Transcendental meditation

Dismissed by cynics, applauded by medics, transcendental meditation is nothing if not controversial

‘It was a great gift,’ said Sir Paul McCartney earlier this year. ‘For me it came at a time when we were looking for some stability towards the end of the crazy ’60s. It’s a lifelong gift that we can call on any time.’

At a press conference for Change Begins Within (an initiative that hopes to get one million children involved in transcendental meditation, or TM, put together by Twin Peaks director David Lynch), Macca’s fond enthusiasm was somewhat at odds with the general malaise that soured the Beatles’ meditation retreat back in 1968. After the fab four followed Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the man credited with introducing the Indian-Himalayan meditation technique to the West) to Rishikesh, India, John Lennon dismissed him as a charlatan. Though he apologised for his youthful outbursts later, it seemed impossible that a Beatle-tarnished reputation could ever be wiped clean.

Not so. By the mid-’70s some 40,000 Americans per month were reportedly signing up for classes, many of whom found the simple, schedule-friendly techniques so beneficial that they practise it to this day. David Lynch, a practitioner since 1973, has said that a mere fortnight of twice-daily practice was all it took to reduce the angers and anxieties that controlled his life at the time. ‘Those negative things started lifting,’ he said recently. ‘It sounds strange, but I appreciated and enjoyed the doing of things more.’ It’s not just the ageing hippies who talk it up, either. Empirical evaluations have shown that the technique can have an effect on human physiology, reducing stress levels significantly and even having some positive effect on heart diseases. Even the science bods are recommending it now.

‘It’s practised by people of all levels of intelligence, of all ages, cultures and religions,’ explains Surendra Kumar, a teacher at the Creative Intelligence Consultancy in Dubai. ‘There are many reasons they come to us. Some just want to learn, others come for health reasons and many just want to be happy in life.’ Surendra is willing to travel to teach keen students – a kind of TM delivery service, if you will. In fact, he recently finished a TM course in Abu Dhabi, which was hailed a success by its participants.

A misconception commonly held is that TM has religious connotations – possibly cultish in nature. Again, this was an unfortunate by-product of the Maharishi’s association with The Beatles: George Harrison, in particular, was an enthusiastic advocate of Indian religions, and many observers jumped to conclusions. ‘It has nothing to do with religion,’ says Surendra with the air of a man who has had to deal with this line of questioning before. ‘It’s a peaceful mental activity that takes the mind to deeper levels of the thinking process. Though it was only introduced to the Western world 50 years ago, it’s as old as life itself.’ It is estimated that six million students have studied TM in that short space of time, a number that puts it slightly beyond the realms of cult status.

But, why TM rather than other forms of meditation? Put simply: people seem to find it easier. Whereas other techniques require you to blank the mind (often the largest hurdle for many students), or focus on a single aspect, TM uses a repetitive technique – a series of vocal vibrations or sounds, often with no meaning – to lull the mind into a peaceful state, ‘transcending’ the regular thoughts and conundrums that bombard us from minute to minute.

Unfortunately, the mumbo jumbo associated with TM is hard to avoid. Wondering what the effects of ‘bliss consciousness’ and ‘self-referral intelligence’ might be, we spoke to Arif Dawood, a participant on the recent Abu Dhabi course. ‘I’ve done several types of meditation and heard about TM a long time ago,’ he explains. ‘I would say it’s one of the easiest to practise and, although it’s too early to notice any major benefits, it certainly makes me feel very relaxed.’

If it’s so easy, why bother finding a teacher? Well, just as you might benefit from instruction in the gym, an experienced teacher can help shape the techniques to suit your situation. Whether you come to it as a student of relaxation, for health reasons, or even via an out-of-control Beatles obsession, one thing quickly becomes apparent: transcendental meditation may be as old as the hills, but in this frenetic modern world where instant results are imperative, you might find it’s a lifelong gift you wouldn’t wish to return.
For more information on arranging a TM course in Abu Dhabi, call the Creative Intelligence Consultancy on 050 207 0347 or email info@tm.ae. A website will soon be up and running at www.tm.ae

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