John Riddell looks at a costly alternative to glue sniffing.

This being an election year, we are going to hear a lot more from the Natural Law Party. I don’t know if it is the same here, but in the US it is not legal for religions to directly participate in political campaigns. If they do, they risk losing their tax-free status. The problem is that the Natural Law party was set up by the Transcendental Meditation (TM) people and courts have defined TM as a religion.

The Natural Law party seems to be about promoting TM beliefs. In the US they go to a lot of trouble to deny there is any direct connection between the two, but if you get any knocking on your door this election, ask them if they practise TM.

If you run into a TMer, there are a few points worth remembering. Transcendental Meditation relies on the fact that it is very difficult to concentrate on only one thing for more than a couple of minutes without your brain beginning to malfunction. When it does malfunction, rather than giving you a headache, indicating that you should stop immediately, you actually start to feel quite good. To learn TM, you can either go to the TM people and pay them a lot of money, or you can read the next paragraph.

First you need a mantra. The mantra can be any meaningless phrase, word or sound. “Om mani padme hum”, for example. Just sit in a quiet place and repeat this endlessly or for a few minutes and your brain will malfunction. The mantra helps you to stop thinking about anything else. Repeating the mantra is the meditation bit. It becomes transcendental when you start feeling good. Essentially, that’s all there is. But if you go to the TM chaps, they will pad it out with a lot of pseudo-deep babble to make you think you are getting your money’s worth.

But if TM makes you feel good, why shouldn’t you keep doing it?

Because there are plenty of examples of people feeling good after they got their brains to malfunction, and those examples are not exactly safe.

The simplest way is to use drugs. Cocaine, heroin, LSD, to name a few. “Hey Man, I can see all the bones in my hand.” Do not try this at home. A more natural way is to deprive your brain of oxygen. Drowning victims who didn’t quite die and others who have had Near Death Experiences (NDE) often report a sense of peace and clarity of thought that sounds a lot like the feelings that the TM people get during meditation.

While the NDE people think they have found evidence for life after death, the Transcendental Meditators call it a “spontaneous, effortless march of the mind to its unbounded essence.” See what I mean about pseudo-deep?

There have also been some very kinky and sometimes fatal sex games based on strangulation (remember Plumley-Walker?). Do not try this anywhere! Now, if depriving the brain of oxygen can cause it to malfunction, and respiration is a reaction between oxygen and glucose, then depriving the brain of glucose should have similar effects.

There are two easy ways of depriving the brain of glucose. Either stop eating, or do so much exercise that you run out of glucose. An ancient example is Tarantism; a modern one is the ecstasy dance party.

Fasting has been an important part of a number of religious activities. The ascetic monk probably explains it in terms of enlightenment or becoming at one with the divine, but now you have another explanation. You can also make your brain go weird by running a marathon with an inadequate diet.

The TM people claim that Transcendental Meditation “reduces stress, improves health, enriches mental functioning, enhances personal relationships and increases job productivity and job satisfaction.”

But then again, they also claim that advanced practitioners can levitate, become invisible, read minds, and live forever. Perhaps the best one is that yogic flying can bring about world peace.

Does it improve health?

In 1980, the West German government’s Institute for Youth and Society produced a report calling TM a “psychogroup” and saying that the majority of people who went through TM experienced psychological or physical disorders.

If the TM experience is the result of a malfunctioning brain, we should not be surprised if there are negative effects on health. It may not be any worse than drinking alcohol, but the assumption that it is good for you, or simply harmless, doesn’t seem to be based on much.

Levitation. Otherwise known as yogic flying. To do this, you must sit cross legged on a soft mat and bounce up and down on your bum. Normally the TM folk publish still photos showing the practitioner a couple of inches above the mat. I assume these were taken at the top of a bounce. Maybe they used a trampoline. Video footage is less often shown, but it quite clearly shows that they are doing nothing that could not be done by a drunken student.

The interesting thing is that even after watching videos of themselves bouncing up and down on a soft mat, some of them still think they have levitated. It is possible that if their brain isn’t working properly they could feel as if they were floating at the top of the bounce.

A third claim is the Maharishi Effect. This effect is named after the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who has become a multimillionaire by selling TM to middle class people around the world (poor people don’t have money). The claim is that if you get enough people bouncing on their bums, er sorry, I mean, yogic flying, there will be a change in a universal energy field that has never been detected. The change in this field will make people so nice they will stop committing crimes, waging war and generally doing bad stuff. And to convince you that this is true, they claim that this has been scientifically validated by a number of independent studies.

In case you need to be told, these studies (yes there really are some published papers) were carried out at the Maharishi’s own university. The purpose of those studies would seem to be to convince people with a poor understanding of science that there is scientific validity to the TM claims.

This brings us to the last claim. That TM enhances mental functioning. When you first start TM you believe that it enhances mental functioning. Later you start to believe you can fly. Then you believe that bouncing on your bum can bring about world peace. Eventually, when you become an advanced practitioner, you come to believe you have powers of invisibility.

Does this sound like someone that has enhanced mental functioning?

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