Lifestyles

Relax today, tomorrow the world

Claire Gerus February 12 1979
Lifestyles

Relax today, tomorrow the world

Claire Gerus February 12 1979

Relax today, tomorrow the world

Lifestyles

Some two million people around the world—190,000 of them in Canada—have learned the technique of sitting quietly, closing their eyes and reciting a “mantra”—a daily exercise designed to clear the mind of random thoughts and attune it to enter a state of deep relaxation. At the end of 20 minutes, the meditator opens his eyes and, presumably refreshed, plugs back into society.

Transcendental meditation—and the rest and recreation achieved during what U.S. researcher Robert Keith Wallace calls a “fourth state of consciousness”—has emerged as a potent, if controversial, tool of relaxation since its introduction to the West in 1959 by Indian religious leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Until recently, however, its focus has been on personal fulfilment. But two years ago, the Maharishi announced the formation of a “world government” based in Seelisberg, Switzerland, and now, in 1979, the “year of all possibilities,” TM has blossomed into

a movement with global ambitions.

Such diverse notables as stress expert Dr. Hans Selye, futurist R. Buckminster Fuller and retired football great Joe Namath are converts to TM, which reduces physical stress by apparently decreasing oxygen consumption and thereby relieving the heart of up to 25 per cent of its work load. “Being involved in many stress-producing activi-

ties, I find TM an important part of my life,” says Professor Max Clarkson, dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Management Studies and an 18year TM veteran. “I can get by with far less sleep and I can meditate anywhere — on planes, buses, even the subway.”

Critics have maintained that the initiation fee of $150 per adult—to cover instruction in the meditation technique and the giving of the personal mantra, a Sanskrit word of recitation, is inconsistent with the idea of imparting a spiritual gift. And the six-week, $3,000 advanced course in TM-Sidhi, which is claimed to give its graduates access to such powers as defying gravity, has been greeted with widespread public skepticism. Converts have replied that TM is merely a technique, not a religion or philosophy.

The Maharishi’s “government,” with 10 exotic-sounding “ministries” ranging from cultural integrity to consciousness development, aims to “raise the level of world consciousness, create an ideal society and bring invincibility to every nation,” in the words of official TM literature, by converting one per cent of the population to TM. The basis for the drive is a 1975 study by sociologists Candace Borland and Garland Landrith, showing that certain medium-sized U.S. cities, in which one per cent of the population were TM practitioners, experienced an eight-per-cent drop in crime over a one-year period. In contrast, a control group of cities which had less than one per cent of TM meditators showed an eight-per-cent rise in criminal activity.

Last June, the Maharishi selected areas in 108 countries as sites for the development of “ideal societies,” to be achieved by the acceptance of the TM program by one per cent of the populations. Washington state and Rhode Island in the U.S. and Quebec and British Columbia in Canada were selected as targets for concentrated efforts to win new converts. Approaches have already been made to educational institutions, high-stress professions and the military.

Last summer, the Quebec education ministry submitted a Green Paper asking for the public’s suggestions on how to improve the school system. In response, the world government presented a brief proposing TM instruction for all students, with the cost to be absorbed by the schools. Raymond Jensen, director of Protestant Education Services, admits that “all proposals are being considered,” but adds, “this one sounds way-out to me.”

Canada’s air traffic controllers aren’t buying TM, either. After considering a TM proposal to teach the technique to their members, both the Canadian Air Traffic Control Association and the Federal Ministry of Transport turned them down. Says CATCA President Jim Livingston: “There are likely some controllers who would benefit from TM, but we neither reject nor endorse it.”

Positive support has come from the medical profession. Last August, 100 West German doctors petitioned their government to include TM in the government health plan, and British doctors followed suit. Neither government has committed itself to the program, but in Australia, TM has been declared acceptable as a medical benefit for patients with psychological problems. During the past few months, a “global peace squad” of volunteers has ventured into such hot spots as Nicaragua, Lebanon, Iran, Rhodesia and Thailand, spending several weeks meditating to improve the areas’ “vibrations.” Undaunted, the TM movement has tapped LieutenantColonel J.W. Cramwinckel, a retired Dutch military officer to spread the TM word to active and retired military people around the world.

TM has already had some success in curbing violence. An experimental program in Folsom State Prison in California has taught over 300 prisoners the TM technique in three years. Of those prisoners instructed, only five per cent have returned to prison, as opposed to the usual 60-per-cent recidivism rate.

What’s ahead for TM and its “world government” in “the year of all possibilities?” “We’re not sure yet what the Maharishi has in store for us,” one insider says. “But whatever it is, it should be exciting.”

Claire Gerus