Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Detailed "Program" for Stopping Meditating

I recently received a request -- inspired by my previous post, "TM and Trance Addiction, for advice on how to cut back or stop meditating. Polished up and shortened, this was my reply:

I'll share my experience with you. After stopping TM in 1996, I didn't practice any form of meditation for roughly a year. I, like you, experienced a number of symptoms of trance addiction. I decided I wanted to know what life was like without TM -- and that I would decide later whether it added or detracted from my life when I had a TM-free period of my life to compare it to. After about a year, I began experimenting with doing TM as well as other forms of meditation. I found that every form of meditation I tried -- Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and the Relaxation Response -- took me to essentially the same place. The only differences I noted were subtle differences in how long it took to get there. I won't share which meditation that I settled on. I don't want to influence you in any way as you try to figure out how you would like to fashion your life with or without meditation. Suffice it to say, I chose to do another form of meditation, not TM, and am very happy with my experiences.

Okay, enough speechifying.

There are four aspects to reducing meditation time: physiological, psychological, social/environmental, and spiritual.

As to the simplest: the physical addiction. Here is a method to try to cut back your meditation time. On long-rounding courses, the Maharishi had us gradually decrease the number of times we meditated in preparation for going back to 2x20.

I recommend that you cut back your program time by 5 minutes a day. This means in a few weeks you will be meditating 2x20. But you have to ease the discomfort caused by the addictive side effects as you cut back. Do this by adding 5 minutes of physical exercise every day to replace the meditation time you lose. This could be working out with weights (my favorite suggestion) or simply going for a stimulating walk. The idea is that you want to exercise to the point of at least starting to faintly sweat. This has several effects. It pumps you full of good chemicals -- like endorphins -- that tend to replace the feelings you have become addicted to during TM. Exercise tends also to lift the mood, which can help alleviate any traces of depression you might experience from ceasing meditation. Finally, it gives you something to do. It's a distraction, much like chewing gum helps people quitting smoking. (This routine is based on some observations that Pat Ryan of TM-Ex made years ago.)

After you have successfully reduced your meditation as much as you want, you can begin reducing your exercise time (unless you enjoy it and want to continue!). The whole process shouldn't take longer than a month.

Make sure you get plenty of sleep, but don't take naps during the day as you reduce your meditation. Naps have a nasty habit of turning into meditation sessions as your mind and body try to grab meditative moments because of the addiction.

Also try to schedule in plenty of relaxation time. I have some suggestions for relaxation routines on my counseling web site.

This brings us to the second aspect of reducing meditation: the mental. Like quitting any addictive behavior, you have to be committed to the process to have any hope of making it work. To help you build commitment and keep it, I suggest talking about your decision with a loved or trusted friend. Talking about a decision with someone else tends to make it more concrete for us, and we're more likely to follow through. You might also consider journaling about your experiences and writing affirmations, such as "I can have a happy and fulfilled life without TM" or whatever your own selection would be.

As to the social/environmental: You may have to decide what kind of environment you surround yourself with during this difficult time. In my counseling experience, people who surround themselves with friends who continue to meditate -- or at least support the TM Movement and the Maharishi -- have a difficult time cutting back or ceasing meditation. Just as an alcoholic has to choose to avoid bars and drinking parties -- even drinking friends, it is possible, although not certain, you may need to change your social environment to successfully cease TM.

Finally, let's talk about the spiritual need that TM may have filled for you. Spirituality means so many different things to different people. I try to use the broadest definition possible: the need to identify with something larger than the self. This can be God, but it certainly doesn't have to be. For some it is science, for others, nature, friends, family, volunteer work, meditation, prayer, so many different things. Most likely, even if you feel you didn't get too involved in the TM movement, TM played some spiritual role in your life. As you reduce your TM time, you'll have time to reflect on the role TM played for you. If you hope to continue with a reduced TM time -- and not slip back into addictive behavior -- you'll need to fill the hole that losing TM creates in your life. This is something you will have to fashion for yourself. But I can mention things that have worked for people that I've counseled in the past. What makes these suggestions works is again commitment. Consider scheduling these activities into your calendar and then making sure you follow through on them. Spend more time with family. Take trips and walks in nature. Consider reconnecting with the religion you were raised in -- or another religion. Consider attending AA meetings, a very spiritual experience for many addicted individuals whether or not they were addicted to alcohol. Immerse yourself in fine art, writing, or music. Consider volunteering time with your favorite charitable organization -- after all, you're going to have a lot more time in your life once you cut out an hour or two a day from your TM schedule. Offer comfort to a friend. Call friends you haven't contacted in a long time. There are probably dozens of things that might occur to you that will fill the emotional and spiritual needs that TM is currently fulfilling for you.

It's my hope, that you will get sufficient inspiration from this letter to make the changes you want to make. But don't be discouraged if that doesn't happen right away. I've worked with so many people who have gone through what you are going through. Many easily either ceased or reduced their meditation times on their own. Some others have sought help. It is possible that a little help from someone experienced in this process may give you the extra boost you need to make a change if it's too difficult at first.

Okay, this has turned into a really long letter. My thanks if you lasted all the way through and read this far.

I just want to leave you with one final thought. I admire your courage in having the strength to ask for help both in contacting me and in working with your therapist. My guess is that it was a hard decision to make. In my experience, the people who have the wisdom to seek out help are the ones who recover from whatever difficulty they are having recover most quickly and gracefully.

John M. Knapp, LMSW

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