There are some days when I think it should be obvious, that the whole subject of “meditation” has been pretty much exhausted and is now entirely the realm of quacks and snake-oil salesmen. But, to continue the theme of worthless corporate media that I was working with in the last post here, “meditation” is one of those background puff-piece staples of the media, kind of like how every single PETA stunt or press release will get prominent reporting all over, no matter how gross, nonsensical or just plain stupid.

“Meditation,” of course, could mean almost anything. In a lot of cases, I think it’s just a means by which people get permission to take a break from all the things they think are more important in their lives, if only just to take a short nap, or even close their eyes for a bit.

Certainly “Transcendental Meditation®,” the form of meditation I’m personally most familiar with, sometimes seems to be nothing more than a means by which an exotic authority figure plays the role of cosmic daddy and tells his charges to go take a nap twice a day. It might not be just a nap, with all the fabricated exotica of mantras and mental states and all the rest of that baggage. But it seems to me that somewhere around the core of what TM is about is both the exercise of that kind of authority, and the narcissism of the meditator, who often believes that whatever they’re doing makes them healthy, pure and special. With that narcissistic specialness, and the mystique that meditation still seems to carry in Western culture, comes the need to inappropriately proselytize and advertise whatever they’re doing between their ears to the outside world.

Tonight someone tried to post a comment on my previous blog entry. As you can see, I’d made no mention of meditation, breathing exercises, blood pressure, or any of those topics; it was about as far away from that as I could get. The last time I wrote about meditation here was last May! But that didn’t stop the commenter from attempting to post the entirety of a recent New York Times article to the comment thread, without a link to the source. The article, “Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks?” is the latest in a very long string of promotional pieces that have appeared in the Western press over the last few decades. The subject, as usual, is a research study or two that supposedly supports the claim that Transcendental Meditation® provides unique benefits.

The problem with these claims is that these research studies inevitably involve individuals from the TM movement’s university, the Maharishi University of Management. Every time I see one of these stories go by, I’m reminded of what a TM movement lawyer, Stephen Druker, once told me in person thirty years ago:

We want to make sure that they’re going to protect the integrity of our subjects, because one’s in a very delicate state when one is practicing these. And also that they’ve designed the experiment so that they won’t disturb the meditative state and test something other than what they’re supposed to test. But once the experiment is designed properly, we’re all for as we’ve been for every other phase of the TM program, extensive scientific research.

The research he was talking about at the time was on the TM movement’s claims that they were teaching a method by which people could levitate at will, but what he said, I think, applies to all research in which the TM organization is involved. What does “test something other than what they’re supposed to test” actually mean in practice? I take it to mean that researchers aren’t allowed to design a study that might in the end cast TM in a negative light, or that might even show that TM isn’t everything its promoters say it is.

This particular New York Times article, which unlike a lot of articles on the subject does point out that the researcher quoted in the article is associated with the Maharishi University of Management, still avoids pointing out the obvious: the researcher is a promoter of the very product he’s researching! He himself has been a  meditator for almost two decades, probably three! He is not in any way an objective observer! Here he can be seen in the TM movement’s trademarked beige suit, sporting  the TM movement’s trademarked male-pattern-baldness haircut!

So with that in mind, and understanding that when I see reference to yet another fine batch of in-house TM research in the press, I know I’m looking at a form of spam; spam that’s getting reported all over because the average reporter seems incapable of digging up the obvious fact that the TM organization has been trying to make these sorts of claims stick since the early 1970′s. The claims don’t stick because whatever effect they’re claiming exists is down in the noise, and all the studies claiming such effects almost always involve long-term TM devotees, some of whom have likewise been banging their heads against this wall since the early 1970′s.

So, let’s see. I’m looking at an attempted comment which is clearly, technically, a copyright violation, the full text, beginning to end, of a NYT article; the commenter couldn’t be bothered to simply excerpt the story and provide a link; it’s a comment that’s completely off-topic relative to the entry it’s attached to; and the content is yet another article I’ve seen a hundred times or more. If the commenter thought it was so important that I see yet another instance of the TM organization successfully spamming the media PETA-style, they could have e-mailed me. My e-mail address is in the obvious place if you really have the burning need to serenade me with more of the same-old, same-old.

What’s this? The commenter has signed it with a valid name and e-mail address, so off to Google we go, where I find a reference to the commenter, identified as a “retired VP of Microsoft.” The sender’s IP maps to Bellevue, Washington. I do believe we have a match.

I normally don’t reply to such attempts, but tonight was an exception.

Subject: Re: [Mike Doughney] Please moderate: "WTOP Radio's drinking out of the toilet bowl again"
Date: Sun, 22 Nov 2009 22:22:38 -0500
From: Mike Doughney

Somehow I would have thought a retired VP of Microsoft would know better
than to try to post off-topic spam to a blog comment thread. Then again,
maybe that explains a lot about the state of the web today. Then again,
maybe TM just helps you lose your mind. In any case, your submission is
being ignored.

WordPress wrote:
> A new comment on the post #206 "WTOP Radio's drinking out of the toilet bowl again" is waiting for your approval
> Author : Min Yee (IP: ,
> E-mail :
> URL : http://none
> Whois :
> Comment:
> NOVEMBER 20, 2009, 12:47 PM
> Can Meditation Curb Heart Attacks?
> Richard Patterson for The New York Times Recent research suggests transcendental meditation may be good for the heart.
> When Julia Banks was almost 70, she took up transcendental meditation. She had clogged arteries, high blood pressure and too much weight around the middle, and she enrolled in a clinical trial testing the benefits of meditation.

Seconds later, I get a reply:

Subject: Re: [Mike Doughney] Please moderate: "WTOP Radio's drinking out of the toilet bowl again"
Date: Sun, 22 Nov 2009 19:28:57 -0800
From: Min Yee
To: Mike Doughney

I've not done TM but yoga breathing techniques have helped.
And it has brought down my high blood pressures.
Anyways, its your website.



No mention of having spammed, no attempt at an apology, no nothing other than “Look at me! I do breathing exercises and my blood pressure went down! Ain’t I special! I don’t even do TM!”

So I hope you’ll cut me a little slack if my frequent dismissal of all things related to “meditation” gets under your skin. Incidents like this just reinforce my impression that meditation tends to be the realm of the clueless and socially inept. Even among former vice-presidents at Microsoft. Maybe that explains Windows Vista. Or not.

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