Saturday, March 03, 2018

Simon and Schuster misleadingly sells the latest TM promotional book

It's that time again. Every few years, another book selling Transcendental Meditation, written by a nearly life-long TM teacher or satisfied customer, lands on the store shelves, with the backing of a major publisher. The latest is "Strength in Stillness," written by David Lynch Foundation executive director Bob Roth as part of the Foundation's efforts to eventually recruit government and major institutions to promote and pay for the teaching of its particular version of meditation - a product of what's actually, by any measure, a fundamentalist religious sect originating in India - to vulnerable people, including public school students.

As has been true throughout the many reruns of this routine for the past fifty years, Roth and his movement actively recruit celebrities and wealthy people to publicly testify to their view of the personal value of TM. Since we can't read their minds, it's impossible to tell if we're just looking at people who are eager to further promote themselves by following the herd and latching onto what they think will be, yet again, a superficially popular cause, or if they're just a few of the still small minority of people who learn TM and stick with it for more than just a few months. It seems likely to me that some combination of both may be true, and that given the nature of celebrity and media, those who dissent, are indifferent, or think the whole thing to be ridiculous are very rarely, if ever, heard from. In popular culture and media, we almost always only hear from those with a positive, endorsing story to tell about such celebrity-endorsed causes and charities, because the nature of the process of image-making, publicity and stardom usually filters out any other message.

Once again, we have a book with a whole pile of endorsing celebrity quotes attached, that appear in every description of the book online, in promotional press releases and on the back cover. These are the words of satisfied customers who probably never took the time (or had their assistants take the time) to do a little research on what they're getting involved in. The David Lynch Foundation is founded on the premise that Transcendental Meditation is absolutely perfect in every way and is a panacea for almost anything that ails you, anyone, or society as a whole, because the anti-science, unchallengeable, absolutist, fundamentalist Vedic religious tradition from which it springs dictates that that is so. Prospective buyers of Transcendental Meditation must look elsewhere for even slightly critical or skeptical evaluation of the practice, the rest of the products they'll eventually be offered, or the history and purpose of the organizations that ultimately benefit, over the long term, from the promotion and practice of TM in the Western world.

Obviously some of these endorsing celebrities have no idea about even the basics of what they're now practicing, and that seems to be the case for one of the endorsers of Roth's book.

Here's one line from the "Editorial Reviews" of the book found on Amazon, that can also be found in the promotional copy for the book on the Simon and Schuster website.
“The beauty of TM is that it’s so forgiving. You can’t do it wrong.” —Robin Roberts
As a matter of fact, according to TM teachers or virtually anyone in authority associated with TM, you can do it wrong. In fact, there's a minor obsession with "correct" TM practice that's supposed to be ensured by a procedure they call "checking."

Anyone who's actually gone through the whole process of learning TM, and who didn't completely ignore most of the propagandizing and existential/philosophical material offered over the course of five daily sessions, would remember that they had their meditation "checked" after they learned it, because that's what happens at the beginning of the three follow-up sessions after learning TM. "Checking," in fact, is frequently offered, perpetually, to meditators for the rest of their lives.  The stated intent is to ensure no deviation from the allegedly pure and always beneficial method that supposedly is the unmodified product of some ancient Vedic tradition from India. But if you look at the actual "checking" procedure itself, you might notice that it's really an endless loop with no exit; it reinforces the absolute necessity of regular TM practice over every other individual concern, even when the meditator is experiencing negative consequences of the practice.

But TM teachers, when "checking," are to avoid anything that might cause the meditator to stop, or to view meditation in anything other than the most positive light.  It says so in the "General Notes" that are part of the checking procedure instructions dictated to every TM teacher in training: "Checkers should be careful to mention negative aspects as little as possible." "World peace" and other claimed collective benefits of TM, that they call the "Maharishi Effect," are to them completely dependent upon maximizing the total number of meditators on the planet, thus the constant insistence upon "correct" and regular practice.

Those of us who've stepped back and critically examined TM and the teaching of it often notice that, when something bad happens to a meditator, others will likely reach for a few standard excuses for the fact that meditators often don't experience the benefits that are claimed to come with the practice. Very high on that list, if not the top two excuses, are "unstressing" and a blame-the-victim gambit that can be summarized, among other ways, as "improper technique" that should be corrected through "checking." (Even we critics are sometimes told that we're "unstressing" and "need a checking.") 

For an example of how these habits play out among meditators, you can read the undisputed facts in a Federal court decision in the lawsuit that followed the 2004 murder of Levi Butler in the TM Movement's own Maharishi University of Management cafeteria. To my critical eye, long-term involvement with TM and the organizations that teach it, and this particular preoccupation with how meditation is practiced, contributed to the inability of school administrators to get help for a student experiencing a psychotic episode. In the middle of that kind of crisis, an administrator was questioning the correctness of the student's TM practice and effectively blaming the student for his psychotic state. Avoidance of anti-psychotic medication, possibly encouraged by the well-known anti-medical views of the school's authorities preoccupied with medicine's "side effects," may also have been a contributing factor.

On March 1, 2004, suddenly and without apparent provocation, [Shuvender] Sem stabbed fellow student John Killian (Killian) in the face and throat with a pen. Two fellow students were restraining Sem when Dr. Samuel Boothby (Dr. Boothby), a MUM administrator, approached the group. Dr. Boothby led Sem into an adjoining conference room and discussed the attack. Dr. Boothby questioned Sem about any relationship Sem might have had with John Killian and what Sem had done earlier that day, including Sem's TM technique. Dr. Boothby informed Sem he was using an improper technique when completing his TM exercises. MUM administration did not summon law enforcement or campus security; instead, Sem was placed into the custody of MUM's dean of men, Joel Wynsong (Wynsong). Killian went unassisted to the hospital, where he received several stitches.
Wynsong took Sem to Wynsong's on-campus apartment. Once at his apartment, Wynsong began his own meditation exercises, and, after completing his meditation, Wynsong discovered Sem had left the apartment. Wynsong located Sem in the campus dining hall and decided to allow Sem to mingle with the students. Sem began another abrupt and unprovoked attack on fellow student Levi Butler, stabbing Levi multiple times with a knife. Levi died from multiple stab wounds to the chest.3
Sem was taken into custody, and on March 3, 2004, Dr. James Brooks (Dr. Brooks) performed a psychiatric examination. Dr. Brooks noted Sem had a history of chronic paranoid schizophrenia and had been treated with anti-psychotic medication but ceased taking the medication several weeks before coming to MUM in January 2004. Dr. Brooks also noted Sem had been to the MUM health clinic in January but had not been treated for psychosis at that time.

As for the rest of Roth's book, no, I haven't read it. I'd expect it to be yet another book-length infomercial that leaves a lot of readers disappointed that the book doesn't actually teach TM, it just sells it. The critical reviews on Amazon uniformly point out this discrepancy between buyer's expectations and the content of the book. This has been true of every book that Transcendental Meditation promoters, teamed with mainstream publishers, have offered for the past 50 years. 

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