Monday, September 20, 2010

Increased Stress through the Transcendental Meditation program. Part 2 of 2: Live Chaotically and be a Guinea Pig

(This is a two-part series. To read Part 1, "Increased Stress through the Transcendental Meditation program. Part 1of 2: Rushing, Lack of Stimulation and Guilt-Induction, " please go to the TM-Free Blog essay posted on June 22, 2010.)

On the Creating Coherence Course, our lives were chaotic. Interspersed with the boredom described in Part 1 of this series were sudden upheavals.

For example, one day the announcement is made: "You will all be moving to different dorms." No matter that we had settled into our mini-apartments, made friends, organized our schedules. Out you go!

One day Maharishi announces that we should form into groups of ten, and move to different American cities to spread TM. (This was the "Vedic Atom" program.) Those of us who "followed Maharishi's wishes" uprooted ourselves from our homes, friends, jobs, schedules, community in Fairfield. Moved to a strange city. Received a whole new set of rules to live by. For instance, teams were directed to do everything together. One friend on a "Vedic Atom" team wrote me that when one of them needed a new pair of shoes, all ten of them had to go to the shoe store together! Her letter guardedly hinted at how stressful her new life was, how unhappy she was.

Another time, Maharishi announced that everyone who could should promptly fly to India for a month or two to study Indian herbology. (This was the beginning of the Maharishi Ayurveda program.) Again, uprooting, leaving behind friends, homes, jobs, schedules, community. Once in India, my friends sat in hot humid halls barely able to hear the lecturers, and contracted tropical diseases. One friend who had obediently gone to India confided to me that her disease was so obscure that the local doctors couldn't even diagnose it. Therefore she had to get up at 2 a.m. for several weeks in order to drive 40 minutes to a medical clinic to provide a fresh stool sample. I never did hear of the TM organization reimbursing her for her medical expenses or giving her a lighter work schedule during the time she was sick.

Then there was the time Maharishi came to Fairfield and paid a visit to our meditation hall to see how his flying technique was coming along. As was usual, we screamed and babbled during the "flying." Maharishi asked in annoyance, "What's all this noise?! From now on, no more noise." ("Except for the occasional squeal of bliss," Bevan later amended.) This meant, in a day filled with silence, sensory deprivation, lack of aerobic activity, minimal socializing and rigid rules, we were suddenly deprived of 60 minutes a day of letting off steam. (Did you ever read about the Christian monks who took vows of silence, but sang hymns each day? When the hymn-singing was eliminated, the monks developed clinical depression.)

Then there was the time I returned to Fairfield after a two-week vacation to discover that my job had been given to someone else.

A few weeks after that, Maharishi announced that henceforth we should think an affirmation every morning. It went something like this: "Let us go together, let us be together, let us eat together, let us think together. Never shall we denounce one another; never shall we entertain negativity." Also, he instructed us, "Everybody must be fabulously happy! That's all!" We were guinea pigs in his new program. Had we voluntarily joined? Had we been screened? Were we trained how to do them? Had they been proven safe? Would anyone assist us if we found them harmful? No, no, no, no and no. Nevertheless, we attempted to "never denounce anyone," which I believe constricted our expressiveness; and we tried to "not entertain negativity," which I believe suppressed our emotions. We tried to "be fabulously happy," which I believe got us out of touch with our feelings. Is it any wonder that some of us started having anxiety attacks?

Yes, proponents of Transcendental Meditation state that one of its greatest benefits is that it reduces stress. While the TM technique itself may reduce stress, the TM lifestyle that Maharishi directed us to follow increased stress in numerous areas of our lives.

How about you? What were your experiences of stress in the TM world? How did you deal with the rules? How did you hold up under the stress? What did you think about it all? If you'd like, share your thoughts and memories with us below.


John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

What a story. At what point did you wake up and think, 'The lunatics are running the asylum here'?

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Interesting comment about screaming and maharishi who apperantly didnt know how the TMSP works. Reminds me years ago I was a regular guest in a local swingerclub and some times the girls screamed out quite loud and one day the owner, who himself was gay freaked out and shouted "I will not have this, I am not running a madhouse"

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Unfortunately, those who bore the brunt of this chaotic running to different countries and programs were usually younger, unmarried or had an inheritance to draw upon. Once you had found a toe-hold in society, such as a job, or spouse, you were somewhat insulated from this extreme of Mahesh's craziness.

Unfortunately, the younger TMers were also the most vulnerable to the brainwashing. That's also why the military likes to recruit right from high school. Young recruits are very malleable at the brink of adulthood.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Laurie, Yes, I do know about the monks who stopped chanting and became depressed. It was in a book on the Tomatis system of auditory training. Have you done that system too? We seem to have shared a number of different post-TM explorations.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Ha Ha Ha! Another example of people exercising their free will, and getting bent out of shape because they weren't coddled enough. So many adults with childish minds these days, anxious to make ANYONE responsible for their lives...except themselves. Good grief.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Well, cheezy, I'm not so sure it's quite as funny as you make it out to be. One of life's deepest pains is the blatant disregard for one's sincerity. Mahesh conned us and he is responsible for that. We were conned and we have to live with that. All well and as it is; but to belittle the pain of others, as you seem to do, is something that doesn't do you any favours and is something that you live with.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

I guess Mahesh had some sort of idea that he was creating his own army of sorts. But what strikes me as really excellent and valuable in these two parts (part #1 being 22 June, not 1 June), is how we bought into Mahesh's madness. Our lives really were a folie à deux.


The obvious reason that obsessed both Mahesh and us is kind of disturbingly obvious and hardly limited to TM/Maheshism: TM worked! Well, it worked insofar as it let us escape into the realm of mystical good feelings and gossamer daydreams. Yep, it felt good, so how could it possibly be wrong or not what Mahesh made it out to be?

So, we bought into his mindset. It is so useful, Laurie, to have someone like yourself chronicle this really difficult time in our lives, a time when many were not actually taking stock of what was going on but were committed to a belief system, strengthened by Mahesh's ever-growing insanity, hoping the same old thing would somehow turn out differently. Didn't happen and gradually some of us woke up.

I had left the sinking ship before I got any participatory experience in this craziness. But even before the lunacy got to the extent you record, Laurie, it was obvious that people were belief driven and the increasing fantasy of Maheshian science was overriding clarity and all those things TM was supposed to provide us.

It really was a folie à deux, a shared madness, all because we had proof: TM felt good and therefore must be good because Mahesh seemed so good. So, Mahesh said hop like a frog and we hopped like frogs ... well, some did, some didn't.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Clearly it is important to take responsibility for our own lives --- to me that is the lesson learned from immersion in the TMO mindset. However, that doesn't mitigate the negative aspects of that immersion. And it's really not funny.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Some what true. However, these people were probably in a very susceptible stage of their lives and were really idealistic and ready to join something "bigger". Understandable, beats becoming a commie or libertarian arse. And, yes there were taken advantage of. Again understandable, every "movement" moves using the friction of destroyed lives.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Hey Cheesemonkey --- I'm sure that you know that there were many WWII German soldiers imprisoned for many years as enemy combattants. Most of them were young men who had voluntarily joined Hitler's youth organization, then went on to the German military.

After the war, many were angry when they discovered all the atrocities that Hitler had committed. They even felt duped by their Fuhrer. Yes, you could say that they were "bent out of shape" too, and maybe even blamed the Fuhrer for how their life had turned out.

Just curious, twenty years later would you call them, "Adults with childish minds, anxious to make ANYONE responsible for their lives...except themselves?"

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Taking advantage of the youth of youth, "using the friction of destroyed lives" as JB so eloquently put it, is how the less than up-front stay up-front.

Although I'm not a devotee of Trungpa Rinpoche, I continue to marvel at his accomplishments. He and Mahesh were relatively contemporary, yet Trungpa's organization, his university, his many functioning teaching centres, his books and DVD/CD teachings and his publishing company far outstrip everything Mahesh did. Trungpa was working from an acknowledge position of significance within a living lineage of teachers and teachings spanning many centuries. Trungpa was clarifying for a Western audience teachings that had been significant, revered and once accessible only in Tibet.

Yes, Trungpa was a long, long way from being a perfect master (something so many Maheshites felt they were entitled to because of some self-generated high opinion of themselves, another of Mahesh's tricks). Mahesh, in the public eye, appeared to be flawless. Behind the curtain, he was just the cowardly little man pulling the leavers in his own brand of the Land of Oz.

It is interesting that Mahesh "used" the youth of youth to propel his engine of self aggrandizement, while Trungpa seems to have used the use of youth to bring his disciples to a spiritual maturity.

Trungpa's organization, from what little I know, continues to move forward while Maheshism appears to loose its footing in relevance.

There are not many ways to compare organizations as diverse as Trungpa's and Mahesh's, yet there appear, at least to me, to be some areas where the worth of one shines significant light on the paucity of significance of the other.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Karina, I don't think your analogy (MMY=Hitler, meditators=p.o.w.'s) is very apt, in terms of the crimes committed or the degree of responsibility the leader and the participants bear. I do not believe Mahesh was motivated by evil impulses for power and world domination.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

I think, Revoluce, Karina, that Mahesh definitely WAS dominated in all his motivation by the desire for power and world domination. I DO NOT think that he had "evil" intentions of achieving his goal. I think he really believed his own hype, his own PR, about himself and his message, however.

In the end ... i.e. with the introduction of his 'sidhi' program and his obsession with putting his name (by then "maharishi" had become his name, not just his self-granted title) on everything and discovering that John Hagelin was more hooked than he was (!!!), I think his desire for power and world domination had turned into an obsession he could no longer control, so his disregard for people (always a constant throughout his "career") turned into something bordering on what might actually be the beginnings or seedlings of "evil".

While I had a little difficulty with Karina's image of the POW, it rang true on other levels. Those of us who had an awakening to what was really going on in Maheshism are very much like those POW's who thought they were fighting for their country. They truly believed they were doing what was right. They had no reason not to believe this because someone they believed in and trusted told them it was so!

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Hi Rev, The analogy of POWs and CPs (Course Participants) does seem to be a stretch on the surface, but look deeper. It came to me very accidentally when I watched a History Channel show on German POWs in the USA. (Who knew? It was a surprise to me.) Turns out there were thousands of such prisoners here, mainly in the southern part of the USA.

When I heard the interviewers with the ex-prisoners, now elderly German men, I could not help but be struck by the similarities between my youthful experience, and theirs. Ironically, almost every single one said that they truly enjoyed their time as a POW! How ironic is that? I remember how much I too enjoyed going to the overseas TTC and ATR courses in Italy and Switzerland.

Of course, the US gov't fed the Germans very well, and housed them in large rural camp-like compounds. which looked nothing like a modern prison. Suddenly, the similarities between CPs and the German POWs were obvious. Remember the good food and the beautiful accommodations? Remember all the camaraderie? The POW men were also well-rested and they had few demands on them. Some did art work, and folk crafts. They put on elaborate theater productions. Others helped to build new buildings. Some ex-POWs remarked that it was like year-long summer camp with wonderful good friends. For many, it was a welcome change from the hard work on their family farm back in Germany.

The US treated German soldiers very well, hoping that the Germans would do likewise to the US POWs. (That was a vain hope, given the dire circumstances of Germany as the war progressed.)

After the war, the young men, most of them country boys, were returned to Germany, a ruined country. Some had the further bad luck of going back home to East Germany, and soon realizing that they were now prisoners of Russia. Hitler destroyed their way of life for quite some years, even decades. Sure it was exhilarating being in the military for a while, and then even "fun" being a POW, but what afterward?

With the wide publicity of the Nuremberg trials, they realized that as eager young recruits, they had taken part in this evil man's scheming for world domination. Just imagine how that would make one feel! Yes, some of the captured POWs were conscripts, but also many were volunteers, having been thoroughly indoctrinated by Hitler's Youth movement and youth camps.

It's true that Mahesh does not come close to Hitler, however to me, at least, there were some interesting analogies between the two "movements." First and foremost was the young recruits initial blindness to the true motives of their leader to whom they were so loyal. Secondly, the young men even enjoyed their time of service, even as a POW, and thirdly, how it was only years later, as they matured, that they more fully realized what evilness they had taken part in.

I agree, Mahesh is no Hitler. A CP is not a POW. However, there are some interesting points of similarity showing that for good or evil, youth are vulnerable to indoctrination by a charismatic leader.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

When I was part of International Staff (!), what a hoot, anyway, back then, pre-'sidhi' and stuff, we ate well and had a great deal of freedom. It was really quite a lot of fun and great camaraderie, but we also worked hard. But your analogy still rings very true. When I look back now, those days (well, not so much those days, but my mind set during those days) is still horrifying to me, even though I was sort of the resident sceptic.

Now a word about POW camps in the US. There had been one in the town where I grew up. Being raised a Lutheran, it seemed perfectly normal that our minister, who spoke German (as did my church school teachers) should have gone regularly to the POW camp to preach to the prisoners. I was born in the middle of the War, so don't remember it. But there were some "DPs" (displaced persons, politically correct at the time, I suppose) who came to our town and sent their German speaking children to our church school.

There was a rather large German POW camp not far from Toronto. The prisoners there, it has recently come to light, had a Swastika flag in their dining room and had quite a few amenities.

I am told that even today, many young Germans living in Germany, and many Germans who remember the War, are very, very ashamed of their past. A couple of Jewish friends who visited Germany said that when people found out they were Jewish, they tried to give them money along with copious apologies!!!

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Hey, Revoluce - I have continued to mull upon what you have said regarding Karina’s POW analogy. What I have said below regarding Mahesh’s motivations to gain power and world domination is something I stand by. That his attempts were far more genteel than that little Austrian Corporal’s is something for which we can be rightly grateful.

Yet, Mahesh had what we thought was authority (which it seems most likely he purloined from Guru Dev by association and not by approval).

So, and this is a total tangential thought, it also occurs to me that because he plied his appearance of authority in an extremely clever and underhanded manner, we can revisit Karina’s POW image in a completely different way without actually changing anything but the names of things:

Suppose a person beset with criminal thoughts were to go to an authority (a psychologist, a psychiatrist … probably both of which Mahesh detested mainly because in the 60’s they weren’t much better than he was) who tells him that the secret to recovery is to think good thoughts and sells him an especially good one.

So the trusting individual sincerely sets about thinking this good thought. Yes, he feels some relief, but the wicked and criminal thoughts continue. So the authority says that, “well, this is a particularly difficult time so you had better buy (from the authority, of course) a coat … shoes … shirt … he had also better hire a contractor (whom the authority recommends at a personal commission) so that he can install an east-facing window in which to sit and think your special good thought.”

Yet again, the sincere person laments that the wicked, diabolical thoughts persist so the authority teaches him (for a very costly price) a special way of jumping up and down. … and sells him special herbal remedies … and sells him special audio recordings of special songs … and he should join a special group of special-good-thought-thinkers so that they could produce a magical shield to protect everyone from harm
. Oy Giwalt! At what point does one notice the penny dropping, the bottom falling out of the pocket, and say ENOUGH! Well, belief is a wonderful thing and can really be an excellent tool with which to drain the lakes of money owned by others but which will be much more wisely used in your (that would be Mahesh’s) hands, pockets, accounts, family … you get the picture.

Everything looks like an effort, a benign, beneficial, compassionate effort to help, to make things better, to produce the desired results. Mahesh made every appearance of working hard to achieve that glorious goal he promised his brilliant and special good thought would bring not only us but the whole world. But he changed his goals, leaving us with the old goal that he knew damn well was never going to work out. Thus, no matter how you dress up the beast, the beast remains the beast. No matter how much cosmetic adornment one buys to decorate that singular practise (TM 2x20 or thinking that special-good-thought), as long as the core or basic practice itself remains unhindered, unaltered, unadjusted it will only do what it has only done and can only do.

It’s almost basic physics!!!!!!

Well, we are sufficiently sophisticated these days that we are unlikely to take at face value anything the doctors or the TV commercials tell us. There will always be those who will, of course, but post-TM we have the luxury of being especially jaded, to which I hope we can all draw attention to with our stories, insights, flashbacks and current better judgment.

When, in another post, Bill tells us about his friend who had a nervous breakdown, I cannot help but wonder if she had had some existential awakening to the abysmal worthlessness of the delusions she had bought (literally, of course) into. The only remedy for that kind of treacherous betrayal (on Mahesh’s part), is denial at all costs, something that I think keeps the POW’s in the camp rather than face the “freedom” to face the origins of their imprisonment.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Amazing story Sudarsha! It was news to me about the POW camps in the USA --- but you had first-hand experience.

I too have heard many times about the great shame that the Germans carry with them for WWII, especially the ex-soldiers that survived the war. For many decades, the Nazi era was glossed over in the German's history text books. After a great deal of soul-searching, Germany rewrote the official school texts to tell the painful truth.

Indeed, I am grateful that I partook in a world movement that was not totally toxic. So many movements were so much worse.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Sudarsha, MMY desired to influence the whole world in the name of enlightenment and his teacher, not to rule it.

My final comment on this subject: There can be and will be no end to the shame and guilt of the German people. It is almost obscene to compare the perpetrators of the Holocaust with the followers of Mahesh, who have only their wasted years to regret.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Yes, there is some obscenity involved, as you say, Revoluce. Mahesh was very, very small potatoes compared to the dictators and horrific despoilers of humanity. But his "world plan" wasn't just about influencing the whole world in the name of enlightenment and this teacher. Too many of us were there, worked with him, saw his methods and motives, even if we fully recognize at the time what he was trying to do.

As I said above, Mahesh changed his goals, leaving us with the original goals you cite above. Several of us recall that there was either a newspaper article or magazine article shortly before the fateful encounter with the Beatles: Mahesh said his mission had been a failure and he was going to retire into silence. Whether that was just a publicity stunt, a ploy, or actual sincerity we will never know.

But his taste of fame and possible fortune suddenly caused a monumental shift in the direction of "the movement". Suddenly massive numbers of teachers were turned out like widgets in a factory. There were expensive courses to buy, products that were necessary, directions for your front door to face, doohickeys to put on your roof ... the list goes on.

Mahesh's new goal was money and the power and glory that, for an Indian person, goes with it.

I don't think he ever had any idea that he had a snowball's chance in a microwave of world domination, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. He acted as if he thought he could rule the world and got farther with that than he had just going around the world teaching TM.

In effect, Revoluce, I am in agreement with you. Yet it is difficult to distinguish the motives in Mahesh's actions from his claims. I think he was hiding behind his supposed reverence for Guru Dev, using it to promote himself as something he wasn't. But what I think and what kind of evidence I can present are not always the same.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Regarding those of us who "only have [our]wasted years to regret" --------- I think you don't realize that some of us also feel guilty for having unduly influenced others to similarly waste their youthful years. We urged many to learn TM, and then perhaps encouraged them to join the TMO staff or become teachers.

With shame I admit that I was a foot soldier in Mahesh's "World Plan," and I actively encouraged others to join. That is weight enough for me to carry around.

Some of the recruits I found for Mahesh ended up wasting their education, losing their health, neglecting their children, and even dying at a very young age. Yes, I was there.....and I could have stepped away and not participated, but, regretfully, that step took me quite a few years.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

You are right, of course, Karina. For some reason, the "mob mentality" popped into my head: the average IQ divided by the number of people in the mob. Something a little less than the IQ of an earthworm, I am told.

We were part of a mob mentality, something I say not as an excuse or reason, but as a definition of a situation we didn't choose beforehand, but something we drifted into because we believed Mahesh's hype about himself and, really, his world plan sounded both benign and like a really decent idea.

I, too, feel a lot of guilt. Not only did I teach TM, I helped train TM teachers as well as contributing semi-significantly to the creation of the SCI course, Mahesh's catechism of the religion of Maheshism.

Self-blame, however, ruminating over guilt and possibly shame is useless. My objective here, something I share with many others both here and elsewhere, is to publicise my experience, my suspicions, my knowledge (such as it is) for the benefit of others. Guild, shame, denial and a low self-esteem benefit no one, but to simply do our best to state the facts for the welfare of others is a positive step forward.

Thank you, Karina, thanks to all of you, for participating in this endeavour.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

"I could have stepped away and not participated, but, regretfully, that step took me quite a few years."

The people you influenced are essentially responsible for their own actions. I trained a lot of people in TM and proselytized quite a bit; some of the people continued to meditate, some didn't, some became teachers, siddhas, whatever. Ultimately I can't take responsibility for their choices and the outcomes of those choices.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

I agree I "can't take responsibility," as I was only one small cog in the giant suck-'em-in and spit-'em-out machinery of Maharishi's World Plan. However there are some individuals that I grew to know well, and I know that I encouraged them to participate further in the TMO.

One couple with a young child uprooted their lives and moved to Fairfield, etc.. I won't go into all the details.....but life in Fairfield's "Utopia" is not that great. I do regret the impact I had on them, and probably on others too. If I had only influenced some people to meditate 2 times 20 min. a day.....yeah, no big deal. That is not what I feel badly about.

There is no turning back time, and as Sudarsha pointed out, guilt is only useful if it can be harnessed to warn others. That's why we are here on this website.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Testing comments system.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Hi Deborah - You ask when did we wake up and realize that the lunatics were running the asylum. One thing that I have discovered from reading TMFree is that everyone seems to have had their own distinct reaction to TM. So I can only comment on my experience.

For me, I never did realize that the lunatics were running the asylum. You have to remember that we were always on the run, and had little time for deep conversations and reflection. Also that the only long intellectual stimulation we had was the evening lectures and other lectures by TM professors, etc. They were all saying how wonderful TM was, how scientifically proven, how Maharishi was a genius, etc. With all that one-sided training going on, plus remember I was in an altered state for 6 hours a day, therefore very receptive to whatever was being taught us...Well, it became a matter of "If Maharishi says it, it must be right. " That was the essence. "Following Maharishis's wishes is the most righteaous thing to do, because he is so enlightened, and so doing will give us "support of nature"." That's what living there was like! It gave Maharishi a carte blanche to order whatever the hell he wanted, and we would follow along like sheep. Hope this gives you some sense of the experience (for me.)

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Hi Karina, No I never took the Tomatis auditory training, but I read about it. Was it helpful? However like you I have practiced Re-Evaluation Counseling (co-counseling). (Anyone else here ever do it?) I learned RC after TM TTC and before Creating Coherence Course. In fact I was a stealth teacher of RC to some of my friends on the CCC. I wrote up about my adventures teaching it in some comments section about 3 years ago. Did you read that?

The people I taught or sort of taught RC to were: Kathy Olsen of Minneapolis, Joan Greenleaf of Penn?, Phillippa Meacham of Cal., Sharon Travis Jepson who I think lives in Ammachi's ashram in India now and refers to Ammachi as "She" "Her" etc. I say their names -- I hope it isn't a violation -- because I want to know if anyone else knew them.

RC unfortunately has gotten more culty over the years, in my opinion. Especially with their "don't criticize the leader" rule. I say, "Learn RC - take the 10 week class and learn how to do it. It's great. Then get out fast before you get into the culty end of

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Hi Cheesemonkey. I think you may be partially mistaken to say we were just adults making poor decisions and then blaming others and not taking responsibility.

I think you may have to take into account "altered states" or mind control, hypnosis, trance, etc. When a person goes into an altered state, one of the qualities of that state is that their capacity for critical thinking is reduced. Reduced critical thinking is not that hard to achieve. Try not eating for 3 days, or not sleeping for 3 days, or chanting for hours, or being pressured with guilt....We were doing our meditation programs for 6 hours a day on the Creating Coherence Course. This will make one mush-brained, and more vulnerable to suggestion, to "thought reform." It can happen to the best of us.

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