The discussion that follows came about after a link I posted on FaceBook sparked an interesting debate between an old college friend and myself. The link was about what’s known as the Maharishi Effect, a little known phenomenon in which the effects of large groups of meditators practicing a specific technique together can supposedly impact the population at large, even those who aren’t meditating. This is claimed to be due to the nature of the field of consciousness and how energetic ripples can spread out from from a point of higher concentration and spill over into the larger environment. If this sounds like something out of science fiction, you’d probably be right, however, large scale scientific studies seem to have confirmed this effect.

The conversation my friend and I shared hovered around the validity of these claims, the scientific method, and the nature of the world we live in. After reading it through, it seemed like a conversation worth sharing. So out of courtesy I removed my friend’s name from the transcript (we’ll call him Frank), but the rest is pretty much word for word. I hope you like it.

It went something like this:
Adam Brady shared Spirit Science and Metaphysics’s photo.

Yes, yes, and yes! (My emphasis)

Did you know that group meditation has a measurable impact on the behavior of the world around you? A great example of this is the Maharishi Effect, where in 1978 a group of 7000 individuals meditating on thoughts of love and peace were able to radiate loving energy energy which reduced global crime rates, violence, and casualties during the times of their meditation over the course of 3 weeks by an average of 16%. Suicide rates and automobile accidents also were reduced with all variables accounted for. In fact, there was a 72% reduction in terrorist during the times at which this group was meditation. Almost 50 studies have been done further confirming the benefits of global meditation and it’s direct impact on everything in the world, even so far as to have the results published in the Journal of Crime and Justice in 1981. We know meditation has endless health and psychological benefits, but it is now being explored by politics and sociology because of its undeniable energetic impact. Everything is energy, including your thoughts. These thoughts have a radiant quality that ripple through the consciousness field and energetically effect all things around you. If you want to change the state of society, it starts right now by finding peace and love within yourself.

“I think the claim can be plausibly made that the potential impact of this research exceeds that of any other ongoing social or psychological research program. It has survived a broader array of statistical tests than most research in the field of conflict resolution. This work and the theory that informs it deserve the most serious consideration by academics and policy makers alike.” — David Edwards Ph.D., Professor of Government, University of Texas at Austin

http://maharishi-programmes.globalgoodnews.com/maharishi-effect/

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10683169608409775

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J076v36n01_12


<Frank> No doubt that meditation can be useful personally, but not upon other subjects in the manner claimed by the article.
<Adam Brady> Frank, I’m going to have to differ with you on this one. The TM organization has been running experiments on the effects of group meditation for over 40 years with hundreds of published research and articles demonstrating that the Maharishi Effect spills out into the collective consciousness of a given population. You can find the studies to back up the claims at TM.org, or in books such as Victory Before War or Permanent Peace. Not only that, I can attest to my own experiences in large group meditations as being something that appears to have far reaching effects. I know it runs contrary to modern, conventional science, but I truly believe there’s something more going on than just relaxation.
<Frank> I don’t differ with your sincerity, Adam! But is there any credible outside peer-reviewed evidence? I doubt it. Same goes for remote prayer — there’s no physical mechanism. I don’t have anything against TM per se, just unrealistic claims about what it can achieve. (That goes for a lot of things!) I’m sure you can “feel” some effect, but I just suggest caution about what is perception and what is objectively measurable.

No disagreement, I hope, that more people acting thoughtfully and positively makes for a better world! I don’t doubt that group meditation helps the participants to do just that. Shouldn’t that be enough to claim?
<Adam Brady> Frank – have no fear, I didn’t think you we’re questioning my sincerity. However, I do want to address the points you make here.

Most importantly, while I appreciate the benefits and advancements we have enjoyed thanks to the scientific method and a rational materialistic worldview, I find it to be far from complete when attempting to explain the true nature of reality, especially in light of how consciousness factors in to the overall picture.

In regards to the lack of peer reviewed evidence for the Maharishi Effect, Remote Prayer, Remote Viewing, Non-Local healing/intentionality, and other similar phenomena, that lack of evidence really depends on when you choose to look. Currently, hosts of physicians, physicists, engineers, researchers and organizations such as the institute of Heartmath, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences (to name just a few) are aligned with this paradigm and their work supports the same overall conclusions that the TM folks arrive at. Most of these individuals or groups aren’t well known because they are underfunded, marginalized, and sit on what is considered the fringes of science due to a deeply entrenched materialistic worldview that patently denies any experience that falls outside the boundaries of conventional science and experience. Furthermore, from a scientific standpoint, ‘measuring the immeasurable’ is not a field that most scientists are eager to explore, in fact, many in the scientific community regard the serious study of the Hard Problem of consciousness to be a dangerous and potentially career killing move.

If the scientific establishment denies the plausibility of group meditation influencing society on the whole, it’s not surprising that getting another group to take interest in replicating large scale experiments such as what the TM group has been doing since the ’70s is unlikely, especially when confirmation of their findings has the potential to upturn the whole apple cart of established belief. Ideas like this one are hard to swallow because they mean a complete reframing of how we think the world works, and are generally met with rigid opposition. I’m not saying its a conspiracy, but old ideas can be hard to change, especially when it calls for a paradigm shift. If you remember, not so long ago, in light of the Newtonian worldview, physicists felt certain there was nothing more to learn, until of course, this whole quantum mechanics thing showed up and turned the whole scientific community on its head.

Further, I can’t accept that just because something hasn’t been objectively proven means that it’s ultimately not possible, period, end of sentence; only that we currently lack the necessary tools and or mental framework to understand what may be happening. No, there may not be a physical mechanism for these types of things, or at least not in the sense that we can readily detect, but does that mean nothing’s happening, or that it’s not real, or does it simply mean that our tools (and our minds) have limits?

While I agree that subjective perception doesn’t necessarily reflect objective truth, that doesn’t mean those perceptions aren’t valid and should automatically be dismissed. This is the very reason the TM folks do the research they do. They practice their technique, have certain experiences subjectively and then ask, ‘what are the measurable, objective markers associated with those subjective experiences in regards to blood pressure, heart rate, brainwave coherence, levels of blood lactate, or neurotransmitter levels in the meditator?’ Once they had repeatable results, they then looked at what those effects might be in the surrounding environment, based upon the predicted field effect of a consciousness – based model of reality. So, ruling out the subjective perceptions can sometimes be like throwing out the baby with the bath water; they may not have ultimate scientific validity, but they can often be an indirect tool to help get you there.

And just so you know, while I posted this link because I believe in the value of group meditation to influence the world at large, I’m not a TMer nor am I associated with the TM Organization in any way. However, I have been practicing meditation for over 16 years as well as studying meditation and consciousness in an effort to deepen my understanding of how the practices of meditation and yoga can do what they do. In that study, I have come to appreciate the work the TM organization has done to deepen our understanding of meditation, consciousness, and transformation. I would love to see outside groups replicate their experiments and results, but for the reasons mentioned above, I don’t think that’s likely anytime soon, so in the meantime, they have the largest collection of data on the effects of meditation and in many ways serve as the benchmark to compare against.

You ask if helping people live thoughtfully and positively isn’t enough to claim from meditation. Perhaps it would be if those were the only benefits, but even aside for the debated Maharishi Effect, the list of benefits that come from meditating (alone or in a group) could easily fill several volumes. As a meditation teacher, to not share those benefits with others, I believe is a grave disservice to the practice.

In the final analysis, there’s no doubt that a healthy dose of skepticism is beneficial to any field of study, but at the end of the day, the difference between a seeker and a skeptic is that one explores the unknown and validates it through his own experience, while the other sits back and claims “that’s not possible.” As a seeker, I have chosen to explore my life with an open, yet skeptical mind to seek the sources of my own ignorance. In doing so, I have tried to follow the teachings of the Buddha when he said:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

This is where I fall back on the validity of my own experience. I’ve had experiences that support my belief that this stuff is real. Can I prove to you or my meditation students that the Maharishi Effect is real? No, I can’t. I can only teach them what I’ve learned and encourage them to have their own experiences to either validate or disprove the idea. To me, that’s what it means to be a scientist of yourself and to use your life as the laboratory.
<Frank> Thanks for the thoughtful response. I don’t disagree at all with any personal benefits from meditation or the ability to measure response in blood pressure, etc. of an individual. I read an article (in Smithsonian, I think) recently about Aung San Suu Kyi and how deep meditation helped her get through her long isolation and not get overcome with anger. Quite inspiring, really, to the point that I’d be interested in trying it some time. (You’re the man for that!)

Yes, scientific tools are imperfect, and there will always be unknowns. Yes, there is always (as it should be!) a certain amount of resistance to radical ideas. (Just look at plate tectonics, for example, which we take for granted now, but was a radical idea just 50 years ago.) And yes, scientists are human, too, and have their own nutty fringes. I don’t subscribe to the extreme “if it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist,” but a hypothesis without any supporting evidence (theoretical or measurable) is still just a hypothesis (take string theory, for example). In the case of remote prayer, however, there was actually a properly conducted study recently (can’t find it offhand) that found no statistically significant effect on hospital patient outcomes. ESP, psychic awareness, etc. have not stood up to careful study. It’s hard to justify funding to properly test more of the same.

Whatever the individual effects and benefits of meditation are, to extrapolate to an effect on others (who are not aware of the activity), is a huge leap to be rightly regarded (in my opinion) with some skepticism. It’s fine for the TM’ers to believe it, but I don’t like to see them trying to get public monetary support for “fighting crime” without good *independent* evidence — that’s what raises the big red flags for me (and why I felt compelled to make a comment). You wouldn’t trust a pharma company’s claims for a drug and buy their product if it didn’t have some measure of independent FDA review. (Although too many people believe the claims of “natural” herbal medicines that fall outside of FDA review, even Steve Jobs.) That kind of self-serving promotion is what turns me off of the TM organization, though not necessarily the practice itself. I’m totally fine with your own promotion of personal benefits, which I agree are real. All I’m saying is to be careful extrapolating beyond that.

Good conversation, Adam!
<Adam Brady> I definitely hear what you’re saying Frank. All good points you make and I agree that we should be cautious when public funds are involved. The self serving promotion you mention is a turn off for me as well, however as I said earlier, the TM folks have run the most rigorous and robust studies on meditation to date (in no small part due to an enormous budget), so I feel somewhat obligated to as Bruce Lee would say, “Absorb what is useful, Reject what is useless…” I know some former TMers who tell me the organization is a cult, a very well meaning cult, but still a cult. So, to the discriminating mind, (which I like to think I have) I’ll take what I like and leave the rest.

As for the Maharishi Effect and other fringe-dwelling ideas, I hope the future will give us that independent, peer reviewed validation that will bring it out of obscure “woo-woo” circles and into the world for serious consideration. In the meantime, I still share the idea with my students and let them take it or leave it.

Thanks for the great discussion Frank. I appreciate an intellectual sparring match as it helps me to better articulate my beliefs and encourages me to deepen my understanding of other perspectives. You da man!

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Signing off on 2012

January 1, 2013

While I don’t usually write a synopsis or “Year in Review” for the 365 days that have passed since the last New Year, I think there’s some value in reflecting on the major milestones that marked the potential turning points my life has taken in 2012.  When I consider each of these choices or experiences, I realize that without them, my life could be very different than where I find it now had I made a different choice or missed a given opportunity.  Therefore, the emotion that I find most appropriate on this New Year’s Eve 2012 is gratitude.  Would I call 2012 a perfect year for me?  No, but what year could ever live up to that expectation?  A year is far more than a sum total of days or experiences. To use a somewhat overused phrase, “It is what it is.”  The value of a calendar year is a subjective experience.  It’s an interpretation based upon who we are as individuals and how the passage of time relates to our personal dreams, hopes, expectations, or fears.  We give meaning to each year as it goes by; without us, a year would be empty pages on a calendar.

With this in mind, I choose to look at this past year in appreciation for those whose lives have touched mine, for those whose lives I’ve been able to touch, and for those experiences and people that helped make me a better person. Some of the more memorable moments include: the loss of Chopra Center Co-Founder and Medical Director Dr. David Simon, who will always be remembered as an amazing teacher, gentle soul, and lighthearted kindred spirit to his beloved Hafiz; attendance at the Chopra Center’s final SynchroDestiny course in February which sparked some amazing coincidences, the effects of which are still being felt to this day; becoming a certified Hardstyle Kettlebell Instructor thanks to some great instruction by Franz Snideman; seeing the successful launch of an after work meditation class that to date has helped introduce over 100 WDW Cast Members to the transformative effect of a meditation practice; teaching 3 Primordial Sound Meditation Classes and sharing the practice with several friends such as Laura and John Giancarlo and Christopher Gayle; having the pleasure of completing 3 years of teaching Yoga to my students at the Orlando DRC; re-launching my website with help from my good friend, Andres Handschy; beginning to train in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu with my wife Dana; also cheering for Dana as she continued her amateur running career and successfully completing her 11th half marathon; getting to spend quality time with my family over the summer as my brother Matt and I helped my parents lighten their load of archival toys and relics from their attic in Pennsylvania; experiencing the unparalleled beauty and magnificent cuisine of France for 2 weeks with Dana; attending an Action Strength Certification course in Boca Raton with Harinder Singh Sabharwal and tapping into a new understanding of functional strength training and JKD; getting to hang for several days with longtime buddy and soul brother Marc Pfeifer; witnessing the turbulence and anxiety of one of the most divisive presidential campaigns I can remember; sharing a wonderful Thanksgiving with my family at my brother’s home; watching with interest as the world didn’t end on December 21*; and spending the Christmas Holidays with Dana’s family in chilly Philadelphia.

For each of these experiences, I am grateful.  Even for those experiences that might be perceived as negative or upsetting (some unlisted here), I choose to be grateful. Each person, each opportunity has been metabolized into who I am.  This is true for each of us.  No matter what 2012 has been like for us, it’s imperative not to lose sight of the fact that the circumstances of our lives are not as important as how we respond to those circumstances.  Life is what we make it.  Knowing that, reflect back on this past year and recognize that while what happened may not have been your choosing, the meaning you give it will rest with you alone.

                An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves. – Bill Vaughn

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I close out this interesting, amazing, challenging, thoughtful, sometimes painful, uncertain, and always transformative year with heartfelt thanks to my family, friends, students, and teachers who have helped me grow and inspired me to keep going.

May 2013 bless the world with infinite peace, harmony, laughter & love.

Namaste,

-Adam

* Just for the sake of argument, I’m not one who thought the world might self-apocalypse at the end of the Mayan 5124 year cycle.  I do, however believe that December 21, 2012 does mark the end of one world age and the beginning of another; one hopefully that is heralded by a shift in our global consciousness for the better.  Ritam…