Inspiration: A cosmonaut of consciousness

From The Intelligent Optimist
Summer 2016

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM), was one of the best-known gurus from India. The Beatles famously visited him in the Himalayas. But what is not so well known is that Maharishi, who passed away in 2008, was also trained as a physicist. From this training he understood the Western scientific mind as well as ancient Eastern philosophy. Maharishi understood that, if he wanted to convince the West to embrace meditation as an instrument for people to lead a more balanced and fulfilling life, he needed to provide scientific evidence. That’s why, for decades, TM has been the most researched form of meditation.

In the 1980s, the TM movement conducted some 50 rigorous scientific experiments to show that big groups of meditators can markedly reduce violence in cities—in some cases by more than 75 percent. The experiments confirmed what is stated in ancient Sanskrit scriptures: “In the vicinity of those experiencing unity there’s no violence.” In the world of medicine, any drug that caused a 75 percent reduction in symptoms would have meant a billion-dollar pharmaceutical success. And yet the response to the publication of the TM studies was lukewarm at best—a lot of disbelief or even fierce criticism. Despite the scientific rigor of the experiments, much of the response was beside the point, focusing on the qualifications of an Indian guru to speak on these subjects. “Through the window of science we see the dawn of the age of enlightenment,” Maharishi said at the time, but he didn’t live to see widespread acceptance of his research.

In recent years, many experiments done by respected scientific institutions have confirmed the message of the early TM research and the beneficial impact of meditation on people and society. Neuroscientists say that meditation not only reduces stress but also changes the structure of the brain.

Given the number of publications and books about Transcendental Meditation already in print, there was hardly a need for a new book on TM. Indeed, Norman E. Rosenthal’s Super Mind does not contain much new information on TM or on meditation in general. The book reports on a survey that the clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine, a longtime TM practitioner himself, did with some 600 TM students. The survey shows that 95 percent of respondents reported improved ability to rebound from unpleasant events since starting to meditate. Almost nine out of ten subjects reported improved relationships; 85 percent reported that they had made healthier lifestyle choices; and four out of five said that it had become easier to get things done and that they were more productive and creative since starting to meditate.

Rosenthal conducted many interviews with celebrities and other well-known people, and he frequently cites them as they describe their experiences with TM. Hugh Jackman, who has practiced TM for 22 years, says he is very happy that he found TM prior to becoming an actor: “TM had given me the idea that we find our real existence beneath the surface … Whether that be fame, health, illness, or any other kind of experience, that is not the true essence of life.” Cameron Diaz, another longtime practitioner, credits her meditation for helping her recall her lines during a difficult moment on the set. Jerry Seinfeld has practiced TM for 41 years and talks about his experiences in the book, and there are numerous stories of businesspeople who link their success to their meditation practice.

Super Mind is a book for people who need one more push to start a daily meditation practice, but it’s also a good reminder for meditators who have a problem remaining consistent in their practice. The scientific benefits are, as Rosenthal brings them together, all too clear, and the stories of the many successful people very convincing. Yes, this is a book about TM, and Rosenthal is careful to distinguish the practice from other forms of meditation, but the ultimate message of Super Mind is that setting time apart to develop your consciousness is probably the best investment anyone can make. In that sense, Rosenthal is—as British comedian Russell Brand says on the cover—“a cosmonaut of consciousness.” | Jurriaan Kamp

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Inspiration: A cosmonaut of consciousness

From The Intelligent Optimist
Summer 2016

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation (TM), was one of the best-known gurus from India. The Beatles famously visited him in the Himalayas. But what is not so well known is that Maharishi, who passed away in 2008, was also trained as a physicist. From this training he understood the Western scientific mind as well as ancient Eastern philosophy. Maharishi understood that, if he wanted to convince the West to embrace meditation as an instrument for people to lead a more balanced and fulfilling life, he needed to provide scientific evidence. That’s why, for decades, TM has been the most researched form of meditation.

In the 1980s, the TM movement conducted some 50 rigorous scientific experiments to show that big groups of meditators can markedly reduce violence in cities—in some cases by more than 75 percent. The experiments confirmed what is stated in ancient Sanskrit scriptures: “In the vicinity of those experiencing unity there’s no violence.” In the world of medicine, any drug that caused a 75 percent reduction in symptoms would have meant a billion-dollar pharmaceutical success. And yet the response to the publication of the TM studies was lukewarm at best—a lot of disbelief or even fierce criticism. Despite the scientific rigor of the experiments, much of the response was beside the point, focusing on the qualifications of an Indian guru to speak on these subjects. “Through the window of science we see the dawn of the age of enlightenment,” Maharishi said at the time, but he didn’t live to see widespread acceptance of his research.

In recent years, many experiments done by respected scientific institutions have confirmed the message of the early TM research and the beneficial impact of meditation on people and society. Neuroscientists say that meditation not only reduces stress but also changes the structure of the brain.

Given the number of publications and books about Transcendental Meditation already in print, there was hardly a need for a new book on TM. Indeed, Norman E. Rosenthal’s Super Mind does not contain much new information on TM or on meditation in general. The book reports on a survey that the clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine, a longtime TM practitioner himself, did with some 600 TM students. The survey shows that 95 percent of respondents reported improved ability to rebound from unpleasant events since starting to meditate. Almost nine out of ten subjects reported improved relationships; 85 percent reported that they had made healthier lifestyle choices; and four out of five said that it had become easier to get things done and that they were more productive and creative since starting to meditate.

Rosenthal conducted many interviews with celebrities and other well-known people, and he frequently cites them as they describe their experiences with TM. Hugh Jackman, who has practiced TM for 22 years, says he is very happy that he found TM prior to becoming an actor: “TM had given me the idea that we find our real existence beneath the surface … Whether that be fame, health, illness, or any other kind of experience, that is not the true essence of life.” Cameron Diaz, another longtime practitioner, credits her meditation for helping her recall her lines during a difficult moment on the set. Jerry Seinfeld has practiced TM for 41 years and talks about his experiences in the book, and there are numerous stories of businesspeople who link their success to their meditation practice.

Super Mind is a book for people who need one more push to start a daily meditation practice, but it’s also a good reminder for meditators who have a problem remaining consistent in their practice. The scientific benefits are, as Rosenthal brings them together, all too clear, and the stories of the many successful people very convincing. Yes, this is a book about TM, and Rosenthal is careful to distinguish the practice from other forms of meditation, but the ultimate message of Super Mind is that setting time apart to develop your consciousness is probably the best investment anyone can make. In that sense, Rosenthal is—as British comedian Russell Brand says on the cover—“a cosmonaut of consciousness.” | Jurriaan Kamp

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