I recently made a post titled “Should I Try Transcendental Meditation?“, in which I was generally critical of this meditation practice, as it’s in service of a decidedly “for-profit” corporation. This started a few interesting conversations with others who were supporters of TM, including a link to this page.
I’m still not convinced.
I decided to email the TM organization directly with the following questions:
1. Meditation usually involves an extended period of focus on a certain point (the breath, a mantra etc.) Does TM involve practices that differ from this in any way?
2. Your website has quotes from prominent members of Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism and Islam. Has TM received similar praise from members of Eastern religions? If so, why has this not been published? If not, why not?
3. On the TM.org website, James Krag, M.D. states “The vast majority of [academic] research on meditation has been on the Transcendental Meditation technique” Do you know of any reason for this? Why have other thousand-year-old meditation techniques not been studied as extensively as TM?
4. Why isn’t the TM method published openly?
5. Why are TM mantras kept secret? More >
Does meditation work as a way to reduce stress? It sure does! Sitting calmly in a single position, focusing on a single point, letting thoughts flow by and stepping outside of our worries and concerns will obviously have a positive effect on our state of mind.
If you’re looking to meditate with the specific purpose of reducing the level of stress in your life, here are a few things you can do:
- Start with five to ten deep breaths. The level of oxygen you have flowing to your brain will have a real impact on your stress levels. By slowing our breath down at the beginning of the meditation, we’ll immediately bring ourselves down to a deeper level of calm.
- Just notice the breath. Try to focus all of your attention on the sensation of air going in and out through your nose. Don’t make yourself breath, just let the air flow in and out naturally
- Just notice your thoughts. Inevitably, you’ll start to drift off into feelings of guilt over the past and anxiousness over the future. When you catch yourself doing this, just notice that you’ve done it and go back to the breath. Don’t berate yourself for meditating “wrong”, as this itself generates feelings of anxiousness. Simply let your attention go back to the breath.
- Don’t push emotions away. If you’re especially stressed about something, thoughts will continue to come up around it during your meditation. Don’t deny to yourself that you’re having these thoughts. Instead, focus on your bodily feelings at the time of stress. Where do you feel this discomfort, nervousness, or anxiety? Without words, simply observe this sensation. You might begin to see that the things you have been so concerned about are not such a big deal after all.
- Have a positive outlook. Your internal attitude of life has a real affect on the way you perceive reality. If you see the world as a greedy, angry place, you’re going to have the belief that you’re correct. If you view the world as compassionate, kind of forgiving, you’ll find evidence for this everywhere you look.
Remember that these aren’t loopy alternative treatments that real doctors think are crazy. The benefits of meditation are real, and cause actual physical changes to your brain. In the recent book “How God Changes Your Brain”, these changes are clearly shown to be real and scientifically sound.
Meditation in some form or another has been used across the world in hundreds of different cultures as a way to reduce stress, quiet the mind and understand reality. Whichever form of meditation you decide to use, stress reduction will be a natural side effect of this practice.
Transcendental Meditation has been growing in popularity ever since The Beatles first met Maharishi Yogi, the founder of TM. Paul McCartney still appears supportive of Transcendental Meditation, and has continued to promote this practice with another celebrity, director David Lynch.
Check out this interview between Lynch and McCartney. An unlikely combination!
Despite the celebrity endorsements, there are many things about TM that make me uncomfortable.
The main issue is this: Transcendental Meditation is a brand.
Virtually all religions practice meditation in some form or another, from Christianity to Islam. Even UFO experiencers claim to be advised by visitors on the importance of meditation. What mainstream media and fundamentalist churches religions often fail to mention is that in each case, the goal of meditation is the same. Essentially every type of meditation involves paying attention to a sensation within the physical world, accepting distractions and thoughts as they arise, and letting them pass.
Let’s take a look at another form of meditation. I described the Zen Buddhist style of meditation here, but there are many different ways of meditating. It’s worth investigating as many forms of meditating as you like. But once you decide that you’re going to sit and practice one form of meditation, stick with it until that session is over. Otherwise, you’ll get very little benefit from either technique. Remember also that these are just techniques, and no method is “better” than any other. Whatever your comfortable with, that’s fine. More >
“The buddha-dharma does not invite us to dabble in abstract notions. Rather, the task it presents us with is to attend to what we actually experience, right in this moment. You don’t have to look “over there.” You don’t have to figure anything out. You don’t have to acquire anything. And you don’t have to run off to Tibet, or Japan, or anywhere else. You wake up right here. In fact, you can only wake up right here.
So you don’t have to do the long search, the frantic chase, the painful quest. You’re already right where you need to be. “
— Steve Hagen, Buddhism Plain and Simple
Understanding how to meditate is incredibly easy. The practical act of constant meditation, however, is incredibly difficult. This seeming contradiction will become clearer after a few weeks of maintaining meditation practice.
There are many differing types of meditation techniques. This is an explanation of zazen or “just sitting”. The form of meditation practiced by Zen Buddhists:
- Sit in a room with your legs in either the half-lotus or full-lotus position. Make sure the room is as peaceful as possible and that you won’t be disturbed.
- Half close your eyes so that you don’t have to blink, but don’t close them fully or you’ll risk falling asleep.
- Cup both hands, and place the right on top of the left just below your navel.
- Straighten your back and hold your shoulders upright.
- Breathe in and out, focusing your whole attention on your breath. Focus only on your breath in this moment. Don’t consciously make yourself breathe, just be aware of the sensations involved in breathing.
Eventually, your mind will start to wander. When you find yourself doing this, acknowledge that it happened and go back to the breath. As this continues to happen again and again, don’t get disheartened. Continue to acknowledge your wandering mind and return yourself to the breath.