Transcendental Meditation, rituals and woo woo.

I recently started doing a course in TM. I went along mainly to attend with someone else who was interested in the course. Having learnt quite a few meditation techniques myself, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with another one.

But I’m glad I did.

I approached the course with some arrogance. To my knowledge, TM was just another technique wrapped in some secret ritual. I had some temporal arrogance too; TM, which began in the 60’s, seemed to be past its prime, not as ancient (and therefore authoritative) as some techniques, nor as new (and therefore making use of the latest discoveries) as some of the others.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about this aspect. Humans respond very well to ritual. The action of making something sacred does not depend on some sort of outside magic inherent in the ritual, something external, but rather internal. The structure of a ritual can be a powerful way to penetrate deeply into our consciousness.

I went on a Native American style sweatlodge a while back, and most participants commented on the surprising affect that the ritual had on them. Seemingly minor events took on profound meanings.

I felt something similar during the TM ritual. The secrecy, something for which TM has been criticised, and which discomforted me, suddenly made sense. Bringing things out into the open leads people like me to overly analyse and intellectualise the experience. The head exacerbates many of our, and particularly my, problems.

So I saw the TM secrecy not as an attempt to hide knowledge, keeping power to a limited few, in the way that say pharmaceutical companies do, or perhaps Catholicism or Freemasonry attempt to, but as an attempt to keep the intellect out, thus enhancing the experience when someone does encounter it. And that worked for me. The teaching emphasises normality, saying we do not need to rely upon props and mood-enhancers, and that one can and should meditate in whatever environment we find ourself, which is all perfectly sensible, but the initial ritual, which isn’t discussed, helped make me more receptive.

Reiki (which I’ve also practised) faces a similar conundrum. The symbols were meant to be kept secret, passed on from student to teacher. However, a few years ago an author published the reiki symbols for the first time. A reiki student can now go and learn all the symbols before they start the course, but this intellectual understanding of the teaching, in the absence of anything else, lessens the impact. In TM too, all the ‘secrets’ are now available on the internet, so nothing is really being kept back, but I still appreciated the attempt to do so, and the presentation.

The teaching too has been good. The technique really is simple, and of all the meditations I know, I find this one the simplest (and therefore the one I’m most likely to do regularly). I wish some of the other techniques I learnt were presented in the same way, with as much care. Much of what I’ve taken time to learn about meditation, or from different sources, has been presented here upfront, so I’m pleasantly surprised.

I recently read a book by Starhawk, Walking to Mercury. The main character (who seems to be fairly autobiographical) had a gift for creating a ritual out of very little. So people looked to her to ‘make magic’. I described this to myself as going ‘woo-woo’ and having everyone gasping in awe. Much scientific criticism of ritual activities looks at the issue backwards, by examining the ritual in isolation of its participants, and hence finds very little objective benefit. But ‘woo-woo’ done well, with a deep understanding (or perhaps put less intellectually, instinctual grasp), can work wonders.

Happy woo woo to you 🙂

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