Friday, April 11, 2008

REMAINS OF IGNORANCE: Secondary Narcissism

REMAINS OF IGNORANCE is an occasional feature of quick hits on life after Transcendental Meditation.

This post was hard to write. It goes right to the heart of my biggest shame about my time in the TM Org.

I've written in the past about my suspicions that the Maharishi had narcissistic traits (which I explain in this article). What I failed to mention there were my own failings in this area.

Long before becoming a TM meditator at age 18, I had some narcissistic traits. I was a bright kid, always scored higher than the top 1% on standardized tests. Between my parents' natural pride and my teachers' assurances that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be, I got the message that I was a "special" kid. I walked around feeling vaguely superior to my classmates — despite the fact that many of them excelled in areas I was helplessly inept at, such as sports, arts, music, writing.

There's nothing pathological about such traits. Nearly anyone you know who is an overachiever or ambitious in career or life is likely to have a healthy dose of narcissism.

But my seedling narcissistic traits blossomed into fully-ripened flowers of evil when I became deeply involved with the TM Movement.

I learned to refer to nonmeditators as "stress bunnies" and "mud" (after the Maharishi's recounting of a saint telling him everything outside the Indian "Valley of the Saints" was "all a mud.") I knew I was on the most superior path toward enlightenment — the Maharishi's TM. Everyone else was lost in varying degrees of ignorance. Even brushing against "them" or touching them in a crowd could lead to me picking up their "stress." We were "evolving" a hundred times, a thousand times faster than they were.

Far from being a harmless idiosyncrasy, my feelings of superiority poisoned my relationships with others — including other meditators, my family, my former friends. They were lost, "ignorant." I began to experience distance in my relationships with others. I had problems with emotional intimacy. How could I love anyone — even my wife at the time — if I felt superior to them?

If anyone expressed a a viewpoint on spiritual evolution, or a spiritual experience, I always felt my understanding was superior to theirs, my experiences were "deeper."

Looking back I was overwhelmingly arrogant and condescending. With little sense that God — or whatever power is at work in Nature — had infinite compassion for all of us. And that each of us is blessed with value to offer other humans.

I've termed this process "secondary narcissism." Just as our cult leaders were very often narcissists, I believe they found it to their advantage to blow whatever faint sparks we naturally had of superiority and arrogance into raging flames. It's my hypothesis this helped establish control over many of us. Destroying relationships between friends, lovers, family made us all the more likely to focus our needs and dependencies on the cult leader.

I know I wasn't alone. I remember talking with a regional director one day about the Six-Month Course. I asked if he was excited about becoming a "Governor of the Age of Enlightenment." He said, "What's the point? Everybody's becoming a Governor. I want to be Lord of the Universe."

Narcissistic thinking is something I battle with to this day. There's a big gap between my head and my heart. I've reasoned out my addiction to arrogance, and how it served me in my life — and the purposes of the Maharishi. But I'm ashamed that I still experience it daily. I'm horrified when I find myself unconsciously thinking my thoughts and experience are superior to commenters here, for instance. I forget momentarily that every viewpoint is valid on its own terms for the individual expressing it — and their courage for speaking out their truth needs to be celebrated not denigrated.

I still am distant from my family. I wish my relationship with my second wife were closer.

I've made progress in recovering from narcissism. It's a rare day now that I'm not humbled by an insight of a commenter or an emailer. I've taken to heart a slogan I once taught as an addictions counselor: "Strive to be average."

But I think narcissism is one nasty side-effect of growing up TM that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

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!

John M. Knapp, LMSW

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