Why Transcendental Meditation (TM) is so Powerful and Effective and How to Do It
I have been teaching meditation for over ten years and practising and studying the various systems for more than fifteen years I understand the mechanism of various meditations, but I must admit when I was going through anger and depression issues the one meditation that saved me was Transcendental Meditation. It holds a special place for me because of that and I owe it this blog.
I want to start out my saying I have never been formerly trained by a Transcendental Meditation official teacher or had anything to do with the organisation, so my comments and views here are entirely my own and do not represent the official movement in any way. I have been trained by a Tibetan Buddhist Master in mantra and tantra where I learnt the foundations of what I want to discuss. Actually, I am very critical of the fees charged by the TM organisation, often upwards of two thousand dollars for learning a technique which is relatively simple in method. The main thing you get for your money is a personal secret mantra, but I think any phrase could be used, at best the importance of your own personal mantra is a placebo.
The Transcendental Meditation technique was brought to the west in 1965 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and all criticism of his use of aggressive marketing aside he seems like the real deal. From what I have learnt about Maharishi he has extensive knowledge of the Hindi spiritual view, including the philosophy of enlightenment or spiritual liberation and to his credit explained it very well to modern westerners. The list of celebrities that use Transcendental Meditation is impressive from Musicians like John Lennon and George Harrison to Comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Russell Brand to Director David Lynch who has become a forerunner in the promotion of the technique and the movement.
Getting back to my own personal experiences and the laying bare of their secrets which is my personal mission as a meditation teacher: to make all ancient meditation methods understandable, available and de -mystified.
So why is Transcendental Meditation so effective? put simply it’s because it employs the thinking mind instead of trying to ignore it, silence it or subdue it. It uses thoughts to transcend thoughts, which is an extremely skillful method. To give you the heads up about the technique, without going into the philosophy of enlightenment yet, it is simply repeating a mantra over and over in your head for a set period of time. A mantra has different sacred and profound meaning in the Buddhist and Hindu spiritual traditions but here it is simply adopted as a phrase with no special significance to replace the incessant thinking of thoughts. You employ the mind by giving it something to do, namely keep thinking over and over again of the one phrase, this is something actually everyone is pretty good at doing naturally.
To go a bit deeper into why this simple method works so well you have to understand what creates emotional suffering, that is disturbing emotions like anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety and even depression – all these disturbing emotions are cause by thinking. Thoughts come with their own emotional charge that researchers have even discovered last about 90 seconds, (90 second secret here) the problem is we keep thinking over things reigniting the emotional charge until we become sick and weak drained of all our energy. As Eckhart Tolle so insightfully said:
“It is never the situation that cause suffering it is your thoughts about it.”
Or like the great 17th Century Zen Master Bankei when he said to a woman who asked him “…how do I stop all my suffering over my dead husband. Every time I think of him I get sad and depressed” the Zen Master simply replied “stop thinking about him.” This might strike you as callous, disrespectful or even repressing the emotion rather than ‘dealing with it’ but it has some profound and inconvenient truth to it. I was studying counselling therapy at the time when I read that passage and it just blew me away as incredibly easy, effective and a massive Zen slap in the face of modern psychological techniques that usually re-frame things, pour over past histories or actively challenge the legitimacy of thoughts, the Zen Master just exploded all of that non-sense with one decisive ‘just stop it.’
Of course that is easier said than done. To just stop it, to just drop the last thought and focus on the present moment as it is, is a key skill in meditation especially the practice of mindfulness. But I found in desperate times I was constantly going over my problems and worries and thinking of people that pissed me off or thinking about tragic world events, my meditations just seem to fail me. This is where Transcendental Meditation really helped me in these times of crisis and I think it can help anyone who practises it too. I now include teaching all beginners to repeat the mantra breathing in and breathing out in co-unison with their breath as a thoughtful aid to focus and relaxation. You can try the technique here in my guided meditation.
As I have discovered in long meditation retreats you can get rid of the surface thoughts but then there is an undercurrent of quiet thoughts that are always going on just under the surface of normal thinking, keeping the emotional charges of disturbing emotions alive. So this is where repeatedly thinking a mantra has the power to drown out both the surface noise and eventually even the quieter undercurrent of thoughts until all that is left is the repetition of an innocuous and neutral mantra and the serene state of natural awareness.
There is the opposite effect which positive affirmations take advantage of, by repeating empowering and ‘feel good’ statements over and over. They make you feel good, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all, it’s just not a method that takes you all the way to the clear heart of yourself. Just like ruminating on worries causes a negative disturbing charge through your body thinking of positive thoughts creates a pleasant and positive energy through your body. Like I said there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel empowered or brave or abundant but these are artificially created feelings they are not naturally emanating from your true self; they are mind created, temporary and just like recreational drugs you need ever increasing doses to maintain the initial high of good feelings. To be quite blunt you end up delusional – always trying to think positively to get your fix of good feelings, but that’s a story for another bog.
TM is said to be one of the most researched and studied techniques there is, and the Transcendental Meditation organisation is often boasting of how it is ‘the most scientifically proven’ techniques. I’m not questioning that, my experiences accord with these findings, I would like to add a bit of Eastern philosophy to these findings. I think these scientific findings also go a long way to prove that our natural state of awareness unsullied by the thinking mind is naturally clear and peaceful, dare I say happy. It is not that much of a radical idea, except that it does challenge the classic Descartes’ idea of “I think therefore I am” – now, a more accurate rephrasing of that would be: I think therefore I get stressed. It also challenges the self development movement because I think these scientific findings point to what mystics have been saying for thousands of years: namely we are already the peace and happiness we are searching for. Happiness is more of a discovery than a creation.
The ‘I am’ as some Eastern teachers call it is the ground of our being the clear existential awareness which exists in every moment a millisecond before thoughts, judgements, interpretations or what Robert Anton Wilson calls the reality tunnel is constructed. Which are simply the thoughts, ideas and beliefs that prejudice and colour the alive clarity of the present moment. A great Zen Koan points to this by asking ‘who are you before you’re named?’ In other words there is existence before thoughts, that’s not only the heart of the matter, but finding it is exactly the purpose of life and the ultimate pursuit. This is the perennial philosophy elucidated by Aldous Huxley or as Maharishi says:
“Transcendental Meditation practitioner transcends all mental activity and experiences the ‘source of thought’, which is said to be pure silence, ‘pure awareness’ or ‘transcendental Being’, ‘the ultimate reality of life.”
Accessing this enlightened clear presence behind all thoughts is the purpose of the TM technique, repeating the mantra is just the method to get you there or get you beyond thinking. Importantly repeating the mantra does not just stop worrying about problems but it also potentially suspends such ingrained subtle beliefs as personal identity and cultural narratives. As the founder of TM Maharishi says:
“The goal of the Transcendental Meditation technique is the state of enlightenment. This means we experience that inner calmness, that quiet state of least excitation, even when we are dynamically busy.”
Once you have repeated the mantra long enough to stop all other compulsive and subtle thinking you can let the mantra quieten down to a whisper in your mind. You can start the mantra again if thoughts intrude on your silence but eventually you can quieten all thinking long enough so all that is left is the peaceful and joyful emptiness of awareness. This is not dull or passive but instead alive with creative potential, sensitivity to others and a deep primordial wisdom which is as old as the universe itself. The key recognition is that when thoughts and planning inevitably arise again you can keep contact with the enormity of silence that is always and forever in the transcendent background.
Written by Chad Foreman
For A Free Guided Relaxation Meditation with Chad CLICK HERE
Transcendental Meditation: Mechanics of the technique.
(Maharishi Mahesh Yogi)