Friday, November 02, 2007


I have found many former TMers continue to be influenced by beliefs and mores of the Transcendental Meditation Org — even years after they have left the group. This is certainly true for me, even though I underwent exit counseling in 1995. Whether it's fear of "unstressers," fear that I will age more quickly if I don't meditate, or the belief that enlightenment brings human perfection, I have stumbled on dozens of concepts and behaviors strewn throughout my consciousness like "alien artifacts" from my decades in the TM org.

Today, as a psychotherapist, I have found cognitive therapy useful to help my clients discover and rid themselves of unwanted, unproductive beliefs. The theory behind CT is how we think about ourselves, our world, and our future affects our feelings and actions. The method consists of capturing uncomfortable feelings, examining the thoughts we had just before the onset of the feelings, and consciously undertaking "cognitive restructuring" — replacing the dysfunctional belief or thought with a balanced, rational understanding. People are taught a formal process of journaling, known as "thought records," that makes cognitive restructuring a habit fairly quickly — usually in 12 to 20 sessions.

In the 1960s Aaron T. Beck developed cognitive therapy — one of the most thoroughly researched forms of psychotherapy to date. Cognitive therapy has been found to be effective for many problems including depression, anxiety, panic, substance abuse, and personality disorders. Researchers today are studying its value for treating schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, inpatient depression, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and relationship problems, among others.

A key concept of CT is "cognitive distortion." These are "fairy tale" ways of thinking that contain some logic, but they are not rational ways of looking at the world. They distort our understanding of the world — and cause us pain.

Below are ten common distortions, explained in Beck's words, with examples I've added paraphrased from TMers I have counseled. (You can read examples more useful for the general population here.) You can rate yourself by giving yourself a point for each distortion that you use, with one being low and ten being high. Then you might ask yourself if you can stop using the distortions and think in a different way.
  1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your, or someone else's, performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself or others as total failures. Examples: I worked with one TMer who saw any concept different than the Maharishi's "perfect teaching" as wrong, or at least less than perfect. He explained he left the religion he was brought up in because "they believe life is suffering." Another example: Many former TMers go through a period after they leave the group where they now believe everything the Maharishi teaches is "bad," where once they believed everything was "good."

  2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Phrases like "You always..." or "You never..." exemplify overgeneralization. Example: One former TMer told me that nothing had gone right for her since she ceased meditating. "I just know that all my bad karma is coming home to roost."

  3. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and obsess on it so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors an entire glass of water. Example: A former TM governor who had left the group 6 years previously told me, "I just can't get used to working with nonmeditators. They're just not refined. I mean some of them smoke! How can you work with people so stressed out?"

  4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they "don't count" for some reason or other. In this way you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences. Often this manifests as making excuses or minimizing when somebody pays you a compliment. Example: A very successful businessman once told me that he couldn't take pleasure in his accomplishments. "I feel like my success is due to my time in the Movement. I can't shake the feeling that if I hadn't put worked full-time for the Movement, I just wouldn't be successful today."

  5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion — often a "wait and see" attitude is called for in these situations. Example: A woman explained to me, "I'm very intuitive. Maybe it was the sidhis or something. I can 'read' people. I know what they are thinking before they say it."
    1. MIND READING: You arbitrarily conclude (usually by personalizing their behavior) that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don't bother to check this out. She went on to tell me that she "knew" many people in her school were "against" here — although she could provide no proof that this was the case.

    2. THE FORTUNETELLER ERROR: You often anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact. A former citizen sidha explained, "I can tell when it's going to be a tough day at work. There's just something in the air that I can detect when I walk through the door. Maybe Maharishi wasn't so wrong when he talked about stress in the atmosphere."

  6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your achievements or someone else's goof up), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own character defects or other people's acceptable behavior). This is also called the "binocular trick." Example: I corresponded with a TM governor who left the group and married a nonmeditator. "Sometimes I feel like the only reason my wife is doing so well with her business is because we're together. I mean all those months of rounding, I figure she's getting the benefit because she's near me all the time."

  7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You allow your negative emotions to color how you see the world with an "I feel it, therefore it must be true." Example: A long-term meditator who had left the TM Org some 3 years earlier confided in me, "I still feel like I can tell when I'm unstressing. When I feel rocky, the people around me are so negative!"

  8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself or others with "should" and "shouldn't," as if needing to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. "Musts" and "oughts" are also offenders. The emotional consequences are guilt. When you direct "should" statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment — as do they! Example: "I still follow the old ayur vedic diet," one woman told me. "I feel it's something I should do for myself. Who can trust doctors? There all tied into the drug companies. They're just in it for the money. When I slip up and eat junk food, I feel terrible, I mean more than usual. I think ayur veda made my physiology more refined. I really feel I must keep to the vata diet or I pay for it."

  9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: "I'm a loser." When someone else's behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: "He's a dumb jerk!" Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is highly colored and emotionally loaded — and generally not factually descriptive. Example: Talking about nonmeditators, one former governor told me, "They're all so gross! They're so negative! Everyone is so stressed out."

  10. PERSONALIZATION: You see yourself as the cause of some negative external event, which in fact you were not primarily responsible for. Example: A friend from my teacher training course told me, "I just know that the trouble in the Middle East right now is because I haven't been regular in my program lately."

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