At the age of 15 I decided I was going to be a writer. I loved books, and writing them seemed to be the greatest thing in the world to do. Now after eight books it still does.
But at first I had a terrible time writing. My thoughts were all jumbled up. I couldn't concentrate. I did poorly in school because I couldn't hold my mind on the assignments. I was too caught up in my psychological stress and subconscious conflicts to be able to really write or study.
I started smoking marijuana, thinking I could blast my way through all my blocks with that. But it made them worse. When I was high I thought I was being very creative, but the next day when I read what I'd written, it was drivel. Eventually I flunked out of the University of Colorado, but I figured who needs college -- I want to be a bohemian artist. So I moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and wrote, painted, and played drums, but mostly got high. New York had many more different kinds of dope than Boulder, and I tried them all, hoping for that creative breakthrough. But finally I realized I needed to get out of that whole scene if I ever wanted to do any good writing.
The war on Vietnam was just beginning, and the military draft was after me. I'd been reading a lot of writers whose first books were war novels, so I figured I would make a 180-degree change from my current scene. I joined the Special Forces to write a war novel. I was probably high when I got this idea, because it wasn't a very good idea. During our search and destroy operations in Vietnam, I kept telling myself, "I'm just here gathering material for a novel." But our deeds have consequences that affect us and others regardless of why we do them. I'm still dealing with the repercussions from my involvement, and writing and peace activism have become my way of atoning for that.
I got back from the war in 1967 and moved to Marin County north of San Francisco to write the book. But by then all sorts of new fun dope was around, and I found myself slipping back into that scene. I was also suffering from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, which gave me combat flashbacks and self-destructive depressions. The result was I still couldn't write.
My best friend from Special Forces, Keith Parker, had started doing Transcendental Meditation and said it made his mind clear and calm. I tried it and found he was right. When I meditated, I sat with eyes closed and thought a mantra, a sound without meaning that took my mind to quieter, finer levels and eventually beyond all mental activity to deep silence. Subjectively, TM was like diving down through an inner ocean into a realm of serenity. Objectively, it is a physiological state of deep rest that enables the nervous system to repair itself and heal stresses that are blocking it. In this expanded consciousness I could access my subconscious mind and resolve my psychological conflicts. They weren't trapping my mental energy anymore. The war was in the past, not raging now in my head. My internal pressure began to be relieved. I didn't need to get high. I was in touch with my creativity. I could concentrate and follow a line of thought. And most of all I could write.
I made good progress on the novel, and a sample of it got me accepted into the creative writing program at Columbia University. I went back to college and back to New York, but this time I made the Dean's List and no drugs. The novel, A World of Hurt, won a Rinehart Foundation Award, got me a university job teaching creative writing, and helped me win a Fulbright grant.
I later wrote a novel about the current war. Summer Snow is set now as an American warrior falls in love with a woman in Central Asia who has him initiated into Transcendental Meditation. Through meditating he learns that higher consciousness is more effective than violence, but his new insights put him into conflict with his military mentality. Here are two two short selections from the book:
Djamila (his TM teacher) asked him to sit in a chair next to her while she stood in front of a picture of a white-bearded man in an orange robe. “This is Brahmananda, Maharishi’s teacher, who gave us this meditation. Now we will thank him for the knowledge.” She began singing in a high little voice in a language he didn’t recognize. She dipped a flower into a bowl of water and waved it around, spraying water here and there, then laid the fruit, flowers, and cloth in front of the picture. While she sang, a calm settled over him, and his face relaxed as tension dissolved. When she finished, Djamila knelt in front of the picture and whispered a sound very softly, as if to herself, then gradually louder until he could hear it clearly.
She turned to him and said, “Say it with me.”
They repeated it together, then she said, “Now close the eyes and think it silently.”
He could see the word floating through his mind in curlicues -- a Möbius strip turning into an infinity sign. It resonated through him, first with his heartbeat then with his breath, quieting them. His whole body relaxed, and he felt he was sinking deep into the chair, into the earth even, not sitting but floating. His thoughts started to space out, with gaps of silence between them. The silence grew into a delightful emptiness. At the center of it pulsed the mantra, a blend of sound and light. It grew fainter, finer, then disappeared like a bird wing-waving away, leaving his mind alert but without content, aware but not of any thing.
Then he heard noises from outside: a horse snorted and stamped its hoof, a cow mooed. Distracted, he drifted onto thoughts of Wyoming, the ranch in Sheridan where his father had worked, saw faded photos of his dad. His breath and heartbeat increased, sadness wafted over him.
No ... don’t get trapped in all that again. He brought his mind back to the mantra, which mixed with the other thoughts and eased them away. The calmness returned.
He inhaled lightly, tendrils of air curling into a vast space behind his closed eyes. As the sound continued, his mind became a darkness full of light, an emptiness that seemed to contain everything. Happiness welled up within him and he laughed.
The laughter brought him out of it, back to his body sitting in a chair. He opened his eyes; the room glowed.
I want to go back.
“Close the eyes and continue,” said Djamila.
The sound now stretched out into a slow drone, then seemed to fold in on itself and turn inside out. He had a moment of deep silence, a plunging dive into rich, full nothingness, then thoughts rushed in and pulled him away.
Here's a section from later in the novel as he's meditating with a group:
As evening turned to night, the wind faded away, leaving the air still and crisp with a tang of pine resin. A wafer of moon, cool as a mint on the roof of his mouth, swam through wisps of clouds.
As Jeff thought his mantra, his breath slowed and his heart stopped pounding. He didn’t realized it was pounding until it quieted. He shivered in his parka and blanket until he relaxed enough to accept the cold without resisting it. As he opened up to the chill, it ceased to bother him. It was just another physical sensation, and all those were superficial compared to this great empty peace. A few thoughts drifted by, butterflies on the breeze, but the spans of silence grew longer. Somehow the emptiness was lively, full of an energy that was his deepest self. It was not only his self but it linked him to the others, all of them together in a wholeness that was greater than their surface separation.
As the hours passed and their minds joined deeper, Jeff could sense this same underlying dimension in the atmosphere around them. The air had a quality, a flowing plasma that vibrated with their mental impulses. It must always be there, but now he was aware of it. His skin seemed more permeable, his body less dense, interpenetrated with the outside. He could feel his mind pulsating slow and strong in rhythm with the others, all of them mutually reinforcing. Then their brain waves merged and seemed to rise and spread out, covering and shielding them. Within this dome was total peace, everything was all right, nothing to fear. We can only be afraid of something different, and here everything became the same -- multiplicity blended into the oneness of the unified field. He was part of an energy flowing in all directions, unbounded, without differences, one ocean of consciousness. It was alive, it was divine, it washed him with joy.
All the while he was sitting against a tree feeling pine needles drop onto his parka hood, his left foot falling asleep from being cross-legged too long, ears throbbing and cuts stinging. He could hear forest noises: burrowings and nibblings of mice; a woman’s yelp of alarm as one scampered over her legs; the tread of deer approaching the thicket then trotting away as they smelled humans; the call of an owl.
These two different channels -- separation and unity -- were going on simultaneously, and he could shift between them, focusing more on one, then on the other. But they weren’t really separate. The physical channel of the senses emerged from and was cupped within this empty, silent field. The still ocean of awareness was the source of everything.
I also wrote a nonfiction book, Radical Peace: People Refusing War, which presents the experiences of peace activists in Iraq, Afghanistan, the USA, and Europe. It’s a narrative journey along diverse paths of nonviolence, the true stories of people using unconventional, often spiritual ways to create a peaceful society. The concluding chapter presents scientific evidence that indicates large numbers of people meditating together create a peaceful effect not just in themselves but also in the society around them, reducing violence and crime. Here's a selection:
More than anything else I've experienced, Transcendental Meditation creates a peaceful inner change. The personality and basic self remain the same, but fear and hostility diminish. We become more friendly to ourselves, so we can be more friendly to others. As our personal stresses are healed, the mind functions better and we gain access to more of our mental potential. We're more able to perceive and correct the sources of social stress that surround us.
When the nervous system achieves the deep calm of meditation, it spontaneously repairs itself and can then experience higher states of consciousness. Physiological research has shown that during TM oxygen consumption decreases twice as much as it does during deep sleep. Brain waves become more coherent, changing from the usual scattered, disordered patterns into synchronized waves coordinating across both hemispheres, an indication of more integrated mental functioning. Blood flow to the brain increases. On the skin, electrical conductance decreases, a sign of relaxation. In the blood stream, the stress hormone cortisol decreases; serotonin, a neurotransmitter that relieves depression and promotes well being, increases; arginine vasopressin, a hormone that regulates blood pressure and improves memory and learning ability, increases; blood lactate level decreases, indicating lessened anxiety. And rather than being in a trance, the person is fully alert and aware of the surroundings. This physiological condition defines a fourth state of consciousness distinct from the three usual states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. In this rejuvenating transcendental consciousness, the physiology heals the damage done by traumatic events and illnesses.
Recent research has shown that the effects don't stop with the individual. Large groups of people meditating together produce coherence and stability not just in themselves but also in the society around them. This extended effect has been demonstrated in experiments in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Iowa, Washington DC, New Delhi, Manila, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iran, and Holland where large groups met for long meditations. During every assembly, crime, violence, and accidents in the surrounding region dropped and the composite Quality of Life Index for public health, economics, and social harmony rose. All the changes were statistically highly significant. The groups of meditators improved the whole society: negativity decreased, positivity increased. After the assemblies ended, the figures returned to their previous levels. The results were calculated by comparing data from different time periods to insure that the only variable was the meditation course, thus establishing it as the cause of the change.
I attended two of these assemblies, in Washington DC and Iowa, and the experiences were wonderful. Meditating with thousands of other people strengthens the results. The mental emanations reinforce one another into a palpable effect of group consciousness. I enjoyed deeper levels of inner silence and clearer infusions of transcendental energy. Outside of meditation, we treated one another with a harmony and tenderness that I'd never experienced in a group of people before. It was a taste of what an ideal society could be like.
How can meditators sitting with their eyes closed influence people many miles away? Quantum physics describes how everything in the universe is connected through underlying fields of energy. The electromagnetic field is an example. A transmitter sends waves through this invisible field, and receivers many miles away instantly convert them into sound and pictures. Similarly, our minds send mental energy through the field of consciousness that connects everyone. We are all continually transmitting and receiving these influences. The mental atmosphere we share is loaded with them, and the program they're broadcasting is frequently one of fear, frustration, anger and aggression. This toxicity is generated largely by the social and economic structures that dominate our lives. It pollutes the collective consciousness, resulting in cloudy thinking and harmful actions. All of us are affected -- and infected -- to some degree by this. Under this sway, persons with a heavy load of personal stress become more prone to turn to crime to solve their problems. As this negative atmosphere intensifies and the pressures mount, groups of people turn to the mass criminality of warfare.
Wars are hurricanes of the collective consciousness. Hurricanes relieve the physical atmosphere of excess heat that has built up. They result afterwards in a more balanced climatic condition, but they do that destructively. Similarly, wars relieve excess stress in the psychic atmosphere and bring a temporary peace, but their destructiveness generates more stress and another war.
In contrast to this stormy approach, a meditator in transcendental consciousness broadcasts the qualities inherent to this plane: peace, orderliness, harmony. And when many meditators reach transcendental consciousness together, their energies reinforce one another into a surge of positivity that overrides the stressful emissions of the surrounding population. The minds of everyone in the area receive this broadcast of coherence. It's a very subtle effect that is under the limen of most people's perceptual awareness, but they are influenced through this field where all human minds are joined. This life-nurturing energy purifies the collective consciousness of fear and hostility before those negative forces can build up and erupt into crime and war.
New experiments demonstrated the effects on war. As civil war was raging in Lebanon, a group gathered nearby in Israel to practice long meditations. During their assembly, the intensity of fighting in Lebanon lessened and war deaths plummeted. In Israel, crime, traffic accidents, fires, and other indicators of social disorder decreased. All the changes were statistically highly significant.
A further experiment showed even more dramatic results. According to the ancient Vedic tradition, if a very large number of people meditate together, positive influences will occur globally. Maharishi decided to test this with 7000 meditators, the square root of one percent of the world population. He gathered them together on the TM campus in Fairfield, Iowa, for long meditations. The results thousands of miles away in Lebanon were a 71 percent decrease in war deaths, a 68 percent decrease in injuries, a 48 percent decrease in combat incidents, and a 66 percent increase in cooperative efforts to end the civil war. A time-series analysis of the results confirmed the causation.
Groups of 7000 meditators also reduce terrorism. During three of these large assemblies, worldwide terrorism dropped by an average of 72 percent as compared to all other weeks in a two-year period, based on data compiled by the Rand Corporation. Statistical analysis ruled out the possibility that the reduction was due to cycles, trends, seasonal changes, or drifts in the measures used.
Peer-reviewed studies of these experiments have been published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Mind and Behavior, Journal of Crime and Justice, Social Indicators Research, and other academic publications. 23 studies based on 50 experiments document the long-distance effects of large groups of meditators in reducing violence and improving quality of life.
With this overwhelming evidence Maharishi approached the governments of the world and requested that they establish these groups on a permanent basis to secure peace and social harmony.
The governments of the world weren't interested.
So Maharishi decided to build a long-term group. With the help of a wealthy donor he constructed a residential center in India and filled it with 7000 meditators practicing several hours a day. The other experiments had been short-term, lasting a few weeks or months, but this one lasted two years -- a time that fundamentally changed the world. The Cold War ended, communism collapsed, the people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union freed themselves of totalitarian rule, the Berlin Wall came down, eighty nations signed an agreement that saved the ozone layer, black and white South Africans dismantled apartheid. Former enemies signed arms reduction and nonaggression treaties; hostile borders became open and friendly. It was a period of unprecedented good will, a breakthrough for world peace.
But the donor ran out of money. He had already expended most of his fortune supporting the group and couldn't continue. Maharishi tried again to convince governments to take over the funding, an amount per year that was a fraction of what they spend on the military per one heartbeat. But again, they didn't want to hear about it.
So in the early 1990s when the group of 7000 meditators had to be dissolved, negative consequences followed swiftly: The USA decided for full-spectrum dominance and developed new nuclear weapons; the first Gulf War broke out; Yugoslavia fell apart into violent chaos; terrorism multiplied. Destructive trends in all areas of life continue to engulf us.
Maharishi didn't give up, though. He started rebuilding the group on his own. To finance it, he raised the prices for learning TM and for his ayurvedic health programs. There's now a group of 4000 in India and 2000 in Iowa, both of them growing. If the number of meditators continues to increase, we could all be in for a new era.
Scientific evidence indicates this technique can cure the root cause of war -- stress in the collective consciousness -- and bring world peace. This could be the most important discovery of our time, and we can all participate in it. Several studies have shown that individuals meditating on their own for 20 minutes twice a day also contribute to this effect. More information and citations on the research can be found at www.permanentpeace.org.
William T. Hathaway's new book, Lila, the Revolutionary, is a fable for adults about an eight-year-old girl who sparks a world revolution for social justice. Chapters are posted on www.amazon.com/dp/1897455844. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.