Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life through Transcendental Meditation

Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life through Transcendental Meditation

New York: Tarcher Perigee, 2016. 320 pp., hardcover, $ 27.

The famous Sufi master Mullah Nasruddin was once found searching for something outside his house. People asked him, “What are you looking for?” He said, “I am looking for my key.” Again they asked, “Where did you lose it?” and he said, “In my house.” Incredulously they asked, “Why are you looking here?” and he replied,” There is more light here!” When this story was told to a Zen master, his interpretation was, “Looking is the key!”

This is the age where everyone is looking — looking for something that will help one navigate one’s way through a world of conflict, dissatisfaction, and an overall feeling of wanting and unhappiness. Technology and other advances (dare we say smartphones!) bring us more anxiety than peace, gobbling up our internal space and quiet. The search has led more and more people towards meditation.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi learned the ancient Vedic technique of meditation in the Himalayas and brought it to the public as Transcendental Meditation (TM). He knew it had great potential to help people. His message was, “Meditate, dive within, and expand your consciousness.” You change, and the world around you follows.

Norman E. Rosenthal’s Super Mind provides a roadmap towards that goal. Indeed, TM is goal-oriented. This simple technique, practiced twenty minutes twice a day, is easy to learn and enjoyable to practice. Research studies abound on TM’s effectiveness for stress and stress-related conditions. The benefits in daily life are often documented almost like a checklist: inner calm, reduced cortisol, normalized blood pressure, improved brain function and memory, reduced insomnia. A recent study documented the positive impact of TM on stressed-out college students.

The Maharishi talked about several states of consciousness. The three basic ones are sleeping, waking, and dreaming. Four more are transcendence (experience of self in silence of meditation), cosmic consciousness (experience of the transcendent in activity), refined cosmic consciousness (maximum development of senses and emotions), and unity consciousness (experiencing the transcendental reality within yourself and within everyone and everything). Rosenthal refers to the last three collectively as the Super Mind. He chooses this term because it is a state of heightened aptitude, problem-solving ability, and also a state of emotional empathy and sensitivity, even enhancing diplomatic skills in dealing with day-to-day situations. It is a state of consistent living in peak condition.

Rosenthal’s 2012 book, Transcendence: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life through Transcendental Meditation, dealt specifically with how TM could help people with problems. Super Mind is broader in its reach, asking how everyone can lead a richer and more creative life. The book is organized into a description of the new science of consciousness, with measurable data; techniques for expanding consciousness; subjective experiences; the physiological basis of Super Mind; and finally the mysterious process of how “repeated settling” in meditation can lead to “a continuum of calmness.” Reading through Rosenthal’s book is a fascinating journey.

I found one discussion particularly interesting. It addressed the difference between TM and mindfulness. We know mindfulness means moment-to-moment clarity of observation. A wandering mind is just a state to note and let go of. Researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert from Harvard University developed an application for the iPhone recording subjects’ activity at random moments and whether their thoughts were pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. They found that mind wandering was common. They also found that people were happy when their minds were on a task, less happy when minds were wandering to neutral topics, and least happy when minds were wandering to unpleasant topics. Using time sequence analysis, they found that mind wandering preceded unhappiness. The Harvard researchers describe mind wandering as the brain’s default mode of operation and the frontal portions of brain as the default mode network (DMN).

Here is the greatest difference between mindfulness and TM: mindfulness focuses on the task at hand. If the mind that does not wander is a happy one, then mindfulness will make people happier. TM, by contrast, does not involve focusing on the present. The mantra used in TM allows the mind to transcend the present. Is transcendence a state of wandering, then? If so, does it make people less happy? But TM has been shown to enhance happiness. Scientifically speaking, mindfulness is reduced DMN activity (focus and attention), while TM increases DMN activity. The great question is: can one practice both? Rosenthal says there is no reason not to. It is a compelling discussion.

Rosenthal discusses many personal experiences, his own and others’, throughout the book, and these are very helpful. The appendices include a detailed “Consciousness Integration Questionnaire”; end notes for each chapter, with sources; and a question and answer session with Bob Roth, who has been teaching TM for forty-five years. A first-time reader would find it enlightening.

Dhananjay Joshi

The reviewer, a professor of statistics, has studied Hindu, Zen, and vipassana meditation for the past forty-five years. He is a regular contributor to the Indian periodical Lokmat.