TM Teacher Training 1970
My meditation teacher training involved many months during which most of the day was spent doing asanas, pranayama, and meditation. This was called a "round:" asana, pranayama, dhyan. You'd do a set of asanas, then a couple of minutes of alternate-nostril breathing, then meditate. This gets to be quite intense after a few weeks, because your muscles and nerves become too relaxed to hold back any tension, even the things you have been afraid of your whole life. Even the worst trauma you've ever experienced.
In those days, meditation teacher training was a moveable feast. The TM organization never knew how many people were going to come, and they were just making it up as they went along, how to accommodate everyone. They would put out a notice, we are going to have a TM meditation teacher training, and then they would wait as 100, 200, 300, a thousand people would sign up. How do you plan something like that?
The TM organization had a guy, Jerry Jarvis, who was a kind of genius at improvisation. Jerry was the most relaxed person I have ever met and he was the main administrator of the Student's International Meditation Society - SIMS - which ran all the TM courses I ever attended – my introductory course in which I learned TM, and all my teacher training. Jerry could stand in the middle of 10 people hassling him for answers and calmly answer one at a time, giving each person his full attention for a moment or two, making a decision, and then going on to the next. While doing that, if you came up to the crowd with a sense of urgency, he would glance at you, read your situation, give you a wink or nod, and half a second later be looking at whoever was right in front of him. He just seemed to be aware of the whole sphere around him at all times.
If I have ever met a person on this Earth who knew and lived the truth of, "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff. And It's All Small Stuff" it would be Jerry. He was constantly dealing with issues such as: "Jerry, we have 500 people signed up for the next teacher training course and the hotel in Switzerland has confirmed they can handle 520 maximum. . . whoops, Jerry, we now have 1200 people for the meditation course that starts in two weeks, and the Canary Islands are not available, the Majorcans are stalling for more money, the La Antilla hotels aren't answering our phone calls, and Billy was just arrested with a briefcase with $120,000 in it which was going to be used as a deposit for the rooms, and the Spanish are holding him as a currency smuggler."
Let me step out of chronology for a paragraph, just to say: In my experience, Jerry was totally fair, even, and always had his sense of humor going. I was around Jerry occasionally from 1968 to 1975, and I worked for him, in a loose sense, for five years or so. When he was ousted from power, I don't know why, the whole TM movement in the United States fell apart in the sense that hardly anyone wanted to learn TM anymore. The number of people starting each month in the United States dropped from a thousand or more to hundreds, many centers closed, and TM became an awful way to learn to meditate.
Ok . . . back to the Summer of 1970.
We started in Poland Springs, Maine, where there was a huge old hotel, left over from some previous era. We were there for a month in the middle of summer.
Listening to the Gandharvas
At Poland Springs, Maharishi gave a talk in the middle of the day on many days. I liked to stand in back of the lecture hall and take it all in, or sit in the middle, so that I had a vista of the audience and the proceedings. There were perhaps a thousand people there. One afternoon I was looking at Maharishi, and I saw a circle of luminous beings standing around him. I did not count, it seemed like there were more than four, and they had the presence of kings. In terms of harmony, they were like a backup band for Maharishi, as if he were the lead singer and they were playing bass and drums. That was the kind of harmony and oomph they were putting out. At the same time, it looked as if they were blessing Maharishi and crowning him. Or perhaps the term is they were placing something on his head, a wreath, to symbolize that he was their emissary. I was just quietly observing this with the heightened sensing I had been getting used to over the years, and not really thinking much about it.
Then I noticed that there were shining beings standing in space, or floating, around the room up near the ceilings, and that they were playing musical instruments of some kind and singing. I was highly experienced in visual hallucination, in the sense that in dance therapy, Gestalt therapy, and Jungian analysis, you take a fantasy and treat it as real and interact with it. In fact you treat a dream or fantasy as more real that real, in that you give it hours of play time. I thought that this was just an intense active imagination of mine, and I was amused. So I started to write down the words they were saying, and made musical notations about the melody. This went on for half an hour or so, as I sat there in the lecture hall humming to myself what I heard them singing and writing notes.
Then I noticed that one of the floating musicians saw me looking at him and saw that I was hearing him. Quick as a flash, he seemed to communicate to the other beings floating in the room, "Look, a human being can see us." He seemed to be entertained by this. It was then that I realized, oh, this is not an active imagination. This does not have the feeling of a fantasy. Those beings are real.
I stayed with this thought for awhile – at first it completely stopped my mind. I was in awe. Then it seemed really funny. I remember walking out of the lecture hall, trying to keep from laughing out loud as a huge joke dawned on me: "If those are angels, then that thing they call religion – with books called Bibles – are records of people's encounters with angels. And therefore religion must be true." I saw a mental image of the Jehovah's Witnesses earnestly going door to door. This to me, was really a joke, a joke on me, because I was raised to be a scientist and a surfer. We went to the beach on Sundays, and religion was not ever even a conversation. It just wasn't worthy of thinking or talking about. I walked out of the lecture hall into a brilliant summer afternoon laughing inside.
I told no one except Maharishi about seeing the celestial musicians around him, but there they were, day after day. I went up after one of the lectures and sat and talked with him for a few minutes, and he just raised his eyebrows and nodded. I showed him the notebook where I had written down what I heard and what the musicians seemed to be saying. Then he asked me to sing in front of the entire group what I had been hearing. That evening, he ended his talk and then said, "Now musicians, come. Who has a song to sing? Who has been listening to the Gandharvas?" And he waited. I froze. The thought of standing up in front of a thousand people and singing terrified me. After a few seconds, there were a dozen people with guitars standing in a line at the microphones. I sat there with stage fright. Later I asked Jerry, "What's a Gandharva," and he told me, "Oh that's a name for the celestial musicians. It's Sanskrit for a type of angel."
I used to take naps in the afternoons in my room, which was in another hotel about a quarter mile from the main lecture hall. I had a roommate, and so I would be in my room, sitting on the bed cross-legged meditating, and people would come and go. Sometimes the friends of my roommate would walk in, looking for him. One guy, let's call him Mark, used to come to our room every day and just walk in quietly, because it was better to not knock, because people might be meditating. Sometimes I would be sitting up meditating, and sometimes I would be lying down after meditating and doing asanas. The afternoons were hot and muggy, and I just felt like taking a nap.
But I did not fall asleep, usually. I was in that state we all know of being semi-asleep, just drifting, enjoying the restfulness. And because I had just meditated, there was a special afterglow to the nap.
In TM, the idea is that you listen to a charming sound, something with the resonance of Oooommmmmm, or Huuuummmmm, or some variation of that. In TM they use really beautiful sounds that seem perfect. You can get something of the feeling of this by just playing around with the vowels of your mother tongue, combining and recombining them until you find a tone that rings true. This sound is called a mantra, from the root manas=mind, plus tra=tool. A tool of thought, in other words.
We were trained to let the sound come and go, just appreciating it. One of the great secrets of TM is that you do not block out thoughts. Not even a little. And you don't mentally complain to yourself about the thoughts. You don't resist at all, and this turns out to be an amazing secret, a key to going deep. At the same time, you don't cling to the mantra and use it to block out noise. If you are in deep inner silence, just barely hearing the mantra very faintly, and sublimely relaxed, and then suddenly you start thinking of your to-do list, and get anxious about it, you do not resent the thoughts for coming and interrupting you. No. What you do is almost nothing. You don't encourage the thoughts and you don't discourage them in any way. If the thoughts keep coming, you pay attention to the sensation of tension in your body that is giving rise to the thoughts.
This is a stunning insight and formulation of a principle. It is best learned through one-to-one instruction, because this knowledge needs to become part of your reflexes and muscle memory, encoded in your body. Thoughts and sensations come really fast, in less than a second, so you need to have this response right there like your tennis serve, or that impulse to reach out and take someone's hand when they offer it. In order for information – verbal info such as is on this page – to become part of your muscle memory in meditation, you need to think about it just before and just after meditating. So you can do that on your own, just arrange to coach yourself just before meditating, and then open your eyes and read these thoughts. Or record it as an audio file and play it back.
What happens is that thoughts come, noises attract your attention, and you simply notice them, and then you return to listening to the mantra. Because you are not concentrating on the mantra, it changes all the time. It speeds up, slows down, shifts rhythm, fades away, comes back, fades away, doesn't come back for a long time. The attitude to have here is so weightless it is hard to describe. Let me give it a shot: you are simply prepared to enjoy the mantra, however it is appearing. There is a slight sense of encouraging the mantra, and that's it. Your attitude toward the universe is incredibly tolerant.
The most radical, truly radical insights of TM is that there is no control. There is no way some small part of you can control your vast self – that would be like your little finger arrogantly deciding it is going to control the whole body. What you are doing is riding your craving for vastness, the longing the little self has to meet its essence. You aren't even "letting" that happen, because it is not up to you to issue permits. You set up the situation so that your little self, as you know yourself, can gradually get to know your larger self. TM's formulation of the naturalness of this meeting is better and simpler than anything else I have ever encountered, except Laksman Joo's work.
So what you are doing in TM has a musical quality to it, in that you are listening to a vibration, a sound. And there is a jazz quality, improvisations wandering off into silences, because you aren't repeating the sound mechanically, over and over. You are interested in the sound, and allow it to be different in each moment. You let it have its own rhythm, and you allow it to fade into the silence. Then you come back to it. So there is always a surprise – the mantra is different in every moment, and the silence after the mantra lasts as long as it lasts. You just never know. It's fresh in every moment. That's why people can meditate for hours a day, and meditate every day for years: it's like listening to music that is eternally changing.
As long as I was sitting up, I would be paying attention to the mantra as sound, because that was TM's main pathway. I was attending to the auditory channel. When I would lie down to nap, I would not think the mantra, that was slightly discouraged. The mantra is not for lying down, it's for sitting. But my attention would be called to the spontaneous vibration, that delicious feeling we all know called napping. And I would just be enjoying that floating feeling, and the heightened sensing that meditation invites was attending to the feeling of fatigue as a vibration. A kind of pleasant hum of tiredness. As I lay there restfully paying attention to this hum of fatigue, it became also a feeling of glow, quiet luminosity, as if I were taking a bath in warm light.
I did not think of what I was doing as meditation. I was just lying there attending to my senses – vibration and vision, primarily. The vibration had a feeling, and it was a hum, but not anything I could hear. Just a sense of a hum permeating my body. It was a delightful feeling. At times I was aware of being inside a glow. It was as if all the cells or particles of my body were glowing with light and vibrating with an almost-audible hum. There was a texture of feeling, a sound that was a hum, and a light, a radiance. So it was a very complete sensory world: seeing, hearing and feeling, all in harmony. This just happened spontaneously. I felt as if I were wrapped up in a large cocoon, and it was rejuvenating me. It was like I could feel every cell vibrating and being healed and revivified. And I really was aware of luminosity permeating my body. If you can recall the afterglow after sex, it was like that but quieter, the afterglow after meditation. I did not say a word to anyone about it, and usually if you look like you are napping, people leave you alone.
One day Mark, the busybody who kept coming by the room, leaned in and exclaimed, "I can see you glowing. . . . hey, you're not asleep." He just said that and left. Then he came back a few minutes later with a friend to find out if the friend could see the glow. His friend was noncommital. I don't remember what he said. The whole thing was mildly annoying, but I was half-awake and did not really care or think about it. I did not say a thing about the glow, except, "Yeah, I was just sort of consciously napping. It's fun."
Then several days later, Mark came by, leaned into the room, and said, "Oh, there you are, doing that technique that's not TM." It was just a casual comment, but it dripped with venom. That technique that's not TM. I guess he had discussed it with his buddies, and they had come to some sort of conclusion that I was doing an unauthorized technique.
Now, years later, I realize that the entire story of the downfall and self-destruction of the TM movement was there in that comment, that fear of the spontaneous. TM trained people to be observant enough to know what simplicity is, how to keep your meditation practice simple. But TM also inculcates a narrowness of vision, a fundamentalist orthodoxy that is afraid of almost everything. You only know you are safe if you have a current seal of approval issued by the Master. The universe is a kind of Stalinist bureaucracy, with petty tyrants everywhere.
Mark was observant enough to see what I was experiencing, at least in part. I think a lot of people can sense energies. And his first response may have been wonder, and perhaps a bit of delight. But then voices started working on him – envy, fear, suspicion. And so he came back at me with, "That technique that's not TM."
Of course it was TM, it was multi-sensory TM. My visual senses and kinaesthetic senses were combining with the auditory sense. Instead of just hearing, I was feeling and seeing simultaneously. And it was spontaneous. I think that years later, after I left TM, that they started teaching techniques similar to what I had been doing spontaneously.
Mark's comment did not affect my naps, but it did drive a wedge between me and his group of friends, a chilling feeling, and it stated clearly the dynamics of every cult, if you are different, we will shun you. I did not have the social savvy to work the situation, to defuse the weirdness Mark was projecting onto me. "Everybody from California glows. Didn't you know? We are radioactive," or something like that. Many people have this skill, of just cheerfully joining in the groupthink and turning it to their advantage, making a joke, and this is something I admire enormously, but I have been really slow to learn it. And at the time, I just felt the chill and never really spoke to Mark again.
The trend Mark was manifesting, the sort of snotty, semi-perceptive fundamentalism, gradually got to me over the next couple of years, especially after I graduated from my TM teacher training. There is just so much of it in TM that for awhile, I turned aside, partly, from my own sensing, my own rich sensory world. With direct experience, you need to embrace it. If you hold it at bay, you don't get the lesson.
From somewhere Mark had discovered THE DOCTRINE – he had come across a way of thinking like a Jesuit or a lawyer, attacking something he barely understood. So right here the narrowness of TM thinking had converted Mark from possibly being a really talented TM teacher, to being a mildly vicious snob, the kind of person who would walk in on someone else lying down with their eyes closed, and make up a whole theology about it.
In September we moved to Estes Park, Colorado, where we stayed at a hotel nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. I think it was a YMCA camp, but a very nice one, a good basic hotel with clean rooms. Estes Park was beautiful, and we were there from sometime in late September through December.
If you haven’t been trained in meditation such that is is the most natural thing in the world, it’s hard to explain why you would travel to a place like Estes Park and then never look at it, just look inside. I guess you’d have to think of a time in your life when your passion for something – a relationship, a hobby, a business deal, was so intense that you hardly noticed the world around you. That’s the way it is if you truly know how to meditate – the pull of the inner world is so strong, you want to give in and let nature do its work. Attend to the inner processes and emerge renewed.
I took one glance at the mountains and then dove right into the schedule of asana, pranayama, meditation, pranayama, asana, pranayama, meditation – called rounding. We basically rounded all morning, went to lunch, rounded in the afternoon, went to dinner, then an evening lecture by Maharishi.
On the course in Estes Park, I went through a lot of what we call unstressing. What happens is you will be sitting there happily going in and out of meditation, and then zooooommmmmmmm, you are IN a movie, a surround-sound IMAX movie made up of the worst, most hideous, frightening, disgusting experiences your nervous system has ever been involved in. I had a lot of them to work through. The process is self-regulating in that you can only stay there to the extent you are relaxed. If you tense up, the noise of tensing blocks out the faint impressions of the trauma in your memory, in your muscles and nerves. This went on for the ten weeks of the meditation teacher training course.
We finished sometime in December, when Maharishi made us teachers of TM. I drove back from Colorado to California and spent a month or so closing my little house near UCI and giving away everything I owned, because I wanted to go do a few more months of meditation.
Maharishi and the TM teacher training had moved to Europe. I think the reason was availability of hotel rooms, being able to rent a thousand rooms at a time. After looking all over Europe, the TM people in charge of finding hotels settled on Majorca, Spain.
So I went to Majorca, Spain, in February 1971.