Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation by Bob Roth – Review
By Barney Bardsley
Just those two words – Transcendental Meditation – are enough to send you wafting off on a cloud of incense: back to the Swinging Sixties and the Fab Four, in their full psychedelic pomp. Because it was indeed The Beatles who “discovered” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and who first brought him and his TM technique back with them from India, making him, by the time of his death in 2008, perhaps the most famous mystic of modern times.
But TM was not just a passing hippy phase. Thanks to the cleverness of the Maharishi, the appeal of the technique, and its championing by the rich and famous – most notably the estimable and big-brained film maker David Lynch – TM has positioned itself as one of the most influential mantra meditation practises in the western world.
It prides itself on the science of its method – and there have indeed been many studies made of the effects of TM on neurophysiology. Its benefits are clear and manifold. Plus, it smartly addresses the particular needs of those in the west, both for rational proof of efficacy, and for inner peace: a refuge from the massive stresses of contemporary life.
Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation – which takes TM into schools, prisons and industry, all over the western world – has used this short handbook to explain exactly how the TM system works, and why it is so successful. Except that he doesn’t, really.
As a long-term meditator, I was eager to learn the particular process of TM from these pages. I have long felt wary of its somewhat arcane approach. Rather than being an open, freely accessible practise, TM usually requires one-to-one induction, a personalised mantra, and – with the honourable exception of its charitable arm – the handing over of money, before its secrets are revealed. And that exclusiveness – which has an almost cultish whiff about it – makes me nervous. Nothing in this book does much to dispel that misgiving.
Certainly Roth’s description of the “unbounded field” of pure consciousness accessible to us all through the practise of meditation is alluring. And his assertion of what TM can achieve is compelling: “(It) simply allows the active thinking mind to settle down to its own state of inner stillness at the deepest level of awareness, one that actually transcends , or goes beyond, all thoughts and feelings.” But, by the end of the book we are no clearer as to how this happens. The secret of TM remains undisclosed.
The field of meditation is rich and manifold. TM is just one approach. There are many, many others. Roth seems somewhat dismissive of anything outside the TM family, which is a shame.
What remains admirable, however, is the work that is being done, through the David Lynch Foundation, with the disadvantaged and disenfranchised – and those traumatised by war and by the violence of their own domestic situation. Admirable too, is this little rider: “One hundred per cent of the author’s proceeds from the sale of Strength in Stillness are being donated to teach at-risk adults and youth to meditate.” Wherever peace of mind and heart is being spread, my applause certainly goes with it.
“Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation” by Bob Roth is published by Simon & Schuster, £12.99 hardback