Transcendental Meditation and mindfulness

Transcendental Meditation and mindfulness

by Headspace_HQ » Wed Jul 16, 2014 11:44 pm


Whilst I've been on Headspace I definitely feel better but realise that years of health issues will not clear up in just 8 days. Someone told me that something called Transcendental Meditation might be an alternative for people suffering from stress, as it gives relief a lot quicker than stuff like mindfulness.
Do you have any thoughts?

Andy's answer:

I’m not sure what kind of practitioner you were seeing and obviously I don’t know the details of your treatment, but I’m quite shocked that they would simply send you away to ‘fix a mental health issue’. That doesn’t sound particularly thoughtful, caring or kind.

But let’s look at that as an idea anyway. Whilst there may be some deeper underlying emotional trauma or pattern causing the feeling of stress, that does not necessarily have to change the approach. The attitude and practice of mindfulness is not that we need to ‘fix’ something, but rather we need to understand it, to see it clearly, so that we can let it go. The consequence is that the habit slowly unwinds and we gradually become more at ease with the mind. So this is the starting point: less fixing and more understanding.

The next factor to consider is how much pressure or expectation you place on yourself or the practice of meditation - no matter what technique or tradition you apply. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, in order to truly understand something, we need to spend time with it. If we are always trying to get away from the feeling, then we will never find peace of mind. So there is a degree of courage and acceptance required, where we acknowledge that trying to run away from it or change it has not worked for us, and therefore we’re going to try a new approach of being present with it instead.

In terms of what technique you choose to do that, it is of course entirely up to you. I began with TM when I was a child and did it for several years before switching to other techniques, so I have a pretty good feel for what it involves and how it perhaps differs from classic mindfulness. But it’s important to stress that this is only based on my own experience and the anecdotal reports I’ve heard from others. The truth is, there is no objective right or wrong here, simply differences in approach and technique.

Some cite the considerable cost of learning TM as an obstacle to experimenting with it, but this may vary. The learning of the technique itself is usually preceded by a short ceremony where you are given a personal mantra, a word or phrase which you repeat over and over and which is your object of meditation. Some people really enjoy this process and find it helps them in the practice, whereas others find the burning of incense and the idea of a ‘secret mantra’ a little too far removed from western culture. Typically, the mantra is of Hindu origin, but nonetheless these days the approach itself tends to be taught in quite a secular manner. This mantra is then used as the primary object of meditation and it’s use tends to calm the mind and bring additional clarity.

In contrast, mindfulness, as it is now taught, tends to feel a lot more western. Whilst some miss the mystical aspect, many others are drawn to it because it feels easier to relate to, more accessible and easier to apply. In addition to this, whilst mindfulness promotes the application of both mindfulness in meditation, as well as mindfulness in every day life, TM tends to put more emphasis on the meditation component alone. In terms of the object of meditation, mindfulness tends to use the natural rhythm of the breath to focus on rather than a mantra.

So, which is more effective for the prevention, management and treatment of chronic stress? Well, scientifically, I’m not sure anyone has done a direct comparison. Certainly mindfulness seems to be the flavour of the day and the research into the benefits of the practice are considerably greater, with thousands of published papers. Personally I think it has more to with what you feel comfortable with and what you are drawn to.

But there is one final part to consider too. Here at Headspace mindfulness is simply the starting point, the doorway to a whole host of other techniques which tend to cater for every type of mindset. Whether it’s concentration exercises, reflection, visualization, I believe that all of these have an important role to play in training the mind. Why restrict ourselves to just one technique when we can develop and refine our understanding through a graduated course of learning incorporating all of them?

So, in short, I would encourage you to follow you intuition, choose the one which feels most relevant to your life and stick with it. Be patient with whatever technique you choose, be gentle and kind with your mind. Most of all, know that meditation is a journey of a lifetime, one discovery after the next, without end. If we can approach it with an open mind then it is a fascinating journey which has the potential to transform not only our own life, but also the lives of all those around us. "
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