September 5, 2011

Transcendental Meditation: The Good, the Bad, & the Black Sheep. ~ Sara Lindsey

Recently, I graduated from the Maharishi University of Management

…a college in the Midwest that views itself as a center of peace and radiance. After four years there, the only thing I know for sure: it’s in the center of the country.

This college could be called the epicenter of the Transcendental Meditation movement, a technique which is initiated with a puja, wherein you are given a secret mantra (a sound meant to be used as a vehicle to travel deeper into your mind), specialized for you individually.

Transcendental Meditation, or T.M., was brought to the United States in the ’60s from India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, most famously known as the guru to the Fab Four. This specific kind of meditation is seen by practitioners as something that could potentially save the world. The thing that sets T.M. aside from other forms of meditation is the belief that it is “effortless and easy,” while other kinds require mental stress and “trying.”

When I first began going to MUM in 2004, I was put through an introductory course meant to teach newcomers the benefits and purpose of T.M., its surrounding community, and how we were meant to view it. We were encouraged to talk about our experiences, and our opinions…as long as they were positive. Questions were frowned upon, mostly because the two teachers in charge of the class (also teachers of the Transcendental Meditation technique) were visibly upset by challenges. This came from an inability to comment on anything from a personal standpoint. Most answers to questions were either, “Well, Maharishi always said…” or “…I’m…sorry, I’ve…got no answer for that.” These weren’t welcome words to an 18 year old rebellious girl.

In this introductory class, one of our assignments was to make a drawing of our experience with the technique, or an insight that we had. Mind you, this was actually the original form of payment to learn T.M. in the ’60s. One of my favorite writing teachers at MUM drew a rabbit and a tulip when she was a girl in Holland, in order to be given her mantra. I on the other hand paid $2,500. We had to make one of these drawings every afternoon as part of the class, and on the last day, my drawing consisted of a large cruise ship sporting a money symbol, and a trademark to its upper right, as so:  $™. There were 3 or 4 people on this ship, smiling and happy and glowing. In front of  it was a small tugboat overcrowded with little frowning stick figures, caught in the billows of smoke from the ship. Their boats insignia was a cents symbol. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly “sold” yet. In fact I was so put off by what I felt towards this movement that I left the school and didn’t go back for four years.

I asked myself many times why I wanted to go back, among many other questions. Another big one was, “Why do I still practice T.M.?” I had completely ceased my practice for a full year after leaving, then something in me began to miss it. I began meditating again, using the mantra I was given, and continued having mixed feelings about my own habit. There was no avoiding the truth. I felt good when I meditated, and I still do. There are times when I don’t fulfill two meditations a day (one morning, one evening), and it generally doesn’t result in anything cataclysmic. However, to openly admit missing meditations while at the university is unacceptable. Because of this, I amongst many other students ,was pegged by some as a black sheep. This created a tangible rift between the kids who had been raised within The Movement, and those who hadn’t.

So…why did I go back? Why would I return to a place that made me feel like dirty feet on clean carpet? There were a few surface-level reasons, such as needing a degree and not wanting to start over somewhere else. Then there were other things, like the organic vegetarian dining hall, the scholastic emphasis on sustainability, the local dairy farm I’d visit weekly just to feed the cows, and the people I had met who I had started to miss after four years. And on top of that, there were reasons I couldn’t explain. Something in me just knew I had to go back and finish what I had started.

After being exposed to a community engulfed in dogma, I have learned that the most important thing to remember when holding any kind of sacred space for yourself is this: all experience is individual. Yes, there is the collective consciousness, but there is also the you within the us. I think of it like bubbles all coming from the same wand, or petals from the same flower, flowers from the same field, fields from the same planet…I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. If you back up far enough, everything is interconnected. However, on a small, individual level, it’s just that. I enjoy T.M., but how can one thing be for everybody?

Within The Movement, they speak ceaselessly about something called “Self-Referral,” which is basically another way of saying “intuition.” Everyone can tap into their inner guidance, yet it is the one thing you’re sheltered from utilizing in the TM community, unless you have the sacred touch of an enlightened soul. You can never know if what you’re doing is truly right unless you’re enlightened, and until that point, you can just keep quoting Maharishi. However, should you claim to be enlightened, you must prepare yourself to face the wrath of white-lab-coated members of the Movement and the research that backs them. They are heavily armed with EEG machines, countless books of statistics dating back to the 50s, and instruments to monitor every tick and beat your body has ever made. Their answer to everything is deeply rooted in scientific study, hard facts, and yet loops back on itself by priding so much of the university on the teachings of John Hagelin, a brilliant quantum physics professor. “Quantum” being the key word here. We live in a universe where anything and everything is possible, so how can facts ever be truly hard? When floating through the ether of space/time, facts are nothing but adorable little nuances that decorate the infinite walls of the cosmos.

I have gained new views on myself through this practice, and have been using my mantra for the last seven years. That’s not to say that I think Transcendental Meditation is the only meditation for me. It’s just the one I’ve been taught. Creating a silent space for your mind to settle is extremely valuable, and can be done by anybody. Yes, meditate. But look around! Shop around if you like to “invest,” or just stroll and seek if you enjoy a good walk. I myself prefer the barter system, and think that there is something cold about mixing money with spirituality.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi told his followers to be self-referral. They then repackaged that idea and presented it to the newbies, not speaking from the heart, but repeating from their memory. I would like to tear away the gift wrapping and present this idea in its original form as best I can. Maharishi was brilliant, and had many incredible yet simple statements. One of which was this: “If something feels wrong, don’t do it.” I got something out of that. Perhaps something different than the guy sitting next to me. Gaining insight is a very different, individual experience than merely repeating what you’ve heard. In order to distinct one from the other, we must indulge our interests, gain wisdom from the insights of others through sharing, but above all, get to the root of what is being said to us individually, not always collectively. In other words, be self-referral.



Sara Lindsey graduated from the Maharishi University of Management with a degree in Communications & Media with an Emphasis in Writing, since there wasn’t a Journalism major to speak of. Some of her past and current interests include but are not limited to: yoga, raw food, as much travel as possible, Swedish electro-pop, and riding her bike. Sara was born in Morocco, has lived throughout the US, and is a new resident to Boulder Colorado.


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