Thursday, September 23, 2010

Personal Story: Bill Marles, "Spiritual Abuse"

It was 1972. I was 23 years of age, good looking and boyish in those days.

I had just been on a Transcendental Meditation Teacher Training Course in Italy and was returning home to Canada, via France, England and Scotland. I wound up being a house guest for a week with my Scottish relatives.

Of course, I talked up the virtues of TM and the Science of Creative Intelligence. Maharishi had sent us on a Mission to implement his World Plan and I was full of enthusiasm. My cousins listened patiently but didn't say much. Years later, I reflected that I must have been an awful bore.

Years passed. I grew further and further away from the Maharishi and TM. In 1980, I gave up the practice entirely.

Joyce's father and mother passed on, but we exchanged Christmas cards for years. She was only slightly older than I.

Several years ago, Joyce told me she had been initiated into TM. She told me this as if to say, “We now have something more in common than we used to.”

I told her the truth. Transcendental Meditation was a thing of the past for me.

That was the last I heard from Joyce. I tried several times to contact her again but to no avail. Talk about toxic! I can only assume she I blacklisted me. What a role reversal!

If I had another chance to meet with Joyce, I would have told her that I haven't known one person who has achieved the Guru's promise of self realization and enlightenment or who have even come close. Maharishi told us that it all would happen within six to eight years and now 40 years have passed and his devotees have as many or more problems than the rest of us.

I still have a copy of a 52 page Canadian World Plan Manual, a crude typewritten booklet, published in Italy in 1972. It is a reminder of how foolish, immature and delusional I was.

My separation from Maharishi and TM happened slowly. I just gradually slipped away. This process actually began in Italy. I remember being irritated with some insular, close minded people in Fuiggi Fonte who weren't interested in traveling two hours by train to spend a day in Rome, once the center of western civilization. For them, nothing existed beyond Maharishi and our tight knit little community. My eyes widened when a lone meditator got up at one of our meetings to ask why, after eight years, he still hadn't achieved enlightenment. Maharishi responded flippantly that one shouldn't set time limits on such things.

Back in Vancouver, someone in the local center pushed two of us to join the university curriculum development committee as student reps and push to establish an SCI course at that institution.

Faculty members blocked our way and the other TM rep immediately quit. Instead of fighting my teachers, I adapted and began work on a more acceptable project. At the end of my term, I had done nothing for the movement but I did initiate a modest little course change. Worth it? Definitely! I was starting to become more pragmatic.

I have always been something of a rebel and a loner, not much of a joiner. I was beginning to come to some sort of self realization about myself. Still it took another six or seven years to unattach myself completely from this cult.

Today I wouldn't be at all concerned about the TM Free Blog or similar websites, except for the fact that Maharishi and his movement refuses to die in my life. It keeps popping up where I least expect it.

In May of 2009, my girlfriend and I visited my friend Laura, not her real name, in Fairfield. Laura completed her BA in Education at a regular Canadian institution and worked as a teaching substitute there for a year or so. Then Laura dropped out of regular life and attached herself to the movement.

A resident of Fairfield since 1984, she holds a Masters Degree in Education from Maharishi International University. About eight years ago, she married Donald, another TM volunteer.

When we visited the two of them, they were making the equivalent of $3.50 an hour as meditation test subjects which was actually better than what the university administration paid. Laura supplemented this gig with cleaning another person's house. I can only hope that person paid her something approaching minimum wage.

Unlike a Catholic nun or a priest, Donald and Laura seem to enjoy no official status with the TM organization. They have no medical insurance. When Donald went to hospital, the state welfare department paid for his care. Donald also has chronic, untreated back problems, which from experience I know won't go away by itself.

We didn't see a lot of Donald and Laura because of their work obligations. Laura talked non-stop about how strapped they were for money. She might not admit it, but she wasn't happy with her poverty-stricken life.

Donald told me he envied my retired status, which must he called “bliss.” He also was fascinated with our dinky little hotel pool and hot tub. There's a guy, I figure, who would appreciate some physical creature comforts.

Their paltry income is supplemented by charity from others. Their car was supplied by a local agency. Laura gets help from her family and Donald's brother gave them his old computer. They sort of scrape by, no thanks to the TMO.

On the other hand, Maharishi's nephew is a billionaire. That doesn't seem fair.

Laura and Donald's emotional bonds to TM are tight. Laura's Mom is an avid meditator. Donald's brother ranks high in the TM organization. I can't see them leaving Fairfield any time soon, but I remain hopeful.

Elizabeth is another long time meditator, of 30 or 40 years standing, who's taken many courses in Fairfield. She's gone from living a good middle class life to enduring a hard one. Five years ago, she and her husband lived in a large luxurious home in a good area. They were a handsome couple. Elizabeth spoke at length about her TM activities and all of her TM buddies, a few of whom I once knew. One would have assumed that Elizabeth was, by now, a very wise and serene person.

Then, things began to fall apart. Elizabeth and her husband broke up. As is the case in many separations, their finances were no longer what they once were. Elizabeth had to move to a room in a poorer area. Since she had never worked, she had nothing to fall back on.

Elizabeth then had a nervous breakdown and wound up in the psychiatric unit of a local hospital. From there she went to living in a group home and drawing welfare. She no longer meditates and get this! She's taken up smoking, I'm told Elizabeth has aged 20 years. Talk about reverse evolution!

Finally there are my Canadian relatives who started meditating while I was in Italy. Two of them still meditate but the father and the son were forced to quit because TM was “too powerful” for them. The father, now deceased, was a manic depressive. The son, I think, is autistic. In theory, TM should have been helped them. It obviously did not.

Do you find these stories about Laura, Donald, Elizabeth and my family depressing? I do. They don't have the happy ending Maharishi promised. These are not tales of sweetness and light.

I am older and wiser than I was in 1972, and thankful I successfully escaped from the Maharishi cult.


John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Thanks for your memories, Bill. We might have known one another back than, in Fiuggi. I want to click the LIKE button, even though what you report is depressing and an all too dismal a reminder that our hopes and dreams (or fantasies and delusions) were never going come to anything. It seems to be the theme song of the movement. TM gave some relief, even some pleasure, but no matter how Mahesh dressed it up, the basis never changed and the outcome never changed. If anything, Mahesh only succeeded in making the experience of TM 2x20 increasingly miserable and pointless. It's all down to him. He turned something simple and pleasurable into a circus of disappointment as your recounting so clearly indicates. Yes, there are some folks who seem to be happy with their TM/Fairfield lifestyle, even prospering in it. But I suspect that your recounting here is far closer to what the majority trying to live the Mahesh life style experience.

Thank you for sharing.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

I don't doubt it's true that the TMO exploits people like those mentioned, as well as many others. I spent a little over two weeks in Fairfield about three years ago (as part of an abortive attempt to learn the siddhis), and I found the atmosphere rather oppressive and stifling, and most of the people, especially the instructors, rather smug and self-satisfied. That being said, each person is entitled to do what makes them happy in life, even if, to those on the outside, they appear to be misguided. If the couple mentioned in the story is truly happy working for a pittance so that they can help spread TM, I say more power to them. There are other things in life besides living in a big house in a nice neighborhood, and having a Mercedes in the driveway.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

While I agree in principle, Morris, it is disturbing to me that an organization (any, but especially the TMO under consideration here) can talk about promoting world peace and, as Mahesh used to say, make all the people happy and then actually live off the efforts of others, treating them like slaves: promoting itself at the expense of its devotees just seems really disgusting to me. But it is also quite common in what we generally label as cult activity.

Mahesh, as far as I can tell, had a very Medieval attitude about lords and surfs, a very clear hierarchy in his mind and doled out his largesse accordingly.

But I do not know that people specifically elect to live in the conditions Bill describes here. I have a feeling that denial plays a huge part in their circumstances and choices. Again, in reference to Karina's POW comparison in another thread.

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