activity also raises endorphin levels. Exit counselor Pat Ryan and others have reported that the increased endorphin levels from aerobics or weight training can ease the feelings of physical withdrawal.

Finally, the spiritual hole that leaving the TM Org and ceasing meditation causes must be filled again. But that’s the subject for another posting.

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