Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation
"Dr. Norman Rosenthal's Transcendence is the best-ever book on Transcendental Meditation: accessible and substantive, engaging and scientific, practical and profound. A very enjoyable read that can change your life, for good." - David Lynch
"I have been meditating for over 10 years, and I found Transcendence to be a uniquely compelling introduction to the art and science of Transcendental Meditation. Dr. Norman Rosenthal's book will propel TM into the mainstream where it belongs." - Russell Simmons
In this definitive book on the scientifically proven health and stress-relieving benefits of Transcendental Meditation, a renowned psychiatrist and researcher explores why TM works, what it can do for you, and how to use it for maximum effect.
Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., a twenty-year researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health and the celebrated psychiatrist who pioneered the study and treatment of Season Affective Disorder (SAD), brings us the most important work on Transcendental Meditation since the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Science of Being and Art of Living-- and one of our generation's most significant books on achieving greater physical and mental health and wellness.
Transcendence demystifies the practice and benefits of Transcendental Meditation for a general audience who may have heard about the method but do not necessarily know what it is, how it is learned, or what they stand to gain, physically and emotionally, from achieving transcendence. Dr. Rosenthal clearly and practically explains the basic ideas behind Transcendental Meditation: It is a nonreligious practice that involves sitting comfortably for twenty minutes twice a day while using a silent mantra, or nonverbal sound, to attain a profound state of aware relaxation.
Alongside exclusive celebrity interviews-where figures like Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Martin Scorsese, Russell Brand, Laura Dern, Moby, and David Lynch openly discuss their meditation-Dr. Rosenthal draws upon experience from the lives of his patients and a wealth of clinical research amassed on TM over the past generation (340 peer-reviewed published articles). He provides the fullest and most accessible book ever on the broad range of benefits of this remarkably simple practice, from relief of anxiety, stress and depression to new hope for those experiencing addiction, attention-deficit disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—T. S. Eliot
How often have you set out upon some course of exploration—perhaps a relationship, a journey, or a field of study—then put it aside for a time only to find the experience quite different when you return? The Greek philosopher Heracleitus said you can never step in the same river twice because the second time you have changed and therefore the experience is different. That is how it was for me and Transcendental Meditation (TM).
The first time I ever heard of TM, I was a medical student in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was the early seventies, and at that time, even in apartheid South Africa, the world of the young was rustling with promises of change. Anything seemed possible. The Beatles had gone to India to learn TM from its modern-day founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This quest for exotic wisdom was embodied for me in the words of the rock musical Hair, “I’ve been to India and saw the yogi light.”
I was intrigued. What was transcendence? What was the yogi light, and how might I find it?—without actually going to India (which was not in the cards either financially or logistically)\. I was drawn to the promise of an alternative type of consciousness, one that embraced all human beings, and the universe to boot, yet involved no mind-altering drugs.
Happily, it turned out that the practice of Transcendental Meditation had already reached the far shores of Africa, so a fellow medical student and I headed off to a small house in the suburbs that doubled as a TM training center. I was reassured to discover that Transcendental Meditation is in no way a religious practice. No one asked me to buy into any belief system. Instead, I learned that TM is simply a technique of the mind that can be practiced by people of any religion or of no religion at all. The technique goes back thousands of years and was taught to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi by his own teacher in the Himalayas. Maharishi extracted the TM technique from its religious context and distilled it to its essence, which he believed could be of value to people of all creeds in many situations.
Maharishi brought the technique first to India (in 1955) and then to the rest of the world, including the United States, which he first visited in 1959. Although for many Westerners Maharishi is best known for his contact with the Beatles in the 1960s, that was only a small part of his career. He was the founder and leader of the worldwide Transcendental Meditation program for over fifty years and devoted his life to sharing his insights and knowledge both in his writing and his public appearances. He also promoted scientific testing of the technique, to help bring meditation into the scientific mainstream.
As part of our TM instruction, my friend and I were each given our own mantra (a sound-word-vibration). Then, over several days, we were taught how to think the mantra as we sat in quiet relaxation. We were to practice for twenty minutes twice a day. Although I found it very soothing, I did not feel any lasting effect—which in retrospect is hardly surprising since I seldom practiced. In the busy life of a medical student, TM slid down my priority list, then off. It was replaced by studies, dissections, autopsies, and eventually patients, the most rewarding part of a medical education. Add in my rudimentary attempts at a social life, and no time seemed left in the day.
The brain in all its wondrous mystery has always intrigued me, so I became a psychiatrist. I immigrated to the United States in 1976, embarked on a psychiatric residency at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and in 1979 moved to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Bethesda, Maryland, to become a researcher and pursue a clinical practice in psychiatry. There I soon had the good fortune to encounter Herb Kern, a patient whose moods varied remarkably with the seasons: In the summertime he was a happy, creative scientist, but as the days grew shorter, he invariably fell into a deep depression. Herb theorized that his seasonal shifts of mood might be related to seasonal changes in the length of the day. He visited the NIMH during one of his depressed phases and became the first patient whom my colleagues and I treated by expanding the length of his day, using bright artificial light. Within three days of starting treatment, he bounced out of his depression!
The idea of seasonal mood changes driven by day length struck me as important because I myself, after moving north from South Africa, had experienced such changes, though not as severely as Herb. Perhaps many people had such seasonal mood changes, I thought—and research over the years has shown it to be so! Over the next several years, my colleagues and I went on to describe a syndrome we called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and also to develop a novel treatment for the condition—exposure to bright light. I describe the story of this discovery in my book Winter Blues.
Although light therapy for SAD is now routinely prescribed in all the darker parts of the globe, such as the northern United States and Europe, at the time my research began many colleagues thought the idea was strange, even humorous. I had to put up with a lot of teasing, and I am greatly indebted to my senior colleagues at the NIMH for supporting a young researcher with his outlandish idea.
From that early research experience, I took away several important lessons: to listen carefully to my patients; to be open to new observations; to follow my intuition—even if it took me down untrodden paths; and never to ignore the importance of the obvious, such as light and dark. All these lessons are relevant to this book, because after thirty-five years they brought me back to Transcendental Meditation, that brief fad of my medical school days, and the experience was totally different. I now know meditation to be something that can transform people’s lives.
And I mean transform, as in, “He or she is a different person.”
This realization first dawned on me several years ago when I began to treat Paul, a young aspiring writer and filmmaker who suffered from severe bipolar disorder. Like myself, Paul had learned TM, then let it lapse.
Some years later, when Paul was in his early twenties, his illness struck. His first manic episode was, in his words, “The beginning of a five-year roller coaster through hell—two psychotic manias that landed me in prison, a transfer to a mental hospital, a cocktail of drugs that caused me to gain forty pounds and evaporated all my emotions, followed by the misery of the bipolar depressive phase that stripped me of all capacity for pleasure and left me suicidal.” At that point, even though Paul was on a combination of medications, as well as a rigorous program of healthy living, here’s how he describes the way he felt:
Despite all these efforts, after two years of being stable since the end of my depression, I was still not happy. I wasn’t really unhappy, but I didn’t laugh, feel good or have much emotion. I was basically just getting by, keeping my head above water. I resigned myself to the idea that I would never be happy—I mean truly happy.
Paul tried to start meditating again, but irregularly. That changed, however, after a pivotal experience, which he describes as follows:
While working on a documentary, I met a man who was a big meditator. Somehow the subject of bipolar disorder came up, and it turned out that this man had a severe case. Yet he told me that for the last twenty years he had been really happy ninety percent of the time. I was amazed, but I believed him. I could see it in his face and his eyes—that he was really happy and wasn’t lying. It was then that I decided to do TM twice a day every day. Of course, I would miss here and there, but I resolved to do it regularly.
Ever since then, things got better over time. The positive
effects took a couple of months to set in noticeably. When they did, they came gradually, progressively, stronger and more profound as time passed. It is now four years since I have been meditating regularly and I’m better than I’ve ever been. Just like the man I met that day in San Francisco, I’m not just happy, I’m really happy ninety percent of the time.
When I told Paul that I had once practiced TM, but had let it lapse, he said, “You should start meditating again, Dr. Rosenthal. You’ll see. It’ll make a great difference.” He made this suggestion several times and I nodded my head, all the while wondering how I would fit two twenty-minute sessions into an already packed day. Perhaps it was the earnestness of his repeated suggestion that prompted me to act. Or maybe it was my recollection of how, over the years, I have learned at least as much from my patients as they have ever learned from me. It was at that time that I met Bob Roth, a highly experienced teacher, who checked my meditation technique and set me on the right course. Unlike the young medical student I was in Johannesburg, I now realize that no new skill can be acquired without practice, so I have been faithful to the twice-a-day regimen. As a reward, I have acquired in TM a valuable tool for stilling my mind and quieting the fight-or-flight responses so often triggered by the stress of modern life.
Transcendental Meditation does more than merely correct symptoms, however. After a few years of practice, it has allowed me to enter a place inside my mind that is difficult to describe with any better word than transcendence. It is a blissful state that encompasses elements of serenity, peace, and acceptance, but also exhilaration and a sense of new possibilities, both for now and for the future. I don’t mean to imply that I always feel this way—far from it. I will say, though, that I cannot remember a time when I have felt happier or more at peace with myself and my surroundings.
In the past few years, since I have been meditating regularly, I have recommended TM to a number of my patients, many of whom have reported excellent results. You will read about them in this book, together with the experience of other clinicians and researchers intrigued by TM. My colleagues and I are excited not only by TM’s potential to relieve various forms of human suffering, but also by how much we can learn in the process. Transcendence turns out to be an excellent window into the mind and the brain.
A great deal of clinical research has been done on TM. For example, we now know that when people practice TM, their blood pressure drops. They show higher blood levels of a soothing hormone called prolactin, as well as more coherent brain wave patterns, which are associated with good mental functioning. New evidence even suggests that TM may improve longevity and lower medical costs by reducing hospital stays and doctors’ visits. Even people who are not in physical or psychological distress can be helped. TM has been shown to help “normal” people reach their full potential and live in greater harmony with one another.
All this research is now moving into the practical realm. Already, ambitious new outreach programs are using TM to help groups of people under particular stress, including inner-city schoolchildren struggling to cope with life amid the clamor of crowded and violent schools; veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder; homeless and formerly incarcerated men trying to adapt to life in the workaday world; and Native Americans, who are battling high rates of diseases like diabetes. This ancient tradition has many potential untapped uses, including some that you can identify by reading this book.
In addition, TM training is becoming easier to find as professionally trained TM teachers are available in most parts of the world. As I will discuss later, neither this nor any book can teach the technique of TM, which is learned individually from a teacher. As with other courses of study, a fee is charged to cover costs of instruction and administration. Do not be deterred, however. Loans, scholarships, and grants are available to ensure that anyone who wants to learn meditation can do so.
As a person who has witnessed the mental and spiritual anguish of many hundreds of people, I have to say that the potential clinical power of this technique is amazing. It offers the promise to transform the lives of millions who suffer. At the same time, I hope the practice will not be confined to spiritual seekers or to people so afflicted that they come to medical attention. It can also relieve stress and maximize the potential that resides within each and every one of us. If Transcendental Meditation were a drug, conferring so many benefits with few, if any, side effects, it would be a billion-dollar blockbuster.
I am not suggesting that TM be considered as a stand-alone treatment for emotional disorders, especially when an effective standard of care already exists. But when it comes to the brain and mind, the fact is that no single treatment works every time for any given set of symptoms. We often have to try several different medications or treatment approaches before we find the right mix. I am suggesting that TM should be part of that mix, especially when conventional approaches prove unsatisfactory. You will meet in this book many people who fall into that category, people for whom TM has provided additional help they could find nowhere else. Indeed, for a few people, TM has done the job all by itself. I am thinking, for example, of a physician described in chapter 6, “Helping the Spikes and Valleys,” whose depression during medical school responded to TM after failing to respond to conventional treatment. This man has stayed well without antidepressants for these past thirty-five years, and to this day he continues to meditate twice a day.
You may wonder, as I did many years ago, whether twenty minutes twice a day is too much time to commit. I now view it very differently. Soon after starting to meditate regularly, TM became for me—as it is for most people—a pleasant and peaceful retreat. I see it as an investment in my well-being and physical health. Finally, to my initial surprise, it makes me more efficient during the rest of my day—and others agree. As one Wall Street broker told me, far from detracting from his ability to get things done, his regular meditation practice actually gives him more productive time.
In this book I will explore four major themes related to TM, represented in the four parts of the book: Transcendence, Healing, Transformation, and Harmony. These sections deal respectively with (1); the curious and wonderful state of consciousness called transcendence; (2) the physical benefits of TM that scientific research has confirmed; (3) its psychological impact, seen in research and the stories of real people whose lives it has transformed; and (4) the way TM promotes harmony at multiple levels—within the mind, between mind and body, between people, and within society.
Although I am excited by relief TM offers those suffering from physical and emotional disorders, there is a great deal more to the practice. I hear all the time from both patients and friends about their desire to move beyond the humdrum and the ordinary. People have a certain yearning. It’s not that anything is wrong with their lives—they just want something more, something larger than their daily routine. I have come to believe that for myself, and many others, this need can be met by delving deep into the self and discovering the ocean of consciousness within.
In the course of my exploration, I have talked with people from many walks of life who have made these journeys of transcendence and have been transformed in the process. I have spoken to inner-city schoolchildren, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, people with addictions, formerly homeless and incarcerated men, and those suffering from emotional illnesses, and have been impressed by the impact of TM on their lives. I have also spoken to successful artists—including movie stars and filmmakers—as well as scientists and business executives, and have arrived at the same observations. I can only conclude that this technique can improve the lives of a broad sweep of people, and I look forward to sharing what I have learned with you.
Some of you may find this preview of the benefits of TM—this seemingly simple technique—exaggerated and hard to believe. I don’t blame you. It has taken me quite a while to come to these conclusions myself. But as a psychiatrist and scientist with over thirty years of clinical and research experience, I have found that, once in a great while, something comes along that truly surprises—TM is one such thing. I have examined the data—the literature, my patients, and my-self—and am persuaded that something rather special is going on here. I encourage you to read the stories of the people in this book, as well as all the research behind my conclusions—and judge for yourself."Dr. Norman Rosenthal's Transcendence is the best-ever book on Transcendental Meditation: accessible and substantive, engaging and scientific, practical and profound. A very enjoyable read that can change your life, for good."—David Lynch
"I have been meditating for over 10 years, and I found Transcendence to be a uniquely compelling introduction to the art and science of Transcendental Meditation. Dr. Norman Rosenthal's book will propel TM into the mainstream where it belongs."—Russell Simmons
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