DUSTY SCHWEICKART. One of the astronauts who will be on the next Apollo flight to the moon, practices Transcendental Meditation (TM). While this fact might surprise many people who associate meditation with passive seclusion, other meditators such as Major General Franklin Davis, or the Beach Boys, would consider his practice perfectly natural.
If Apollo monitors report that Schweickart's metabolism had slowed down considerably at times in his space flight, thousands of meditators in the United States will understand it is not a peculiar effect of the ionosphere; he is merely experiencing the usual benefits from his twice-daily meditation. He has incorporated the technique into his routine activities, and can mediate on an Apollo ship as easily as anywhere else.
Transcendental Meditation first appeared on the California horizon 13 years ago when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of India introduced the technique to this country. In 1967 after a period of gradual expansion. TM suddenly burst into the limelight when the Beatles. Mia Farrow and other celebities adopted Maharishi's method.
But people soon lost interest TM dropped from the headlines. By the late sixties, the public saw Transcendental Meditation as another shining cult which had faded as soon as the gloss wore off Practical problems and distrust discouraged many potential meditators--they objected to the initiation fee or mistrusted the claims that anyone could practice and benefit from TM. But gradually it has become clear that although Maharishi disappeared from weekly magazine covers. Transcendental Meditation itself did not disappear. The organization has quietly grown into a thriving, world-wide movement. Calculated from participation in meditation centers, the Student International Meditation Society (SIMS) and the International Meditation Society (IMS) now estimate that over 300,000 people meditate in the United States alone and the number has doubled every year since 1968.
I heard no more about TM until this fall, when I went to an introductory lecture at Philips Brooks House (PBH) A friend of mine was going and I had nothing better to do. While I was vaguely curious about TM secretly I knew that meditation just wasn't for me. But the lecture surprised me. The man and woman talking were too practical for my concept of meditation and I found myself intellectually agreeing with most of what they said.
Larry Geeslin '70, who teaches Transcendental Meditation says that the greatest problem with promoting TM is in overcoming the misunderstanding which arises from the word "meditate". To many people this brings to mind a long period of ascetic or reclusive training which builds up to an eventual Spiritual reward. Maharishi and his students make a conscious effort to dispel this image of mystical asceticism. They explain in lectures that while the technique "is as ancient as mankind." Transcendental Meditation differs significantly from the practices of other groups in the contemporary American spiritual renaissance. TM is not a religion or a cult, but a practical mental technique easily learned.
I approached meditating with a cynical attitude. I found it hard to believe that it was effortless, or that anyone could do it. I was sure that I would be the one exception. Still if meditators' claims that The calms you down yet given you energy were true, it sounded like a worth while addition to my hectic Cambridge achoduate. I was curious enough to attend the second lecture, and then took the course. But I also locked into the claims they mode more closely: and I found out that other academics had preceded me.
Nothing the growing popularity of Transcendental Meditation, several scientists are testing the validity of the physiological and psychological benefits which meditators claim. The most significant physiological studies are those of Dr. Herbert Benson an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Robert Keith Wallace, an independent researcher.
In their most recent experiments, Benson and Wallace studied 36 people who had been meditating from under a month to nine years. I heir results indicate that meditation is both a released and an alert condition. It is different from the states of wakefulness, deep sleep, and dreaming--in other words a fourth state of consciousness.
The study reported that a change in metabolism observed during meditation corresponds to a deep balanced state of rest deeper even than sleep Specific body reactions such as a sharp fall in oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide elimination and a simultaneous reduction of the heart's workload scientifically explain the restful alertness" claimed by meditators.
In studies of the psychological effects of meditation, results seem to be equally positive. In a study at the University of Kansas this summer. Dr. Maynard Shelley found that meditators seemed less nervous or depressed and more creative and expensive. In a study conducted at the University of California-Los Angeles last December. Dr. H. George Blasdell found that meditators performed faster and more accurately in perceptual motor tests.
Wallace and Benson are now researching the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation with drug abusers. They see meditation's restful, unwinding effect as an effective counter to increasing hypertension and other nervous diseases.
So TM rests well in the laboratory but how does it fit in with living at Harvard "I think it's done a lot of good things for me, like calming me down." Sarah Greenburg, a Senior in Eliot House explained. She has been meditating regularly for 11 months. "Just doing it twice a day can help you get ready for whatever the day brings. I don't know if it's because they tell you it's going to relax you or if it's something else but hell, if its going to relax you it doesn't matter."
Eric Allen '73 approaches TM in a similarly practical manner. In an unusual sequence. Allen's father was the first member of his family to try meditation. He then called up his son and daughter and suggested that they take the course. Allen's sister now teaches TM herself. Eric, however, prefers a non-intellectual approach to meditation.
"I deal with TM on a practical level," he explained. "I find that it really peps me up in the morning when I feel drowsy. If I meditate before dinner when I'm a little tired again. I find I have the energy to work on whatever I'm doing for at least five or six more hours."