Dye the cloth

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught that the benefits of practicing Transcendental Meditation accumulated over time. The analogy to clarify this accumulation was called “dye the cloth”. Here is a link that has a transcript and video of a 1972 talk by Maharishi in Houston, Texas in which he uses the “dye the cloth” analogy.

Briefly described, in order to dye a white cloth to be yellow the cloth is dipped into a vat of yellow dye and then hung out in the sun which fades the cloth. Then the cloth is dipped into the dye again and put into the sun again but this time the cloth doesn’t fade quite as much. By repeating this process numerous times, finally the cloth becomes colorfast.

The TM technique was like infusing Pure Consciousness into the mind, and activity was fading most but not all of that infusion. Through regular practice, the mind would eventually hold onto Pure Consciousness even while in activity.

The accumulation of benefits was supposed to lead to enlightenment. This was a main principle of the TM movement and helped to keep me and others practicing TM regularly twice a day.

However, this analogy and description did not fit my experience. I did benefit from each meditation in relaxation, energy, and alertness, but the benefit did not accumulate over the months and years. I say this in retrospect; when I was a TM teacher, I believed that I and others were accumulating benefits even when it was not apparent.

Contrary to the theory that benefits gradually accumulate, some traditions and people state that there can be a dark night of soul before enlightenment. Thus, whether a seeker feels great or terrible, they can fool themselves into thinking that they are on the verge of enlightenment.

Another way to describe the TM benefit was through releasing physical stresses in the body. Maharishi taught that we accumulated stresses in our physiology and that thoughts in meditation were an indication that stress had been released. One would be enlightened after all stresses had been released.

Another way to describe the accumulation of benefit involves the awakening of the kundalini energy center. I don’t know how often that Maharishi spoke about this, but here is a link to a 1970 transcript. I and other TM teachers may not have directly heard Maharishi speak about kundalini, but we were aware of this theory by talking with each other. Kundalini energy was supposed to move up the spine and activate parts of the body. Enlightenment was the result of kundalini energy activating energy centers in the head. To facilitate the upward rise of kundalini energy, I and others would meditate with an upright spine while sitting cross-legged or in full lotus.

Conclusion

These theories enticed me and others to meditate regularly and to go on courses in order to speed our growth to enlightenment. Although there was an immediate benefit from practicing TM, I did not experience an accumulation of benefit over the years of practicing TM.

I doubt that a state of enlightenment exists. I overdid meditation and related spiritual activities; this led to my kundalini crisis/mental health problem. I suspect that many other meditators and religious people have overdone their spiritual pursuits.

I and others have gone on a wild goose chase in which we think and hope that we are either enlightened or we are close to enlightenment.

Powerful silence

TM teachers often talk about the increasing charm of going deeper in meditation. Sometimes the charm and silence of meditation is much greater than at other times; I refer to these times as powerful silence. It then seems that the silence is vast and powerful. At the moment of powerful silence, the silence seems that it could be life-changing.

The following is an excerpt from A Symphony of Silence: An Enlightened Vision by George Ellis: As we were meditating, I began to experience deep inner silence, and I felt the inner presence of pure expanding love. I had the innocent thought that I wished the nun could also have this experience. When I opened my eyes the nun turned to me and said in her religious context, “You had the experience of God, and you shared it with me.”

In my opinion, interpreting powerful silence as an experience of God or as an experience worth seeking is where religions and spiritual traditions made a major mistake!

Things that I infer:

  • There is a “sweet spot” for how long to meditate in order to get maximum benefits. Meditating past the “sweet spot” could bring more harm than good.
  • Powerful silence in meditation can entice one to go to great lengths to re-experience powerful silence. In my opinion, becoming a gung ho seeker of enlightenment or other spiritual experiences is a pitiable path.
  • A particular physiology is the underlying basis for experiencing powerful silence, and this physiology is not necessarily a healthy state.
  • The esoteric explanations of Pure Consciousness and transcending are probably wrong. A state of enlightenment probably does not exist but probably can’t be proven or disproven.
  • It is forgivable that gurus and yogis came up with an esoteric explanation of powerful silence. It is forgivable that they mistook a kundalini crisis as enlightenment. But it is questionable (and perhaps not forgivable) when gurus acted as if they had all answers to life and then they took disciples/followers.

Conking out in TM

There is a current controversy in the Golden Domes of Fairfield, Iowa that involves falling asleep during meditation. Apparently some TM-Sidhas who are financially encouraged to do their meditation program in the domes are falling asleep and have been described as dozing for dollars.

I will not comment on the controversy of whether or not to keep track of who is falling asleep in the Golden Domes. Instead I will discuss my experience of falling asleep during TM in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

I used to use the phrase “conking out” to describe the way I sometimes fell asleep while practicing TM in the afternoon. Conking out is falling asleep while not realizing that you are about to fall asleep. I would start meditating and be aware that I was meditating for a while, but then the next thing I realized is that my chin and head were down on my chest and that I had been asleep.

I did not like the way I felt after falling asleep in TM. I would feel groggy afterwards.

The instruction that TM teachers commonly gave for sleep in TM was to meditate for 5 minutes when you wake up before getting back into activity. This instruction didn’t work for me because I would fall asleep again when meditating for an additional 5 minutes.

In retrospect, I think that falling asleep in TM may have indicated that I had been meditating too much and meditating was no longer healthy for me.

There are many different degrees of being ungrounded and not being at optimum health. Eventually I became so ungrounded that I had a kundalini crisis. My experiences of falling asleep in TM may have been an early warning sign that I was overdoing TM.

Ungroundedness

This blog post is not about New Age techniques of grounding or earthing such as being barefoot directly on the ground.

To me, being ungrounded means that one is out of touch with practical living and practical reality. Although ungroundedness seems primarily in the mind, there must be an accompanying physiology. My hunch is that there are unhealthy changes in neurotransmitters.

Meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices are not in the realm of practical reality so if done in excess, they tend to make one ungrounded.

Similarly, thinking about spiritual matters in excess can make one ungrounded.

A strong yearning for spiritual goals escalates ungroundedness.

Being ungrounded can both be a cause and a result of impractical spiritual priorities.

When a seeker has faith, due to the insistence or recommendation of their teaching, they are likely to remain regular in the spiritual practices. However, faith is, in actuality, a spiritual practice by itself. Faith changes one’s mindset on the nature of life and makes one more ungrounded.

Being ungrounded can be a significant health risk. I believe that being overly-involved in spiritual practices and/or spiritual thinking puts us out of step with mankind’s evolutionary adaptations. Just as we aren’t adapted to sit inside all day long eating Twinkies in artificial light, we aren’t well-suited for long periods of meditation, devotion, religious thinking, or having an obsession with enlightenment.

In my case, I was able to run a business while being ungrounded, but I continued to do things that worsened my ungroundedness. I spent about 3 hours per day in spiritual practices. I chose to greatly increase my consumption of raw food, and I chose to do things like fasting and detoxing to deepen my meditation experiences. I became more and more ungrounded until something snapped. TA-DA! I was beyond mild ungroundedness into the manic delusion of a kundalini crisis.

My ungroundedness became super-extreme during my kundalini crisis, but there can be detriment in even small degrees of ungroundedness. I think ungroundedness hurts emotional stability, decision making, and health. And being ungrounded certainly limits success in society.

God-intoxicated people are obviously so ungrounded that they can’t function like a normal person, but even a little bit of ungroundedness will affect thinking, emotions, and physical health.

Devotion to a guru

I think that devotion to a guru is rather sad because it leads to an impractical life.

Devotion to a guru is often coupled with a strong desire for enlightenment and with the associated wild goose chase for enlightenment.

Having some peak experiences around a guru can be mistaken to indicate that one is close to enlightenment. A few peak experiences and the quest for spiritual knowledge can entice people to devote their lives to a guru.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi touched on the topic of devotion in his book, A new commentary and translation of the Bhagavad-Gita. Maharishi wrote that devotion and service to a guru was a way to speed one’s evolution to Cosmic Consciousness because you would be attuning yourself to the Cosmic Consciousness of the guru’s mind.

Maharishi had also groomed TM teachers to become some sort of distant devotees by relating a story about Trotaka who was one of the 4 disciples of the great saint, Shankara. Trotaka was known as a dullard who was not interested in spiritual knowledge, but he showed his devotion to Shankara by doing mundane tasks like cooking and carrying water. The story goes that Trotaka was enlightened while washing Shankara’s clothes, and that he was enlightened sooner than the other 3 disciples who were engrossed in spiritual discourses.

During a question and answer session on one of the TM teacher training videotapes, a meditator stated that he respected Maharishi similar to how he respected his father. The meditator wondered why he didn’t feel the level of devotion to Maharishi that apparently others felt as they fawned over Maharishi. Maharishi replied that his experience was okay, but that the relationship would grow in time. I could relate to that meditator’s feeling because I also didn’t feel reverent or mushy towards Maharishi.

In the TM movement, there was peer pressure for TM teachers to show outward signs of devotion to Maharishi. There was peer pressure to avoid criticizing the TM organization. Since Maharishi was the guru who was supposedly in the highest state of consciousness and living in accord with natural law, no meditator could dispute any part of the teaching and remain in the group.

Though outward devotion to Maharishi was not innate to my character, I emulated the devotional behavior of other TM teachers.

I now think that the outward display of devotion and the inner feelings of devotion to a guru or any other person are not healthy. Devotion obscures common sense and diminishes critical thinking.

Since I doubt that a state of enlightenment exists, I think attuning to the guru’s mind is a fast way to nowhere.

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 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 http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/youre-handsomer-than-jimmy-stewart-and-you-will-always-live-in-beverly-hills-19871008  “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 http://www.psychforums.com/bipolar/topic117413.html#p1194187    “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 https://beta.groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/FairfieldLife/conversations/topics/50618    “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 http://tmfree.blogspot.com/2015/12/conversation-with-exit-counselor-1987.html  [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.”]

 

 

The amazing story of Suzanne Segal

SuzanneSegalAt one time, Suzanne Segal was a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. My wife knew Suzanne when she was a TM teacher. My wife was envious of her charisma and competence.

In childhood, Suzanne had moments of psychological detachment and “vastness” which would scare her.

Suzanne experienced an emotional trauma on her TM-Sidhis course when she received a letter from her fiancé that called off their engagement and informed her that he was going to go on the Purusha course. Purusha is the celibate monk-like program of the TM organization.

After she learned the TM-Sidhis, she asked Maharishi Mahesh Yogi why when transcending she sometimes experienced great fear as if she was going to die. Maharishi laughed and told her not to worry and to just let go.

Unhappy with her experiences and with the direction of the TM movement, Suzanne soon fled from the TM organization, from TM knowledge, and from the practice of TM and the TM-Sidhis.

In 1982 while getting onto a bus in Paris she had a major shift in awareness and lost her sense of self. Since she understood the witnessing experience of Cosmic Consciousness as described by Maharishi, she sometimes described her experience as witnessing. However, at first, she was having a hellish, fearful experience so she couldn’t reconcile her experience with Cosmic Consciousness.

At the urging of her brother, Suzanne met with another TM teacher who had announced his own enlightenment but was actually having his own mental health crisis. The blind leading the blind is an apt statement. The “enlightened” TM teacher at first sensed a high state of consciousness in Suzanne and thought he could help her. Weeks later their relationship ended when he stated that she was evil because she was Jewish.

As time passed, Suzanne was able to function with seeming normalcy although she still did not have a sense of self. She completed a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1991 and continued to research her own condition.

Suzanne consulted with various psychologists and psychiatrists over the years. Though she was told by one that she had Depersonalization Disorder, she did not think it was a perfect fit because she was able to function normally in everyday life despite the loss of her individual self.

She also consulted with Buddhist teachers in California. Buddhism cultivates loss of ego, and some Buddhist teachers congratulated her on attaining moksha.

About 1994 Suzanne experienced another shift in consciousness in which there was a sense of unity between herself and the world.

In 1995, Suzanne’s story spread. She was reluctant to act as a spiritual teacher, but she agreed to meet with friends of her book editor. Within a few months of subsequent gatherings, several hundred people were attending meetings to hear her story and to ask her questions.

Suzanne’s autobiography, Collision with the Infinite, came out in 1996. She began training therapists and continued weekly gatherings for dialogues with spiritual enthusiasts.

In late spring 1996, she began having intense experiences of vastness which disrupted her life and exhausted her. In fall 1996, Suzanne recovered experiences of childhood abuse and was going through counseling treatment.

In early 1997, Suzanne’s mental faculties quickly deteriorated. Doctors discovered a malignant brain tumor which they removed. Suzanne refused further treatment and died on April 1, 1997 at 42 years old.

Wikipedia has a good summary of Suzanne’s amazing life at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Segal.

Conclusion

The supposed experiences of enlightenment are so close to psychosis that Suzanne had a hard time deciding if she was enlightened or psychotic. Similarly gurus, psychologists, and psychiatrists had difficulty assessing Suzanne; some thought she was enlightened.

I think that a state of enlightenment does not exist. However there are altered states of consciousness that make people think that they are enlightened.