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. 

The TM center Thursday group evenings often had a component of the teacher saying what was new in the TM world. One time the teacher mentioned that one can learn “advanced techniques” to speed up one's progress to Enlightenment. The analogy used is that regular TM was like walking toward Enlightenment, the advanced techniques were like taking a car and the TM Sidhis program was like talking a jet plane. This should have been a red flag right there as my initial goal of meditation was not to “get Enlightened.” However, this analogy was repeated many times by the teacher, and I believe planted the seed in my mind that I must do the advanced techniques. So the following year when a special advanced technique teacher came (all the way from India) I jumped at the chance to learn the “night technique.” Upon learning it, I was a bit shocked by how simple the technique was and why that cost nearly US$ 600 but reasoned that a trained teacher needed to be flown out. 
With my attention now turned toward this “Enlightenment” thing it did feel like I’d hit upon a secret/not-so-secret club that was going to bring about world peace. Something which my TM teacher kept mentioning that fueled this notion was “research” by TM scientists claiming that a certain number of people practicing this super special technique called Yogic Flying would create world peace. Of course one could also aspire to become a Yogic Flyer, but first needed to complete all four advanced techniques. Over the next two and a half years I dutifully completed the remaining three advanced techniques. With each one, if I’m honest, there was this background doubt as to why they cost so much, the personal instruction so simple and brief, and why I needed to watch the same video of Maharishi talking each time. I did, however, feel inspired by being around other students and teachers who seemed positive, sincere and joyous. 
After completing the final advanced technique, I felt on top of the world as I had everything in line to do the Yogic Flying course. I’d also managed to connect with a fellow meditator, who is on a similar path with learning TM and the advanced techniques. We enjoyed talking about different spiritual and personal development modalities we’d come across. We stayed in touch through the coming months over Facebook chat to share our TM experiences and enthusiasm. At the same time, I was trying to share my rapidly increasing enthusiasm for TM and the Sidhis course with my wife, Ashley. I would quote statistics and studies from the group TM evenings which all pointed to TM being the solution to all of the problems of the world. I don’t word things the best way when I’m excited about something and unknowingly at the time made her feel inferior for not being a meditator. Also, she consequently mistook my correspondence with my meditating friend to be something more than friendship or a shared interest. This meditation which was supposed to create such harmony was day by day increasingly tearing my marriage apart! Many of our usually pleasant night time walks together were ending in tears. Somehow we managed to resolve the issue with the friend and I was all on track to book in for the TM Sidhi course. At this point, I don’t really know what I was expecting to get from being a Yogic Flyer. I guess any thoughts of what I personally wanted were long down the drain as the one big thing I was looking forward to was that course. 
This is where things really came to a head. The Sidhis course is comprised of three weekends (in a different city) and two weeks in residence in an even more distant town. Also, it’s advised to do a retreat before the course. This added up to the best part of over six thousand (US) dollars, not to mention a lot of time away from my wife while she has time off from work - a time we usually look forward to spending lots of time together. Also as a Yogic Flyer, one’s meditation program becomes 70 minutes morning and 70 minutes evening, every day. Clearly this was not just eating into spending time as a couple in the short term but every day after the course finished. I failed to see this simple fact, especially when other TM Sidhi practitioners would say “you just find time to fit it in” and “your relationships will benefit so much from being a Sidha, people will notice the change in you.” 
My wife now had such an aversion to me doing the course that we would argue most nights for a couple of weeks, always ending in tears. I didn’t really want to confront all the practical details of being a Sidha - how to fit in that much meditation and keep up all my usual hobbies and fitness activities - many that I shared with my wife. Finding yet more evenings to practice Yogic Flying with other Sidhas in my city. It was clear the commitment was huge and everything else in my life was sliding to second best. My wife managed to find some independent, skeptical and critical views of TM as well as a movie called “David wants to Fly.” She also got in touch with a person who helps people out of the mental fog TM advanced courses and Sidhis create. I read through the articles and we watched the movie together. 
Doubts about the course and why it needed to be such a focus were starting to form in my mind. Seemingly solid assumptions I had taken for granted for years about TM creating world peace were beginning to melt as this other perspective was emerging. Part of me was still quite defensive as I took in this new information. Fortunately, throughout this time I had been reading non-TM books on meditation and spiritual teachings. The one which I was currently reading was by Adyashanti called “Falling into Grace” and had a section on how his teachers didn’t want to be an authority for his waking up/enlightenment process. This was the final straw to make me realize that all these years I’d been handing over my mind to the TM organization in exchange for “Enlightenment” rather than learning to listen to my own inner guidance system. 
Over the course of an evening, I went from downgrading from the full course to just the weekends, to completely pulling out of the Sidhis course altogether. I had lost some money in this move but fortunately not huge amounts. Flights I had booked were thankfully all able to be changed relatively inexpensively. If my brain was a washing machine, it felt like it was undergoing some sort of deep wash and rinse cycle! It seemed like it wasn’t really me wanting to do the Sidhis course all along, thus there was no regret once I’d make the choice to cancel. A bizarre feeling indeed. The following couple of days were not easy. I was in a weird state of emotional shock, feeling emotionally numb sometimes and very uncharacteristic outbursts of anger at other times. As my wife pointed out, I also need to break the routine of actually doing TM for half an hour twice a day for a while. Again I was resistant to this but eventually saw the wisdom. 
Having spent a lot of time and energy through my TM involvement wearing down my relationship with my wife, I'm so grateful for her strength, love and questioning mind to look out for me and saving me from a potentially expensive and lonely path. Now just a few days after this brainwashing realization, it feels like we are stronger together than ever. Wonderfully, of course, we now have much more quality time together each day. 
Despite this experience, I don’t think meditation is a waste of time - not even the basic 20 minute TM practice - which did, after all, alleviate my social anxiety. I look forward to using meditation in a flexible way to keep myself balanced and able to fully enjoy life. I may even look to teach a form of meditation someday, just not TM! 

Continue reading: Ashley's story, which she tells as a witness to this process from the perspective of Tony's spouse.

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