Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Thirty Years Later: What was all that about? (Conclusion)

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

It seems that the main thing the TM movement and its promoters are selling right now is nostalgia. This weekend, two former Beatles are going to heave themselves onto the stage of Radio City Music Hall in New York for a concert that, it's alleged, will raise money to support "a global initiative teach one million at-risk kids to meditate." The message that the "Global Country of World Peace,"  the TM movement's toy government, is suggesting be sent to news media to promote the event, leads with nothing more than a memory. "So much has happened since the Beatles, Donovan, Mike Love, and Paul Horn traveled to India in 1968 to study the Transcendental Meditation® technique with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi," it reads. But in fact, not much has happened at all, except for the same old things that the organization's been attempting - and spectacularly failing at - for half a century or more, while as always, burning through people and money. This latest project seems focused on reviving the flagging careers of a few aging stars more than anything, and taking one more run at the perennial, nearly impossible task of increasing the credibility of the TM program among the general public.

Since it seems that the nostalgia game is what everyone's going to be playing this weekend, I thought I'd add a bit of my own. This comes with a physical object; it took a bit of digging around in the basement to find it, in a box full of decades-old papers, one of those boxes full of things that really serve very little purpose for me today, unless I feel the need to look back and see where I was, or what I was doing, or even, who I once knew, at some point in the distant past.

This one little item comes in an envelope, that coincidentally has an almost exactly thirty-year-old postmark on its fifteen-cent stamp: April 16, 1979, South Fallsburg, New York, 12779. Those of you familiar with the TM movement of the time may recall that South Fallsburg was the location of an old hotel in the Catskills, which with the beginning of sex-segregated movement facilities, was used to house women, children and married men. "Advanced" courses including that of the TM-Sidhi program, which purportedly conferred the ability to fly, were administered to women there. In keeping with the toy government theme, the place was called the "Capital of the Age of Enlightenment." It was later sold to some other Indian guru's group.

In that envelope is a card, on the cover, a drawing featuring a girl with wings. Cards like this were sold to course participants to send to friends and family. Inside, someone had a bit of news to share.

...and now for the news you want to hear - I'm off! I started flying on April 11th. It's really a joyful experience.

As it turned out, the joy wore off after a while. Some people had real problems functioning after taking this course and practicing what they learned, by hopping around on foam rubber pads and calling it "flying." When people say they stopped practicing the "sidhis" because they were having a rough time, they aren't exaggerating.

This place is really beautiful. The dining hall and assembly hall are really plush. Women wear beautiful saris. People applaud by ringing little bells. Everyone here is really nice, and they serve us our lunch and dinner - we don't have to get anything ourselves. In other words, this place is heaven on earth!

Well, I dunno. Perhaps there would be more to living in "heaven on earth" than being waited on hand and foot by people who aren't even being paid to serve you.

By the way, Happy Easter! (I'm not exactly the Easter bunny, but at least I'm hopping)

Muscular twitching that caused "hopping" would be about the only thing a lot of people who practiced the TM-Sidhi program would be left with. No flying, no super-cool extraordinary abilities, nothing. But a lot of people who were selling Maharishi's products back then thought all that was imminent, and would be experienced... any day now.

I hope something good happens so that you can get your sidhis, too! Jai Guru Dev

Fortunately, it seems I dodged that bullet. Real life intervened. Two thousand dollars, were I to have had it at the time, in the early 80's, would have probably been spent on more important things. If it wasn't for that, an eventual, rather spectacular, falling-out with the writer of this card - someone who, being the usual garden-variety human being, certainly didn't exhibit the "support of nature" that was one of the supposed benefits of the program - might have driven home the obvious point that the program was something of a scam. Or, perhaps it was just a passing comment from someone who'd recently visited MIU, the movement's university in Fairfield, Iowa, who pointed out that it wasn't worth moving to Fairfield just to clean toilets. That would have been the other means by which I could have taken the sidhis course.

So that's my little contribution to this weekend's nostalgia fest. I put it here as a reminder that fondness for some old memories of decades past isn't much of an excuse for failing to grow and failing to learn from your mistakes. It isn't a way of avoiding the fact that some of those things that I might have thought were sane and reasonable, like the idea that through thinking certain thoughts people could fly, were in fact just plain stupid and are best abandoned. This kind of avoidance of the obvious continues today when Lynch, McCartney and Starr continue to push a similar falsehood: that if you pay money to some shady organization, they'll teach you the right magic thoughts that'll change and fix your life, or those of "at-risk kids." It was bogus thirty, forty or fifty years ago, and it's bogus today; whether it's pushed by a "Maharishi," a "Raja," some former Beatle or some other famous personality; from the stage of Radio City or in some back alley.

Update: The card with this image had no credit except for a copyright notice from a Swedish printer. The illustration is actually froFlower Fairies Of The Wayside, a book of poems and art by Cicely Mary Barker. 

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