Saturday, March 21, 2009

Acting Funny Around Money

This essay is a preliminary examination of the painfully dysfunctional way some of us acted around money when we were involved in the TM life. I invite you to take a walk with me down memory lane, and see if you, like me, remember moments during your time in TM when your thinking around money, or the thinking of those you knew, was seriously askew. Hopefully, this will be an opportunity to recall, to re-evaluate, and to heal. One question I have found helpful to ask myself is, "What thoughts were going through my head to permit me to engage in these seriously dysfunctional behaviors? " I also invite you, if you so choose, to invent a different ending - how the incident would have played out if we had been acting from a place of sanity and empowerment. If you would like, share your memories and alternate endings with us in the comments section.

To start the ball rolling, I will share seven true stories from my TM days of "acting funny around money." Some of these stories are humorous, but some of them have tragic outcomes. I think they all reflect how Maharishi's teachings wreaked havoc with our sanity around money.

1. When I was about 19, in 1972, I lent my boyfriend $100 for some emergency. He promised he would repay me. A few months later, I asked him for the money back. He didn't have it; however, he admitted that he had recently attended a TM weekend residence course. I was angry. "How could you go off and spend money on a vacation when you still owed me money?" He replied huffily, "Well, which is more important for the evolution of the universe? Returning the money to you, or going on a residence course?!" I could think of no reply.

What was going on? The answer is that my boyfriend and I had recently attended a one-month TM rounding course, where Maharishi lectured three times a day. Maharishi had taught us that meditating, and in particular rounding, was the most important thing we could do for the "evolution of the universe." So my boyfriend and I were both responding to Maharishi's persuasive words, pounded into our brains with the sledgehammer of rounding.

What might be a re-empowered, sane alternate ending? Perhaps it would be me saying,"I lent you that money with the understanding that you would pay me back as soon as your emergency passed. I did not volunteer to subsidize your contribution to the evolution of the universe. If that is your personal goal, fine. Amass some money and attend a TM course. But how dare you make me an involuntary patron of your dream."

2. When I worked at Livingston Manor, NY, USA as a volunteer/work-study student in 1975-76, we were given room, board, credits towards TM courses, and $25 monthly stipend (for toothpaste, stamps, etc.) One day the word came down from on high that our clothes were too "hippie." We were told that we were not to wear leather sandals any more. We objected, partly due to the expense. "Now come on," the higher ups told us, "you ladies can buy some very nice boots (boots were in style that year) for not much, only about $25." There was a brief awkward pause, as I, and I assume other volunteers, were thinking, "$25? That's the money I need for my toothpaste and shampoo. That's how much I earn in an entire month!" But I didn't say anything, and neither did anyone else.

Why not? Maybe because I was trained by the TM organization to not complain, to sit on my doubts, to not express an independent attitude. We were afraid of being considered troublemakers. We were often shut up with, "Well, this is Maharishi's express wish." That announcement would be followed by an ominous? an awkward? silence, in which it was implied that if you still disagreed, you were not a trustworthy member of the community.

What would have been an empowered, sane response? The volunteers could have said, "You're only giving us $25 a month. There's no way we can afford new clothes on that stipend. If you want us to buy new clothes, you need to raise our stipend." And then we should have all stuck to it.

3. Around 1974, a TM teacher I knew who had an engineering degree would get himself a high-paying full time engineering job. After six months, he would earn enough money to take a 6-week ATR ("advanced training and rest" rounding for TM teachers) course. At that point, he would quit his job and go on the course. (Six weeks were the longest courses they had back in those days!) After the ATR, he would start looking for another engineering job. The interviewers would naturally question him about his spotty work history: "You keep leaving your jobs after six months! Why should we hire you?" "Oh, no!" he would assure them, "Those days are passed. From now on I intend to keep my job for years." Companies kept hiring him, and he continued to quit after six months to go on another ATR, and then look for a new job again.

Rationale: Since we had been taught that TM was the best thing we could possibly do for ourselves, and that the more TM we did, the more we would have "support of nature," and things would magically go right, he risked his financial stability, his reputation, his resume, his job stability, his chances for promotion, his chances for a pension, by continually quitting his jobs.

Saner alternative ending: Clearly, don't keep quitting your jobs. I don't know how long his luck held out or if he eventually stopped getting hired. It would take a giant re-evaluation of his entire belief system to change this behavior. "If it's possible that Maharishi is not telling the truth, that rounding isn't going to make my life magically work, then I have to have contingency plans, like keeping a job."

4. About 1978, a TM teacher/governor friend of mine got engaged to a TM teacher. He hadn't learned the sidhis, and he didn't have the money to pay for the sidhis course. So she lent him the $5,000 for the course. He attended part of the course, but halfway through he was kicked off for roaming around the roof at midnight when he couldn't sleep. He never did pay her back. She eventually broke off the engagement.

Rationale: If you believe that the TM-Sidhis makes everyone a new person, a person with magical abilities, life-supporting decision-making capabilities and the support of nature, then getting engaged to a grown man who doesn't have a penny to his name and is willing to borrow $5,000 from his fiancee to learn the TM-Sidhis seems like a sane decision.

Alternate, non-dysfunctional ending: "Well, I am attracted to you. But you don't have a job. And you don't have any money. I certainly am not going to get engaged to you, or loan you money. If you think the TM-Sidhis are a good thing, why don't you go out and get the money from somewhere - get a job, or get a loan (not from me), and attend the course. When you come back after the course, let's see if you're the changed person we believe you'll be. Let's see if you get a job. Let's see if you become responsible. I'll decide then if I want to marry you."

5. 1979-1981, I was on the "Creating Coherence Course" in Fairfield, Iowa, USA. I was hired by Sidha Corporation International to work at the Super Radiance Art Glass factory. I was promised room, board, the ongoing course (use of the meditation hall and evening meetings) and $75/month stipend. For two months, all C.C.C. course participants working at the factory got everything promised, including the $75. The third month, our supervisor told us that the company wasn't making enough money, and they could only afford to pay us $30 each. No one protested. After that month, they never gave us a stipend again, for the 12 months I continued to work there. No one complained. No one said a word.

Interpretation: I, and I assume the others, felt like I was part of something giant and wonderful. I was helping to create world peace. (Remember, Bevan said, "If you leave Fairfield, you are personally responsible for World War III.") Also, I was scared to complain. If I did, they might have labeled me a "troublemaker" or an "unstresser" or "ungrateful," and then I might get kicked off the course, or denied admission to advanced courses. And I was too spaced out from meditating five hours a day to be able to think it through clearly. I assumed that if a TM-owned company was making the decision, it must be a "life-supporting" decision. I also didn't want to complain to outside authorities and make the TM movement "look bad."

Saner solution: Discuss the situation with the other course participants. Come up with a plan, such as to threaten to quit if we were not paid the stipend we were promised, or to report the company to outside authorities.

6. 1981, M.I.U., Fairfield, Iowa, USA. I was friends with some work/study kitchen staff. They got room, board, an ongoing course (use of the meditation hall and evening meetings) and $75/month stipend. There was a special event - a TM fund-raising banquet in the campus' fanciest dining room. My friends cooked for, set up, and were allowed to attend the banquet, along with the rich contributors. After a fabulous meal and inspiring speeches, rich attendees promised hundreds and thousands of dollars for the latest TM venture (possibly the construction of the meditation domes at M.I.U.). My friends, inspired by the event, stood up and pledged half their stipends for as long as they worked at M.I.U. towards the project. I was horrified. What a sacrifice, to give up $37 a month, and to try to live on $37 a month. Let the wealthy people who could afford it do the contributing.

Interpretation: Guilt-tripping. Group pressure. Desire to feel important. Desire to feel part of something important.

Re-empowered alternate ending: Staff resist pressure, and do not pledge any money. Even better, demand a full accounting of all the finances of the TMO, and ask for a raise.

7. 1981, M.I.U. I had some stocks my parents had given me, and I was trying to figure out how to invest my new wealth most wisely. Some course participants overheard me, and encouraged me to buy an "investment ruby" through them. They encouraged me to sell my stocks, at a 30% loss, and to throw in most of my own personal savings, to buy the ruby. When I expressed reluctance, the broker actually shouted at me, "That's Age of Ignorance thinking!" He said that rubies were going to go up tremendously in value. After all, we were all sidhas, living in a community of sidhas, and any decisions we made would have the support of nature. He also emphasized that I had better invest immediately, before the prices started going up. Part of "Age of Ignorance thinking," he said, was that if you think negatively, then it was going to happen.

I had always been taught to "not put all your eggs in one basket," and I knew that before you invest, you should do plenty of research, and I also had been taught not to speculate - that "if it looks too good to be true, it probably isn't." However, those were rules for non-sidhas, and they didn't seem so persuasive against the broker's arguments. I did try to discuss my reservations with a friend, but she refused to talk with me about it, saying, "I can't give you any advice, because that would be going against Maharishi's latest instructions that we should all be self-sufficient." Not knowing what else to do, I did sell my stocks at a loss, and added in most of my personal savings, as the broker recommended, and bought the ruby. Within a year, the ruby's value had gone down to almost nothing. I now was virtually penniless. I lived hand-to-mouth for about four years after that, working desperately trying to make ends meet. During those four years, I remember having $2 in my bank account. I remember sneaking the rent envelope out of the mailbox because I didn't have the money to pay my rent. I remember carrying two meals in my knapsack because I couldn't afford to eat out. I remember picking wild apples and wild lettuce in Boston parks because I couldn't afford to eat out. I remember wanting to see a doctor for a suspicious skin condition, but not going because I didn't have the $20.

Why: Brainwashed. Magical thinking. After 1.5 years of hearing daily videos of Maharishi, I believed in the infallible ability of sidhas to have "support of nature," and in the collective power of groups of sidhas. Due to 1.5 years of rounding, I couldn't think it through clearly.

New empowered ending: Take my time, and research investment alternatives. Do not be swayed by TM thinking. But how much work and effort would that have entailed? Would it have even been possible, considering the environment I was immersed in?

So, there you have it - a few of my TM and money memories. How about you? Do you have a story you'd like to share, about how you, or someone you knew, acted "funny around money" due to their immersion in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's belief system?

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