Transcendental Meditation: How I Paid $2,500 For a Password to Inner Peace
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Transcendental Meditation, that vestige of the 1960s fascination with Eastern-oriented enlightenment, is back with a vengeance. Celebs like Russell Brand and Moby swear by it. The celebrated filmmaker behind Blue Velvet and Eraserhead has made it his mission to spread the good word about TM through the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Oprah recently devoted a TV show to the TM movement.
Over a decade ago, I found myself introduced to TM in what turned out to be a very expensive, hype-filled journey to enlightenment. Allow me to share the wisdom I gained.
The Price of Inner Peace
I was dating a screenwriter when I stumbled upon TM. He was nearly two decades older than me and had come of age in the late '60s and early '70s, bringing with him a number of interesting relics from that era, including a twice-daily practice of TM. Each morning he would sit up in bed for 30 minutes, chin resting on his chest, looking enviably blissful as I stumbled around in a bleary funk trying to find my shoes. In the afternoon, he would repeat this sublime performance. Neither deadline nor meeting could distract him from his ritual. If necessary, he would don earplugs and conduct his journey inward on the subway or the bus. I was in awe.
My boyfriend didn’t participate in the broader Transcendental Meditation movement and insisted that there was nothing mystical, or even particularly special, about what he was doing. “Look, I took a course 30 years ago, and I liked the technique, so I stuck with it. Period." His daily practice, he assured me, had kept him grounded and sane ever since. That sounded pretty good to me. I’ve always been a rather high-strung creative type, and at the time I was in the throes of procrastination on my doctoral dissertation and a struggle to figure out whether a career in academia or journalism would best cure me of a deep sense of futility. So I signed up for a free introductory class on TM in Manhattan.
During the free intro, I heard a lot about scientific reports on the benefits of TM, like reducing stress and releasing creativity. It sounded reasonable enough, and I was impressed that the people in the room looked pretty normal. The instructor didn’t go into any religious stuff and could have easily fit into a corporate office with his clean-cut appearance and fondness for graphs and charts. The technique, he assured the class, was easy to learn and could provide a lifetime of benefits for both mind and body. We were invited to consider taking a beginner course, after which we would have access to a lifetime of “free followup and support.” Then came the kicker: the price of a beginner course was $2,500.
I gulped. That was quite a pricetag. But at this point, I was already looking forward to my transformation. Wasn’t inner peace worth it? I rationalized that people paid far more than this for therapy in New York City, and after all, I had hard evidence from my boyfriend that the technique could have long-lasting effects. I had just landed a lucrative ghostwriting contract, and if learning TM would make me less stressed and more productive, it would be worth it, right? My inner skeptic was silenced. I went for it.
Over several courses, I learned to sit with my eyes closed and just let my thoughts flow until I began to feel a sense of peaceful awareness come over me. There was no need to concentrate or sit in any particular way, or refrain from scratching my nose. A steady flow of references to scientific studies promising increased intelligence and emotional development padded what was otherwise a pretty straightforward lesson on sitting still and chilling out. After the completion of the course, there was a special "graduation" ceremony in which students were given individual mantras to use in our practice. This was the first real whiff of spirituality. I was told to bring an offering of flowers to meet the instructor, who now appeared wearing a robe. He solemnly told me that he had a special word to give me that was mine alone and would be the key to my successful practice of TM.