I learned TM when I was 12. My parents took me to a center and I was instructed as an adult. My family would meditate together on occasion but both my parents work schedules were erratic and we never established a regular pattern. I meditated on my own irregularly for many years until I became interested in religion. As I said, my father is a Zen Buddhist whereas my mother is a barely spiritual occasional Quaker. We went to unitarian church when we bothered to go at all.
I became interested in religion because I was brought up as an atheist. My mother was more tolerant of theism but my father was not when I was younger (he has softened his views since) so I was not going to tell him I was searching for something he thought was foolish. I began going to different churches – Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Jewish and an occasional Buddhist service. None of them quite appealed to me in a broad way. I became interested in Wicca and started learning about it when I was about 15. I learned many different variations on meditation mostly referred to as “white light” exercises. Astral Projection was the idea that the body has an astral/ethereal/incorporeal presence that can be taken out of the physical. Naturally I was curious abotu that and began practicing it frequently. It was easy. I learned years later that what i was doing was really a sort of mindful TM or perhaps guided TM – acheiving a meditative state with a goal in mind by focusing my attention on my physical body instead of a mantra. I realized I did not need a mantra – quieting my mind is achievable without it. I could in fact use the meditative state of my body in deep relaxation to focus on anything inside of myself that I wanted to. I explored a lot of myself and who I am on different levels of the self. This tied in nicely to my interest in psychology. I followed several less popular psychiatric scholars (Reich, Piaget, Lacan) and discovered many of the theories they had were a good vocabulary to look within myself and catelogue in a sense who I am and who I wanted to be. I wish I could say I was a regular practitioner but I was sporadic as I was working and going to school as well. I also always seemed to have some boyfriend or girlfriend to take care of as well. INteresting that I was so busy focusing inwards that in the outer life I was drifting aimlessly, unconcerned with where my life was actually going. I realized meditation (at least eh sort I was doing or how i was using it) was becoming a way to create an apathy towards being present. A concept I am familiar with from growing up with Zen. Being present was easy to pretend by being removed and aloof -emotionally detached. It was a good way to avoid being dynamic and making real choices. I realized I also resented what Zen represented to me; a way to avoid emotional turmoil by denying its power and potential. I didn’t want to be an emotional robot forever analyzing everything with logic from an apathetic viewpoint. I had no agency in that regard. I wanted the opposite – to know how to experience the present without being ruled by it. I wanted to be able to feel in control of myself while letting go of control of my environment. acceptance, that elusive paragon of Buddhist “enlightenment” was a lot harder than Zen makes it sound! Especially when the Western interpretation is that one becomes “above” suffering of life by gliding over it rather than mastering one’s reaction to it. Rather than choosing my own state of mind, I was removing my mind from all states. Which was also why I managed to pick up a lot of wounded birds along the way and not know what to do with them.
One of my best friends is a Buddhist priest and he used to call me “Kuanyin” because I worried so much over my own emotional connection to the world that I jeopardized my connection to my own spirit. It isn’t hard to let others crowd out your own self-regard. But what he didn’t understand is that I reject Buddhism’s hyper-focus on lack of suffering. It too often translates into a rejection of emotional power. Buddhism is based on an idealized state – enlightenment but the picture of enlightenment in the West is one of detachment, rather than non-attachment. There is a crucial difference. And Buddhist practice is based on an idealized life that does not exist in the West or most industrialized nations. One does not live like a monk;full of simplicity and self-denial. Self-denial is easy when life only offers you little choices. Sandals or shoes? Robe or wrap? Pffft. Small inconsequential choices that allow a person to believe their state of mind is a clean slate when in fact is it simply in a clean environment. Throw a mirror into a crystal clear lake and your reflection is beautified. Throw a mirror into muddy waters and you’ll see nothing but filth. I cannot possibly expect to achieve the state of mind a monk has while living as a “regular” American. (and believe me, my life has hardly been “regular”) In order to attain some sort of peace within I need to accept and embrace the complicated chaotic state I am surrounded by first.
That is why TM eventually became a failed endeavor: it comes from a state of being that I do not have and do not want. I like running water, indoor toilets, sanitary conditions, transportation, easy access to information, devices that allow me to keep ties to people I love but cannot be near. I want to keep my “modern” life. It does not have to be ostentatious but I do not believe that I must throw away where I am in order to be in touch with who I am. Surely any method of self-actualization can encompass a variety of environmental differences? I don’t think TM does. Yoga does – it does not matter who you are or where you come from when you do yoga. I never was brave enough to try yoga but I have thought about it a lot lately.
On the practical side, TM involves sitting – which is uncomfortable and eventually painful for me. It also involves quietude which I have in rare precious quantities. Most of all, it involves focusing on nothing and becoming “empty”. The Tao has taught me the importance of real emptiness, I do not need meditation for that as a goal. I have different goals that I think go beyond TM – I don’t want to just relax and feel refreshed, I want to be able to actuate my inner knowledge and explore my true self. That is my connection to Godhead, of course, in whatever incarnation she may be. TM failed me there: it was a method to be calm and stop being two eyes peering out from my face but it went no further. If all I need is to relax, I can read a book or listen to music. or sing. Or dance. Or watch my daughter draw. or just be in the presence of someone who is dear to me. Those activities give me relaxation and a sense of connection to godhead because I am connected to someone else. TM just cuts me off from everyone and everything. It makes me feel void, not empty. I become a shell, not a vessel.
After everything, I truly believe that emotional detachment is the wrong way. Of course being mired and controlled by your emotions is not good – it blinds you to the possibilities of change and you lose agency. But denial of emotions is wrong as well – it forces an artificial state and an unreal expectation. It also leaves you open to exploitation which I have learned enough of to know I want no more of ever. Emotions are powerful when they are examined and used as lessons – sometimes rewarding, sometimes punishing, but always emotions teach us something even if its just “pay attention!” I have acquired amazing energy and resolve through self-examination and realistic goals for my growth. Emotional guidance is something I think never stops teaching.
and to be honest,what little I have learned from a small study of Tantra has been far more helpful and introspective than anything I learned in TM or Zen meditation. TM has come to seem like a beginning to me in retrospect. I’ve only been able to understand and practice some Tantra but hopefully with the right circumstances I may be able to get back to it some day.
From what I read on the Art of Living site, it seems that Sangha is hardly any different than TM or Chopra’s Bliss. Not that that is bad or wrong…
Different meditation styles for different stops along a path. Mine left mantra-laden TM a while back. I need more than just mindfulness and relaxation. I aim to maintain my connection to godhead. Dharma is important but I want to get away from believing dharma alone will substitute for inner mindfulness. No matter how many rituals I perform or gurus I listen to, it all amounts to nothing if the lesson does not ring my bell inside.