Transcendental Meditation - My Experience
Transcendental Meditation, or TM, is a meditation technique which claims to be effortless, very effective in improving concentration and relieving stress, and easy to fit into your daily routine. But is it true - and is it for you? As someone who practiced TM for 17 years, I can vouch for its many benefits - but there are some downsides too. In this article, I'll share my personal experience of both - and explain why I gave it up.
Yes, TM is effortless. In fact, some people find it hard to accept just how effortless it is. That's why you need a TM teacher to instruct you: if you just take the mantra and repeat it, you'll try too hard - and it won't work.
TM's ability to improve concentration was the reason I decided to learn.
At the time, my (very stressed) boyfriend was struggling at university. He started TM, and I was stunned by the difference in his academic performance. He said he found it so much easier to absorb information, and he just seemed more focussed. I was so impressed, I learned TM myself.
Those were the days when managers still dictated letters for a secretary to type up. My boss used to dictate all her letters to me on a Monday, then go off travelling. When she returned on Friday I had to have the letters typed up for her signature (it seems unbelievable now that a letter could wait that long, but business was different in the 70's!).
Before I started TM, it used to take me all week to type up Monday's dictation. The week after I learned TM, I got the whole lot done in two days!
Better Reaction to Stress?
I'm also a good example of how TM reduces anxiety and helps you react better to stress.
Before TM, I was best described as "highly strung" - if a nasty manager barked at me, I'd flee to the ladies loo and sit there in floods of tears. TM helped me feel less anxious almost at once - but I didn't realize quite how much until a few years later, when my boss of our frantically busy office referred to me as "the calm in the eye of the storm" - and everyone agreed!
Easy to Fit into your Routine...
When you start practicing transcendental meditation, you'll meditate twice a day for around 20 minutes. Because there's no concentration involved, you don't have to be in a quiet place - so a lot of people meditate on the bus or train on the way to work. While you're meditating, you simply sit quietly with your eyes closed - so other commuters will just assume you're asleep.
I learned TM when Maharishi was still regularly giving lectures. He always emphasized that TM was a "householder's meditation", designed to be fitted into a busy life. So don't let anyone tell you TM "won't work" if you meditate in a noisy environment, it's not true!
While I was practising "ordinary" TM, I was happy to recommend it to anyone. I was leading a more confident, stress-free, happy life because of it. Yes, learning was expensive - but in return, I had lifetime support and access to (free) weekly or monthly get-togethers and lectures.
As time went by, we saw less and less of the original lectures from Maharishi himself, and more from other leaders of the movement. Then the Siddhis were introduced.
Siddhis are an advanced program and completely optional - but the average meditator is so impressed with their experience, the offer to "enhance" it is irresistible. Plus, of course, if everyone else at your local TM is going on courses and learning new things, you feel left out if you don't.
The trouble is, that adding to your practice means taking more time out of your day to meditate. And that's where it began to stop being a "householder's meditation" and more a way of life ...
When I started TM, Maharishi was at great pains to stress that TM was a meditation to fit into your everyday life, not take it over. Maharishi refused to tell meditators what to eat, how to think or how to behave.
He used to say, "Different people need different things at different levels of consciousness. You know, deep down, what is right for you. That will change as you evolve, and you should let that happen naturally."
He also emphasized that although it had its roots in Hinduism, TM was not religious in any way. He warned against "polluting" TM by mixing it with other practices.
When the Siddhi program was introduced several years later, it seemed to contradict those statements. The program promised to speed one's path to enlightenment and develop supernatural skills. It included readings from the Bhagavad Ghita. We were given guidelines on diet (vegetarian, but no mushrooms or onions), and offered Ayurvedic medicine and massages, special oils and supplements, horoscopes and more. We were told we must control our thinking and shun negative thoughts.
Instead of two 20-minute sessions on my daily commute, the Siddhi program required total privacy and took two full hours every day. For me it was more like three hours, because the meditation would send me to sleep every time! By the time I'd done my program in the evening, there was barely enough time to eat before going to bed - and I had to get up at the crack of dawn to be sure of making it to work on time.
I was never quite comfortable with allowing TM to take over my life in this way - I kept thinking of Maharishi's original words. And it worried me that some of the most respected members of the TM community - the individuals who welcomed Maharishi when he first arrived in the UK in the 1960s - refused to take part in the Siddhi program.
However, I was married to a man who enthusiastically embraced TM and so I swallowed my misgivings. But then the wheels started to fall off...
Soon after starting the Siddhi program, I started to lose the serene happiness I'd got used to. I felt disconnected, tired and irritable. Then things started to go inexplicably, horribly wrong - where previously, I'd got used to having a charmed life.
I couldn't see any results from the Siddhi program and I blamed it for what was happening - but the TM teachers pushed me to keep going.
Their explanation was this: when you meditate normally, small amounts of old stresses and bad karma are released from the mind and body, and dissipate harmlessly. Because the Siddhi program is so powerful, negative energy is released in greater quantities - too much to dissipate easily, so you find yourself experiencing the original stresses again as they come out. Bad karma is also being released.
So you may feel anxious or afraid, cry or laugh a lot, feel aches and pains, or find bad things happening in your life. You may also have difficulty "resurfacing" fully from the meditative state, so you feel disoriented or irrational.
All this is called "roughness" and is a good thing - it means you're getting rid of a lot of accumulated negativity from your being. You're given extra practice to "smooth it out" - extra breathing and yoga exercises, Ayurvedic massages, residential courses with more meditation, not less.
If you want an outsider's unbiased view of TM, this tells you the lot. Don't expect to learn TM from this book, even though it gives you the mantras - they're useless unless you understand the right way to use them, and you need a meditation teacher for that.
I believed this explanation and persevered - until my mother took ill and I spent six weeks in Scotland while she recovered, away from my husband and my TM instructors.
There, I didn't have two hours a day to spare, so I missed several of my sessions - and guess what, I felt much more like my normal self. I started to question whether I wanted to go on enduring this awful "roughness" - after all, I didn't learn TM to reach enlightenment, I learned it to relieve stress.
So I stopped - and my life started to turn around.
Living in a Bubble
When I gave up TM, I made another discovery.
When TM was working well for me, it created a protective shell around me, shielding me from the world.
That sounds great, and in many ways it was. Stress and anxiety rolled off me like water off a duck's back. Grief and sadness were things of the past. I was contented, and life was smooth sailing.
It wasn't until I stopped meditating that I discovered the shell worked for the ups of life as well as the downs. There's a big difference between contentment and pure joy. I spent 17 years living my life on one note - yes, I missed out on the lows, but I missed out on the highs, too.
The shell also meant I couldn't connect to people as well as I should have. Yes, I loved my husband and my family - but until I gave up TM, I didn't realise how muted that feeling had become.
I had always planned to start doing my basic TM practice again, but after that discovery, I decided not to. I'm not prepared to miss out on the high points of life any more, even if it means I end up in the Slough of Despond occasionally. That's what life is!
The Flying Siddhi
The best-known part of the Siddhi program is the Flying Siddhi - so in anticipation of questions, here's my experience.
I was at the Siddhis introductory course, sitting cross-legged in a room with other meditators, repeating the required words and waiting to levitate.
I was a slow starter. Other people were hopping around and nothing was happening to me. Most of them were fitter than me, so I suspected they were cheating (or maybe that was sour grapes!).
Then it happened. I felt a powerful, hot current of energy shoot up my spine from base to tip, propelling me off the ground - and dumping me on my back on the floor just as quickly.
I was amazed. Sure, I hadn't "flown" - but If someone had told me I could jump several inches with my legs crossed, I'd have said they were dreaming! Sit down cross-legged and try to lift your bottom, and you'll see what I mean. Without that mysterious surge of energy, I would never have got off the ground. So clearly, something did happen. But I never saw anyone do more than hop, and I've never met anyone else who has.
All the photos of meditators "hovering" in the air were simply taken at the top of the jump.
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