Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. He has a new edition of the book for sale, and for more than a year on Saturdays he helped us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet. He was kind enough to send us a new post.
We’re encouraged, Jon, that you’ve been receiving messages about your pieces here in the Bunker. And this week, you wanted to respond to one question in particular, about meditation and Scientology’s odd ‘training routines.’ We’re curious about this too. Take it away, Jon.
JON: I received this enquiry, just before Xmas, and think it is relevant to any former member who is wondering about the relationship between meditation and TRs. I have meditated for forty years, and regard it as a very helpful practice, though, many methods called “meditation” are simply forms of self-hypnosis and may have negative effects (for which, see below).
I’d like to ask your take on something. I’ve recently been exploring what is currently called “mindfulness movement,” my impression of which is a westernized Buddhist practice. Some of these practices often take me back to my teen years — with parents who are Scientologists — and the drill called OT TR-0. (I have not considered myself a Scientologist since the 1980s, when I read the books by Corydon, Miller and you.) I know the true nature of the TRs are a question of great debate among former Scientologists, so I’ll focus on my own view of this particular drill. At the time, at the bottom of the “bridge” I felt very flattered by the notion of doing something with OT in the name. As you will remember, it was two people sitting across from one another with eyes closed, and the goal was to “be there, doing nothing else other than being there.” At the time I was told by someone that this was akin to Eastern-style meditation.
Now 30 years later I am reading of and trying mindful meditation, and the goal of quieting mental chatter with meditation does seem to be much the same thing as “being there, doing nothing else than being there.” Ironically, since one’s eyes are closed, I am not sure of the purpose of the other person sitting across from you in the Scientology drill.
What is your view? Is there a link between OT TR-0 and meditation as today’s “mindfulness” movement describes it? If there is anything in common with mindfulness, the similarity ends there, since moving through live worrying about O/Ws, Ethics conditions and PTSness is certainly the opposite of being mindful.
Is this one of the few Scientology process that has some benefit to it, perhaps like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day? I’d appreciate your input.
I think I comment in Blue Sky that TR-0 is akin to meditation (it is called “tratak” by some Indian practitioners). However, the TRs are steps within a process. And that process has an invidious and hidden intent (leading first to bullbait, which dissociates emotional responses and has a robotizing effect).
Nibs Hubbard (L. Ron Hubbard Jr.) “developed” the Upper Indoctrination TRs to calm some rowdy students (reissues of the original bulletin removed the “Jr” after L Ron Hubbard). OT-TR0 has the potentially sinister aspect of immediate group acceptance — by sitting with your eyes closed in a course-room full of strangers, you lower your defenses. In behavioral terms, this can be dangerous. Of itself, sitting quietly with your eyes closed is no bad thing, but probably best to do it at home or with people you already know and trust.
This said, I differentiate between forms of ‘meditation’. The Transcendental Meditation form – with the repetition of a word (often the name of a demon, but that isn’t the point, here), induces a hypnotic state. Which is to say, it can lead to euphoria, which of itself is not necessarily a good idea, as such meditators have been known to become addicted and lost interest in the necessities of life (including child care and work — I researched a book on TM many years ago and spoke with both disillusioned and still-illusioned members).
I learned zazen at a Zen temple when I was 18, so TR-0 — with the concomitant hallucinations — came as no surprise to me. Many people cite TR-0 as the peak experience which convinced them of the value of Scientology, but it is just a technique (and as a Bunkerite noted, some call it the Ganzfeld Effect, quo vide).
In zazen — which is the zen, chan or dhyana practice of Buddhism (depending on which language you speak) — you sit cross-legged with a straight back (so that you won’t get cramp, basically. The taoists often meditate lying on their side, for the same reason — I lie on my back, on a mattress with three pillows under my knees and one under my head), and breathe deeply and regularly, without holding the breath. This is sometimes called “breathing on the wheel,” because there is a calm circuit of breath.
It may well be that the breathing is the most significant aspect of meditation, because slow, deep breathing has a direct physiological effect — the system is calmed, so less cortisol is released, and anxiety diminishes. In dhyana — which as you say is the origin of mindfulness, or non-religious meditation — the idea is to let go of thought, rather than to try and stop it.
You can meditate with eyes open, half closed, or closed, but the eyes should be still and there should be no attempt to control blinking (though Bodhidhamma, who took dhyana to China, and founded Chan or Zen, is said to have cut off his eyelids, so that he would not waste time sleeping — a silly idea as sleep will occur anyway).
If a thought arises, you let it go. The best description of Zen meditation that I know is by the neurophysiologist and long-term meditator, James Austin, in his Zen and the Brain. An expensive book for a simple technique, but one of the better texts of mindfulness. Probably one of our readers will know of a cheaper way of finding this technique. Here is his website.
Typically, you will find that you become aware of layers of linguistic thought, often discovering automatic thinking that is not necessarily helpful (this was rediscovered by Aaron Beck and became the basis of cognitive therapy — meditation helps to ferret out these thoughts). From time to time, you will think, “I’m not thinking!” And then realize that you are, of course. After a while, you will be able to enter a calm state, where no language is generated — experienced meditators can do this at will — then you will discover the far more rapid non-linguistic layers of thought.
Personally, I avoid any trance state by listening to calm music when I meditate — Indian music played on a single instrument (and without tabla accompaniment) is good, Dr Subramaniam’s Three Ragas for instance. You can find a taste of this at YouTube. His brother, L Shankar, has also recorded some fine pieces (when he wasn’t playing with Frank Zappa, John McLaughlin, Bruce Springsteen or Peter Gabriel…). My own favorite is sung polyphony from the renaissance period — there are many instances, but the Hilliard Ensemble’s Walter Fry, Gombert or Palestrina discs are excellent.
Most, if not all, Scientology “processes” are borrowed and may have virtue. Many people use visualization (which Hubbard called “creative processing” when he borrowed it from Aleister Crowley) and hypnotherapy has many advocates. I am not one. It is the setting that makes Scientology so invidious, not the practices of themselves. As a form of age regression, Dianetics has its virtues, but I have no time for age regression, because of the tendency to generate false memories (see Richard Ofshe’s excellent Making Monsters or the remarkable work of Elizabeth Loftus on this subject). Best, as you have done, to reject the lot and investigate one technique at a time, before proceeding! Enjoy your meditation!
15 days until Alex Gibney’s film Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief opens at the Sundance Film Festival at 2:30 pm on Sunday, January 25 in Park City, Utah
2 days until our special Underground Bunker announcement at noon, January 12
Posted by Tony Ortega on January 10, 2015 at 07:00
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Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of LA attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts