“TM? Is that still around?”
That’s the immediate reaction of many to the mention of Transcendental Meditation.
After a bright turn in the psychedelic limelight of the 1960s when it was embraced by celebrities such as the Beatles and Donovan, it seemed to go the way of bell bottoms, flower power and love beads.
But others maintain that it’s never gone away. Even in the years when TM “was not so popular in the United State, it was extremely popular in other areas of the world,” says Bill Sands, the director of the Maharishi Enlightenment Center in Paoli, Pa.
There are about 1.5 million people in the United States who practice TM twice a day. Repeating a mantra given by a teacher, they settle into a quiet and relaxed state.
“It’s as if you are a deep-sea diver with lead boots on,” says Donovan. “You dive immediately and deeper than ever with TM.”
Adherents describe a blissful state. And their well-being is echoed in medical study after study, about 700 in all, attesting to the benefits of meditation, specifically TM.
It may be cyclical
Helen Hamilton, co-director of a TM center in Summit, believes that what may have waned will soon wax. “My feeling is that we’re preparing for a more positive aspect of that cycle,” she says. One of the reasons for the resurgence of interest, she says, is the work of someone who may seem an unlikely champion: filmmaker David Lynch.
About six months ago, he began the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education with a goal of raising enough money to train any child who wants to learn how to practice TM.
Lynch, who has been doing TM since the 1970s, told Newsweek in an August interview that he meditates twice a day, no matter where he is.
“All the stresses and fears and anxieties begin to recede and a really beautiful inner kind of energy and happiness grows,” he says. “Those things that used to knock you out don’t have the same power any more. Things get smoother and way more fun.”
Donovan has joined as the musical arm of Lynch’s foundation and the two are planning three free concerts in the next few weeks to spread the word on TM.
What’s more, there has been a surge in recent planning for 3,000 “peace palaces,” centers for meditation, incorporating spa treatments and holistic health approaches.
Construction and placement of the pre-engineered peace palaces are according to ancient Vedic tradition of natural balance with an entrance facing north or east.
Centers have been planned for area locations such as Cherry Hill and Philadelphia, while a proposal for a graduate school devoted to the teachings of the Maharishi in Montgomery Township hit a major snag last month when officials shot down a crucial zone change.
A humble beginning
It all stems from the teachings of a gentle Hindu monk who in the 1950s began teaching the way to enlightenment with what he called Transcendental Meditation.
As it was taken up by countercultural icons of the ’60s and ’70s, photos of the mystical Maharishi Mahesh Yoga of the grizzled locks and flowing robes appeared regularly. Those images and the alternative nature of TM may make it all seem a bit cultish.
“There can be that impression,” says Hamilton. “People will make of it whatever they will. Some come to the center regularly and others meditate on their own.”
People from all walks of life “who have been meditating for 20 are still meditating,” she says.
Hamilton describes her own journey to the center in Summit, Union County.
About 30 years ago, she lived across from Fort Lee High School and decided to take an adult-education class in yoga. One of her classmates asked about meditation and the teacher recommended the book “Tranquillity Without Pills.” Hamilton, who had been experiencing headaches, made a note of the name and thought she might try it to get some relief.
“Then I completely forgot about it,” she says.
During a trip to see a friend in Greenwich Village, in the dusk of a February evening, Hamilton passed a bookstore and had an “overwhelming urge” to step inside. She recalls debating with herself because she could not think of a single book she wanted or needed. Nevertheless, she went it, passed a table loaded with books, and promptly saw “Tranquillity Without Pills.”
“I read it on the subway and the bus home and stayed up all night to finish” Hamilton says of the book about Transcendental Meditation.
– Is TM a religion?
So her path was turned toward TM and she has continued meditating to this day.
She explains its allure this way:
“All of meditation involves some effort, concentration or contemplation, but this is completely effortless and quite natural. … The mind naturally seeks the more charming aspects of thinking. It brings you to the source of thought or creative intelligence.”
One difference between TM and other forms of meditation, says Hamilton, is that TM “allows the body to experience the deepest state of rest. The body gets the chance to eliminate stress and not just manage stress.”
Another difference is the price. A typical seven-day TM course costs $2,500. Considering the benefits, says Sands, the director of Philadelphia-area programs, it is a bargain.
Sands, who has practiced TM for 36 of his 55 years, holds a doctorate from the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, and lived for a time near the Maharishi himself, in the Netherlands.
“If you can think a thought, then you can learn,” he says of TM.
There’s a very great need for this now, he says, referring to the peace palaces and the schools for ayurvedic — or ancient Hindu — medicine and agriculture.
“There’s a growing dissatisfaction with the medical system, a dissatisfaction with food production, a growing concern for all aspects of the environment. Global warming is a real concern.
“People are opening the door to alternatives.”