7. Heide, F. J. & Borkovec, T. D., "Relaxation-Induced Anxiety: Paradoxical Anxiety Enhancement Due to Relaxation Training," Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1983, Vol. 51, No. 2, 171-182.
Heide, F.J. & Borkovec, T.D. Relaxation-Induced Anxiety:
Mechanisms and Theoretical Implications. Behavioral Research Therapy,
1984, pp. 1-12.
The TransceNet Web site states that “these two papers by Heide disclose that 54 percent of anxiety-prone subjects tested experienced increased anxiety during TM-like mantra meditation.” The main points about this study are that it was not on Transcendental Meditation at all, and that there was only very weak evidence for such a phenomenon, which was seen in only two out of the 14 subjects studied, not "54%". The authors’ intention was to try to prove that relaxation would cause people with a preexisting condition of high anxiety to have an anxiety attack.
The authors designed an experiment to try to elicit "relaxation-induced anxiety" by selecting subjects (N=14, a very small N) chronically suffering from general tension, which was defined as anxiety or nervousness during at least 40% of the day for the last 6 months to 8 years. They studied subjects over two consecutive days on "focused relaxation" and progressive relaxation (tensing and releasing muscle groups for 5-7 seconds). Measures included subjective observation, psychological test and psychological measures of heart rate, skin resistance, and EMG.
The authors report that in highly anxious individuals coming into a psychological laboratory for the first time, some of them (5 out of 14) showed anxiety symptoms when they first closed their eyes at the beginning of a meditation technique made up by the authors (not the TM technique or any other traditional meditation technique). They reported the high-tension individuals experienced increased anxiety upon closing the eyes and practicing the “meditation” technique (2 subjects), restlessness (1 subject), headache (1 subject), feeling uptight (1 subject), and fear of losing control (1 subject). During the subsequent 15 minute "relaxation" period, two of the subjects reported increased tension, two reported no tension during relaxation. It is not very significant that for highly tense people, some reported increased tension in the laboratory, because it is well known that almost everyone shows elevated tension the first time they are in a psychological laboratory measuring heart rate, GSR, EMG, etc.
Although the author claims their "focused relaxation" (FR) technique was similar to the Transcendental Meditation technique, they are fundamentally different.
• Whereas the Transcendental Meditation technique is taught by a highly trained TM instructor, FR was taught by individuals untrained in meditation (the authors).
• Whereas the Transcendental Meditation technique is taught in a standardized 7 - step course over a five-day period, FR was taught in 45 seconds in one session.
• Whereas the Transcendental Meditation technique uses traditional mantras known for centuries to have beneficial effects, FR used a "mantra" made up by the uniformed psychologists.
• Whereas the Transcendental Meditation technique has a large body of research documenting its effects, there is no research on what FR does, except for the present study, which is highly questionable.
The study did not provide any significant physiological evidence that focused relaxation
produces "relaxation induced anxiety." The authors state that "for focused relaxation, the difference was in the same direction but not significant." p.175 "Although we captured the relaxation induced anxiety phenomena to some degree, the absence of clear evidence from the subjective ratings and physiological measures suggests that the event may be difficult to study." p. 180 The accepted interpretation in science of a nonsignificant result is that the hypothesis the null hypothesis of no effect is excepted, not that "the event may be difficult to study".
The strongest evidence presented for the hypothesis was one subject crying during the first 45 seconds of focused relaxation and "anxiety due to closing the eyes" in 4 additional subjects, (p. 174). It is unlikely that the responses were due to relaxation since the subjects had just closed their eyes for less than one minute. The authors themselves present an alternative explanation for the above observations. "The anxiety phenomenon in this study may have been induced partially by the laboratory setting, the presence of physiological monitoring, and other experimental factors ...perhaps due to therapist verbalizations of relaxation patter..." p. 181
The authors measured 10 physiological measures in 14 subjects and found that for focused relaxation, one of 10 measures went up in at least one of the subjects. This is very weak evidence. Also, the interpretation is weak, since muscle tension and heart rate can increase because of exciting, pleasant thoughts as well as stress.
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8. Heide, F. J. Relaxation: The Storm Before the Calm. Psychology Today, April, 1985.
This is a non-technical popular article written two years later on the study summarized above (Heide and Borkovec, 1983). It presents no further evidence by the author or anyone else beyond the previous weak study. In this article, the author magnifies the significance of the actual findings and generalize broadly without justification. "Two (of their subjects) later reported increased tension" (Heide and Borkovec, 1983, p. 174), becomes, "two people showed dramatic increases in tension", (Heide, 1985, p. 18). The author writes, "Teachers of T.M. have referred to this process as 'unstressing', one way that the body can automatically release tensions. We reasoned that this stress-release process could disturb those unfamiliar with it". p. 18
As for a rationale for why relaxation might induce anxiety, the author discusses 1) fear of relaxation because of fear of loosing control that therapists commonly hear about in anxious people; 2) fear of inactivity in hard-driving people. "For them 'letting go' may seem like the royal road to failure, or they may force themselves to relax, resulting in straining."
The Transcendental Meditation program has an effective monitoring and checking procedure to ensure correct meditation and a policy of seeking professional medical and psychiatric help if problems arise. Psychotherapists have concept that stress release ("catharsis", "working it through", "talking out", etc) will create pain while the stress is being released. However, contrary to the authors hypothesis that relaxation would exacerbate such stress release, many psychologists actually use relaxation as a means to soften the stress release process, and have found it to be an effective tool. Proof that "unstressing" during TM is beneficial is the carefully controlled research showing its effects.
TM Benefits for Health.
TM Benefits for Education.
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9. Michael A. Persinger, Norman J. Carrey and Lynn A. Suess. TM and Cult Mania. North Quincy, Massachusetts, Christopher Publishing House, 1980.
The authors state that this book was inspired by a series of debates at Laurentian University between the authors and members of the Transcendental Meditation community.” p. 8. The basic thesis of the book is that "The Transcendental Meditation movement has attempted a scientific and social assault upon 20th-century Western civilization”. p. 15
This book and two ensuing papers by the authors set about to save civilization by discrediting the Transcendental Meditation program and the organizations responsible for spreading it. Arguably, Western civilization does need saving, having created two horrific world wars and verging on creating a third, and having committed every imaginable atrocity and exploitation on a grand scale during its colonial phases, which still goes on, but I don't think that stopping the Transcendental Meditation movement is the way to save it.
The basic point of view of the book can be summarized as "if people do not agree with me, they must not be capable of critical thinking, and therefore are a cult”. The accreditation boards who have carefully studied Maharishi University of Management over the last three decades have never found a lack of critical reasoning there. Moreover, as I have mentioned, the students of the Maharishi School (offering primary and secondary instruction) in Fairfield Iowa have a remarkable record of winning every kind of state, national, and international competition, in math, science, engineering, theater, creative writing, art, photography, as well as the Odyssey of the Mind and Destination Imagination competitions. The scientists at over a hundred universities around the world who have conducted their research and guided their research papers on the Transcendental Meditation program through the publication process in over 160 peer-reviewed journals and books are certainly capable of critical thinking. Many studies show that the Transcendental Meditation practice actually increases critical thinking, field independence, intelligence, and resistance to social manipulation.
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10. Michael A. Persinger. Transcendental Meditation and general meditation are associated with enhanced complex partial epileptic-like signs: Evidence for 'cognitive kindling”? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1992.
First, it should be understood that this paper does not actually measure the EEG or present any direct evidence whatsoever that the Transcendental Meditation program, or any other meditation technique, actually produces epilepsy or epileptic-like signs. These are inferred from subjects’ responses to a psychological questionnaire, The Personal Philosophy Inventory, which was administered to 221 university students who had learned to meditate (only 65% to 70% practiced Transcendental Meditation), and who were compared to 860 students who were not practitioners of any meditation technique. The main thesis of the study was that spiritual experiences, such as “heightened meaningfulness, expanded sense of self, sense of knowing,” are due to temporal lobe microseizures. This is speculation which is not supported by any data. The authors argue that if people report having experiences of heightened meaningfulness (including profound experiences from poetry), they may be showing “epileptic-like signs.” The study indicates that meditators do report having more experiences of heightened awareness than the non-meditating controls, but there is no evidence this is a pathological condition. Research shows that experiences of unbounded awareness during the Transcendental Meditation technique are correlated with specific physiological changes, including global increases in EEG coherence in the alpha and theta frequencies, slowing of respiration and heart rate, and increased basal skin resistance. These changes are not epileptic-like, and far from being pathological, they are positively correlated with intelligence, creativity, and mental health. Moreover, clinical studies have shown the practice of the Transcendental Meditation program to be beneficial to people with epilepsy, and medical care utilization statistics show that the practice markedly decreases diseases of the nervous system.
Medical Care Utilization Statistics 1. A study of medical care utilization statistics provided by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Iowa of 2000 practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation program over a five-year period found that the meditator group had 87.2% fewer diseases of the nervous system than the normative data base of 600,000. The meditators also had markedly lower rates of hospitalization and doctor visits across all age and disease categories. This study group would be expected to be more at risk of epilepsy if the hypothesis were correct because they were self selected to be highly involved in meditation and to practice it regularly. Yet the evidence strongly indicates fewer diseases of the nervous system, and improved health in general.
Orme-Johnson DW. Medical care utilization and the Transcendental Meditation program. Psychosomatic Medicine, 1987; 49:493–507.
Medical Care Utilization Statistics 2. A second study of Blue Cross/Blue Shield statistics over a four-year period compared another group of 693 regular practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation program to normative data (N=600,000) and to a group demographically matched by age, occupation, gender, geographic location (N=4,148). As with the previous study, the subjects practice meditation regularly twice a day, which would be expected to put them more at risk if the epilepsy hypothesis were true. Yet, contrary to this hypothesis, the meditator group had 76% less hospitalization than the norm, and 62% less than matched controls in the category of Nervous System/Eyes/Ears, which includes epilepsy. For the category Mental Health/Substance Abuse, the meditators were 92% less than the norm and 90% less than matched controls. In addition, the meditators had markedly reduced hospital admissions, outpatient visits, and medical expenditures across all disease categories compared with both the norm and controls.
Orme-Johnson DW, Herron RE. An innovative approach to reducing medical care utilization and expenditures. American Journal of Managed Care, 1997; 3:135-144.
The Effects of the Transcendental Meditation Program on Epileptics. A study specifically on epileptic patients found that the practice of the Transcendental Meditation program reduced the presence of epileptic spikes in the EEG, which were replaced by a predominance of normal alpha waves. The study reports that epileptic seizures became less frequent and less severe. Some subjects were free from attacks after four months of the practice, and during the follow-up period of six months, no attacks were reported as subjects continued to practice the technique at home. Serotonin levels in these epileptic patients were found to be initially low, as indicated by low levels of 5-HIAA, the main metabolite of serotonin, in the cerebral spinal fluid. 5-HIAA was increased significantly after practice of Transcendental Meditation, correlated with clinical improvements in these patients.
The study also included aggressive and mildly mentally retarded patients. It found that the Transcendental Meditation technique produces a normalizing effect on the physiological function: bouts of aggressive behavior were reduced in frequency and severity in aggressive patients; IQ and general cognitive functioning improved in mentally retarded subjects; and the frequency and severity of epileptic seizures were reduced in epileptic patients. These clinical and behavioral improvements were paralleled by biochemical normalization. For example, aggressive patients, who initially had high levels of plasma cortisol and amines in the cerebral spinal fluid, showed reduced cortisol and noradrenaline to practically normal levels after about one year of the Transcendental Meditation program.
Mentally retarded patients, on the other hand, who were initially low on amine levels, increased significantly with the practice. These opposite biochemical changes in patients who are out of balance in opposite ways demonstrate that the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique are not unidirectional, but depend upon the initial physiological conditions of the individual.
Subrahmanyam S, Potkodi D. Neurohumoral correlates of Transcendental Meditation. Journal of Biomedicine, 1980; 1:73-88.
A Physician's Experience with Epilepsy. A physician with nearly 30 years of active interest in research and medical applications of the Transcendental Meditation program reports that he has encountered no evidence to support the speculation that meditation might predispose to or adversely affect epilepsy. In the 3000 people practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique that he has consulted with, none developed seizures since learning the technique. A few patients had idiopathic or secondary epilepsy prior to learning the TM technique: none had seizures during the practice; none showed adverse effects on seizure control; one whose seizures were previously inadequately controlled showed improved control after learning the technique; all experienced general health benefits from the Transcendental Meditation program.
Chalmers R. Transcendental Meditation does not predispose to epilepsy. Medical Hypotheses 2005; 65:624-625.
EEG Comparison of the Transcendental Meditation Technique and Epilepsy. Just because the word "hypersynchrony" has been used to describe both the EEG of sessions of the Transcendental Meditation practice and epilepsy does not mean that the two phenomena are the same. It is just a word play that does not denote any significant correspondence between meditation and epilepsy. The EEG patterns of the Transcendental Meditation program and of epilepsy are different in frequency, amplitude, areas of activation, phenomenology, and after effects. In the case of the Transcendental Meditation technique, the synchrony and coherence tends to be in the fast theta-slow alpha band of approximately 7-9 Hz, whereas the synchrony of epilepsy tends to be in slower waves of approximately 3.5 Hz. The amplitude of the EEG during the Transcendental Meditation technique is generally well below 100 µV, whereas the amplitude of EEG during epilepsy is generally much larger, exceeding 100 µV. The EEG during the Transcendental Meditation technique is the restoration of the natural rhythms of the brain to a quiet, orderly resting state that is in stark contrast with the wild electrical "storms" of epilepsy.
The widespread synchronous EEG alpha found during the Transcendental Meditation technique is driven by higher frontal EEG coherence, which coordinates and integrates activity in other brain areas. The coherence produced during the Transcendental Meditation technique has been correlated with creativity, concept learning, intelligence, principled moral reasoning, and neurological efficiency (as evidenced by the H-reflex), indicating that the practice has a wide range of benefits. These effects have been cross-validated by numerous cognitive studies.
Barnes VA. EEG, hypometabolism, and ketosis during Transcendental Meditation indicate it does not increase epilepsy risk. Medical Hypotheses, 2005; 65:202-3.
Orme-Johnson, D.W. Evidence that the Transcendental Meditation program prevents or decreases diseases of the nervous system and is specifically beneficial for epilepsy. Medical Hypotheses, 2006, 67:240-246.
A recent study suggests that the widespread alpha EEG during practice of the technique may originate in the medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex, areas known to be associated with modulating internal emotional responses.
Yamamoto S, Kitamura Y, Yamada N, Nakashima Y, Kuroda S. Medial prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in the generation of alpha activity induced by Transcendental Meditation: A magnetoencephalographic study. Acta Medica Okayama,2006; 60:51-58.
In contrast to the Transcendental Meditation program, epileptic seizures usually originate in the temporal cortex, but the epileptogenic zone can be anywhere in the brain where inherently unstable neurons build up electrical activity. The causes of neuronal instability are structural lesions due to genetic defects, head injuries, brain tumors, or metabolic abnormalities (such as low blood sugar or alcohol), but have never been shown to be due to meditation. The experience of the Transcendental Meditation technique is one of peaceful relaxation and well-being that is in contrast to the painful wild seizures of an epileptic “storm” or the manifestations of other types of epilepsy. Moreover, after the Transcendental Meditation program one is refreshed, energized, and well oriented, whereas after a seizure one is debilitated, disoriented, and unable to respond to the environment.
Orme-Johnson, D.W. (2006) Evidence that the Transcendental Meditation program prevents or decreases diseases of the nervous system and is specifically beneficial for epilepsy. Medical Hypotheses, 67: 240-246.
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11. Michael A. Persinger. Enhanced incidence of "the sensed presence" in people who have learned to meditate: Support for the right hemispheric intrusion hypothesis. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1992, 75, 1308-1310.
This paper is also on the 221 people who had learned to meditate (65 to 70% were involved in Transcendental Meditation) compared to 860 nonmeditators on their responses to a questionnaire, the Personal Philosophy Inventory. The meditators reported more experiences of “Cosmic Consciousness”, of a “Spiritual Being”, and profound experiences of poetry, etc., which the author interprets in terms of a “sensed presence” that he maintains, without evidence, could be deleterious.
This paper is built on a series of unsubstantiated speculations and a basic misunderstanding of meditation. These specultations are that:
1) one’s sense of self resides in the highly linguistic left cerebral hemisphere;
2) the less-verbal right hemisphere is experience as non-self;
3) EEG coherence between the left and right hemispheres, which occurs during the Transcendental Meditation program, is experienced as "ego-alien intrusion" and as “sensed presence”.
There is no evidence that the “sense of self” is a purely left-hemisphere verbal phenomenon or that right-hemispheric activity is experienced as non-self. Some people may identify themselves with their talking brains, but others may identify with their spatial self, their bodies, how they look, etc., including their position in space, which is a parietal lobe function, mostly on the right hemisphere. Regardless, the experience of transcending during meditation is not one of “sensed presence of other” or ‘ego-alien intrusion” or any kind of “other” or “intrusion. From time immemorial, in all the world’s cultures, people have described it as the experience of the essential self, the inner experiencer of all dimensions of experience, verbal and non-verbal, perceptual and motor, cognitive and affective. The Alexandrian philosopher Plotinus described it as "a state of perfect stability, having, so to say, become stability itself...", The German philosopher Hegel described it as "transcendent, self consciousness". A practitioner of the Transcendental Meditation technique described it as "the experience of one's innermost Self-the Self is consciousness in its pure nature". It should be clear from these descriptions that they are not experiences of something other than oneself, but on the contrary, are the experience of one’s self, in the profoundest sense of the word. Regular experience of this state has been found to be very beneficial and nourishing to every area of life.
See Is Transcendental Consciousness a Metaphysical State?
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12. Perez de Albeniz, A. & Holmes, J. (2000). Meditation: concepts, effects, and uses in therapy. International Journal of Psychotherapy, 5(1), 49-58.
Contrary to the impression given in the summary of this article posted on the TranceNet Web site, this article did not report a single study showing that the Transcendental Meditation technique has adverse effects.
TranceNet states that the article “reviews 75 scientific selected articles in the field of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation among others. It summarizes...negative side effects encountered in 62.9% of meditators studied.” This give the false impression that 62.9% of the subjects in the 75 studies had adverse effects, when in fact the 62.9% refers to a single small study on Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation, which is completely different from the Transcendental Meditation technique [Shapiro, D. (1992) Adverse Effects of Meditation. International Journal of Psychosomatics 39, 62-67]. The article also cited two other papers allegedly reporting negative side effects, but neither of these papers was on the TM technique either.
In addition, this article pointed out that none of the papers reviewed showed a causal link between meditation and the adverse symptoms. “None of the studies reviewed try to disentangle the effects of meditation per se from the influence of the presenting problem or/and pre-morbid personality of the subjects. It is unclear whether certain personality types are more likely to try meditation or where the effect of meditation increases the awareness of those feelings, symptoms and personality traits." p. 52.
The few papers alleging that TM practice has adverse effects have been analyzed in depth in previous sections above, and have been shown to be invalid.
Actually, on the whole, this article is very positive about meditation. It is basically an attempt to understand meditation from within a psychotherapeutic framework. It sees the primary goal of meditation as increasing “self-awareness,” which it says is “the common theme of most psychotherapies...often proposed as an initial step in freeing oneself from distressing symptoms...,” p. 52. The “psychological effects” found in its review of the research include such benefits as “fosters the recognition of personal responsibility...integration of subjective experiences, optimizes the process of memory...increase in vigor...greater happiness, and joy, positive thinking, increased confidence, effectiveness (getting things done), better problem-solving skills...(p. 50.), enhanced compassion and tolerance to self and others...more relaxation, and better ability to control feelings” (p. 51). It presents the view that meditation takes human growth through a series of developmental stages, “perhaps...beyond what most therapies can offer.” p. 53. With regard to meditation’s physiological effects, the article concludes by saying, “The evidence of meditative physical effects is consistent with increasing evidence of the biological impact of psychological interventions. It refutes convincingly the stereotypical criticism that talking therapies ‘do nothing’ or are ‘just’ placebo.” p. 55.
The article makes the mistake of intermixing the results and theories of several completely different meditation techniques. Also, the scholarship of the literature review has errors, perhaps a great many, judging from how it reported some of the papers that I am very familiar with. For example, it reported the meta-analysis by Dillbeck and me (Dillbeck & Orme-Johnson, 1987) as showing “increased cardiac output, slow heart rate” when in fact, (1) we did not include cardiac output (others have) and, (2) heart rate was one of the parameters that did not distinguish the Transcendental Meditation technique from ordinary rest. We found that respiratory rate, basal skin resistance, and plasma lactate did change more in the TM technique than rest. In another error, they cite Travis & Orme-Johnson (1989) as showing increases in urinary 5-HIAA, the main metabolite of serotonin, when in fact our paper did not measure 5-HIAA at all (others have), but was on EEG coherence.
In any event, the TraceNet characterization of this article as evidence that the Transcendental Meditation technique has negative side effects is completely wrong and misleading, perhaps intentionally so.
Dillbeck, M. C., and Orme-Johnson, D. W. (1987). Physiological differences between Transcendental Meditation and rest. American Psychologist, 42: 879–881.
Travis, F.T. & Orme Johnson, D.W. (1989). Field model of consciousness: EEG coherence changes as indicators of field effects. International Journal of Neuroscience, 49, 203 -211.
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13. Richard J. Castillo. Depersonalization and Meditation. Psychiatry:
Interpersonal and Biological Processes, Vol. 53, May, 1990
This paper revolves around interviews with six TM practitioners in their 30’s or early 40’s, five of whom had been practicing the technique for 12-15 years, and one who had practiced it for one year. Castillo writes: "All of the meditators interviewed are successful in their careers, and apparently satisfied with their lives and optimistic about the future, and are very friendly, personable people. Their lives seem to run smoothly, with an absence of any significant anxiety or stress.” p.166 "None of the informants reported a personal history of psychiatric disorder..." p. 166. Therefore, this paper can hardly be viewed as evidence that the Transcendental Meditation program does any harm.
The paper attempts to understand experiences of "witnessing", which are classic experiences of the development of Cosmic Consciousness, in terms of the psychiatric diagnostic category called "depersonalization". As a secondary theme, the paper tries to explain experiences of refined perception in terms of the psychiatric concept of "derealization.” As will be shown below, although there are some superficial similarities between some experiences of higher states of consciousness and these psychiatric concepts, they have completely different causes, mechanisms, incidence, phenomenology, and behavioral consequences. The danger of this confusion for the individual, as well as for the larger society, is that it could lead to the misunderstanding of Cosmic Consciousness by psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as by the general public.
Definition of Depersonalization and Experiences of Witnessing. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III-R) of the American Psychological Association (1987) defines depersonalization as "(1) an experience of being as if detached from and an outside observer of one's mental processes or body; or (2) an experience of feeling like an automaton or as if in the dream" (p. 276). The difficulty with this definition is that it may describe both pathological conditions as well as experiences of “witnessing”. Here are some experiences of witnessing from the Castillo paper. Mr. A. "I had the sensation that instead of looking from the front of my head I was looking from behind, through my eyes.... it was very much a feeling of "watching"." Ms. B. "I was continuing to speak but I wasn't part of the experience." Mr. D. "It was like being a pure impersonal observer watching a movie." Mr. E. "Part of me was eating the meal and part of me was sitting inside laughing". Mr. F. "It would feel just like the writing was flowing out as I was doing it. And yet part of me was just sitting back watching the whole thing take place." pp. 163-166. These experiences do appear to fit the definition of depersonalization, but they are completely different on other relevant dimensions.
Different Causes and Mechanisms. The causes of depersonalization and witnessing are fundamentally different. Depersonalization has been linked with sleep deprivation, ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs, sensory deprivation, and feelings of anxiety. It may also arise from chemical imbalances in the individual due to genetic or other causes that give rise to a split or schizophrenic personality.
Psychoanalytic writers on depersonalization view it as a defensive function defending against guilt, painful emotions, intense conflicts, danger, or conflicting self images. Depersonalization is clearly a pathological state arising from lack of integration of the personality, in which the ego is attempting to avoid or escape from some painful region of the psyche by distancing "me, the good self" from "not me, the bad self."
The author also documents that some "meditation" techniques, which alter the person's mode of attention, such as gazing at a particular object for extended periods of time, may lead to depersonalization and/or derealization. For example, he describes a couple who sat and stared into each other's faces for three continuous days, breaking only to go to the bathroom, drink sips of water and sleep at night. Another experiment had people stare continuously at a vase for over a hundred sessions for some subjects. Not surprisingly, these "meditation" techniques created perceptual and cognitive distortions. The author appears to have the misunderstanding that the Transcendental Meditation program involves concentration on a mantra, and therefore thinks it could produce similar kinds of distortions. However, the Transcendental Meditation technique is a completely effortless technique that does not involve any concentration or contemplation, and is not relevant to what these other techniques do.
In summary, the psychiatric state of depersonalization is basically the ego splitting itself off from some painful aspect of the personality, memory, or environment. It may also arise from straining the senses, causing malfunction of normal perceptual activity.
The experience of witnessing during enlightenment, on the other hand, is the result of a very high level of psychophysiological integration and mind-body coordination. It arises from the stabilization of transcendental consciousness along with waking dreaming and sleeping. Research has verified that people experiencing “witnessing” have the EEG signature of transcendental consciousness (theta-alpha waves) coexisting with EEG signature of deep sleep (delta waves).
Mason, L. I., Alexander, C. N., Travis, F. T., Marsh, G., Orme-Johnson, D. W., Gackenbach, J., et al. (1997). Electrophysiological correlates of higher states of consciousness during sleep in long-term practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation program. Sleep, 20(2), 102-110.
Also see Effects of TM on the Nervous System.
Witnessing is Normal Functioning of the Nervous System. One of the interviewees in Castillo’s paper mentioned that the only time he feels uncomfortable is when the witnessing ceases, which usually occurs when he's very tired or ill. The fact that witnessing goes away when the person is ill or fatigued and as present when the individual is healthy indicates that it is a result of normal functioning of the nervous system, and is not an abnormal state.
Maharishi explains the mechanics of the development of witnessing in lecture 23 of his videotaped course on the Science of Creative Intelligence (1972). "We know that as our practice continues, the influence of the fourth state [transcendental consciousness] continues to grow. It is therefore not unreasonable to conclude that there might come a time when the full value of the fourth state of consciousness would be able to coexist with the full value of any of the other three states [waking, dreaming, sleep]... If the nervous system were repeatedly exposed to this state of deep rest, there might arise a habit of maintaining that restful state. The nervous system could become habituated to maintain that state of deep rest along with full alertness of the mind. The third and fourth, two different states of consciousness, would coexist.
“What we are suggesting is that, with the growth through daily practice of meditation, the possibility exists of establishing in our live the coexistence of the fourth state in any of the other three. The character of the state of the nervous system thus created would be neither just that of the waking state nor just that of the fourth state, but rather, it would be a combination of both.
"In the beginning, because the system is not used to that style of functioning, after meditation the system returns to its usual, habitual state of functioning. We plunge back into the waking, dreaming, or sleeping state. But because it is such a beautiful, restful state, unbounded and fulfilling, very quickly the system starts to gain the habit of returning to that state. After some time of alternating that fourth state with the other three, the nervous system becomes habituated to maintaining that state of awareness. It begins to be able not to lose that style of functioning. Then that state of awareness is maintained even during waking, dreaming, and sleeping. All the jerks and jolts of activity during waking, the rest of the night, or that delusive nature of dreams, all this is not able to overthrow the reality of the fourth state of consciousness; it is forever maintained... The opaque curtain of the three relative states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and sleeping-opaque in the sense of hiding the reality of the pure state of consciousness-is no longer opaque, but now transparent. The window which was wooden has been transformed into a glass window through which both the reality of what is within and what is without are open to direct perception. This is the state of consciousness, which we call “Cosmic Consciousness": unbounded, pure awareness coexisting with waking, dreaming, and sleeping states.
“ The characteristic of the fifth state is the coexistence of awareness of the unbounded along with the awareness of boundaries. The perception of objects is enjoyed without losing the awareness of the unbounded nature of the perceiver. The pure awareness which was hidden by the influence of the waking state before starting meditation comes to be experienced consciously by the mind, and the mind maintains a state of unbounded awareness even when experiencing the boundaries of objects of perception."
Maharishi also describes the mechanics and stages of the development of cosmic consciousness and further higher states of consciousness in his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita. "In order that transcendental bliss-consciousness may be lived at all times, it is necessary that it should not be lost when the mind comes out of meditation and engages in activity. For this to be possible the mind has to become so intimately familiar with the state of Being that It remains grounded in the mind at all times, through all the mental activity of thinking, discriminating and deciding, and through all phases of action on the sensory level. For this in turn, it is necessary that the process of gaining transcendental consciousness through meditation and that of engaging in activity should be alternated, so that transcendental consciousness and the waking state of consciousness may come close together and finally merge into one another to give rise to the state of cosmic consciousness, the state in which one lives bliss consciousness, the inner awareness of Being, through all the activity of the waking and dreaming states and through the silence of the deep sleep state." p.184
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1969). On the Bhagavad-Gita: a New Translation and Commentary, Chapters 1- 6. Penguin Books, Baltimore, Maryland.
The Importance of Knowledge. Castillo's interviews do not report whether there was any witnessing during dreaming or sleep, and this is an example of how important it is for psychologists and psychiatrists to be fully familiar with the traditional descriptions of enlightenment if they are going to study and write about it. Otherwise, they may not know what to look for and it could just be a case of "the blind leading the blind." It is important to know if witnessing occurred throughout night's sleep to assess the degree of stabilization of cosmic consciousness. Such information would also help distinguish witnessing from depersonalization. Fully established witnessing is a sense of wakefulness and inner well-being maintained throughout the 24 hour cycle. To my knowledge, depersonalization is a defensive reaction that occurs only during the waking state.
Validation from Humanistic Psychology. Humanistic psychologists, such as Abraham Maslow, have documented experiences of witnessing to occur spontaneously in the most highly creative, successful, healthy, "self-actualized" members of society during their "Peak Experiences". The Transcendental Meditation program, through providing regular daily experiences of transcending and normalization of the nervous system, is the systematic way to develop cosmic consciousness. All of the research taken together indicates the holistic development of life through this program.
See TM Results for Health and TM Results for Education.
Different Incidences. Experiences of depersonalization are much more common than experiences of witnessing in cosmic consciousness. In psychiatric populations, depersonalization may present as a fairly common related symptom in many different psychiatric conditions. 50 to 60% of patients with panic/anxiety disorders have associated symptoms of depersonalization. In the nonclinical population, such as young adults, episodes of depersonalization are reported in 50 to 70% of the population. Experiences of “witnessing”, "peak experiences", and "Being cognition" are much more rare.
Different Phenomenologies. Depersonalization may be accompanied by feelings of anxiety, dizziness, floating, or giddiness, a loss of emotional responsiveness, and the feeling of the person being "dead”. Depersonalization may be associated with an altered sense of reality, called “derealization”, during which the environment takes on an unreal quality.
Witnessing, on the other hand, is characterized by a profound sense of stabilized self and well-being. Maharishi writes: "But whether involved in activity or leading a quiet life, a soul evolved to this cosmic state is eternally contented." p. 174. Here are some examples from Castillo's interviews. Mr. A. " There are certainly no negative emotions....maybe a mild sense of happiness.” Ms. C. "I don't feel elated or anything, it just feels normal. I feel very comfortable.” Mr. D. "I'm content, but I'm not moved by it, or thrilled by it. I'm content with it... The evenness of it all is remarkable." Mr. E. ""Sometimes when you first start having these experiences they seem flashy, but after a while you're not even sure you've had them.” Mr. F. "Usually very contended but not aroused -in other words not ecstatically joyful, but just a sort of low-level happiness or contentment." pp. 163-166. It is not possible to tell from these interviews just how well established these individuals are in cosmic consciousness. In most cases, these witnessing experiences are said to be intermittent. When they become more developed the experiences may change in quality and become more blissful.
Bliss is not Blissful. However, Maharishi has commented that "bliss" is not blissful, but rather is a state of evenness. Only when that state of consciousness is stimulated by experiences does it rise in waves of bliss. In my experience of teaching meditation, most meditators comment that in parallel with the development of inner contentment they find they experience all aspects of life much more fully than before. They report feeling most fully alive, and enjoying their perceptual and other experiences to a much higher degree. They say they get much more enjoyment from music, art, poetry, science, business, education, relationships, etc. then they did before. It would have been interesting and useful to have the meditators interviewed this study comment on this aspect of their experience. The author’s focus was limited to the witnessing aspect because he was interested in depersonalization.
Equanimity in Pleasure and Pain, Victory and Defeat. Most meditators find that the environment is seen with greater clarity and stability than before, and is less subject to the distortions caused by strong emotions and preconceived cognitive commitments. The Bhagavad-Gita state's "That man indeed whom these (contacts) do not disturb, who is even-minded in pleasure and pain, steadfast, he is fit for immortality..." Chapter 2, v. 15. The meditators interviewed by Castillo report that they no longer experience strong ups and downs in emotions, but rather have more a sense of “observing” emotions than “experiencing” them. Maharishi explains that the stabilization of transcendental consciousness provides an anchor to the mind so that one becomes free from the bondage of experience and is no longer as if "kicked around like a football” by life experiences. pp. 128,142. Maharishi comments "This balanced state of mind is the result of the eternal contentment which comes with bliss-consciousness.” p. 135.
This is in contrast with the situation of depersonalization and the derealization in which emotional imbalances distort perception of the social and physical reality. Depersonalization is such a strong state of bondage to aversive events that the individual's mind disengages as much as it can from that aspect of its reality. The mind is being controlled by its negative past experiences. This state of powerful bondage to negativity is completely the opposite of the state of freedom from bondage that underlies witnessing and cosmic consciousness.
Does Cosmic Consciousness Have a Down Side? Some individuals interviewed by Castillo initially found it disturbing when they first started witnessing. Mr. D said "Everything I would say and every emotion that I had from the viewpoint of the "inner thing," which is what I was, was just phony. It was like living in a movie where you knew it was a movie. Emotions had no relation to that "inner thing"; they were as phony as a bad movie." At first, this made him uncomfortable because it was very different from his earlier experiences. He felt there was no real connection with the world but that he was just watching it all go by. He reports that after experiencing witnessing almost constantly for the past several years, he no longer finds it uncomfortable and has not suffered any impairment from it.
Whereas previously his life was run by strong emotions, he now felt detached. Maharishi explains that when one first experiences cosmic consciousness one could wonder whether one was losing interest in life, even though one felt very contented and happy and everything was going smoothly. At this point, he says, it's very important that the individual have the knowledge of what is happening to them and that they continue to move all to higher, even more fulfilling and blissful states, which he describes as the sixth and seventh states of consciousness. If there is a down side to cosmic consciousness, it is that it is still not fully developed consciousness, but only a stage.
Derealization or Subtle Perception? The derealization experiences associated with the psychiatric state of depersonalization are distortions of perception, which are associated with a strong negative affect that contributes to dysfunctional behavior. The experiences of the meditators are of seeing the environment more vividly, as if it were all living consciousness, and are not associated with a loss of ability to effectively interact with it. The interviewees in Castillo’s paper report the environment seems to have more vivid colors and a "breathing” quality about it. Mr. A. "I also tend to see bands of color around people and objects. Objects have a slightly vibratory quality about them. They don't lose their distinctness of outlined though. The boundaries between objects are vibrating but sharp. In other words, the boundaries are not flowing together, but they're not rigid, almost as if objects were alive and breathing. They don't change shape, is just a sort of liveliness to them. Mr. D. "Things take on a slightly warmer and slightly glossier appearance-like dew". Mr. E. "There is a definite aliveness in the environment, almost as if you're aware that there is consciousness in everything."
These experiences could be the beginning of the Six State of consciousness, which Maharishi calls Refined Cosmic Consciousness or God Consciousness. To explain the development of the sixth state, Maharishi takes recourse to the understanding from physics that nature is structured in layers from gross to subtle. Beneath the surface classical molecular level of ordinary perception are more abstract levels of energy. These are the atomic, subatomic, and quantum field levels, which ordinarily go unseen. Many scientists have commented that as science delved more deeply into reality, nature began to look “more like a great mind than a great machine” to paraphrase the British astronomer Sir James Jeans. As Max Planck, one of the father of quantum mechanics stated "I hold consciousness to be primary and matter to be a derivative of consciousness." In his Science of Creative Intelligence course (lecture 23) Maharishi says "when unbounded awareness starts to coexist with awareness of boundaries, our comprehension of the boundaries and what lies outside them becomes more complete. It's like having a wide-angle lens on the camera-it photographs the object in front of it, but it also takes in much more of the scene than an ordinary lens. In a similar way, having that unbounded awareness allows our horizon to expand so that we are able to comprehend more-not only the horizontal level, but on the vertical level as well.
"With such unrestricted, unbounded awareness, we are able to penetrate into the deeper values of perception. Our perception becomes more refined. We could naturally imagine the state in which the finest perception would be possible, so that the finest relative value of the object of experience would become apparent to our perception.
"Before gaining that state, this finest value is hidden from view because our vision falls only on the surface level of the object. When only the surface value of perception is opened to awareness, and the boundaries of the object are rigid and well defined- the only qualities that are perceived are those which distinguish the object from the rest of the environment. However, when the unbounded awareness becomes established on the level of the conscious mind-we've seen that this is the fifth state of consciousness-then the perception naturally begins to appreciate deeper values of the object, until perception is so refined the finest relative is capable of being spontaneously perceived on the gross, surface level."
To make this explanation more concrete, Maharishi uses the analogy that a rose has different surface localized values, such as the petals, stem, and leaves, but also has the nonlocalized value of the sap, which underlies and is common to all the localized values. In this analogy, ordinary waking-state perception sees only the petals, stem and leaves, whereas more highly evolved perception also sees the underlying sap. In this view of reality, transcendental consciousness is the direct experience of the subtlest, consciousness-level of natural law intuited by the great physicists. The experiences of the meditators who were witnessing appear to have this quality of seeing the living, breathing, consciousness aspect of the environment along with its boundaries.
Different Behavioral Effects. All the individuals interviewed by Castillo were highly functional in their careers and well integrated into society. Five out of six held higher degrees, two with Ph.D.'s. They included two university professors, a graduate student, a probation officer, a chiropractor, and an executive who coordinated the activities of 2600 workers. A typical comment on their behavior was "A normal day for me is when everything just goes right. When things don't go right, then I think it's strange”. One commented that the efficiency of work seems to be enhanced during these episodes, which occur about 50% of the time and the work seems “more effortless."
In Humanistic and Sports psychology, experiences of "witnessing" have been associated with the highest level of behavioral performances, sometimes called "flow experiences". For example, highly trained and successful athletes sometimes report witnessing during intense athletic competitions, in which they are as if watching themselves and others perform perfectly at the peak of their game. This is not a delusional state, because such performances are also viewed by the audience and others as being the highest level of performance. Objective indicators, such as winning scores and record-breaking performances also attest to the validity of these peak experiences. Maharishi has characterized action in enlightenment as "spontaneous right action", the stabilized characteristic of cosmic consciousness, which is experienced temporarily during peak experiences. This is in stark contrast with behavior associated with depersonalization, in which the individual is as if disconnected from reality and is performing dysfunctionally.
Castillo’s Explanation. How does Castillo resolve the fact that the meditators do not show any of the negative signs usually associated with depersonalization? His thesis is that the traditional descriptions of enlightenment are a "religious myth" rather than an organic developmental reality of higher states of consciousness. He writes "The mythic world of Transcendental Meditation is completely consistent with that of traditional yoga." In his view, excepting the "myth" that witnessing is a good thing is responsible for the fact that many meditators who experienced witnessing do not manifest any signs of psychopathology. The idea is that if you give the experience a good interpretation as opposed to a negative interpretation, then it could be a benign experience as opposed to a deleterious one. This is ignoring, of course, all of the research showing the beneficial effects of the Transcendental Meditation program, not to mention the entire field of Humanistic psychology, which identifies such experiences with the highest achievements of human development and intelligence. The difference between the effects of "depersonalization" and "witnessing" is much more fundamental and real then just one’s attitude towards the experiences. They are completely different experiences based on different psychodynamics that have different behavioral consequences, which are only superficially similar in that in both cases there is some sense of separation of the experiencer from thoughts and actions.
Further Readings on Maharishi's Seven States of Consciousness
The primary sources, which are readily available, are Maharishi's books:
"Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation and Commentary", Penguin Books.
"Science of Being an Art of Living", a Meridian Book.
Maharishi has also made hours of videotaped commentaries on Seven States of Consciousness, which have been edited and compiled into special courses from Maharishi Open University, a globally available satellite television channel.
Dr. Charles N. (Skip) Alexander has published brilliant work integrating Maharishi Seven States of Consciousness with Western psychology. Alexander shows that higher states of consciousness are the logical extension of the developmental sequence conceived of by psychology. His developmental theory is summarized in:
Alexander, C.N. & Langer, E.J. "Higher States of Human Development" (1990). Oxford University Press.
Alexander’s many research project's have shown the practical value of developing higher states of consciousness through Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation program in pre-schools, colleges, prisons, corporate settings, nursing homes, and the entire nation. For an excellent summary of Alexander's work, with extensive references, download a PDF of the section introduction by his wife Vicki entitled Applications of Maharishi Vedic Science to Developmental Psychology from the book “Applications a Maharishi Vedic Science: Honoring the Lifework of Charles in Alexander, Ph.D.”, 2005, Select Press.
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