Friday, May 16, 2008

Thirty Years Later: What was all that about? (Part 2 of a series)

(To read this series from the beginning, start here.)

I first attended an after school TM introductory lecture, at my public high school, in 1974. Posters advertising the TM program had been hung in school corridors. I never learned the details of how the lecture was arranged, but in those days - before Malnak v. Yogi - it wasn't something that seemed all that unusual. Perhaps ten students and teachers showed up for it. I found the program rather interesting if not a little peculiar, but my interest didn't extend as far as taking up the program, primarily because of both the cost and the time commitment.

Some years later, during my second year of college, a then-girlfriend was a meditator with a few years' experience with the program. After a few months of dating, having heard the program being personally endorsed by someone I then cared for, and now in the position of being able to afford both the time and the money, I took the plunge. The introductory lecture was unusual - we watched the broadcast of Maharishi on the Merv Griffin Show during the last week of 1977, and if I recall correctly, it was the show where the "sidhi" program was announced. This was the point at which I became involved with TM: the moment when the glory days of mass numbers of initiations, of TM centers scattered across the country, and a reasonably priced program accessible to the average middle-class person were about to come to an end.

I paid one hundred eighty dollars at the end of 1977 to be initiated at the student rate. To measure that in todays dollars, multiply that by three or four. I ended up sticking with the 2x20 program for the next ten years. There were a few residence courses along the way - one weekend and one week-long. On the week-long course, held in the movement's building in downtown Washington, DC, I received the so-called "advanced technique," which substituted the single word "mantra" with one of two words. How much I paid for this, in 1982, I don't quite remember, but it was some hundreds of dollars.

By some circumstance I never took up the "TM-Sidhi" program that allegedly offered what they called "supernormal" abilities, including the promise of eventually flying through the air. Again, I avoided involvement largely because of the time and expense involved - the course at the time (the early 1980's) involved a minimum of two weeks in residence and a series of weekend sessions at a cost of at least two thousand dollars. Again, double or triple that number to get a feel for that price in today's dollars.

After taking a hiatus from college that turned out to be permanent, I considered volunteering at MIU, the movement's university in Fairfield, Iowa as a possible means of eventually obtaining the "sidhi" techniques. As luck would have it my entry into a career in the broadcasting industry preempted that plan, and I never again considered working full-time for the TM movement.

But during that time in the early 1980's I was involved with a few small projects at the Washington DC center. Having been involved with another meditator who was familiar with the local TM community I came to participate in a few efforts to popularize TM in the local media, and an attempt to acquire a low-power TV broadcasting license. Not much came of those efforts, but I was given two "Maharishi Awards" anyway. Like many of the posters produced by the movement, there's lots of vapid fine print saying how great the subject is (the recipient, in this case), golden colors, formal script, and a big gold seal and a blue ribbon. Atta boy, Mike!

(Continue to Part 3)

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