Wednesday, July 20, 2011

re: Laurie's Reflections on Recent TM Publicity

Morris said, in response to Laurie's recent post:

  • on TM-Free Blog: Reflections on Recent Transcendental Meditation Publicity 19 hours ago
    I'm not as familiar with the internal dynamics of the TMO as some others, and I have no doubt that much of what is said is true. But most of the things being discussed happened many years ago, and Maharishi is no longer here. I don't see what the harm is in seeing if learning TM actually can help kids with ADHD learn better without drugs, or help veterans who have suffered traumatic experiences in a war get over their fears and lead productive lives again. I agree that the quote mentioned is pretty much over the top, but so what? Reading some (not all) of these posts, it seems that some of the people making them want TM to be of no use at all, even in these cases, because if it is, it would invalidate their opinion of the TMO and MMY (which it wouldn't, in my opinion).
I think you have raised an interesting point of pertinence to which I wanted to respond. I have no doubt that there are highly divided ideas, opinions, feelings and emotional responses when it comes to TM, the TMO and the on-going battle between those who would continue to propagate the faith (so to speak) and those who would happily see its backside burn in the fires of gehenna. There are always extremes. Avoiding both, I think, is about the best we can hope for.

Personally, my problem is not with TM per se, but with what Mahesh did with TM (and what the TMO continues to do with it), how he both used it to establish a favourable mind-set amongst his followers as well as establish a financial base to keep the whole thing (which I suspect was primarily his own fame) going. Having watched Mahesh up close and personal for two solid years, my feelings toward him are quite mixed and tend toward the negative. Now, of course, he may be dead, but his influence and mind-set is very much alive and functioning amongst the leaders of the TMO.

That said, attention deficit disorder, sometimes called ADHA (attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder) is both difficult to handle and difficult to treat. Actually, there is an opinion that there is no such thing as "hyperactivity", but rather an increase in activity or the inability to not be constantly active, results from the attention deficit disorder.

The first difficulty in using any meditation method or medical treatment to lessen the severity of this problem is, somewhat obviously, the problem itself! I have only a limited range of experience with attention deficit disorder (ADD). That experience is centred upon children with other afflictions as well and with elevated levels of attention deficit. Even getting them to sit still for the few seconds it takes to get them to take their medication is difficult. How, then, would one get such a child to do either the child's TM technique or the sitting technique.

I don't think there is any question that a meditation technique would be preferable to drugs, whether one is for or against medication in this situation. What I would very much like to see is a broad-based study of many methods of meditative treatment prescribed for a range of ADD situations and studied by many disciplines.

Having read so many of the self-bestowed "scientific studies" produced by the TMO, I can already predict that they would find glowingly positive results meriting a huge influx of further funding to do more studies. Cynically, of course, I see the emphasis falling on the huge influx of further funding.

This, as well, applies to TM in schools. What can this possibly amount to but an increase in the TMO's client-base, customer-base, and an influx of further funding.

How could any religion or corporation NOT want its product introduced into all public schools, all schools, period?

While I have great confidence that the fundamental of TM ("as easily as") has merit, I question, given the evidence of those two years spent in Mahesh's close company, whether that merit in Mahesh's hands is any more worthy of consideration than investing one's life-savings with Bernie Madoff. That's extreme, of course, and something I already said ought to be avoided, yet, my experience is my experience.

Now, the matter of PTSD. My father suffered from PTSD following his WWII military service. Those returning from subsequent military service have shown far worse and far more incapacitating life-changes.

Again, I'm highly in favour of testing various meditation methods, certainly including TM, to see what the result is on a wide range of afflicted individuals. But I doubt the ability of the TMO to be objective.

Were TM the panacea Mahesh made it out to be, then the numbers of individuals signing up (so to speak) would be incredible. That is not the case, however.

The method of teaching TM has been widely available on the Internet for at least a decade if not more. The availability of Dr. Benson's "relaxation response" has been available even longer. So, rather than the TMO's apparent presumption that TM is the only thing available and nothing else works (again, I know that I am being a little more than a little over the top), it might be useful to do some research to see what meditation methods have already been tried with ADD and PTSD.

Almost anyone with a little initiative can learn to teach TM by learning the steps of initiation (available on the Internet for at least a decade). Similarly, the maintenance method (checking procedure) can be learnt by anyone and one need not be fanatical about it. {it might not be well known, but many teachers of TM were taught to be teachers of TM _by_Mahesh_ on a two-week residence course}

Do the mantras matter? apparently not or Mahesh wouldn't have changed them and the method of selecting them from course to course; nor would he have told me, when I was "doing his letters" that I should just tell people who had mantra problems that "it didn't matter" and "just to continue", nor, when he made me an M-Group teacher (religious monks, nuns, priests and brothers) would he have given me just two mantras, one for men, the other for women, both of which turned out to be teenage mantras from the Fiuggi course. (Nor, when he gave my the mantras to give when I became a TM teacher, and I said that I had the wrong mantra, pointing out on the paper he handed me, that I had this mantra and should, obviously, have had that mantra, would he have said: it doesn't matter)

So, any reasonable combination of the TM methodology and the Benson methodology ought to produce some valuable results. BUT, those results are going to be symptom-specific, aren't they. Medical science (whether conducted by pharmaceutical agencies or medical schools) has long known that one treatment for one affliction is hardly ever a competent solution.

ASA (aspirin,
acetylsalicylic acid) was discovered late in the late 1800's and has probably been studied more than any other medication and it still might not be completely understood in either its benefits or detriments.

I think that all forms of meditation (absolutely including TM) need to be as thoroughly studied, examined, researched, prodded, probed and otherwise understood.

I am reminded of something in the Buddhist tradition: mind goes before everything.

Obviously, nothing can or does take place without the mind. (Let's confine ourselves to sentient beings, even though plant-life can probably be said to have some sort of mind). So anything, beneficial or afflictive, in some or another way, may be or actually is mind-related. Recent research (sorry, I'd very much like to cite the specific studies, but I'm too disorganized to have that right to hand at the moment, I'm sure it's available with a modicum of Internet googling) appears to indicate that there is discernible change in the structure of the brain itself (brain plasticity, or something like that) as a result of meditation).

And, surely, we cannot discount the placebo effect, cited in all legitimate research that I know of: there is always a percentage of positive response from those who only thought they were taking medication! While this may be small, sometimes, something is obviously going on, isn't it.

So, is meditation good for everyone; will meditation fix everything? That would be an absurdity. However, with enough independent, objective research by a wide range of academic professionals, it may well be determined which form of meditation is appropriate for which affliction and which individual having what degree of that affliction: much as your physician determines which medication and how much dependent upon individual circumstances and a well established experiential basis.

Cynically, and with some sadness once again, I tend to see the TMO's research and the TMO itself being much more like Narcissus gazing at his reflection in the pool of clear water.

Thank you, Morris, for your very interesting and provocative observation.

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