Review: Down Joe Kellett's Rabbit Hole

By Tom Ball

Beginning with the faulty premise that TM practice produces a trance, the author of this critical site quickly descends into a labyrinth of personal issues and idiosyncratic interpretations.

“The story of my own fall…”
“This is not the experience that everyone has…”
—Joe Kellett, creator of "Down the TM Rabbit Hole"

Using detailed narrative, repetition of assertions, and storybook illustrations, the author of “” tries his own powers of suggestion to argue that the most widely practiced and extensively researched meditation technique in the world has no significant benefit and produces harmful effects.

I acknowledge the author’s apparent sincerity, but find the website’s basic premise untenable and the barrage of negative assertions without merit.

If the sweeping accusations on the site were true, Transcendental Meditation would not have enjoyed such tremendous success around the world over the past 50 years, and the David Lynch Foundation—with growing numbers of scientists, scholars, physicians, businesspeople and educators—would not show continuing enthusiasm and support for the Transcendental Meditation program.

The site's fantastic claims, presented below, are at odds not only with peer-reviewed science but with the experiences of millions of people around the world enjoying the benefits of the Transcendental Meditation technique in their daily lives.

(To read what a psychiatrist says about Joe Kellet, click here.)

Rabbit Hole: The TM technique induces a “trance state” through use of “the power of suggestion.”

Fact: Numerous scientific research studies on the Transcendental Meditation technique show that the practice does not remotely resemble hypnotic trance, nor is the subjective experience trance-like: as brain research shows, mental alertness increases, and the meditator does not become disassociated from surroundings as during hypnotic states.

Science has established that the physiology of hypnosis is generally non-distinctive, whereas the Transcendental Meditation technique consistently produces a unique parameter of physiological changes, characterized by a state of deep
physiological rest and relaxation, beneficial changes in biochemistry and integration of brain functioning as indicated by EEG and neural imaging research. This physiological signature—known as the fourth state of consciousness—is unique to the TM technique and is unlike ordinary waking, sleeping, dreaming or hypnosis.

Improved Brain Functioning:
Unique to TM practice, brainwave
coherence spreads over the frontal regions of the brain, the left and right hemispheres and posterior regions, clearly distinguishing the technique from hypnosis and other forms of meditation. Researchers have long known that most experiences (including hypnotic trance) activate only small, specific portions of the brain. Studies indicate that the Transcendental Meditation technique enlivens and coordinates synchronous brain activity over a wide area—stimulating what neuroscientists call “more efficient, integrated brain functioning.”

Twenty-four separate, peer-reviewed studies on brain patterns of people practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique show stabilized, long-term coherence in brainwaves, indicating the growth of improved brain functioning in daily life. Brainwave coherence is healthy and desirable for many reasons: it is associated with increased intelligence and creativity, improved moral reasoning and self-actualization.

Neuroscience has found no instance of hypnotic trance producing such results.

Enhanced Critical Thinking:
“Down the Rabbit Hole” states that people subjected to trance “are likely to have a severely reduced level of critical evaluation about anything that they are told immediately after they come out of a trance state.”
According to numerous research studies, the Transcendental Meditation technique creates a more integrated functioning in the frontal areas of the brain—called the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for higher-level discrimination and decision making. Also, reaction time is faster after TM practice, and research shows a general increase overtime in creativity, IQ, comprehension, and problem-solving abilities. Those who practice the technique actually become less susceptible to suggestion and control by other people, as shown by increased critical thinking, self-sufficiency and self-concept. People practicing the technique also display increased field independence, which psychologists associate with leadership qualities, self-reliance and independent thinking. Students of the Maharishi School (K-12) in Fairfield, Iowa, where the Transcendental Meditation technique is an integral part of the curriculum, are national and world champions at competitions involving critical, creative and innovative thinking.

Fact: There is no 'suggestion' involved in the Transcendental Meditation technique, whereas in hypnosis the physiology and behavior depend on the suggestion of another. (Self-hypnosis depends on a suggestion made by oneself, and such auto-suggestion is also absent during TM practice.) A person can come out of Transcendental Meditation practice at any time—no one is needed to "snap" you out.

does the Transcendental Meditation technique work?
The TM technique allows the mind to settle inward by special use of the normal, natural mechanics of the thinking process. Effortlessness is a key feature of the Transcendental Meditation technique. TM practice requires no control or expectation, just simple
innocence. The assertion that the Transcendental Meditation technique involves expectation and suggestion shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the practice.

Rabbit Hole: The reported effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique result from “post-trance indoctrination,” “suggestion” and “expectation.”

Fact: Hundreds of scientific research studies, along with the direct experience of millions of people who have learned the Transcendental Meditation technique, shows that the practice does not produce a trance state (please see above). If there is no trance, there can be no “post-trance indoctrination.”

Are TM’s benefits real or imagined?
“Down the Rabbit Hole” asserts that people who practice the Transcendental Meditation technique are mistaken about the wide range of benefits they report, and that these people have been merely indoctrinated—influenced by the power of suggestion and expectation to believe in the benefits of the TM program. Yet fifty years of teaching the Transcendental Meditation technique around the world and forty years of peer-reviewed science shows that the benefits of the program are genuine and do not depend upon personal belief in the technique. Even skeptics who learn the TM technique typically report the same results as people who are “sold out” to the practice, which would not be the case if the benefits were based on expectation.

here for a summary of scientifically validated benefits for mind, body, relationships and environment.

Rabbit Hole: The Transcendental Meditation program is introduced as “a simple, natural, relaxation technique,” but is really a “spiritual system” with “hidden levels of indoctrination.”

Fact: The Transcendental Meditation program indeed provides deep relaxation, and some people may learn it for that reason, but the practice has never been presented as a mere relaxation technique. Since its introduction over 50 years ago, the Transcendental Meditation technique has been taught as a program for the holistic development of all aspects of life—unfoldment of full potential of individual and society.

Is it a spiritual system, or is it scientific?
The Transcendental Meditation program
is a system: it's a systematic program of self-development, with proven benefits for mind, body and behavior, as well as spiritual benefits. All human activities—enjoying a movie, running a marathon, contemplative prayer—are enhanced by a healthier mind and body and more efficient brain functioning. Everything good about the brain depends on its orderly functioning. The enlivenment and integration of the brain that results from TM practice naturally improves one’s spiritual life as well as all other areas. People of all religions have found that the Transcendental Meditation program deepens their spiritual understanding because the practice refreshes the mind and awakens subtler values of awareness.

Spiritual development:
The founder of the Transcendental Meditation program, Maharishi, defines spirituality with a broad stroke: living the wholeness of life—healthy mind, healthy body, with one’s inner reserves of creativity and intelligence fully awakened. Spiritual development in this sense is irrespective of belief and is open to all faiths and spiritual perspectives
through the Transcendental Meditation program.

Is knowledge of “spiritual aspects” withheld?
“Down the Rabbit Hole” maintains that the full extent of the Transcendental Meditation program, including advanced levels of knowledge, is not disclosed until a person becomes more deeply involved. This is incorrect: all options for advanced programs are presented during the initial course of instruction, and this has always been the case. In Transcendental Meditation introductory lectures, the spiritual benefits of TM practice are cited with the many other benefits for individual and society.

As one’s experience grows with twice-daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, it is natural for understanding and the desire for more knowledge also to deepen, and there is no withholding of knowledge on the part of TM instructors. There are over 20 books and many advanced lecture videos readily available to the public that expound the full range of knowledge about the Transcendental Meditation program. Many of these books deeply explore the spiritual implications of the practice and have been available in bookstores everywhere since the 1960s.

Most major cities have a TM Center for continued learning and instruction. Anyone who wishes to become a teacher of the TM technique is welcome to apply for TM Teacher Training, where all the intricate details of imparting the practice can be learned.

From spiritual organization to scientific?
“Down the Rabbit Hole” asserts that the Transcendental Meditation Movement began as a spiritual organization, but then changed its image to "appear" scientific. This is a misinterpretation of fact.

In the earliest days of the Transcendental Meditation Movement, no scientific studies had ever been conducted on the effects of meditation. But from the beginning of his teaching activities, Maharishi invited scientists everywhere to research the effects of the TM technique. As research studies accumulated it became possible to speak about the Transcendental Meditation program in more scientific language—“the language of our times.”

However, the Transcendental Meditation Movement has never shied from emphasizing the spiritual benefits of the practice. In fact, an
oft-stated goal of the Transcendental Meditation program is to “realize the spiritual aspirations of mankind in this generation.”

There is as much open discussion of spiritual implications today as there was 50 years ago.

Rabbit Hole: The Transcendental Meditation technique can produce “unpleasant, even dangerous” results.

Fact: More than 600 scientific research studies have been published on the effects of the Transcendental Meditation program, involving over 20,000 subjects practicing the TM technique; no legitimate, well-controlled, peer-reviewed studies have ever found the practice to be unpleasant or harmful in any way—all such studies show positive results. Controlled research on the effects of TM practice has been conducted under a wide variety of settings and conditions: on general populations, people in the workplace, athletes, groups of students at all grade levels, patients at high-risk for heart disease, students with learning disorders, factory workers, members of the military, groups of corporate executives, new meditators, long-term meditators on advanced courses, and people with pre-existing mental health problems. All these studies show significant improvements in mental and physical health, with no negative side effects.

"Harmful effects" studies?
What about those studies said to have found harmful effects? “Down the Rabbit Hole” and a few other anti-meditation websites do present a handful of research studies that purport to show harmful effects from the Transcendental Meditation program—or that the program produces no significant benefit. However, these few papers all pertained to uncontrolled studies with so few subjects that the findings were statistically insignificant—and some of these studies did not actually investigate the TM technique at all, but considered other meditation practices that the authors erroneously generalized as “transcendental meditation.” The claim of harmful effects from the TM technique is typically based on unfounded speculation with no empirical evidence. For more about scientific papers said to show negative results,
click here. For more about studies said to show that TM practice produces no results, click here.

Rabbit Hole: “There is no difference at all between other meditation techniques and TM,” and the same benefits “can also be obtained by other methods.”

Fact: Over 485 research studies on various approaches to meditation, relaxation and stress reduction, involving over 30,000 subjects, has shown that the various forms of meditation do not produce the same effects.

Because each kind of meditation practice engages the mind in it’s own way, there is no reason to expect the same results from the various methods, or that scientific research on the Transcendental Meditation program will apply to the various other practices. There have been many controlled studies comparing the effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique to other practices, such as Zen, Mindfulness, Tibetan Buddhist and Vipassana meditation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Benson’s relaxation response. These studies examined such factors as brainwave patterns, levels of rest and benefits for mind and body. While other forms of meditation have been found to produce good effects in specific areas, these various practices have different aims and are not necessarily intended to produce the holistic range of effects found to result from the Transcendental Meditation technique.

Neural imaging and EEG studies indicate that TM practice creates a unique brain pattern: it is the only technique known to create widespread brainwave coherence and enliven all areas of the brain. The Transcendental Meditation technique also produces deeper rest compared to other practices, and studies show the TM technique more effective at reducing anxiety, hypertension and depression, reducing drug and alcohol abuse, and promoting self-actualization.

For more about the many distinctions between the Transcendental Meditation technique and other forms of meditation,
click here.

“Down the Rabbit Hole” begins with the faulty premise that the Transcendental Meditation technique produces a trance state, and then tries to pull the reader into a rabbit hole of misunderstanding and confusion. The author’s detailed personal narrative displays gestures of reason and authenticity, but soon becomes so far removed from the common experience of Transcendental Meditation that one wonders if the story is about the same TM practice that has been embraced worldwide for the past 50 years—and in a very real sense it is not. In the same way that science shows TM to be the “complete opposite of a trance,” reports of people everywhere who have learned the TM technique show its results to be the complete opposite of what “Down the Rabbit Hole” describes. One might say that this 16-page website is not really about Transcendental Meditation at all, but about the author’s personal struggle with what he has believed the program to be.

“Down the Rabbit Hole’s” dizzying but carefully devised Alice-in-Wonderland tale and its many collaborating links may catch some readers unawares, but the story remains utterly unsubstantiated. Consider items the author presents as supportive evidence:

• The website’s first page links to a 40-year-old affidavit of harsh allegations made by one man (what one might call a "disgruntled employee") against Maharishi University of Management. Allegedly, the document was signed by a former professor of MUM whom the website claims was also the university’s legal counsel. However, according to University records the author of these allegations, who worked on University clerical staff for a few months, was never actually on faculty at MUM (his application for faculty was denied), nor did he ever serve as legal counsel for the University. He appeared in court to present his allegations but his testimony was dismissed by the court. None of the allegations were legally acted on or substantiated. Incredibly, the author of "Down the Rabbit Hole" offers this document as his first major, authoritative proof that his experience with the TM program is not unique but shared by others.

• Again reaching four decades
into the past, “Down the Rabbit Hole” links to a series of second- or third-hand anonymous stories collected by anti-meditation activists in the early 1970s—stories about unnamed people who were said to have experienced extremely harmful and bizarre effects from meditation. No factual records or even firsthand testimonies have ever been produced to suggest that these extreme accounts were anything more than a hoax.

An unreliable narrator?
Beginning on the home page, with overreaching parallels between TM and The Church of Scientology, the author’s reliability as a narrator grows increasingly suspect. I find that virtually every statement on this website reflects a gross misunderstanding of the Transcendental Meditation program and its founder, Maharishi. Most of the statements are blatant falsehoods.
The site’s author admits to having been severely delusional during the 1970s, the years he was active in the TM organization, and he claims that TM practice was the cause of his distress. One must consider the possibility that the reason the author’s account of the Transcendental Meditation program differs so radically from the norm is because he is recalling experiences that were psychotic delusions.

It is unfortunate that the author attributes his distress and delusions to meditation—especially when there is overwhelming evidence that continued practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique would have improved his mental health. (Please see, "A Psychiatrist Responds to Down the TM Rabbit Hole.")

It’s a technique, not a religion—no belief required
The site’s author claims that as a TM instructor he frequently spoke untruths about the Transcendental Meditation program—such as telling people that the practice is a mere relaxation technique or that it is not a religion. This and many other such statements highlight the author’s confusion about the program he was supposedly trained to teach. He professes that the Transcendental Meditation program requires acceptance of spiritual beliefs about the practice and about Maharishi’s status as a teacher. Yet the Transcendental Meditation course contains no such notions, nor are certified TM instructors asked to accept or promote such beliefs. To assert that the Transcendental Meditation program is a religious doctrine is to commit a category error: TM is a mental technique, not a belief system. The theoretical aspects of the program are not intended or presented as doctrines to be believed in, but as principles to be verified through direct personal experience, and the substantiation of benefits through scientific research lends empirical verification.

“Down the Rabbit Hole” concludes by attempting to refute possible public responses to the author’s anti-TM rhetoric—responses such as: the site’s author is merely disgruntled, he is seeking to profit, or he is just being negative or malicious. “Down the Rabbit Hole” spends over 2000 words in defense against these imagined responses.

As a full-time TM teacher since 1977, having noticed only positive effects of TM practice
in the lives of friends, family and the hundreds of people whom I've taught, I suggest that the most plausible explanation for the author’s idiosyncratic interpretation of TM is this: Because his entire argument is based on the false belief that TM practice produces an unhealthy state of hypnotic trance, the man is simply wrong.

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