Thursday, 15 September 2011

Transcendence : A Review

Several months ago, a random email appeared from a Californian publishing house. Would I like to read a copy of Transcendence by Norman E Rosenthal, M.D. If I were agreeable they would send two copies and maybe I could review the book for them.

Normally, I ignore random emails but this one intrigued me. I know the universe sends me books occasionally. The first was a book on bereavement from an online bookseller when I’d ordered one about dandelions. I offered to return it but they asked me to keep it in compensation for dispatching the wrong order. The second was a pink book of poetry left behind by a fellow passenger on a train. Transcendence is the third.

Norman Rosenthal is a South African by birth, but now holds the position of professor of clinical psychiatry at Georgetown Medical Centre with a private practice in Washington DC. His previous research has been in Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD).

It seems strange that Dr Rosenthal’s life and my own have run parallel in several ways. When he was a young undergraduate in Cape Town in the early 1970s, he was invited to an introductory talk on Transcendental Meditation. He was interested but did not take the offer of paying a fee and learning more.

Halfway across the world, about twelve months later, I was sitting in a room at the Christian Union of Birmingham University listening to the same introductory talk, probably with a similar level of interest, but I did not feel able to take the next step, pay my dues and be given my mantra.

Both of us took a similar path towards mental health, Dr Rosenthal from the professional viewpoint whereas I was educated by service users spending sixteen years with my local MIND group, five years chairing the West Midlands Regional Council of MIND and five years as a Mental Health Act Lay Manager with a stint as Lay Chair of the Regional Appointments Committee for junior psychiatric doctors before they got fed up with my radical views and found someone more acceptable!

Where Dr Rosenthal has spent his professional life treating people who suffer from mental distress, I spent fourteen years monitoring our local mental health services from the viewpoint of the consumer. I watched the change from the old system to the introduction of a home treatment service and a radicle new approach using mainly psychology to help young people recover from early onset psychosis. Never let it be said deprived inner city Birmingham cannot herald ground-breaking national innovations! I even lectured about them to a Grand Round at Oregon State University Hospital in Portland when I was doing a study tour of diversion from custody in 1995.

Now, I offer support to those who suffer mental distress through my herbs and healing and I teach sessions on how the NHS mental health services work to carers and other support workers.

Dr Rosenthal did return to Transcendental Meditation (TM) and now faithfully meditates twice a day. His book is divided into four sections – Transcendence, Healing, Transformation and Harmony. Within each section he describes the introduction of TM into the West through the visits of the Beatles to Marashi Yogi in the 1960s, provides scientific research to show how TM affects the brain and then gives comprehensive examples of the positive effects of TM with groups and individuals everywhere from schools, to prisons and well known media stars.

It is a fascinating book. I was amazed how the simple act of reading brought on a state of calm which I really appreciated. It is not a book which makes you want to read from cover to cover in one go, but it is perfect for dipping in to whenever you have a spare moment.

Dr Rosenthal has an easy, lyrical style, explaining his points in a simple, digestible format. Points are well illustrated with case studies; each story making the learning more memorable. I was slightly disappointed that most of the case studies related to men rather than women, but I presume this was to emphasise that even hardened male criminals or schoolboy yobs growing up in the most disadvantaged and violent neighbourhoods can become relaxed, reformed, constructive members of society, fully able to take control of their own lives and futures.

I particularly found the research carried out in prisons and schools to be exciting and ripe with possibilities. The outcomes seemed so positive, I truly hope this book serves to publicise the potential of providing TM to the most disadvantaged groups, giving them opportunities currently beyond their grasp.

Personally, I felt the stories involving film producers and other media stars did not strengthen the book in any great way, although I can understand Dr Rosenthal wanting to show how TM can enhance creativity in those whose profession is mass entertainment. The inclusion of Russell Brand left a sour taste in my mouth after his distasteful escapades with Jonathan Ross on Radio 2, but I suspect Dr Rosenthal may not have been aware of his elder abuse on this side of the pond.

It is always a pleasure when a book brings me new information and ideas. Transcendence is such a book. The notes are constructive and highly informative as one would expect from an experienced professional with an acclaimed academic background, but this is not a book just for professionals. It should be welcomed by anyone who wants to know more about this practice.

I gave my second copy of the book to a friend who is a fellow writer. A painter and decorator by trade; he follows the Buddhist path and meditates daily. Like me, he was disappointed the book did not include a full disclosure of the TM technique, but Dr Rosenthal is faithful in keeping the secret of the “movement”. My friend was fascinated by the studies on brain activity and was looking forward to reading more about TM’s applications.

Tomorrow, I leave for Manchester and on Saturday I will fly into Dr Rosenthal’s home city, Washington D.C. In a perfect world, I would love to be able to offer Dr Rosenthal the experience of receiving healing and be able to discuss how this can also produce the state of transcendence he ascribes to TM. I have been very grateful for the opportunity to read his book and I wish him well as his words reach out across the world.

Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation by Norman E Rosenthal, M.D. is published by Penguin at $14.74 and £12.18 from Amazon.


Allison Dahl said...

Hello Sarah! Thank you for sharing this! It is intreging!

This post made me want to ask you a question. I am hessitant because the two subjects don't really intertwine and the author I want to ask about is a bit critical on some TM stuffs; and I don't want to come off as being such(critical). I thought of emailing you instead, but will just leave this comment. I have been reading much on meridian pathways and other such books on similar subjects like TCM and, of course, herbal studies. I ran into a book at a spiritual store here called, 'The Language of Emotion' by Karla McLaren. I have been studying it for 4 or 5 months and have found it really interesting. I wanted to share it for two reasons. One, the author is female; and Two, the subject is on understanding and working with your emotions and intellects. It is interesting to me and my hope is that I find others to talk and share this with. The author has a website and such. I just wanted to see if you'd be interested in looking into her study. Although, the help I have found is in of itself worthy. I mix it with my other interests and works, such as yoga which I need to get back into.
Allison Dahl of Kelso, WA USA and allisonians

Allison Dahl said...

I also wanted to say that I was just thinking about the kinds of help our impoverished peoples need and that it is in their spiritual depletion that I am concerned. This was also a catalyst to write to you. So, my mission is to become healthier so that I can help. I have fear of it as well, but I see that the need is so huge that I have no real choice. Our people are strong in there affliction and interestingly enough their character is strongly prideful in their demise. If that make any real sense. Thank you again for sharing. I am also understanding of the privialaged people demise as well. I just think on my level, I am not so privilaged by choice that I should stay in my arena. Although I get a fight and flight response every now and again. Peace, Allison

Sarah Head said...

Allison, I'm sorry I don't have time for a more considered response. I will look at the website when I get an opportunity and I have a friend who practices Emotional Freedom Technique counselling. Thinking about how much people need with regard to wellness and spirituality, it is easy to become overwhelmed and feel helpless. What I have learned over the years is to think very small and start where you are with those who wish to do something with you. If you put your intent out into the universe, the universe will take you where you are meant to go. I have never had anything to do with the military, but I was sitting on a train going to work one morning and saw an article about the number of soldiers who had been killed in Afghanistan that week. I said to myself, "I really want to help." That day, the head of an army welfare service rang me and asked me to do some bereavement training for them and I've been working with other service organisations since. That was two years ago. I know that I'm facing great change in the near future, which is very scary, but I also know that the next stage of my personal journey is about to happen. All I can do is be open to all possibilities. I know you can do the same where you are. (hugs!)