This 34 year-old-column speaks to anyone who struggles with an overstressed life, I think. Back in 1978, I was overwhelmed with my life–finishing an advanced degree, struggling with a fledging teaching career, newly divorced, etc. etc.
TM, or Transcendental Meditation, worked for me then–and I STILL meditate now, twice a day. I think it’s added years to my life, honestly.
Any kind of meditation works if undertaken conscientiously, but Transcendental Meditation was among the easiest and most relaxing.
Everyone has a favorite social problem. Some say racism is rampant and deserves constant attention; others insist that capitalism is the root of all evil, with money running a close second. Still others favor drugs, pollution, television, nuclear proliferation, over-population; the list of social problems goes on.
My favorite problem is stress. Like pride used to be the No. 1 all-time Deadly Sin, Stress is the No. 1 all-time social problem. (We’ve exchanged social problems for sin here, but that’s another column.)
Just a glance around any roomful of adults will reveal the effects of stress. People are overweight, overdrunk, overtired, oversick, overworked, overdrugged, and too soon underground. Literally everyone I know has some problem with stress. Their work, their schedules, the pressures they feel, the incredible changes they’ve seen (men have been on and off the moon for almost a decade now!) all make for a definite need to find some effective, healthy way to release stress.
Sleep, of course, is the one of the best stress-relievers. So is laughing and crying. So if we could sleep, laugh and cry enough we could release most of our daily stresses and feel quite good. Show me someone who can’t sleep, laugh or cry, and I’ll show you an unhappy soul.
Other ways of releasing stress are less effective, though probably more attractive: drinking, sex, dancing, (not necessarily in that order) participation in physical sports, and talking with shrinks. Some of these have the side advantage of being fun, too. But the problem with all of these stress-releasers is that they provide highs that are almost inevitably followed by lows that create even more stress. So unless you like roller coasters, these stress-releasers are best avoided, except for the side advantages.
The only way, I must say, that I have found that really does release stress is meditation. Now wait: I don’t mean thinking about something intensely for a long time, nor concentrating on an object like a candle or a belly-button. I’m speaking of Transcendental Meditation, or TM.
Transcendental Meditation is a form of meditation that requires almost no effort, is completely relaxing, and it has actually made me feel less and less stress in my life. I’m getting to the point where I feel relaxed almost all the time. And not glassy-eyed passive relaxed, but simply released from those stresses that kept me from enjoying myself. (Consider: has mental tension ever helped anyone enjoy anything?) My old neurotic highs and lows have been replaced by a deep sense of well being that is itself a high, but is not subject to the lows.
The Transcendental Meditation technique seems to give me two restful twenty-minute breaks everyday, without the fuzzy-eyed hangovers that daytime naps can bring on. Thus I get deep rest that relieves more stresses than sleeping—or crying and laughing, for that matter.
I would never say that Transcendental Meditation is the only way to release stress. It is simply the only way I’ve found that works for me. Besides, it helped get me off cigarettes, and I had tried to quit for eight years.
Now I know all the objections to TM—I had them myself. It’s expensive, it’s a religion, it’s the MacDonald’s of meditation, highs and lows are part of a creative life. Most of these objections are from people who really haven’t bothered to look into Transcendental Meditation. I find that just about everyone who actually tries it for awhile knows that it works; stresses begin to disappear.
In other words, after years of going around all stressed up, Transcendental Meditation truly helps people finally get unstressed.
It’s both energizing and liberating.
— Scott Cawelti
About the author
Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s. He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.
This essay was published on his website scottcawelti.com