Excerpt from "Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation"
Pearls On A String
by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.,
Sometimes during a TM session an insight will simply arrive, unbidden, like a basket of fruit left on the doorstep. For example, I was once bogged down in chores that I didn’t feel like doing when, in the midst of a session, a message arose from somewhere deep inside: “If you want to get something done, you can’t wait until you feel like doing it.” This may seem like a very simple insight to you, and I agree, but it was one that my normal waking mind had failed to deliver. Most of us have gaps like that, life lessons we’ve somehow missed (or forgotten). My life has gone more smoothly since that realization.
Another time, while meditating, I experienced regret over a poor business decision I had made. Regret morphed into shame and sadness. I just let the feelings come and go until eventually, from a quiet place within, came the realization that I had made the best decision I could at the time, so it wasn’t fair to regret it now on the basis of hindsight. I had previously been aware of the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s famous aphorism that life is best understood backward, but must be lived forward. But when a variant of this same insight came to me during meditation, in relation to my own issue and in words selected by my own mind, somehow the lesson stuck, and I forgave myself.
A colleague tells me that once, during meditation, an insight arrived in the form of a single sentence that represented a complete solution to a problem she was having with a construction crew. Later she reflected on the insight in the light of common sense, and it still looked good. So she acted on it—and readily solved the problem. A good question to ask yourself about insights that emerge during TM sessions is: Do they make good sense once you have emerged into the light of day? Quite often, they do.
David Lynch cautions against going into meditation with the expectation of revelations or creative inspiration, and other meditators agree. Insight while meditating is not a primary goal of TM. Yet Lynch himself had a revelatory TM experience. On one occasion, important insights that arose while he was meditating helped him craft Mulholland Drive into the highly polished movie that it is. He writes, “Like a string of pearls, the ideas came. And they affected the beginning, the middle and the end.”
As a scientist I wonder whether meditation yields such insights because it increases coherence in both alpha and beta wave bands. Besides being involved in calm reflection, the alpha frequency is thought to correspond to expectancy or wakefulness. In addition, the alpha band coordinates and organizes faster brain wave frequencies, including the beta frequency, which corresponds to active thinking and focus. Travis agrees that the presence of both alpha and beta coherence probably explains the insights that sometimes emerge from meditation. That would make sense, especially as the EEG coherence during TM is strongest in the prefrontal cortex, which is critical to evaluating choices and making good decisions. As a meditator, however, I am simply grateful for such insight whenever it comes, and I acknowledge it as one more gift of meditation.
In the next chapter, I will discuss what is arguably the most valuable gift to come out of a single meditation session: transcendence.
“Reprinted from TRANSCENDENCE: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., with the permission of J.P. Tarcher, a member of the Penguin Group USA. Copyright 2011 by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D."
Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and has maintained a private practice in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area for over thirty years. He conducted research at the National Institute of Mental Health, as a research fellow, researcher, and senior researcher for more than twenty years.
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