A Cynic Tests Transcendental Meditation 1995 / 1996
Following a feature on work-related stress in The (Newcastle) Journal newspaper’s Northern Business, Editor Peter Jackson examined the growing popularity of Transcendental Meditation as a business tool for stress relief. To test its effectiveness he volunteered for TM training and in a series of three follow-up reports over three months examines its usefulness.
I’m one of nature’s cynics: fashions, New Age fads and cranky obsessions – particularly when eastern gurus are involved, prompt a curl of the lip and a snort of derision. In short, I didn’t intend to be impressed with T.M. and went along to my first lesson with weary foreboding and a readiness to be thoroughly embarrassed.
So it was, on Saturday morning I was to be seen slinking into a Tynemouth hotel,…wearing the expression of a man convinced he’s about to be made to look a complete prat. The first session – and only the first session – does start with a brief ceremony, which is purely for the instructor’s benefit, demands no participation and is, I suppose, no sillier or more embarrassing than most other rituals. (Now optional)
Yes, yes, you say, but what does T.M. involve? What do you do? First, it’s a completely effortless business, there’s no attempt to clear your mind or concentrate. You sit back, with your eyes closed, and silently think to yourself a mantra, a simple word given to you by your instructor (in my case Chris Greathead).
The results of this utterly unremarkable-sounding procedure are, frankly, remarkable. The state of the mind can only really be compared to that wonderful half-dream state early in the morning or late at night, which is somewhere between waking and sleeping. But, then again, it’s not quite like that – the mind has much more control and remains fully aware. You can meditate and, without losing it, open your eyes to look at your watch, or scratch your nose. The consciousness, ego, or whatever you want to call it travels around the mind, picking up ideas and images, toying with them, letting them go, sometimes moving away from the mantra and sometimes staying close. Breathing becomes very shallow, the whole body is thoroughly relaxed and the whole thing feels marvellous. And, it only requires two twenty minute sessions a day.
The first lesson was one-to-one, just me and Chris, but at the next three, I was in a group with five others. It was then that we started reporting back what we had noticed and how we enjoyed it. One group member, a sales manager in his mid-thirties, let’s call him John, who decided to take up T.M. after reading the Northern Business feature, has been suffering from stress at work for a couple of years, working long hours and suffering panic and anxiety attacks. On Sunday he told us he hadn’t felt so good for two and a half years. He said : “Sunday’s normally a really bad day for me, because I am dreading work on Monday, but today I couldn’t care less.”
What about me? Well T.M. is relaxing, enjoyable, and its benefits seem to last all day. On Monday I had the best night’s sleep I have had since I was a child and that afternoon, I left work – left work, mark you – feeling more energetic and livelier than at any time since I started earning fifteen years ago. But as to whether or not it lowers stress and improves performance in the long term, I’m not sticking my neck out on that yet. I’ll report back again next month on my progress or otherwise.
Report Two – After one month
I’ve subjected T.M. to the real acid test – Christmas. If that isn’t stressful then nothing is. Being cooped up in a house with four guests and an energetic four-year-old son for four days would probably fray Mother Teresa’s nerves. But I came through with flying colours. I remained attentive, courteous and relatively sober for the duration and – guess what – I actually enjoyed it. And all it needed was for me to retire to my bedroom for two 20-minute sessions each day and to sit quietly with my eyes closed for effortless and pleasurable relaxation.
That’s essentially all there is to T.M.. The day after Boxing Day, I had to run the guests home, a seven-hour round trip, most of it in the dark. On the return leg, I stopped at the services and meditated for 20 minutes. I completed the journey fully alert and fully refreshed. Yes, increased physical and mental energy is one benefit of T.M. I’ve definitely noticed. Another only struck me after looking back at my surprising reactions to certain situations.
For instance, a couple of days before Christmas, I was driving home in the dark along a country road, when the side of the car was struck by a snowball! Normally I would’ve slammed the brakes on, jumped out of the car and chased up the road after the delinquents, shaking my fist and generally making a right plonker of myself. But, no, I tut-tutted, shook my head and drove on, reflecting that I had probably done the same sort of thing at their age…
I’m not a good driver. I mean, I get worked up and swear at the old lady in front who never gets out of third … But not anymore. Since taking up T.M. life seems too short to care about things like that. I drive more slowly and don’t curse red lights and learner drivers. Now, obviously, all this reduced stress and a calmer outlook ought to have benefits in business and at work, but I’m not about to set myself up by saying whether it has for me or not.
However, I don’t mind telling you about one member of my T.M. training group, the sales manager ‘John’. He has noticed definite changes at work. He suffers from panic and anxiety attacks but, thanks to T.M, finds he can now control these – something no other relaxation technique has ever allowed him to do. “When I go to make a sales call now, I go in there and think I am going to be in charge,” he says. “In my first week of doing T.M. I fired in the best sales figures I have ever done in my life and my figures have risen significantly since I started. I feel the benefits of it without a doubt. I’m a lot more aware, I don’t mentally get as tired as easily and my mental awareness has increased.”
I’m still not going to deliver a final verdict on T.M. It’s early days and the novelty might wear off, but so far, I have to say I’m impressed. One thing I have noticed is that it doesn’t seem to have done much to improve my sleep. If anything it seems to have made dropping off harder. But Chris says my experience is quite normal in the early days. We shall see and I shall give a final report and verdict in a couple of months.
Report Three – Three months on
Yes, it works, it really works! T.M. does the business and I can vouch for it. I volunteered to learn it at the beginning of December, cynically convinced that while it might work for some people – by which, frankly, I meant the suggestible and downright weird – it would have no effect on me. But as I explained in the first of this series of articles, the effect was almost immediate and beneficial. Amazingly, something as simple as sitting down, closing my eyes and mentally repeating a mantra over and over to myself for 20 minutes twice a day has some far-reaching results.
I felt more relaxed throughout the day, less bothered by minor irritants, more even-tempered and more energetic. Any stress just flows away. Come bedtime, I sleep easily and more deeply than I have since childhood and I wake feeling genuinely refreshed. I grant that this sounds like a testimonial for herbal medicine, but still, that’s been my experience – an entirely positive one. And the whole process is extremely pleasurable, like being asleep but still conscious to enjoy it.
It’s claimed that T.M makes its practitioners more capable at work and more productive. I’m not giving any hostages to fortune by saying whether it has done any of that for me, but, in previous reports I’ve quoted several business people who have.
Today, .. I focus on a GP who practices, and an ICI worker who believes it helped him recover from debilitating illness.
DR PAUL SHEPHERD
“Has been meditating for about 25years. “I’ve found over the years, as I’m sure other people have done, that it helps to make you more relaxed and clearer thinking, more able to cope with stress. As a doctor, I don’t think it’s just for ill people. I see it as a quality of life improver. The physical benefits are pretty well researched. The hormonal and chemical constituents in the blood associated with stress are reduced. The Health benefits are recognised by various groups. There’s an insurance company in Holland which lowers premiums because it realises people who meditate regularly are less likely to have heart attacks and are genuinely healthier. There are figures which show fewer hospitalisations for heart disease, fewer tumours and fewer stress disorders of the nervous system. It is recognised to help in reducing alcohol dependency and to help people stop smoking.”
“It’s hard without looking at the methodology of the research, but the more I notice the benefits in myself when I meditate regularly, the more I believe the research is well-founded. Like exercise and rest; if I don’t exercise regularly or get enough rest then I don’t feel as good. I do recommend it. I’ve not had any negative feedback.”
STUART HEPPELL – ICI employee
“Had about four months off work with post-viral fatigue. ” My reasons for taking up TM were mainly illness-driven, but now I’m doing it I’m more relaxed and less bothered by things and by life in general. After nearly three months it has really helped my illness. It seems to give me a boost of energy twice a day. The illness had drained me of energy. I was completely exhausted, my concentration wasn’t particularly good and I was generally feeling awful. T.M. has definitely helped. I live with my girlfriend and she’d tell you I’m substantially more relaxed, less irritable and less bothered by things. My sleep has improved dramatically and it’s considerably less broken. My outlook on life is more positive. It’s got to be worth doing. When I was first taught, my reaction was “Is that it? Is it really as simple as that? How can anything so simple have such a big effect?’”