Sunday, November 17, 2019

It's time for... Transcendental Meditation Commenter Bingo!


This bingo card is culled from, and inspired by, comments on the TM-Free Blog Facebook page in recent months, and also from my experience online over the past 25 years. Particularly that free square in the middle!



This card is mostly based on the comments from meditators defending TM, but two squares are from the Christian, "TM will steal your eternal soul and cause demonic possession" sort of viewpoint, to which we don't subscribe nor support.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation, part 5: The bottom of the barrel of published TM research articles

Read this series from the beginning.

Read the previous installment of this series (Part 4).


David W. Orme-Johnson. From "Inaugurating the
Dawn of the Age of Enlightenment," 1975
We here at the TM-Free Blog have received a comment from David W. Orme-Johnson. He’s a former Maharishi University of Management psychology department chairman and a frequent defender and promoter of TM research studies. I’ve mentioned him and his website a number of times in previous parts of this series, “The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation.” He submitted his comment in response to the second part posted here at the TM-Free Blog on September 22, 2019, subtitled ‘"Peer review" doesn't always mean "quality" or "accuracy.”’ In 2015, he claimed to have no formal affiliation with the TM movement on his website, but a published comment that same year indicated that he was then associated with the “Research Desk, Maharishi Foundation USA.”


As a matter of editorial policy, the contributors to the TM-Free Blog don’t particularly care to reprint the TM movement’s marketing materials. There are thousands of TM movement operated or affiliated websites worldwide that serve that purpose. There is also, of course,  Orme-Johnson’s own website, “Truth About TM,” that contains plenty of defenses of TM research and a few rebuttals of critics from his point of view, that’s evidently very similar to that of the TM organization. Parts of his submitted comment are of a promotional nature, therefore I won’t be running his comment in the comments, or as a post, verbatim.


The "evidence-based" claim, as it appears on the
tm.org website at the time of this writing.
I may write up a full response to Orme-Johnson’s comment at some later date. Since this is a series about the usual claims made by the TM movement, particularly with respect to research findings and how they are represented, particularly with respect to being published in “peer-reviewed” journals, I will respond here to two elements of his comment. The first part of his comment further illustrates the problems with TM research that contradict the TM movement’s claims that, among other things, Transcendental Meditation should be considered “evidence-based” because of this body of research studies. He wrote:


The second paper the blog uses to criticize TM research is a preliminary study by the late Sarina Grosswald and co-authors on ADHD. In children with ADHD, the study showed statistically significant reductions in stress, anxiety, and improvements in ADHD symptoms and executive function. The authors were obviously not naïve about experimental design, as the blog portrays them, because they said in the title that this was “An exploratory study”. 


This passage in Orme-Johnson’s comment leaves me chuckling to myself. The idea that calling their work “an exploratory study” excuses blatant problems and errors in their methods is, in my view, ridiculous. If the experimenters really wanted to draw serious attention to their work, which makes a rather novel if not controversial claim, why wouldn’t they take particular care to ensure that what they were doing wasn’t obviously problematic? Relying on self-reporting and sefl-controls, ensuring that the schools’ most prominent authority figure was an enthusiastic TM meditator, and coaching the student subjects to expect positive results - and recording that coaching on video! - are not excusable because the study was “exploratory.” If anything, these faults show that the claimed results were most likely the result of the kind of wishful thinking and confirmation bias common among TM meditators, and aren’t really worth considering for further study. But a paper like this, published in a third- or fourth-rate journal, provides the kind of story that’s commonly circulated among TM insiders, that reinforces, for them, that what they’re doing, spending time and money on, is a valid and worthwhile cause. It also provides fodder for press releases that are sent to reporters who aren’t in a position to approach these matters with the skepticism, resources or time to do anything other than to publish these claims verbatim without the most basic examination of how these conclusions were reached.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation, part 4: When "peer review" becomes "meditator review"

Read this series from the beginning.

Read the previous installment of this series (Part 3).

Cover of the final volume of the
Journal of Social Behavior and Personality.
Does this look like a legitimate, independent scientific journal to you?
As I’ve discussed in earlier parts of this series, the organizations that offer Transcendental Meditation (TM), including the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), have long claimed scientific legitimacy and validity for all the claims they regularly make for TM on the basis of scientific research. They imply that the fact that this research has “appeared in many leading, peer-reviewed journals” is as good as a formal stamp of approval, for the accuracy and legitimacy of everything they say in support of TM.


But what do they really mean when they use the phrase, “peer-review?” Earlier, I quoted David Orme-Johnson, the retired psychology department chairman at the TM movement’s university, Maharishi University of Management (MUM), who is currently a promoter of TM by way of his “Truth About TM” website:


Moreover, one purpose of the peer-reviewed process is to screen out studies that may have been biased by the orientation of the investigators. The numerous published studies on the Transcendental Meditation program have met the high standards of peer-review.


In the course of sorting through many of the research papers often cited on lists of TM research that appear on the tm.org website and elsewhere, I came upon an important detail, in a paper written by David Orme-Johnson and two other Maharishi University of Management staffers. This is in the context of a critique of two National Research Council (NRC) reviews of the research on meditation published in 1991 and 1994. Their critique is largely centered on their opinion that the NRC’s reviews did not include certain studies that would have supported their position that TM produces beneficial physical and mental effects that do not occur with other forms of meditation, and that TM provides greater relaxation, greater improvements in human performance, and other benefits compared to other methods, that went unreported in the NRC review.


Near the end of their critique is this statement, which I think is a rather extraordinary demonstration of a basic ignorance or outright avoidance of the scientific method, that I also think contradicts his earlier comments on the bias of investigators, with emphasis added by me:


How can we insure objectivity in future reviews of technologies from non-Western cultures or from radically new scientific paradigms that may be outside the knowledge and experience of the reviewers? We suggest that half of the membership of review committees for new or controversial research be comprised of researchers from different universities or research institutions who are practitioners of the technology in question, who have published research in the field, and who are well conversant with the theoretical frame that informs the research.


So there you have it in their own words. They are suggesting that half of the people who review research on Transcendental Meditation should be meditators themselves; that is what they mean by “practitioners of the technology,” because another name for Transcendental Meditation is the “Maharishi Technology of the Unified Field.” I suppose the phrase means very little if, as is true of most people, including scientists, you aren’t familiar with the background on Transcendental Meditation to recognize that reference. The “Unified Field” pseudonym for TM was frequently used during the early 1990’s in various TM related publications, and it’s defined that way on page 26 of the first, 1987 edition of Bob Roth’s book on TM. (It doesn’t appear in later editions of that book, but it’s mentioned in numerous other publications around that time.)

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Ashley's story: My experience of my husband's journey into Transcendental Meditation

Stock photo of a generic young couple, not the contributors.
(scop.io)
Here's the second of the personal stories contributed by Tony and Ashley (not their real names), a couple who were challenged by Tony's involvement with the Transcendental Meditation program. This is Ashley's recounting of her experience, in which she explains how she watched her husband both gain some benefits from TM practice, while his behavior and beliefs changed in ways she found uncomfortable and disturbing. She describes in detail how an individual's priorities can radically change over time through TM involvement, beginning with simple twice-a-day TM, to the point of threatening their marriage. All of this occurred despite the frequently repeated claims by TM teachers that TM doesn't involve a change in beliefs or lifestyle. Fortunately, as Tony recalled in the first part, he disengaged from the TM program and they're now working to bring their relationship back to normal.



My experience of my husband's journey into Transcendental Meditation: 
A few years ago my husband Tony announced that he would like to learn Transcendental Meditation. He'd been looking into various mindfulness apps and still hadn't found what he was looking for. At this time he suffered from crippling social anxiety to the point where it was difficult for us to even have a normal social life, so I agreed that this was worth a try. The cost seemed pretty exorbitant and part of me was skeptical, but if this form of meditation worked the way it said, it would it all be worth it. 
There were a few odd things about the course: Despite being "non-religious" it started with a ritual involving prayer, fruit and a handkerchief but this was no big deal really and he did love what he learned. Despite my doubts, my husband threw himself into this new regime of meditating morning and night for 20 minutes, and indeed it did seem to be working. We could now go to a dinner party or drinks with his colleagues without him becoming agitated and withdrawn on the way there. In this one small way TM had changed both of our lives for the better and it had all been worth it. The daily meditation continued like clockwork. 
My husband started going along to weekly meetings at his local TM center which was only 10 minutes walk from our house. He'd found an exciting new interest and wanted to meet others who practiced TM. He went along to an advanced course which would set us back about an extra US$ 600. I didn't mind the cost but I was quite surprised when he seemed to be back from the course within an hour or so each day. Surely a weekend course costing that much money would be all weekend? 
He continued his meditation through the following months and there were more advanced courses and a few weekend retreats. These were very regimented programs of relaxation which sounded awful from an outsider's point of view but he loved them, so I was keen to be supportive. 
I can't pinpoint at exactly what point in the process my husband began changing his belief system, but I remember some very uncomfortable discussions where he was telling me things that just sounded plain crazy as non-negotiable facts. Some of these facts were: 


  • That if he did enough advanced courses he could learn "yogic flying," a basic form of beginner levitation that would eventually lead to him being able to fly.
  • That a certain number of people doing yogic flying together could stop wars and car accidents in other parts of a country where yogic flying was happening.
  • That some kind of a forcefield of goodness was created by meditators, especially those practicing yogic flying.
  • That everyone in the world must do TM in order to live fully to their potential.
  • That TM was the answer to climate change. 

Friday, October 11, 2019

Tony's story of his journey through, and out of, the TM program

We’ve received here at the TM-Free Blog, a dual submission of personal stories, from Tony, a meditator, and his wife Ashley. Their names have been changed to protect their anonymity. Here's Tony's story, which starts with his search for a meditation practice, and ends, while deciding not to proceed with the TM-Sidhis, also known as the "Yogic Flying" course, with the realization that he'd "been handing over my mind to the TM organization in exchange for 'Enlightenment.'" He also talks frankly about the balance between the benefits of TM that he experienced, and what those benefits might have eventually cost him if he'd continued down the path of deeper involvement with the TM program.


Photo illustration of a TM lecture, with video.
(Shutterstock/BBC World Service)
I’ve always been interested in the non-physical world, lightly dabbled in various meditations and read various spiritual books over the years. However, in 2016, I decided to make a go of practicing meditation. I wished to find an inner sense of stability in life and not get as stressed internally about upcoming events or past failures. 
The most popular way that didn’t involve a teacher was using the Headspace app to develop a mindfulness meditation practice. I practiced this daily for a few months and indeed found benefits of more control of my reactivity in stressful or pressured situations, such as at work. This was great but I felt like the meditation was a lot of hard work for the mind, struggling to bring it back to focus on something all the time, and I had the feeling there must be a more effortless technique out there. I stumbled upon Transcendental Meditation (TM). I was disappointed in not being able to find much about the technique online - it always said one needs to learn it from a teacher. However, as my luck would have it, I found a TM teacher close by so I signed up for an intro talk. I was a bit confused about why the teacher wouldn’t tell me much about the technique itself, they just went on and on about the benefits. However, I was intrigued and had to find out if it was indeed that beneficial. 
So, a few months later I learned TM from this certified teacher. In my very first meditation (at the instruction session) I experienced a profound settling of my mind - moments of beautiful silence. This seemed encouraging. As it seemed very expensive given the length of the course (about US$ 1000 for 1 hr/day over 4 consecutive days), I was very dedicated to doing the prescribed 20 minutes morning and 20 minutes in the evening every day without fail. Within my first week, my social anxiety dropped to virtually zero. I realized this one day when about to go to a social gathering and the very uncomfortable feeling of wanting to get out of my own skin and run and hide from the world was simply gone. Over the next few months, the enjoyability of my meditations always varied - mostly on the enjoyable side. Once back from our 2 month summer vacation, I made sure to attend the free Thursday evening TM center group meditations with the hope of maximising my progress. 
During these Thursday group sessions, after the 20-minute group meditation, the teacher would show videos of Maharishi (the founder of TM) talking on various subjects. I found listening to Maharishi’s answers rather long-winded, and he didn’t always make total sense to me. Meditation seemed to be enhancing my life by slowly but surely giving me a sense of inner calm. Thus I had developed quite an enthusiasm for promoting it and would find myself recommending it to other people and talking about it whenever the chance arose in conversation. 

Friday, October 04, 2019

The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation, part 3: Journals are the product of editors and reviewers

Read this series from the beginning.

Read the previous installment of this series (Part 2).


Recent issue of International 
Journal of Neuroscience
November 2019
Many people are easily impressed by what look like big numbers, and the organizations that offer Transcendental Meditation (TM), including the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), often use numbers in a bid to establish scientific legitimacy among non-scientists and the general public. Here’s a particular paragraph that is part of the preface to one bibliography of research on TM, produced by a TM affiliated doctor in the UK:


Scientific research on the Transcendental Meditation technique comprises more than 600 studies conducted at over 250 independent universities and research institutions in 33 countries...  These studies have demonstrated a wide range of benefits for mind, body, behavior, and society... and have appeared in many leading, peer-reviewed journals.


As I explained earlier, this frequently mentioned number of “600 studies” gets significantly reduced in practice, and that’s because, in my opinion, it includes a few hundred studies performed at TM institutions, including Maharishi University of Management, that were never published anywhere other than their own, seven-and-soon-to-be-eight volume, “Collected Papers” series. It’s also interesting to note, that at the inauguration of the so-called “Age of Enlightenment” in 1975, forty-four years ago, it was already claimed that 300 studies were performed at 200 universities.


Today, the list of studies on the tm.org website only includes studies that were published in books, journals or other scientific publications. When that list is pared down to include only original research and not other articles, only 123 studies remain, and they say they were “published in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals.” Only 21 of those studies were authored entirely by people with no connection to TM movement institutions.


When the list of publications in which those 123 studies appear is analyzed, a pattern emerges: ten of those studies appeared in a single journal, eight of them over a ten year period. Another seven of those studies appeared in a single issue of another journal. Four journals each published four of these articles, and one of those journals published four articles in a single issue.


Given that there are so many journals in which researchers could publish their findings, the question arises: why is it that there are these clusters of TM research papers in a few journals? 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation, part 2: "peer review" doesn't always mean "quality" or "accuracy"

David Lynch, Sarina Grosswald,
and John Hagelin at a David Lynch
Foundation press conference,
December 2011.
Read this series from the beginning.

This series continues with Part 3, here.

The organizations that have promoted Transcendental Meditation (TM), including the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), have for decades repeated the insistence of TM’s founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, that extensive scientific research supports their claims of TM’s validity. As I discussed previously, when their claim that “hundreds of published studies” is examined, it’s clear that an enormous proportion of those studies - 82% of the studies listed from the front page of the tm.org website - have been authored, or co-authored, by researchers with a documentable, institutional tie to a TM organization. That’s just the first of the issues that arise, when their various claims of independence, volume and quality are contrasted with an analysis of this set of studies. I think we can safely assume that a list on the primary TM website would contain the best studies they can come up with and that support their frequent claims of scientific validation of TM. The response of, “is that really all you’ve got to offer after fifty years of trying?” comes to mind when the contents of that list are carefully examined.  The methodology of many of these studies, versus the conclusions made, are the points at which the movement’s assertions don’t hold up under scrutiny.


There’s also the implied insistence among those offering TM, that when a study is published in a “peer-reviewed journal,” that that study has some magical stamp of approval and that everything in any such study, particularly conclusions favoring TM, are always absolutely and perpetually true. This is, unfortunately, often the way that scientific research is reported in the media, leaving a misimpression with the public that published studies in prestigious journals are some fixed statement of scientific reality. This is seldom true. Science is an ongoing process of discovery, and often the findings of studies, even those published in highly regarded, peer-reviewed journals, will conflict with one another, are found to be not all they were initially thought to be, and in a few rare cases, the researchers were found to have committed fraud in the course of producing a study which supported their predetermined conclusion.


This reliance on peer review as some absolute stamp of accuracy and legitimacy is actively exploited by TM apologists. David Orme-Johnson, longtime psychology department chairman at the TM movement’s university, Maharishi University of Management (MUM), writes about peer review on his “Truth About TM” website as if it would, in every case, notice and intercept every instance of shoddy science performed by a researcher, who’s also a meditator, working on a subsequently published study favoring TM:


Moreover, one purpose of the peer-reviewed process is to screen out studies that may have been biased by the orientation of the investigators. The numerous published studies on the Transcendental Meditation program have met the high standards of peer-review.


This is not quite how academic publishing works in the real world, where faults in research, missed by reviewers, are noted by other scientists after they’re appeared in those peer-reviewed journals, and those faults are later discussed. Those critiques, rebuttals and counter-rebuttals of TM research can sometimes be found in the pages of the same journals in which the original studies of TM have been published.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The dubious research claims of Transcendental Meditation, part 1: Truly independent research on TM is rare

This series on TM's research claims continues with Part 2, here.

PDF files containing copies of spreadsheets with all the supporting data for this article are available at the bottom of this page.


TM original research listed on the tm.org website, evaluated over
five-year periods. Meditating individuals and affiliated MIU/MUM
faculty have authored the majority of it since 1981.
For over a half century now, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the movement and the organizations that he spawned, and now the David Lynch Foundation, have insisted that their claims supporting Transcendental Meditation have been scientifically validated, and are supported by some consensus among many scientists. The prominence of TM, and the reputations of public figures who are constantly named in the media as having learned this mental technique, have rested on the assumption that these claims are completely valid. They regularly make reference to a large pile of scientific studies - the actual number of those studies varies a great deal from moment to moment, but it’s usually in the hundreds - that confirm, for them, that these assertions are always true.

But what happens when all those supportive scientific studies that they constantly mention in support of TM, are actually obtained, analyzed, sorted and evaluated? How many of them reflect the work of people who have no connection to TM at all, financial, emotional or otherwise - not as meditators, TM teachers, or faculty at the movement’s own university? Is it at all accurate for them to imply that because they can name-drop many universities, research institutions, and the titles of prominent medical and scientific journals, that some positive scientific consensus exists to support the claims they constantly make for the safety, efficacy and validity of Transcendental Meditation?

The short answer is, as you might expect, no. 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Convicted child pornography collector was a MUM trustee and major donor to TM organizations

It’s a standard article of faith among many practitioners of Transcendental Meditation, that long-term practice of TM improves moral decision making, and a movement spokesperson has even claimed that donating money to the organization will hasten one’s own “personal evolution.” The recent conviction and imprisonment of a long-term meditator, former Maharishi University of Management trustee and major donor to the cause of TM emphasizes what should be obvious: that meditators are seldom any better off than most everyone else, and the people who make such claims should never be trusted.



There are certain claims of eventual benefits that are regularly made to people after they’ve started practicing TM, that are often eagerly accepted by those who’ve had enough experience with it that, accurately or otherwise, they begin to view it as beneficial for themselves. The experience of perceived initial, immediate benefit primes them to readily believe what they’re told may come later if they stick with the program. These claims stand in stark contrast to the everyday, mundane reality of the lives of many long-term meditators. That has never stopped both those meditators, and people with positions of responsibility in TM organizations, from continuing to make specific yet completely unsupportable claims about how all meditators’ lives will be improved through the practice of TM.

Far exceeding their public promotional claims of stress-free, healthy lives made as if TM were some “wellness” cure-all for everyone, are the statements that aren’t often made in public, and that are reinforced among meditators and in the meditating subculture. One of the most ridiculous, if not corrosive, of these claims is that of “spontaneous right action” resulting from long-term practice of TM and related “Maharishi” branded programs.  But if you know where to look, you’ll find out that the publishing operation of the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) actually has printed such drivel, written by the university’s vice president of academic affairs, and former executive vice president, Craig Pearson. This places such things well beyond the realm of simple rumor, into that of fully acceptable, officially sanctioned, doctrine or belief.

Keeping in mind that though every TM introductory lecturer insists that “no belief is necessary” to practice TM, people who’ve been meditating for decades often sound much like the following quote from  “The Complete Book of Yogic Flying,” a book which describes the TM movement’s long-running levitation hoax that they call the “TM-Sidhi program.” To insiders who do this “program,” the point isn’t necessarily to actually levitate, since every single one of them knows that all they’re able to do is simply bounce on foam rubber and convince themselves that whatever they’re doing in their minds at the same time is somehow worthwhile and beneficial, is worth spending considerable sums of money to learn, and is worth spending two hours a day, or more, doing. This excerpt is much like that:
Moral reasoning ability increases significantly after people learn the Transcendental Meditation technique, and even more after they learn the TM-Sidhi program. Moral reasoning ability, moreover, is correlated with EEG coherence; that is, the more coherent one's brain physiology, the greater one's moral development. The "moral compass" resides in a coherently functioning brain.

As we grow in enlightenment and live increasingly in accord with Natural Law, Maharishi explains, we spontaneously use our growing creativity and intelligence more responsibly, acting in a way that benefits everyone around us. This growth of "life-supporting behavior" reaches its fulfillment in Cosmic Consciousness, when we enjoy what Maharishi calls spontaneous right action. We no longer make mistakes. Everything we do is for good.
Almost every sentence of these two paragraphs is completely disconnected from authentic, generally accepted, scientific research. EEG coherence is one of the TM movement’s hobby horses, and this assertion of such a hard link between alleged TM-induced coherence and moral behavior exists solely in the realm of unpublished research performed at the movement’s university by meditators who were once trained in the scientific method. But that hasn’t stopped these assertions from becoming some of the core beliefs of thousands of meditators.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

From the archives: "TM and Cult Mania" on meditators' responses to criticism

I think a lot of people, who are new to the whole field of raising criticism and objections to Transcendental Meditation, may be a bit unprepared for the kinds of reactions that I've long been on the receiving end of. Hostile reactions from meditators, TM teachers and others who are almost reflexively supportive of any effort to spread the practice of meditation far and wide are common, and they usually take the form of avoidance, distraction or personal attacks on the person raising the objection to TM, along with the usual repetition of the "main points" of belief and doctrine that they constantly say are absolutely, positively not a part of learning TM. (You can even see some fifteen to twenty year old e-mail I've received containing much the same, here.)

Now that a few allegations of what the David Lynch Foundation's program of introducing TM into public schools might actually be doing there, have made it into a major newspaper, these sorts of responses are now likely to again be seen in any forum where these issues may be raised.

As evidenced by my experience on Facebook over the past few days, you will even see "haha" laughter reactions when serious issues of US constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state, or students' allegations they are being forced to meditate without their or their parents' fully informed consent, are brought out for discussion and comment. But these are the old habits of people who some might think should be loving, peaceful souls, because they'll sometimes also brag to you that they've been meditating for 40 years or more in the first few moments that you encounter them. They're acting from their insistence that their personal, mental experience is exactly what they say it is, and because they still unquestioningly believe what they were told long ago, the agenda that doesn't exist: that the world will magically transform itself to "Heaven on Earth" if as many people as possible will do exactly what they do.

The second two-thirds of the name of the David Lynch Foundation is, "for consciousness-based education and world peace." Get told enough times that you're working toward "world peace" while sitting with your eyes closed, and obviously strange things eventually begin to happen.

So here's an excerpt from the book, "TM and Cult Mania," which was published way back in 1980. Obviously the authors had some experience in dealing firsthand with meditators and TM promoters, because the descriptions in the book are very similar to what I saw, as far back as the early 1990's when first encountering the TM cheering section in online Usenet newsgroups, and to what I've again seen over the last few days.  This excerpt clearly comes from an academic perspective laced with sarcasm and perhaps the kind of fatigue that comes from having seen the same bad behaviors of meditators over and over again, a fatigue with which I'm quite familiar.