Dr. Rosenthal on Addiction, Transcendental Meditation and the Super Mind
Editor’s Note: I am grateful to our guest this week, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, for having introduced me to Transcendental Meditation (TM) four years ago through his very readable book Transcendence. I have found it helpful personally and think that TM is particularly useful for people in early recovery from addictions, who may have had difficulty mastering other, more challenging types of meditation. In his new book Super Mind, Dr. Rosenthal takes readers to another level of understanding of and benefit from TM.
Addiction, Transcendental Meditation and the Super Mind
By Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.
Step 11 of the 12 Steps describes how the recovering addict seeks out prayer and meditation as a way of advancing recovery. To a psychiatrist who has attempted to help many people suffering from addictions both to substances and behaviors, and who has spent a great deal of time trying to understand meditation and its benefits, Step 11 strikes me as particularly relevant.
I should emphasize that I am dealing here with only one type of meditation, Transcendental Meditation (TM). I do so not because I am claiming any unique value for this type of meditation with regard to addiction (though such special value may exist). Rather, it is a form of meditation with which I have had extensive clinical experience, suggesting a beneficial effect for recovering addicts (and many others as well) and a form that is strongly supported by research in this regard. I have practiced this form of meditation myself for the past eight years and have been impressed enough with its benefits to write two books on the subject, Transcendence and, more recently, Super Mind.
TM differs from another popular form of meditation, mindfulness. In TM, the meditator is given a mantra or word sound and is taught how to access it effortlessly in such a way as to enter a state of consciousness that is somewhat different from the three ordinary states of consciousness – sleeping, waking, and dreaming. This fourth state of consciousness, known as transcendence, is marked by a calm and pleasant alertness. Often the meditator, though fully conscious, is not thinking any specific thoughts.
The TM practitioner is encouraged to practice this method for 20 minutes twice a day and, over time, the pleasant state of calm alertness moves into everyday life, thereby promoting what I have called the Super Mind – in which there is not only expanded consciousness, but also many tangible benefits. Mindfulness, by contrast, involves focusing on some specific element either in the external world or within and seeks to enhance an appreciation for the present and for life’s realities.
While people are meditating, EEG tracings show a preponderance of alpha waves fluxing over the frontal regions of their brains. These rhythms are associated with soothing self-reflection. There is also an increase in so-called brain coherence, a state in which wavelengths in different parts of the brain correspond more closely to one another, suggesting that these different brain regions are working more harmoniously together. When people meditate over time, such increased brain coherence occurs even outside of meditation – even when they are performing tasks – and may provide the physiological underpinnings of the Super Mind.
After meditating for a while – sometimes even within days or weeks of starting to meditate – as people experience expanded consciousness, several valuable qualities emerge. People become more resilient, less likely to overreact to minor setbacks, and steadier in their attitude towards themselves and the world. It is easy to see how such changes might help a recovering addict under stress to make better choices. Addicts often use their substance or behavior of choice to regulate inner turbulence or discomfort. As the internal state settles down and contentment grows, the incentive to repeat these old patterns wanes.
A review of 19 studies conducted between 1972 and 1994 details how TM can help significantly reduce the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and illegal drugs in diverse groups from different parts of the world. Studies are currently underway to update this impressive body of literature, which underscores the prescience and inspiration underlying the 11th Step.
Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and the author of Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life Through Transcendental Meditation (Tarcher Perigree, 2016).