Transcendental Meditation / TM

How to do it

    • Explanation 1
      • Sit comfortably, close your eyes and repeat a mantra. A mantra is a meaningless word which in TM's case is supposedly customized for each person.
      • When you repeat the mantra, one of three things happen in the mind,
        • Your mind is full of thoughts
        • Your mind is with thoughts and mantra in the background
        • Your mind is repeating the mantra and it becomes subtle and subtle.
      • If situation no. 3 happens, the mind is supposed to have reached a state of transcendence which is beyond the levels of conscious mind, 
    • Explanation 2 (Source)
      • Close your eyes, wait a few seconds, and then start thinking the mantra.
      • After a while you should “let it go” and “allow the mantra to change in any way it wants”. Whether it gets louder or softer, faster or slower down, clearer or fainter, we just take it as it comes. Its is more of a “hearing” of the mantra than repeating it, and that is why TM movement calls the technique “effortless”.
      • Allow thoughts to come and go along with the mantra. There is no attempt to push thoughts out of our mind or use the mantra to override them.
      • When the mantra disappears and the mind goes off on thoughts we quietly come back to it. This means that all we have to do is become (aware) that we are no longer hearing the mantra and the awareness of that will be quite sufficient to bring the mantra back to us.
      • At the end of meditation stop thinking the mantra and wait about 2 minutes before opening the eyes.
    • Explanation 3
      • Repeat the mantra RAM (original TM) or LAM (NSR) to yourself, silently, for 20 minutes, once or twice a day. (The mantra rhymes with "arm" and is essentially meaningless.)
      • Accept that it will work with little effort, other than the small amount to check that the mantra is indeed continuing. Don't worry too much about what your mind is doing, just "turn up" to the process.
      • When you have finished, remain seated without a mantra for 1 or 2 minutes afterwards. You can be flexible as to seating position and exact times.
      • Do this effortlessly. If you notice positive changes in the first few days then continue.

Famous practitioners

  • Ray Dalio (hedge fund manager)
    • This is the guy who most made me want to learn more about it.
  • Film Directors: David Lynch, Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorcese, George Lucas

  • Supermodels: Raquel Zimmerman, Ali Stephens

  • Presenters: Oprah Winfrey, Howard Stern (radio), Ellen Degeneres

  • Singers: Moby, Katy Perry, Paul Mccartney, Ringo Starr, Eddy Vedder (Pearl Jam), Sheryl Crow

  • Actors/Actresses: Russell Brand, Hugh Jackman, Jerry Seinfeld, Gwenneth Paltrow, Heather Graham, Eva Mendez, Liv Tyler, Naomi Watts.

  • Doctors: Dr. Oz

  • Robert Cialdini talks about his experience going to a TM info session in his book "Influence".
    • It's near the beginning of his "Commitment and Consistency" chapter, page 61 in the soft-cover book.

Positive Views/Outcomes from Transcendental Meditation

Summary of the benefits mentioned

  • The best way I can summarize it is this: have you ever had the experience where your friend has a personal problem that they feel anxiety about, and they aren't making progress on it, and you can see very clearly what they should do to fix it? And have you ever been on the flip-side of that situation, where you have a personal problem that you feel very anxious about whenever you think about it, and you don't make progress on it, and you have a hard time trying to figure out what you should do? And have you ever had the experience of thinking back on an earlier time in your life (maybe years earlier) and thinking about some problem(s) you had in that earlier time in your life, and thinking, "Gee, I really should have just done X.", but you didn't do X because you were too anxious about it? I think one of the main benefits that TM promises is the ability to control your thoughts well-enough that you can deal with those situations in a more thoughtful way, instead of letting your anxiety dictate your behavior. It's the idea that you can "step outside of yourself" and look at your situation objectively instead of having your thoughts clouded by emotion.

Person-specific descriptions of the benefits

  • Jim Carrey
    • Years ago when I was doing Andy Kaufman I learned how to meditate and it's been very valuable. (...) It's been around for a while but I think on a widespread level it's being picked up by everybody now; it's being understood as something more than some kind of religious nutty's a system of teaching yourself how to get into a state of relaxation that affects your entire life and the quality of your life. I do it, I've done it for a while, and I recommend it highly!
  • Ray Dalio
    • Martin Scorsese & Ray Dalio on Creativity &Trascendental Meditation & Success
      • Bob Roth: (...) They practice transcendental meditation; Ray for over forty years and Marty since 2008.

        Scorcese: Yes, every day, twice a day, as much as I can twice a day. The thing about it is that there's kind of a peacefulness that I don't think I've ever achieved before, really. And I must say, it has made a major difference because, particularly in the morning, the amount of things that have to be done, and the things you have to worry about--suddenly it just comes together and you stop. I find that I can't do without it that way--literally.

        Dalio: I started in 1968 or 69 and it changed my life, because, like I was a very ordinary or sub-ordinary student, and it brought me a clarity, it made me independent, it made me free-flowing, it just gave me lots of gifts.

        Scorcese: I remember doing a film called "Yugo", which is a film we shot in three dimensions, and it would take about an hour to get to the studio. But in the morning I would get up maybe 45 minutes earlier to do meditation, before I was able to face that set, with children actors that can only work for like a minute, a dog that wasn't listening, Sacha Baron Cohen who was improvising everything, and everything in 3D, and overscheduled and overbudget. God there's only one thing you can do, is calm it down and get into it and deal with the realities. If there is something on my mind, if there is something I'm really worried about, in terms of the character development, or particularly a thematic issue, or just trying to get a shot done, literally it'll be "We can't do that, we don't have a hallway, it's got to be a track down a hallway, we have no hall." Now what? Well, what is it about? It's about his face. And so you just forget it, and you go into meditation (Dalio: That's it, and you come out with the answer.), and somehow something came out. I said, "Damn it, that's amazing!"

        Dalio: That's exactly what it's like. Because you go into that place. And actually the physiology of the brain, that comes from the subconscious, that's where your inventiveness / creativity / inspiration come from, so you just go in there and somehow you come out with the answerFrom brain imaging they show that there are two big effects. The first is that your amygdala, the part that is causing you the stress, calms down and your prefrontal cortex lights up. And so that brings you an equanimity.

        Scorcese: If I don't do it, I tend to waste the time, the energy, the franticness, and things can be very very frantic. And that 20-25 minutes, whatever that is, is a Godsend.

        Dalio: The thing to convey is also how it compounds. So that it keeps getting better. Whatever amount that you're meditating, next year will be better and the year after that'll be better. So I meditate twenty minutes a day except if I've got a busy day, then I meditate forty minutes. So, experience it yourself, I mean, how much convincing do you need?

    • 2012.10.27 - Academy of Achievement - Discussion of TM
      • "In 1968 The Beatles went to India to learn how to meditate. I heard quite a bit about it; it was in the media. It was interesting; I learned how to meditate. And it was definitely life-changing. I would say that probably more than anything; it had a bigger effect on my life than practically anything, because of how it works. The way it works is it's basically open-mindedness; what happens is, normally you can't control your brain. If you were to sit down and say, "I'm not going to think", it will be filled with _stuff_, and it will jump all over, and you can't control it. So what happens is, this is an exercise that creates open-mindedness, because there's a word that doesn't make sense, which is called a mantra. It's a sound that you repeat; and so while your brain is wanting to jump all over the place, by repeating this sound mentally, it takes attention away from those thoughts. And then when you continue to repeat it, it goes away; and so there's nothing. And so you go into nothingness. Now, when you go into that nothingness, first of all, you've learned the ability to control your brain, so that you can go there; you can put things away, you can approach them in a certain way. When you go into that open-mindedness, you're going into your subconscious. So you're not a state of conscious--so I'm not aware, but I'm not asleep. Asleep is, you hear a sound you won't wake up. This is, if I hear the slightest sound, I'm attuned to it. So it's a state of subconsciousness. And there are different parts of our brain that have a very big influence on us. The amygdala is the part of the brain that has the flight-or-fight that produces anxiety; the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain which we call for executive functioning. It's the part that's reflective. It's the part where we are calm, and we say "Do we want to do that? Do we not want to do that?" We put things in perspective. Those two parts of the brain fight with each other. In other words, the passion: "I'm going to do that because it's exciting", but it may be harmful; the other part of the brain says, "You don't want to do that." And so that whole emotional flight-or-fight part of the brain, during meditation, through brain imaging they see that that calms down, and the prefrontal cortex lights up. So that open-mindedness is where creativity comes from. Because creativity is not coming from the working the brain, and the "I will work hard and think about it and I will muscle it through". It comes from this relaxation; it's just like it's an opening up, and like: take a hot shower, and don't be thinking of something, and some great idea comes through, and you grab the great idea. So meditation is very much like that. It opens the mind, it creates an openness, a freedom in which that--I don't know whether we'd say intuition--that creativity comes through, and it creates an equanimity, in other words you can step back and you can put things in perspective. It doesn't lessen your emotions, the emotions are the same, but you can step back and say, "I'm not going to be controlled by that emotion". And that then helps you to see things at a higher level."

  • Tim Ferriss
      • Question to Tim: What concept or method that you've learned from the experts on your show took the longest for you to implement into your life, or felt the most forced,that ended up having the biggest effect?
      • Tim's answer: Definitely meditation upon waking. I was very resistant to this, viewed it as "not for me," and misunderstood the techniques and results that could be achieved in even 1-2 weeks. Taking a Transcendental Meditation class and using Headspace for their "10 in 10" (10 min per day for 10 days) helped to solidify the habit and showed me that meditation can really just = emotional non-reactivity training. This translates to every interaction you have and can dramatically impact almost every area of life.

Critical Views of Transcendental Meditation

My conclusions thus far:

  • From the reading I've done, my general impression is that TM is kind of like CrossFit and kind of like Scientology:
    • It's like CrossFit in that it seems to have really helped some people, but it also seems to have the potential to hurt people.
      • The guy at talks a lot about the negative effects. It seems most of the bad effects he describes come from doing TM too much (like, hours per day instead of 20-minutes-twice-a-day).
    • It's like Scientology in that it hooks people by being genuinely-helpful and then upsells people to ideas that are ridiculous and expensive.
      • It seems to have started as a single simple and useful technique, and then the founder kept adding more and more stuff onto it.
        • That sounds similar to what happened with Scientology.
        • I also remember that starting to happen when I was working on my LSAT guide: at a certain point I started elaborating on a certain part of the guide (the part on training partners) and I could sense that it was diluting the average usefulness of the guide, even though the stuff I was adding was still useful.
      • The ridiculous ideas I've read about include levitation, dramatically affecting a population's well-being when a precise percentage of the population (the square root of 1%) is doing TM, achieving some kind of higher level of existence (which reminds me of Scientology's idea of achieving the state of "Clear").

Websites that are critical of TM


  • 2016.09.28 - After many years of procrastinating about trying it, I finally had done enough research online to find some explanations of how to do TM, and a list of mantras. Today I added those descriptions to my wiki page on TM and decided to give it a shot. I lied down instead of "sitting comfortably", and chose "AING" as my mantra since that was my best guess at the one that Ray Dalio may be using. I think I lasted maybe 10-15 minutes before I fell asleep. I'm writing this after having woken up; I think I slept for maybe ~10-11 hours (I was pretty tired). I remember having some pleasant dreams, and I am totally convinced that getting a lot of sleep makes me much happier, so I would call this a good first experience.
    • I had a few questions pop into my head as I was doing it:
      • How long are you supposed to drag out each repetition of the mantra? A YouTube video had a guy dragging it out for a few seconds; if I hadn't seen that I would have just said the mantra as it was an everyday word, that is, very quickly.
      • Why do you need to be sitting instead of lying down?
      • Dalio and others say that the mantra helps clear their mind of thoughts; but I've found that I've been able to deal with that to some extent by having a good external system of tracking my ideas and problems (ie Confluence and JIRA, and writing ideas down in an email to myself). And Scorcese's example of meditation leading him to better problem-solving reminds me of my own issues dealing with problems; I found that just having a good process to go through (like Polya's "How to Solve It") was important, for example, knowing to break a large problem into smaller problems, or knowing how to do binary-search to find the source of a problem.
  • 2016.09.29
    • This time I tried sitting upright.
    • I found myself itching a lot, although it got better over time.
    • I experimented with saving the mantra faster and found that it seemed to help with keeping other thoughts out of my head
    • Q: is it cheating to do meditation right before you're going to sleep anyway? Should you do it in the middle of the day to get more practice quieting your mind?
  • 2016.10.01
    • If you clear your mind, how are you supposed to be able to know when to stop? Keeping track of time is something I need to put conscious effort into.