Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Increased Stress through the Transcendental Meditation program. Part 1 of 2: Rushing, Lack of Stimulation and Guilt-Induction

One of Transcendental Meditation's main advertising points is that TM reduces stress. While the TM technique may reduce stress, the TM lifestyle is something else altogether. I would like to offer my thoughts on the one and one half years I spent on the TM "Creating Coherence Course," which I attended from 1979 to 1981 in Fairfield, Iowa, USA.

If constant rushing about trying to keep on a tight schedule is a stressor, then the Creating Coherence Course was designed to be stressful. We spent all day running from place to place, with barely enough travel time. Every morning, course participants rushed to the meditation hall to arrive before the doors were locked at 7:50 a.m. Attendance was always taken, and you'd get a demerit, a serious talking-to, and a guilt trip for missing too many meditations. That was because each person on the course was "personally responsible for preventing World War III" by doing the meditations together. Bevan Morris, the Dean? the President? of Maharishi International University had told us so, complete with mathematical equations proving it was true. We did our morning TM and TM-Sidhis programs until about 11:00 a.m. While each person's subjective experience of these meditation programs was different, my personal experiences ranged from blissful to physically painful to boring to anxiety-producing to mind-numbing.

Once done with our morning program, we changed out of our meditation clothes and into our street clothes, and rushed to arrive at work (a TM-owned decorative-glass factory located off-campus) by 11:15 a.m. (Since this all happened 28 years ago, and I'm writing from memory, I may have gotten some of the schedule slightly wrong. For this, I apologize, and if anyone has any corrections, please write them in the "Comments" section below. Thanks!) We worked until noon, then we rushed back to campus for lunch, which was served from 12:15 to 1:00. We rushed to be back at work by 1:15, and worked until 4:00. Then we rushed back to the meditation hall, changed out of our street clothes and into our meditation clothes, and rushed to fit in our lying down, yoga stretches and yogic breathing exercises before 4:30, when our afternoon meditation program started. Meditation ended about 6:45. We changed back into our street clothes and went to dinner, which was served until about 8:00. Our evening meetings started at 8:00 p.m. Each person's subjective experience of the meetings was different, but I personally found them mind-numbingly boring: stodgy repetitive "celebrations," hypnotic readings of English translations of Hindu scripture, boring videotaped lectures by Maharishi or occasionally by someone else, and stultifying tapes of Hindu chanting. Meetings ended at 9:45, and we rushed back to our dorms, because if you weren't in bed with the lights out by 10 p.m., we'd get a demerit and a guilty conscience. (We were told that staying up late was detrimental to the success of our world peace efforts.) This was our schedule six days a week. On Sundays, our schedule was the same except that we had the day off from work.

Aside from all the stress of rushing, boredom and guilt, there was the stress of not enough time and subsequent lack of stimulation. We clearly barely had time to pursue our creative, artistic or intellectual interests; nor to stay in touch with non-Fairfield relatives and friends; nor to enjoy recreation and entertainment. It was even difficult to fit in socializing with our fellow course participants! Talking on the way to the meditation hall was discouraged. Socializing in the meditation hall was prohibited. I had one married friend admit to me that Sunday afternoons were the only time she got to spend time with her husband! There was minimal time to do laundry, clean our rooms, take a shower, floss our teeth or get aerobic exercise. There was minimal time to contemplate our lifestyle, our values, the direction of our lives, our career plans, or romantic relationships. With men and women largely segregated, and sexuality tacitly discouraged (see my May 4, 2009 TM-Free Blog article, "Maharishi's Teachings on Sex and Gender Roles"), opportunities to pursue relationships, marriage, and child-bearing were minimized.

It was clearly a very unbalanced lifestyle. Despite the TM organization's claim that the TM technique unfolded the full potential of the individual in all areas of life in a balanced way, the rules of our Maharishi-designed Creating Coherence Course were detrimental to the development of a well-rounded, self-actualized, healthy adult, and the chronic racing around, lack of stimulation and guilt-induction made our lives more stressful.

(This is a 2-part series. To read Part 2, " Increased Stress through the Transcendental Meditation Program. Part 2 of 2: Live Chaotically and Be a Guinea Pig," please go to TM-Free Blog at September 20, 2010).


Betty_Betty said...

Sounds almost as bad as being told that you need to get 16 or more years of education, buckle down to the American dream, then find that you are just a slave to a corporation, a collapsing economy and your own grandiose illusions. At some point Laurie you just have to admit we all fool ourselves. Looking back I mostly see immaturity and naked selfishness. If we are lucky we find some one or two or three to truly love. We dig to find something in ourselves that is needed and worth giving. Who do you love?


Tanemon said...

Due to the fact that I never got very involved with TM beyond a few "extra" activities (like short rounding courses) organized by the local TM center, I can't really comment on the positive or detrimental effects of the routine described by Laurie.

I do know that hearing about this busy, regimented, single-source lifestyle in Fairfield was the sort of thing that put me off.

I always wanted to remain free to read what I wanted to, ask the questions I wanted to, select the clothes I wanted to wear, seek out and do the kind of paying work that I wanted to, spend my spare time the way I wanted to, and things like that.

My feeling was that if doing TM had value, then it could be practiced alongside other helpful pursuits (be they exercise programs, or self-exploration processes, or therapies, or spiritual practices). The way I interpreted it, MMY had said something along this line - in a sort of limited way - in his book the Science of Being, when he talked briefly about the compatability of TM with other traditional Indian yoga practices.

But this was the thing that I thought I sensed about the movement, through what I could learn of it via the TM-centers' activities and advice: there seemed to be a discouragement of partaking in self-actualization pursuits that weren't sponsored and made available by the movement.

Carol Welch said...

Just tweeted this entry.

Sounds very similar to my experiences as a long-time loyal follower to a bible-based group.

Same techniques.
Similar promises.
Different doctrine.

Sudarsha said...

It was different here (in Canada), Laurie. People set up their own program/practise facilities. A friend of mine lived in a house with the living room (Brits and Aussies say "lounge") covered in foam. They sold insulation contracts which was quite profitable for them.

Otherwise, people had to set up their own butt-bouncing facility. Another friend made and sold a foam cushion that you could strap to your legs in a lotus position so you wore the foam rather than bounced on it. (I thought that was quite clever.)

Perhaps things weren't so different away from places like Fairfield and Livingstone Manor.

BUT, the indoctrination, the regimentation, the micromanagement, the big-brother-is-watching kind of scenario is all too familiar. No wonder that Mahesh/Maheshism managed to CAUSE far more stress than it ever alleviated.

But then, of course, it was easier to keep people UN-questioning when they were is herd mode.

I came across a most fascinating descriptor that seems to apply to TM/Maheshism for those of us who have been able to have an unbridled look at TM-The-Reality as opposed to TM-The-Lifestyle:

it is intriguing in a non-regimented, pragmatically uninteresting way!!!!!

Deborah1900 said...

In some ways, I just don't get this...how did people overcome their natural urges for social contact and finding a life partner? How did people in their 20s overcome their sexual impulses? How did people see their lives--did they expect to remain single in the TMO, or did they expect that someday they would magically find ther life partner, marry and have children?

My time in the TMO was the era of co-ed skinnydipping!

Sudarsha said...

I think the answer, Deborah, is that they didn't. TM, as with many cults, communities, cultures, is one thing on the outside and something very, very different on the inside, just like Mahesh.

He didn't overcome his sexual urges, he always got what he wanted. But his exterior, his audience side seemed all radiant, loving and sage-like.

Far from it.

I lived in one of two connected hotels in Seelisberg with him and the International Staff. All kinds of things went on behind the scenes, including a group I was invited into that was very disparaging of Mahesh's rather wonky ideas ... and I am talking about the first half of the 70's when we had little idea about how wonky things could get!!!!!!!

But your question is a serious one and many there were who gave up everything for Maheshism. They filter fed on Maheshism like sponges in the ocean depths.

For many, it simply could not last and did not. But, no matter what the cult, culture, society, community, there will always be those few who manage to actually change themselves to be what is expected. What Armageddon rages within, we may never know, however.

I like your questioning mind. It, perhaps unfortunately, sets me to thinking and re-thinking. That, thinking and re-thinking, is very, very fortunate.

Thank you

Carol Welch said...

BTW: I let LB know I posted links to his and my discourse here.


Carol Welch said...

That final link is coming through wrong. I tried to edit it on the comment, but I'm not being too successful.

Here is the proper link for the last link:

1P: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/23imjh

Carol Welch said...

If anyone is interested, the Tweet I posted (linked in my previous comment) spurred a conversation on Twitter with one of the TM loyalists. (I've had quite a few interactions on Twitter with him and another TM loyalist there.)

I'll post links to the conversation below. I'll label my responses 1P and the loyalist's responses LB. Hope it's not to confusing. And if it is...well...just skip it! :-D

My initial Tweet was:
"Increased Stress thru the #Transcendental #Meditation program..."~ http://ow.ly/222gB < :-/ Sounds familiar 2 #The_Way_International #cults

1P: http://twitter.com/1person/status/16861470846

LB: http://twitter.com/LaughingBaba/status/16896064536

1P: http://twitter.com/1person/status/16897752912

LB: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/235m0t

1P: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/2360hv

1P: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/238rv5

LB: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/23dekb

1P: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/23imjh

(Are you dizzy yet? :-) )

ed said...

"....how did people overcome their natural urges for social contact and finding a life partner? How did people in their 20s overcome their sexual impulses?..."

This is a question that overloads most young people's minds and bodies. Hormones are raging and the mind is pulled this way and that.

Denial is simply absurd.
Detachment - you ARE on fire!

Maybe, I should have tried to ride the Tiger instead of taming it or locking it up.

Energy is life itself.
Misunderstanding of Energy leads to confusion and pain.
Now at 60 my attitude is PAY ATTENTION.
There is no need for fancy programs, techniques or mindfulness practices.

Simply pay attention.
It is not easy nor simple but the only way, IMO, to live.
Mental techniques such as Mantra and Yantra distract us and superimpose a peaceful surface on the mind. I think this is artificial and deadening of the senses.

Everyone has their own viewpoint based on experience.
For me, embracing life fully is living.
This includes the pain , boredom and disappointment.
In time, pain, boredom and disappointment are clearly seen to be the result of misunderstanding or ignorance.

I think most people here see that there is no quick fix and that being alive is a series of gambles which over time
with experience will turn to your favor.

Deborah1900 said...

Sudarsha, thank you for your generous comment.

While I am sure there was plenty of forbidden mischief going on behond the scenes (if anyone wants to descibe this, I am sure we would all be riveted), there were plenty of people who adhered to TMO life as described by Laurie. What I can't work out is how people agreed to that. Pretty much all of us came from middle-class North American or European backgrounds, grew up in the 60s and 70s, and were very much a product of Western culture. At least in my life, there was never the option of becoming an ascetic. There were some options regarding profession, education, and choice of partner, but that's about it. Then the 60s happened and suddenly new experiences were made available. But the kind of life Laurie described in the TMO was nothing like anything that ever appealed to me, especially aged 19, or the reason I started with TM, and I suppose that is why I bailed in Mallorca. I just don't get how people gave up all their proscribed expectations in favour of a segegated, regimented, authoritarian structure like like in the TMO.

Sudarsha said...

Absolutely, Deborah, there were those, myself included, who kept the proverbial nose to Mahesh's grindstone. How did we do it?

I don't know. Certainly those who partook of the forbidden mischief (such a perfect characterization) eroded the numbers who did, at least they really upset them and who knows what that lead to. Questioning, I hope.

What kept me a believing believer? In part it was to keep the wolf from the door - the wolf being the nagging doubt generated by the knowledge, the certainty, that things weren't quite right. The biggest nail in this particular coffin was, of course, finding out that there was nothing mystical about assigning mantras.

But there was a nail before that that I have often talked about: One night on my TTC, I couldn't sleep and went for a walk. I came upon Mahesh's house where all the doors and windows were open and I could see all the men (I do not recall any women, Mahesh, I regret to have to say so bluntly, kept women for a different purpose). Anyway, all these men were telling Mahesh what the words of the Rig Veda were in English and what those words meant as a whole. I was shocked, of course, because I believed my belief that Mahesh already knew the meaning of the Rig Veda because every day in the lectures he told us about his revelations from deeply penetrating this most holy of holy Hindu books.

AND, sure enough, the next day he told us about his newest revelations. But I knew that those revelations had come from no deep, penetrating, mystical realms of "maharishiness". A bunch of amateurs had simply told him and he had worked in into his newest wonkiness, science of creative intelligence.

So, for me at least, keeping the nose to the grindstone was a way to keep from having to wrestle with what I knew as fact and what I wanted to believe as fact. It was easier to be delusional than to face reality.

Previously, Deborah, I used the word Armageddon. It's the subject of something I'm working on which I will post maybe today or this weekend. It doesn't satisfactorily answer your why or your how, but might, just might be helpful in further sorting out how the true believers actually do it.

Like you, I finally caved to fact and, here, at least, thrash about for some kind of explanation for why I held to what I wanted to believe in the face of fact that I couldn't deny.

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