Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Once upon a time Transcendental Meditation Centers still held "advanced lectures" on Sunday nights. One such Sunday I heard an audiotape of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi discussing the memory changes meditators could expect from TM.

He said that a nonmeditator's memory was like a line drawn in stone, meaning it left a deep impression on the mind. He said that, in time, a meditator's memory would become like a line left in water: No deep impression would be left. The Maharishi reassured us that we would always remember things as we needed them, because "Nature supports," but that our mind would no longer be occupied by bothersome memories when we didn't need them.

Many long-term meditators have shared with me that they experience memory problems. Forgetting where they've put their keys. Difficulty remembering names and faces. Problems remembering words. Forgetting important dates and appointments. And they tell me that these problems have gotten worse the longer they do TM.

Some have expressed fear of these changes. Some of the most fearful are people who know members of Purusha and Mother Divine, the Maharishi's groups of monks and nuns. They describe some men and women on these programs as wandering the streets of Fairfield, Iowa, their memories shot, unable to concentrate on people talking to them, eyes clouded by vacant stares.

As with other possible unfortunate side-effects of TM, this is not often talked about in the TM community. In my experience counseling current and former TMers, it is a prevalent worry, however. This is not to say everyone experiences these problems. But many mention it, and many more worry about it because they see it in other TMers they know.

For myself, unfortunately, I never progressed to vacant stares, but friends and co-workers have noted my memory problems and commented on them. I know that when I read, I find it difficult to focus and generally don't remember what I've read shortly afterwards. (I've read the Harry Potter books several times and still am surprised by plot twists each time I read them.) I am 53, and should expect to be subject to memory changes, but colleagues say they are more notable in me than in others my age.

I have no way of knowing, barring some sort of large-scale, double-blind study, whether memory problems are worse or better among TMers than the population at large. And I do not know, if they exist, whether they are caused by TM or the stress and depression common in cultic relationships. But I mention memory problems here in the hopes of starting a conversation in our community regarding them.

There are many things that people who are experiencing memory loss can do to improve their functioning. (Some suggestions adapted from "Embarrassing Memory Problems.")

  • Improve your sleep habits, eat plenty of protein, and consider adding Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) to your diet to improve the physiological side of memory.
  • Increase your exercise to keep your brain in good shape (Journal of the American Medical Association 2004;292:144–61).
  • Be sociable. People who keep up social contact are less likely to develop memory problems.
  • Practice conversational skills.
  • Take up a hobby, particularly one that requires detail work and concentration such as model-building or needlework. I've found chess and crosswords very helpful. Other choices are card games, discussion groups, evening classes.
  • A simple technique for remembering names and faces is to repeat a person's name once audibly and then several times internally when you are introduced to them.
  • Organize your environment and personal effects to help you remember where things are located. For instance, always keep your keys in the same pocket. Lay out your things for the office in the same place every evening.
  • Write down things you need to remember in lists, pocket calendars, or even a PDA (Palm Pilot) to alert you to appointments and chores that you might forget. This is particularly helpful with medication. Also, the process of writing itself seems to improve memory retention.
  • When you read a book or newspaper, stop and pause from time to time and imagine you are telling someone what you have just read.
  • Before going to bed, try to recall what happened that day as vividly as possible.
  • It's easy to forget things we do automatically. Try pausing and registering what you are doing. Say it out loud. It's common to forget whether you've locked a door or turned an appliance off. Try saying out loud, "Oven off."
  • Try going through your address book from time to time, repeating the names. This helps keep their names lively in your memory.

Does any part of this resonate for you? Do you find your memory has changed for the worse since taking up TM?

Do you have this or similar "Remains of Ignorance"?

Please consider posting your thoughts in the comments below. Just click on "Comments" and type away. Please feel free to remain anonymous. You may help another former TMer with your insights!


REMAINS OF IGNORANCE is an occasional feature of quick hits on life after Transcendental Meditation. It's a reversal of the Maharishi's translation of lesh-avidya. He claimed this was a Vedantic concept: Even after enlightenment there remains some slight residue of ignorance without which one would "drop the body" or die.

I've found that even after I left the TM Org behind, there remain in my mind "alien artifacts," bits and pieces of TM-based myths that still affect me today. I represent my own experience only here. But I've learned from my years counseling TMers that a significant number of others have had similar experiences.

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