Editor’s Note: I was introduced to transcendental meditation three years ago through Dr. Norman Rosenthal’s book Transcendence. It sounded like a simple way to help manage the stress of everyday life, so I got the training and have been practicing regularly ever since. For me, it has not only improved my ability to respond to stress, but has also stimulated my mind to move in more creative directions. It is so effortless that I thought that it would be ideal for my patients in early recovery, who usually find that focused-based meditation techniques are too difficult.
I discovered that research had in fact been done in the 1990s documenting the usefulness of transcendental meditation in addiction treatment. More recently, I was surprised to learn that late in his life, AA Co-Founder Bill Wilson had been trained in TM and had found it to be helpful. When I learned that the person who had trained him was still doing TM training, I contacted him, and he graciously agreed to this interview.
“I’ve meditated twice a day since 1966, and I feel so great afterwards,” says Lincoln Norton, National Director of Expansion for the Maharishi Foundation and a teacher at the San Antonio Transcendental Meditation (TM) Center. Now 70 years old, he has had a successful career as an entrepreneur in addition to teaching TM. “People often say, ‘you must have great willpower.’ It’s not willpower. I also have not missed breakfast since 1966.”
Lincoln was first introduced to TM while enrolled as a student at Harvard, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi visited to give a lecture on TM in the fall of 1966. A small group of roughly 30 people attended the talk. In 1969 he traveled to India with Maharishi to begin his student teacher training. Subsequently Lincoln became one of the first student TM teachers in New York City.
During his college years, he introduced his father (Tom Norton), an architect and a recovering alcoholic, to transcendental meditation as well. Tom Norton’s AA sponsor was Helen Wynn, a close friend Alcoholics Anonymous Co-Founder Bill Wilson, who Lincoln taught TM on a “cold December day at Wilson’s home in Chappaqua, NY.”
Recently, Lincoln Norton talked with Modern Addiction Recovery about this experience with Bill Wilson and how TM benefits people in recovery.
Modern Addiction Recovery: How were you first introduced to TM?
Lincoln: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi the Founder of TM came to Harvard in 1966, and I heard him give a talk. The idea of transcending sounded very familiar to me. This kind of meditation is so easy, and you always transcend. My grades got better, and I was happier. Those years were tough, but my life was improving through TM.
MAR: How did you first meet Bill Wilson?
Lincoln: Six to eight people, including Bill, his wife Lois, Helen Wynn, and her son Shep, attended a small meeting at Bill’s house to learn about transcendental meditation from me. The personal instruction to TM takes about an hour. I taught Bill in his bedroom and left him alone to do his first meditation. When I came back to get him, he was gone. I came downstairs and asked, “Has anyone seen Bill?” Just then the door burst open and Bill came in yelling, “This thing works!”
Despite Bill’s emphysema, he had left his room through a back staircase, run up and down the stairs, and then went outside and took some deep breaths of cold winter, night air —something not always a good idea when you are suffering from emphysema.
The reason this worked for him was that when you do TM, the mind settles down to finer levels. As mind and body are completely connected, the mind takes the body with it to a very deep state of rest, often deeper than the deepest level of deep sleep. Even his first 20 minute meditation allowed his body to relax so much that the circulation in his lungs improved and opened up.
During the third night of Bill’s verification of experience meetings (three days of verifying correctness of the practice and receiving further instruction based on growing experience), he told me he had come to a deeper understanding of AA’s 11th step. What he said to me was “I didn’t fully understand the 11th step until I started TM.”
MAR: In what way do people in recovery benefit from transcendental meditation?
Lincoln: When you meditate, the body gets deep rest and heals itself. Whatever is good for people, they will move in that direction-towards more normal. Everyone’s different. TM is not a rule-based practice, a religion or a belief system. It works whether you believe in it or not. People of all religions meditate. TM is about conscious contact with God as you understand it (the 11th step). People in recovery find that TM satisfies their need for a shift in consciousness. It enables them to get more out of life by going inside instead of out.
MAR: What is transcending? What do you transcend to?
Lincoln: Think of the mind like a lake. The mind is very deep and has layers. When we meditate correctly, the mind settles down to the bottom and stops swimming around on the surface. And what’s down there? Consciousness. When you meditate, it’s a fourth state of consciousness; the body is in deep state of rest, and the mind is super alert. That’s what we transcend to – a pure field of consciousness that is within all of us. When you’re aware of that field, it’s unbounded and satisfies the desire for more.
MAR: What are the biggest misconceptions about transcendental meditation?
Lincoln: The idea of trying or exerting effort is the biggest misconception about TM. Concentration and contemplation are not transcending. Correct meditation is not hard work. TM is effortless. The mind wants to go there, but it doesn’t know how. When you give it the right angle, it goes there, like diving off a diving board. Transcending is gravity for the mind.
The other misconception is that it’s religious. When I first started teaching, people often didn’t want anyone to know they were practicing, but it always works; belief not required. Unlike other mediations that are hard work and keep the mind swimming on the surface, TM allows the mind to naturally dive within.
MAR: How can people get started?
Lincoln: One-on-one instruction – people need the guidance of a teacher to give them their personal “mantra,” a sound or vibration that has no meaning, which is used to guide the mind within. TM instruction also shows a person how to use it correctly. Go to a certified teacher and get instruction.