Perhaps a bit obscure?
Aside from having read some news articles about how mass meditation could lower the crime rate (a claim that is still touted, despite many skeptics disputing the data), I didn’t know all that much about Transcendental Meditation. There were a lot of TMers in the town where I lived as a young adult, and I guess some of them were persuasive enough that one year I recall voting a straight Natural Law ticket in a local election without knowing anything about TM. I actually have some cousins who are involved in the group, and they, as far as I can tell, are just people who meditate every day. I didn’t have many preconceived notions about the practice.
So, when The Man told me he wanted to attend a free informational meeting about Transcendental Meditation a few years back, I didn’t have any problem tagging along. I was interested to hear what they had to say. Also, as you may know, my policy has always been to tag along when I suspect my husband might intend to join a cult. The last time it actually worked out pretty well. I did Crossfit for 3 1/2 years and I was fit.
This time, though, I got bad vibes right from the start. Perhaps a dozen of us gathered in a private home to hear a deliriously happy couple talk about how TM could save the world and everything in it. Like I said, I went in with a pretty open mind, but it was hard to keep listening after a while.
First of all, it turned out that my cousins were kind of a big deal in the movement and these people were way too impressed with their names when they asked if we knew any TMers. That made me uneasy.
Then they presented the same evidence I’d been reading for years, about crime going down when a lot of people meditated. Old evidence. Immediately, I question why crime still exists, if we can just meditate it away. Why do all the TMers stay in freaking Iowa if they could make New York, Chicago, and LA safe for the most vulnerable people, if they could inspire criminals to just stop committing crimes? Why don’t they go meditate in Jerusalem until the Israelis and the Palestinians come to accord? They don’t tell you that. They just tell you how great TM is, how beautiful the ceremony that inducts you into the group is, how special receiving your own personal mantra is.
Personally, I’ve read Kurt Vonnegut’s “Report on the Barnhouse Effect” and I know exactly what I’d do if I had the power to stop violence just by thinking about it.
Next, they get to the price. It’s a pretty hefty price tag. I forget how much they wanted precisely, but I recall it was about a grand, and it’s absolutely imperative that you pay. You can’t get one of their big, life-changing secret mantras until you pay. So that’s where you lose me every time. Simple, secret knowledge that’s only available for a hefty price, but guaranteed to improve everything for the rest of your life? I’m trying to get them to explain how and why TM’s results differ from those of other types of meditation, or chanting, or mantras, but all I get is that their mantras are magic, that mantras that hold translatable meaning are too distracting for the human brain, and that you have to have a custom mantra of nonsense syllables tailored to you.
Finally, they announce that we will each have a one-on-one talk with one of the leaders, guys with the husband and girls with the wife. Well, The Man immediately objects. “I want to stay with my wife,” he says, but this is impossible. They won’t allow it. He goes one way and I go another. After some forgettable small talk, I’m asked if I have any questions. Oh, I have questions. But, per usual, I don’t need to ask too many of them.
“If you honestly believe that TM is the secret to fixing the world, and that everything would be perfect if everyone practiced it, why would you hang this exorbitant price tag on something that would save humanity? Why don’t you just give it away and make the world perfect right now?”
“Oh, they tried that in the ’60s. The Maharishi found that people didn’t take it seriously unless they paid.”
They have to charge you because it doesn’t work if you don’t pay.
In other words, this is a practice that can change your world, but only if you’re the kind of person who has $1000 to set on fire right now. Let me tell you, as a person who’s been well-off and not so well-off, there are plenty of things that can make the world better for you if you’re the kind of person who has 1000 extra bucks lying around. Most problems are easier to fix with money, and people with money tend to have different problems than people without money.
She kept trying to sell me but I was bored and disgusted and told her that I would definitely not be giving her $1000, ever, and she gave up and hustled me out of there so she could get at the next mark. Customer. Seeker of illuminated truth. Whatever.
The Man hadn’t pushed as far in his one-on-one, but he was also disenchanted with their promises and their sales tactics. We left.
Later, I did a lot more research on TM. As it turned out, like everything else in the internet era, the top-secret personal mantras that lie at the core of this practice are not at all secret. Enough people have left TM and shared their secrets that it’s now possible to deduce that there is nothing special or personal about TM mantras: you are assigned one of a set number of meaningless syllables based on your age and your gender. That’s it. You can go right now and find what mantra will save your life by Googling it (of course they claim it doesn’t work if you don’t have the support of the community, which you only get with the $1000 buy-in).
That’s my story about TM. If it works for you, more power to you. But also, you might want to Google “meditation crime rate study skeptic” or possibly “placebo effect” before you try to sell it to me for $1000. Having a finely-tuned bullshit meter probably makes the world less magical for me, but it does save me a lot of money.
Anyway, this was a little throwaway gag I thought of on my last writing retreat. I wanted to get back to riffs off pop culture and little puns and slight changes in trending phrases, like “microclimate change deniers” and “super fun site” in addition to branching out into more personal stuff. I think it’s taken me longer to write this blog post than it took to draw the comic. No idea if the comic works or not, but I need to find my way back into this blog, and the more serious ideas I’ve jotted down recently are a lot longer.