As you may have gathered, I have been well up for trying new things recently, particularly if they fall under the mind/body/soul umbrella. So when I spotted an advert for a Transcendental Meditation (TM) course right here in Mallorca I thought ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’ and enthusiastically signed up.
As part of the course prelims, it was suggested we watched this short introductory video where superstar TM teacher, Bob Roth, explains what the technique is (and isn’t) why it works and so on. Throughout the film he said, “it’s very simple to learn” “it’s effortless” “there’s nothing to believe in” “it’s not a religion” “you can be 100% sceptical and it works”. I was air-punching in delight. It felt like he was talking to me and offering me exactly what I needed. Calm, quiet, clarity and coherence would soon be mine. Why hadn’t I thought of this before??
Then another prelim email appeared, with a request to bring sweet fruit, some flowers and a white handkerchief for the ‘ceremony’. Hang on. What ceremony?! Bob told me this wasn’t a religion, there was nothing to believe in?! I immediately felt anxious. My gut told me there was more to this than I had been led to believe, but I duly chopped some pineapple, swiped some blooms from the roadside, ironed my Nan’s hanky and rocked up for class one of four.
The first class is always one-to-one and after some very pleasant chit chat with the instructor we sat in front of a large photo of a smiling bearded man (who turned out to be the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the TM organisation, inventor of Yogic Flying – remember the Natural Law Party of the 1990s?) and proceeded to perform what was described as a ‘thanksgiving’. I stood there clutching some flowers (feeling like an utter lemon) while instructor went through a lengthy ritual chant in Sanskrit. I was advised I wouldn’t understand it, but I should listen and observe.
Being very British and uncomplaining, I did as I was told, but deep down I felt distinctly uncomfortable. In fact worse than uncomfortable, peeved. Peeved that I was being dragged into ‘worshipping’ (by proxy) a man I knew nothing about in a tongue I couldn’t understand – with no prior warning whatsoever. And especially peeved that Bob Roth had promised that TM was “not a religion” but I was clearly (according to the dictionary definition) witnessing a religious ceremony.
Shackles very much up, pulse rate racing, I was then given my secret “specially-selected” mantra. I repeatedly said it out loud, then softer, to a whisper, and finally inside my head. I was regularly stopped and asked how I felt, if I felt calm, relaxed. I didn’t. I was still a bit peeved and a lot uncomfortable – and still sat in front of the photo of the smiling Maharishi. I tried to tell myself to chill, to open my mind, to not be so uptight, but while I was having that conversation in my head, I was losing the mantra and not feeling calm or relaxed at all. After about 18 minutes practice I decided to tell a white lie and pretend it was going much better just to make it stop. Which is actually what the mantra had morphed into in my head “make this stop make this stop make this stop” – not very TM I know.
Fond farewells were said and a ‘see you tomorrow’ for class two of four.
Naturally curious, I proceeded to spend several hours researching TM. You could say I should have done this before I signed up to the course, and you’re right, but I didn’t. What I discovered was divided into two directly opposing camps – for TM and against TM – both as vociferous as each other.
It doesn’t seem fair to jump on any particular bandwagon but I do want to share two facts (well as ‘factual’ as the internet allows) which I found rather intriguing:
The Sanskrit Ceremony – This was a ‘puja’, a ritual act of honour/worship/prayer which features in Hinduism and Buddhism. Here’s the ‘secret’ text that I listened to without understanding – http://www.universal-path.org/puje.htm. You can decide if it’s religious or not. You can also decide if an element of consent would have been appropriate.
The Mantra – According to the Bob Roth video, the Maharishi-trained teachers “know how to select the proper mantra, the proper sound for an individual”. And once you have received your mantra, you are not allowed to tell anyone, it’s a secret. After some internet research it would seem you’re not supposed to tell anyone because you might discover the mantra’s not so “specially-selected” after all. I checked this meditation mantras list to see if the doubters were right. Sure enough mine appeared at #30 Mantra for students aged 35 – 40 years old.
TM is billed as “a simple, effortless, technique that requires no religious belief”. If it’s so simple, and so effortless, and you can literally Google your mantra, why does it cost so much to learn? (The Mallorca course fee was 790 euros for four 90 minute sessions, before concessions.) I don’t know the answer to that question I am afraid – my fault for not completing the course. You’ll have to form your own opinions.
For what it’s worth, here is my conclusion. You can say I am ill-informed or cynical, but it’s my view and I am most certainly entitled to one.
By all means meditate. Do TM. Do anything you like. I have tried the world-famous Headspace guided meditations and I found them enjoyable and effective. I have also sat quietly on the beach, on a mountain, in a garden, on a church pew, and allowed thoughts to come and go, and felt surprisingly stress-free after just a few minutes. Furthermore it cost me nothing. As someone wrote on social news site Reddit, “Meditation is free, man. You could be the poorest man in the world, and you could still meditate as much as kings.” And that is how I will be conducting my meditation in the future.
“Against” by a former TM teacher – http://www.suggestibility.org/index.shtml
All the evidence “for” on the official TM site – http://www.tm.org/