At Maharishi University of Management, all students, faculty, and staff learn Transcendental Meditation, an effortless mental technique practiced while sitting comfortably for 20 minutes twice a day. It improves mental and physical health, which is the primary reason people do it. People from every walk of life practice Transcendental Meditation — students, teachers, newscasters, musicians, actors, athletes, doctors, lawyers, parents, grandparents, and kids. There are hundreds of research studies on the physiological and psychological benefits of Transcendental Meditation, yet misconceptions sometimes linger, which I would like to address, one at a time.
Since the Transcendental Meditation technique is a core feature of our educational community, and since there are many general ideas about meditation that are not applicable to Transcendental Meditation, I would like to clarify some of these misconceptions.
Thomas Egenes, Ph.D.
1. Meditation is dependent upon one’s belief and culture.
Transcendental Meditation is open to everyone, regardless of race, religion, belief, or culture.
2. Meditation requires focus, whether on the breath, or a part of the physiology, or a visual stimulus.
Even slight focus will interfere with Transcendental Meditation. Transcendental Meditation is effortless to practice because it makes use of the natural tendency of the mind to settle down on its own. Once begun, the mind experiences increasing charm at every step without the need for focus. In fact, in the same way that focusing can keep you from drifting into a sleep state, focusing prevents you from experiencing the effortless process of transcending.
3. Meditation is a mystical experience, beyond the scope of scientific investigation.
Transcendental Meditation is a systematic procedure and therefore can be studied by scientific methods such as randomized controlled studies. Hundreds of studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals. These studies demonstrate that people experience increased alpha wave activity, lower respiratory rate, and a slowed heartbeat during the practice, as well as many other benefits in daily life. Over 350 studies show that the meditative state, which is the opposite of the stress response, results in significant health benefits for the mind, body, behavior, and environment.
4. All techniques of meditation are the same.
There are important differences between different types of meditation. Transcendental Meditation is different than other meditation techniques because it is effortless. The effortless nature of Transcendental Meditation is the key to why people experience a completely settled state of consciousness while meditating.
5. Meditation is only for certain types of people — those who want to remove themselves from active life and maintain an inward life of silence.
Transcendental Meditation is for everyone. The way of life is not important. Doctors, lawyers, students, moms, dads, retired people—all kinds of people practice Transcendental Meditation and find that it helps them be more effective in meeting the demands of career and family life.
6. It takes many years to achieve a deeply relaxed state in meditation.
EEG studies on Transcendental Meditation demonstrate that people achieve profound relaxation right from their first meditation.
7. Meditation requires one to be dispassionate and disinterested during activity.
Attempting to be dispassionate puts undue stress on the mind, bringing dullness and artificiality. Transcendental Meditation allows the mind to effortlessly experience its own natural state of balance, and as a result, activity naturally becomes more dynamic and more effective.
8. People who meditate will talk, act, or dress in a certain way.
The inner state of a person cannot be judged by outer signs, such as the way a person talks or dresses.
9. The sole purpose of meditation is to culture enlightenment.
While some people are interested in the spiritual benefits of meditation, many others learn Transcendental Meditation because they want to sleep better, get better grades, improve their relationships, relieve PTSD, lower their blood pressure, and so on — all good reasons to practice Transcendental Meditation. Also equally important is that becoming more self-realized, or experiencing the fulfillment and contentment that is characterized by the word “enlightenment,” are experiences regularly reported by people who practice Transcendental Meditation.
10. Mental techniques such as meditation cannot affect the physiology.
Because the mind and body are connected, the mental technique of Transcendental Meditation does improve physiological functioning, as demonstrated by hundreds of randomized, controlled studies. For example, Transcendental Meditation has been shown to lower blood pressure without the use of drugs.
11. The nature of life is suffering, so there is no need to meditate.
It is unnatural to suffer because the nature of life is happiness. It’s the experience of millions of meditators that Transcendental Meditation relieves suffering and improves health and happiness.
12. Watching activity is a form of meditation.
Watching activity dulls the mind and creates strange moods. Transcendental Meditation allows a person to be calm and quiet while meditating, which naturally results in more dynamic and focused activity.
13. Meditation is a way to separate yourself from the world, because according to Indian philosophy, the world is just an illusion.
The illusion is the lack of ability to see the world as it is—a place of infinite joy. Transcendental Meditation reduces anxiety, so you can appreciate the world and fully engage in it.
14. Meditation discourages creativity.
Transcendental Meditation encourages creativity by diving deep within, where the source of creativity lies. Consciousness is a field of creativity, and it’s from there that we get our creative ideas — what director David Lynch refers to as “catching the big fish.”
15. Meditation means following a guru.
The practice of Transcendental Meditation does not require following a guru, a philosophy, or a particular religion or lifestyle. After the initial instruction, you practice on your own. Transcendental Meditation makes a person more self-sufficient, more balanced — and then what you do is your own choice.
16. Right action is based upon the intellect and willpower.
Spontaneous right action is the natural result of a well-rested nervous system. For example, it’s easy to choose nourishing foods early in the morning. But in the late afternoon, when you are tired, it may be difficult to eat right, even though you know what is right. When you feel well rested after practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, food choices as well as many other decisions become spontaneously healthier by natural inclination. Many people find that they naturally lose the taste for cigarettes or other harmful substances after they start Transcendental Meditation, and that they easily start making choices that are better for them and the people around them.
17. Expansion of consciousness is the result of meditation.
While the term “expansion of consciousness” is often used, in actuality during the practice of Transcendental Meditation the stresses in the physical nervous system dissolve, and then consciousness is experienced in its normal state, which is an infinite field of joy, happiness, energy, creativity, and intelligence. Transcendental Meditation is like removing the clouds, and then the sun naturally shines.
18. With meditation, desires must be controlled.
Desires lead a person to greater happiness. Like rivers to the ocean, desires are stepping stones to greater fulfillment. Transcendental Meditation gives the energy and balance necessary to envision, work for, and fulfill one’s desires. People find that their desires naturally become more life-supporting and in harmony with nature and their environment.
19. Stress is bad.
The human physiology is designed to take a moderate amount of stress and still return to a balanced state. However, when stressful situations become too frequent or too intense, a person can get locked into the fight-or-flight response. This is chronic anxiety, a condition in which a person will report that they are “all stressed out” all of the time. Transcendental Meditation directly addresses chronic anxiety by offering a period of deep rest in which the fight-or-flight response turns off, bringing the physiology back into balance.
20. Meditation means trying to culture equanimity while in activity.
Straining to create equanimity in activity creates confusion and strange behavior. Transcendental Meditation is like settling the turbulent waves of the ocean, and then afterwards the attention becomes steady, and the person acts in a natural way. Equanimity is a quality of consciousness found inside everyone, so when you experience consciousness on a daily basis, equanimity naturally and effortlessly gets infused in your mind, body, and behavior — creating greater equanimity without trying.
21. Meditation by itself is enough to gain a state of balance.
The alternation of dynamic activity and deep rest creates balance. A sensible daily routine which includes Transcendental Meditation and rewarding activity is enough to gain a state of balance.
22. The senses must be controlled to practice meditation.
The practice of Transcendental Meditation cultures pure consciousness, a state where one is naturally unaffected by the overpowering influence of the senses. As a result, by natural inclination a person experiences more control over their senses. No great willpower is needed when a person feels well rested.
23. People who meditate are detached from life and passively accept whatever happens to them without trying to improve their lives.
People who practice Transcendental Meditation report that they are enthusiastic about their future and are willing to take responsibility for themselves and their fellow human beings.
24. Meditation makes a person experience the world as flat and dull — devoid of emotion.
After Transcendental Meditation the senses experience objects more completely, and so colors are brighter and food tastes better. Many people report that when stresses and fatigue are wiped away, the same world looks, sounds, feels, tastes, and smells more beautiful.
25. If a person imitates a certain kind of enlightened behavior, he or she will gain a balanced state of mind.
Copying the behavior of another person will create awkwardness. Through the practice of Transcendental Meditation, people often comment that they know who they are, and feel more themselves on the inside and at the same time more appreciative of individual differences on the outside. They become aware of their own interests and strengths, and develop in those areas — what they are most excited about.
About the Author
Thomas Egenes received his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia. He is Associate Professor of Maharishi Vedic Science and Sanskrit at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, U.S.A.