Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thirty Years Later: What was all that about? (Part 1 of a series)

I was initiated into the "Transcendental Meditation Program" on December 31, 1977. Though at one point I was a willing consumer of some of the organization's products, I still puzzle over exactly what it is that the TM organization is selling, and why some are still, apparently, quite attracted to it. After three decades of the "movement" fully embracing full-blown weirdness and pretension, in contrast to its now rather brief mid-Seventies attempt to gain respectability by wrapping itself in the language of science and research, you'd think the movement would have faded into obscurity by now.

But that's certainly not what's happened. Just a simple Google News search on Transcendental Meditation turns up about 50 hits on recent news articles. Some of these articles are the usual cultural references to the Beatles or some other personality that at some point practiced, and perhaps helped popularize, the technique. The other articles include references to people who once practiced TM but since abandoned it, often for some other religious or meditative practice, or often, reference to yet another study or other that raises the perennial but tenuous claim that meditation, in particular TM, can supposedly help lower blood pressure.

Still, a complete explanation of the actual mechanism by which TM might have some perceived effects like that is a bit elusive. Viewed in a somewhat different, perhaps you could call it cynical, light given my intervening life experiences, I find it hard to nail down exactly what it is that's being taught in the context of "meditation." Perhaps that sounds kind of strange, after all, isn't "meditation" the central feature of the program? But perhaps something else is going on. After all, one thing that always gets repeated by those promoting TM is that you can't learn TM from a book, or by reading about it. Some kind of interaction with other people in a particular setting seems to be the central feature; an interaction that in some ways is rather precisely described and carried out.

Looking through the movement's materials that I've accumulated through the years, and what can be easily seen today in the movement's programs by looking at its websites, there doesn't seem to be much of substance to the program. Even looking back to my memory of my own experiences, I sometimes ask, why was I initially attracted to the TM program, and why did I stick with it for about ten years, long after any apparent effect on my own life, one way or the other, had long passed? Given what now seems obvious and trivial today - what was all that about?

(Continue to Part 2)

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