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Monday, July 9, 2007

Getting "Centered" with Transcendental Meditation (Part 1)

Posted By on Mon, Jul 9, 2007 at 11:26 AM

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This week and every week, the Psychic Horizons Church of Natural Grace in the Mission offers their free introduction to transcendental meditation. Yes, the same "TM" popularized in the 60's by guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which sucked in Donovan, who probably did it just because the Beatles did. The practice encompasses a whole convoluted rigmarole and weltanschauung pimped as the "Vedic sciences." In a nutshell TM'ers believe you can get anything you want just by asking for it, and will stay out of trouble simply by walking the sunny side of the street. They're of a special New Age variety, recently Oprah-authorized, and given a rose-colored gloss by author Daniel Pinchbeck in last month's Common Ground, exemplified by the cultish marketing binge surrounding Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret," anything Deepak Chopra, and a little Marlee Matlin art flick.

Former investment banker Rev. Laura Hopper founded the Church in San Francisco in 1981, and clergy offer a series of readings, healings, and services, addressing issues from career and relationship to gender identity. Can't make it to the Church on time? No problem! They'll send you a PDF of their free meditation guide. They’ll heal you by email, and will post you a cassette tape with a recorded ointment for your intangible itch (one at a time, please) for only your self-honesty and 45 bucks. If you forgot to clean up Fido's aura while following him with that plastic bag, don't worry -- they also do pets. The intro session and bi-monthly mass healing clinics are free of charge, and one could probably canoodle a 20-minute, single issue student-reading -- the spiritual equivalent of taking yourself to the barber school for a haircut -- for a tenner.

Of course, only you know the questions to the answers you seek. Psychic Horizons also touts itself as "a school of meditation and healing," and wrapped up with any of these goodies, there's the predictable appeal to sign up for the meditation classes. They've got a bitchin' syllabus. After completing 3 basic two-month courses at $250.00 a pop, you're invited to pursue extra helpings of post-grad enlightenment -- for another three grand.

So many of these New Age panaceas are old grifts in new threads -- see Bob Doyle's infomercial-tastic "Wealth Beyond Reason" or Jack Canfield's insipid "Chicken Soup" For You series. Plenty of hacks making a living off of selling the perfect life.

Hearing all that stuff about "intentionality" and "synchronicity"… it's like if a bird's crapped on your head, and people tell you it's good luck. If you're buying that, I've got a bridge for you.

I decided to indulge in an intro to find out what it's all about. Psychic Horizons is located in a welcoming converted walk-up on Valencia. Yelp reviewers hyped the scene as non-judgmental and compassionate, and I am amused by images of back-biting cliquish Zen hipsters. I ask the pale and morose guy sitting next to me, who hesitantly confirms my suspicions that he's been through a few schools, what he makes of that comparison. "If you're gay, it's supposed to be a good place to come, and some others aren't... I don't know man, that's what I heard. I'm not even gay." He doesn't share anything else for the rest of the session.

The bulk of the class consists of getting us into the "center" of our minds. Not just the hippocampus, it's the neutral ground where the spirit meets the body and they talk -- a seat of objectivity. We're told there's two ways to get there. I'm all set for my first mystical revelation, or at least a Caine-worthy riddle. The first path: Cross your eyes. That apparently yields a good view of the entrance. The second path: draw two perpendicular lines through your skull starting ear to ear, and "X" marks the spot. Throughout the whole run of exercises we're "saying hello" to chakras, third legs, third eyes, and other parts of the anatomy you don't got to put pants over in public. [Listen to an example of the exercise.]

Next, our instructor Rev. Manuela lets us in on another secret -- the "center" is where we keep our clairvoyant powers. "So say 'hi' to that concept." In fact, "Clairvoyant Training" is the highlight of the school's post-graduate offerings, and promises to hone your psychic skillz. As soon as the Reverend suggests this, a fellow newbie across the room rushes to share that when she tapped her clairvoyant side just now, she got a rush of bad energy from that side of the room, pointing her finger over at me and the sallow guy.

I take the uncomfortable silence to ask about the "gold energy" Manuela keeps mentioning. Why gold?

"It's your "highest" level of energy," she clarifies.

What do you mean by "highest"?

"It's your most personal, spiritual energy. You should focus on that."

So there's a whole rainbow of energies out there.

"Yes!" she says, delighted by my spontaneous revelation.

"What if mine's red?" a nervous, neurotic young woman keeps interrupting to ask.

This launch pad for self-exploration does triple duty as the seat of "permission," which I find ironic considering what you have to permit yourself to swallow to sign up for classes. During the exercises, Rev. Manuela repeats this secret mantra over and over: Whatever's going through your minds, "don't resist it, don't critique, and don’t judge it." Not to mention what you have to permit yourself to draw out of the bank for a thorough enlightening. No one's signed up for Step 1 by the time we all file out about a half hour later.

--Matt Novak

Related: Oprah's Ugly Secret (Salon)

Tomorrow: David Lynch he rambling breathlessly and cryptically about his three-decades old love affair with coffee and TM.

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Matt Stroud

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