For a bit of context, when I decided to do the transcendental meditation course in December of 2018, I had hit a low point in my life. I had problems in my relationship that nearly ended in divorce; I was not doing well mentally, psychologically, financially, emotionally, and physically. Spiritually, I was utterly lost.
I had heard about TM years before, listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast, and when I looked it up, I saw all the usual promotions for this practice by famous people. It was secret mysterious, and I have a curious mind.
I recently wrote an article about curiosity being a beautiful virtue, but like all virtues, curiosity also has a vice of excess and a vice of deficiency.
Around 2010, I went to my local transcendental meditation center in Paris, where I lived at that time. This was the time in my life when I was so broke that I couldn't afford to buy a whole baguette. I was living a bohemian life at the time, playing jazz at night, and I was suffering from severe depression. I lived in a maid's room of seven square meters and shared a toilet cubicle with 20 other families. I didn't have a bathroom or shower and had to go down to the backyard to fill up a water bucket to wash myself with a sponge and cold water. Needless to say that I was at an all-time low, with no prospects of a career, love, or hope.
When I went to the TM center and told them about my situation, they were very friendly. Instead of 2000 euros, which was more than a year of my food budget at the time, they could reduce the price to 1700 euros, and I could pay that amount in 3 goes. That was out of the question.
Fast forward to 2018, where I had gotten myself together (kind of), and I signed up to the course out of desperation more than anything else.
The course was held in the center of London, in one of the most expensive neighborhoods in Europe. I was greeted in a friendly matter, and once I paid, I was given some documents to fill out. I would have to fill out papers with an increasing amount of personal data during the four consecutive days of the course.
As I was told, I arrived with fresh flowers, fruit, and a white cotton handkerchief. When I asked why I did not get an answer - I would soon find out.
I was assured that the whole thing was completely secular. That was important for me. I grew up in a traditionalist Jewish environment, and I had cut ties with everything and anything religious.
While the teacher was putting the flowers in a pot, she asked me many questions about myself. I was led to believe that knowing about me was important because they would be giving me a mantra to meditate with, and that mantra was not only top-secret; I was never to say it out loud. It was for me, and only me. TM has to be taught by an instructor of that organization because they have the knowledge and techniques to give a personal mantra to individuals. That turned out to be a complete lie, more on that later.
We walked into the room, and we started the introduction ceremony. The flowers, fruit, and handkerchief were placed on an altar, next to a framed picture of a guy with a big beard, wearing flowers around his neck. While the teacher lit incense sticks, I was told to kneel in front of the altar. I was reluctant, as that already seemed very religious. But I did as I was told for three reasons: I paid a lot of money and was not about to leave it there, I was curious about the practice and desperate for change, comfort, and relief from my suffering, and I had practiced martial arts for years. It is usual in Judo or Aikido to bow to an altar in respect to the master that created that martial art. I was led to believe that that was precisely what this was. And so I kneeled, and it began. For about 10 minutes, the teacher started reciting and chanting in a foreign language, bowing in the process. It was very much what you would see in a religious ceremony. I was not allowed to ask what all this meant. So I just went along with it. After a while, we stood, and I was asked to sit on a chair. By that time, I was both confused and excited.
That's when the teacher started to recite one word, over and over and over again. I understood that this was it: my personal mantra. I was about to change my life forever, and I did, but not for the reasons you would expect. She asked me to repeat it with her, first out loud, and then softer, and softer, and softer, until it became a whisper. And quieter until there was no sound at all. After a few minutes, I was asked to stop, and she explained that this was the meditation technique. We just repeat the mantra, and when or if thoughts come into my mind, I go back to the mantra.
I was to start again, and this time, the teacher was to leave the room and come back after some time.
I did, she did, and that was it. The teacher instructed me to practice this meditation twice a day for 20 minutes. I could just put a clock in front of me and check as the time went by.
The next day, I came back for the next part of the course, which was 2 hours per day spread on three days per day. This was done in a small group with three other meditators. We started with a meditation, talked about it, and asked questions. The usual questions were about how do I know I transcend, what do I do with the thoughts, the rhythm of the mantra, and so on.
The second day, we talked about some theories of thoughts watched a video from the Guru. We were told not to use any other meditation technique because this was the only good one. We were taught that TM has effects on the world and that by meditating, preferably with other people, we can raise the universe's vibration to create world peace. We were given a few examples and how "science" backs its claims. It was all made very clear: TM was the only way to be happy and reach inner peace. It was also the only way to get "perfect intelligence" and gave us the power to heal our bodies, from a broken arm to cancer. We were no longer humans but superhumans. I am ashamed to say that I did believe some of the things we were taught, which I was later led to regret deeply.
The third day was what I refer to as "marketing day." We were shown some places called peace palaces and things like this where we should go (for thousands of pounds/dollars/euros). We were told that we should also do the advanced courses after practicing for some time to become immortal.
And that was it. After that course, I practiced every day, twice for 20 minutes. Sometimes, I would practice three times. Then, when my mind started to go towards my usual dark places, the mantra began in my mind automatically. This was my medication.
Sitting 40 minutes per day in stillness has a significant effect on the body and the mind, no doubt about it.
It is not the TM that helped me, but the focusing my awareness on one object. It could have been the word apple, it could have been a sound, it could have been staring at a stone, and it could have been focusing on my breathing.
After a few months, I did feel better, and I had hope again for a better life. My wife and I decided to work on our relationship, and it was all going to be better.
At the time, I did think that TM had been a miracle to me. I was suffering so much that even a glimpse of peace was enough to make me a convert.
I thought that I had discovered something unique. And as you do when you find out something that can, as they taught us, change the world and bring world peace, I could not keep it to myself.
I had a youtube channel back then that I used for my music. It was not a big channel. I had about 100 subscribers, maybe, if that.
I made a series of videos and posted them online. In one video, I explained my experience with the course. I also explained why it was so important that the mantra was kept secret. And then, I went on to show people how it was done. I had been in a situation where I could not even dream of affording something like that course, and now that I could, I wanted to share what I learned with the world. This is what youtube is about, or at least was initially. You learn something useful; you share it in a video. You see something that is funny; you share it in a video. If you did a course on yoga or gardening and wanted to share, that would be the place to do it. And so I did, and this is when the trouble started.
I posted a few tutorial videos on practicing transcendental meditation for free. I didn't even think anyone would see them be honest, as my audience was practically nonexistent, and the dozens of followers I had were interested only in learning to play the trombone (that's that big trumpet that makes funny noises).
A few days after I posted the videos, I got some emails from a law firm in the United States that asked me to take them down or else I would be in trouble. So I took down the videos, and it was a really scary experience. I could never afford a lawyer to help or anything like that. So I started doing some research and noticed that I had indeed been involved in something that some would call a cult. I am not saying that it is a cult or a religion, but many things would lead us to believe it is.
In my mind, I still thought that there were ways to help, and I just had to call it something else and use another technique. The answer was evident: I was a musician. I had transcended through music, sounds, vibrations before, so I went on to replace the mantra with a vibration. The first meditation I made got half a million views. After that, I started getting thousands of emails telling me that this had changed their lives, that I knew there and then that I had not only found a true purpose, but it was my duty to continue. People that had been suffering for years, contemplating on ending their lives, or had attempted to do so already in the past, were coming to me in gratitude. It changed my life forever.
The channel started to grow, and the lawyers at the TM organization increased their aggressiveness. Where before I was not allowed to use the words transcendental and meditation together, I was again threatened when using words that might be similar, such as transcend, or transcendence, or transcendent. Last summer, they tried to take out all of my channels, courses, websites, and all. Thankfully, my audience members stepped up, and I was represented pro bono by a huge international law firm, who helped me immensely. But, again, the transcendental meditation organization tried to intimidate me, and they did so with success. When they saw that I had backup, the emails stopped, and I have never heard from them again.
While I did more and more research on TM when writing a letter with my lawyers, I found some fascinating things. I came across a documentary called "David wants to fly" that I highly recommend, as well as a book called "TM Deception," written by a retired TM instructor. I found out that my mantra was not personal but was chosen in a list of a dozen mantras given to people by age and gender. The ceremony was indeed a religious procession. Thanks to a court order in New Jersey, TM had to release the translations to that ceremony. TM was banned in many schools because of its religious nature. Why else would "meditation" be bad for kids?
The whole secrecy is their business model, and that is why they are so aggressive in keeping everything secret. This technique doesn't have anything special like they claim. Studies were made in Harvard, comparing TM with other meditation types or using simple English words against the official TM mantras. The studies are documented in a great book called "The relaxation response." Needless to say that not only should I make sure that my teachings are not associated with TM, but I also hope they are not. I still have to be careful about what I say and write about the TM organization because they keep a close eye on me.
Here is the exciting part - when I quit practicing TM, I started realizing that the self is an illusion. It was _only after_ separating myself from the technique I practiced for years every day that I began to understand enlightenment and feeling these moments of total awakening.
The reason is straightforward - when you practice according to methods that preach the truth, you are grasping to thoughts and ideas of other people - sometimes, as it turns out, people that don't necessarily have your best interest at heart.
When we transcend, we quite literally "go beyond" the limitations of the mind to experience the reality of our existence, through our senses and not through theories (well-intended or not).
This concept is what has attracted me to study Taoism. Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching, or so the story goes, as a last request to him, as he was leaving never to come back. We don't know if that is true or if it is a myth, and that is not important at all. The point I want to make here is that when he finally agreed to sit down and write his wisdom on paper before leaving, he wrote chapter 1, the most critical chapter, as a warning that to understand the truth, one must go beyond the mind. He writes these famous sentences:
"The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal Nand.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the source.
This source is darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding."
What Lao Tzu says here is very clear: ok, I will write a book on the way of life, but by writing about it and talking about it, we try to teach or understand IT with our intellect, which is not possible because there is no truth, and if there were, with the constraints of our language, we would not be able to grasp the infinity of the universe we seek to understand.
Transcendental Meditation goes to exact opposite way. First of all, it promises magic. You get a secret mantra with superpowers because it can vibrate on the same level as the universe. That is not only a hoax. As we now know, it is not true. The mantras are Hindu Deities. The Guru considers himself as a prophet of the truth. Putting aside the lies, the deception, and the vice behind what I have experienced from the organization and what I have seen others, through live and written testimony, going to gurus and organizations such as TM will only push you further away from your goals of inner-realization.
Several factors have led me to put aside my mantra and "quit" transcendental meditation. My goal here is not to influence you not to take their courses or anything like that. I aim to guide you so that you can make your own decisions.
I do not regret having done the course - I do not regret it, even if it was a mistake, even if I was taken advantage of. I do not regret it because, ultimately, it helped me find my way, and as I continue to learn, I am committed to sharing my experiences and thoughts openly.