TM and flipping out

“Flipping out” were the words that I and others often used to describe Transcendental Meditation practitioners who had episodes of mental illness.

I didn’t flip out until 18 years after starting TM. Unlike many others, I didn’t flip out on a TM residential rounding course. (Rounding is the procedure of doing rounds on a residential course; one round consisted of a sequence of asanas, pranayama, and the TM technique.)

Why we will never know how many flipped out from practicing TM

  1. Most TMers who flipped out (or who had some other kind of roughness) left the TM movement. TMers who remained in the TM movement had mostly positive experiences. In experimental research, this is known as attrition bias or survivorship bias.
  2. The TM organization had the theoretical position that only good can come from TM.
  3. The marketers of TM were obviously interested in downplaying or hiding the stories of flipped out TMers. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the TM organization took the position that flipped out TMers were mentally weak.
  4. No one knew that kundalini crises and mental illnesses could come from spiritual practices.
  5. TMers who had mental illness tried to “keep their heads down” because there is a stigma to mental illness.
  6. Application procedures for TM rounding courses tried to screen out individuals who had previous mental health issues, and therefore TMers who wanted to go on courses hid their mental health issues in order to go on courses. Some who needed psychological help chose not to get help so that they could honestly say that they had not seen a mental health professional.
  7. Some TMers had symptoms of mental illness but mistakenly interpreted their symptoms as a sign that they were close to enlightenment.
  8. A standard procedure at TM residence courses was to assign a buddy to everyone for friendship purposes and to keep on an eye on everyone’s well-being. Some unfortunate buddies became caregivers responsible for watching flipped out meditators and keeping them out of trouble.

The TM movement has a remarkable history of meditators flipping out. Rounding on teacher training courses was dramatically curtailed after 1972 because quite a few people flipped out during the high-rounding courses previously held in India, Spain, and Italy.

Many ex-TMers feel that the TM movement hid these mental health problems, downplayed the severity of the problems by calling it heavy unstressing, and blamed the problems on pre-existing mental illnesses.

An argument can be made that some people came to TM in the hopes of overcoming mental health problems that they already had, but it appears that more problems were triggered during rounding courses.

Although most discussion about TMers flipping out revolves around happenings on TM rounding courses, there is a possibility that some TMers flipped out from just doing their twice per day TM technique at home.

When I was a fairly new TM teacher, I was shocked to learn that one of my enthusiastic meditators had been admitted to a mental hospital. This is my only meditator that I can remember being admitted to a hospital, but there may have been others who had minor or major problems that I was unaware of. Like other TM teachers, I lost track of almost all of the people that I instructed in TM.

In a previous blog post, I hypothesized why some people experience mania from doing spiritual practices and others don’t.

This blog post is about flipping out from practicing Transcendental Meditation and the TM-Sidhis program, but flipping out is not unique to TM.  I believe that being involved in other spiritual practices and religions has caused some people to flip out too.

Quotes and links about TMers flipping out

From Ned Wynn about leading TM teacher training courses, quote appears two-thirds of the way down in a long article at  “We were holding a training course in Majorca, and I was placed in charge of a hotel filled with 250 student-teachers. They were all meditating about eight hours a day, and some of them were simply coming unraveled. One guy developed anorexia nervosa, thought that he was getting enlightened and nearly starved to death. Another guy started walking around sewing up his face with an imaginary needle and thread. Still another guy, a teacher, found out his girlfriend was cheating on him, so he cut the crotches out of all her panties and made a necklace out of them. He placed the necklace of multicolored crotches around the neck of the guru’s likeness on a poster. I found that kind of inventive. But then the asshole set fire to the hotel. That was it. I began to hide out.”

From    “A feature of my mania and hypo mania is extreme blissful sensations and thoughts of spirituality, each time leading me to believe I am becoming enlightened. It is not true though as it always devolves into chaos. It can be, in the beginning, very calm, serene, feelings of love and delight.

A former practitioner of transcendental meditation I’ve clearly seen that meditation can trigger this, that even thinking about it can start me down the manic path.”

From deep within comments at   “Within a month after I started working at MIU in December of 1974, a  guy named (name redacted) ran through the plate glass window next to the entrance door of the dining hall, and he was sent to the mental hospital in Mt. Pleasant, where many MIU/MUM students have ended up.”

From  [Editor’s comment:  When I saw the film “David Wants to Fly,” I had the good fortune to find Dr. Herbert Benson, author of “The Relaxation Response” sitting right behind me!  I introduced myself to him, and he told me a few stories. Included was, “I observed the course in Fuiggi, Italy. Since I am an M.D., when I and course participants got off the plane in the U.S., I did sign a bunch of them straight into mental hospitals.”]

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