My friend Rick told me that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was dying — the same Maharishi who founded transcendental meditation (TM), taught the Beatles in India and inspired hundreds of thousands of meditators around the world. Maharishi, who made the cover of Time magazine.
Thirty-nine years ago I paid $15 and began to follow Maharishi’s techniques. I still meditate twice a day. It slows down my mind and my body (my pulse reads 55 beats a minute after I meditate). I feel rested and ready to go back into action.
I last saw Maharishi in 1975 in Switzerland. It has been decades since I had any contact with his organization. The group that continues to promote TM has gone into realms where I do not feel comfortable: deep Hindu mysticism; yogic “flying,” a supposed levitation technique; a bureaucracy that attaches a prohibitive price tag to TM’s array of courses and services.
But I haven’t forgotten that TM saved my life. When I first encountered it in 1969 I was 20 and caught up in the worst the era could offer: alcohol, drugs, tobacco and impulsive angry behaviour. Formal religion turned me off. Group therapy
didn’t help. I kept relapsing. I was unhappy.
Within days of starting TM I felt better and became a devoted “bliss ninny.” I overcame my addictions and began to see my way in the world.
Critics of TM said that the people who stuck with meditation were probably people who had the ability to stick with anything and make it work. Perhaps. One time in the early years, after listening to me natter away about the benefits of TM, my brother harrumphed and said all it was doing was slowing down my nervous system. Exactly. That’s all it did. TM took me to a place where I learned to think before I spoke, and reflect before I acted. I was less stressed, more alert and clear-headed. My body was healthier, my life better.
Now Rick was writing to tell me Maharishi was dying. He described what he gained from TM: freedom from addiction, a strong family life, an enthusiasm for art and the ability to watch the world change while sorting out the remarkable from the nonsense. And especially the feeling of being in control of his responses to what writer Graham Greene called the “random shrapnel of life.”
I agreed and added that TM allowed us to see the wonder at the upper edges of life. It is about art and achievement, not mystical delirium. It is about meaningful work and relationships.
In the 1960s, I saw that people who started TM began to feel better almost immediately, and I came to believe the ridiculous idea that bad things don’t happen to people who meditate. In later life, as I gradually grew disenchanted with the TM movement, I learned that bad things do happen, whether you meditate or not. Rick got cancer. And I experienced the most deeply hurtful thing possible — the death of my only child from cancer eight years ago.
Even on the worst days, I kept meditating. The calming influence allowed me to dwell in the heart of pain without escape. What settled in on me was an understanding of the devastating and enriching power of sacrifice. The agony has since faded, but I now know how hurtful life can be. From that comes an appreciation for the heart of Christianity — the acceptance of giving up the most precious thing. I understand suffering. I understand that love can overcome death.
I look to the western sky and see light in the distant clouds and think of my son. With a calm heart, I know of the upper edges of wonder, of what it means to be truly human. This isn’t Hindu mysticism; if anything I am closer to Christianity because I still practise TM. So whatever part meditation has had in my life — a large one, I am certain — I thank Maharishi, wherever he is.
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