I am delighted to speak again with my colleague and friend, Gina Catena, about her experience being raised in the Transcendental Meditation (TM) cult, and how she successfully left and created a rich and meaningful life for herself and her children.
After leaving the cult, Catena began at community college, transferred to a four-year university for two undergraduate degrees, then to graduate school at the University of California, San Francisco, to become a Certified Nurse-Midwife and Nurse Practitioner. She enrolled her children in public school and made sure they participated in extracurricular activities.
As a medical professional, Catena has a perspective on vaccination and standard medical interventions that is radically different from that promoted by Transcendental Meditation. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she worked under extremely difficult conditions, including the lack of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Catena was able to procure some quality masks and made them available to her co-workers at cost. When her son commented that she was being “nice,” she told him that part of being safe is keeping others safe, and helping to educate others about the importance of vaccinations and use of protective equipment such as masks.
Catena is extremely frustrated by the anti-Vax movement and struggles to have patience with people who espouse this position. As a midwife, she describes the tragedy of infants being born with neurological problems because their mother had COVID or delivering a healthy child while its mother is on a ventilator with COVID and facing death. It is also an unnecessary tragedy for people experiencing other medical crises to not be able to get treated in a hospital because the hospital is overloaded with COVID patients.
Another issue that concerns Catena as a medical professional is the legal move toward creating extreme restrictions on abortion, particularly as reflected in the recent laws passed in Texas. The six-week, “heartbeat” limit in that law is simply not supported by medical science. As a midwife, Catena is well aware that at six weeks there is no actual heartbeat. There are simply some cells that quiver with electrical activity. An ultrasound machine is programmed to apply the sound of a heartbeat to this activity, which uninformed people might interpret as a heartbeat.
To illustrate the dangerousness of this law, Catena related an incident that occurred in the ER of the hospital where she works. A recent patient had a 10-week ectopic pregnancy, not an uncommon situation, that was on the verge of rupturing, placing the woman’s life in jeopardy. Emergency surgery removed the fallopian tube and ectopic pregnancy to save her life. A pregnancy could also experience premature rupture of membranes before the fetus has developed enough to live outside the womb. This can become life-threatening sepsis early in pregnancy, when a fetus has a heartbeat, but could not survive outside the womb. Usually, such a nonviable pregnancy must be terminated to save the woman’s life. If medical intervention is delayed until the fetal heart stops beating, the woman could die. Women have died of this in other countries that have such a law against pregnancy termination in the presence of a fetal heartbeat. Would any of these women get the treatment they need under the new restrictive laws?
Growing Up and Raising Children in the Transcendental Meditation Cult
For a brief history of Transcendental Meditation, see my post of June 2, 2021.
Catena’s parents became involved with Transcendental Meditation in the 1960s when she was in elementary school. She is grateful that at least she had some exposure to public school and was vaccinated for smallpox and polio before her parents became completely opposed to all vaccinations, and even to any standard medical care.
Parental supervision was weak, even if no official mandate existed to separate children from parental influence. This was primarily because engaging in prolonged meditation was more important than anything else, including parental responsibility for their children. After Catena was married to a cult member and had children, she was determined not to have her children experience the kind of neglect that she had. Doing this meant often skipping required programs, and she was accused of causing problems in her marriage because she wasn’t sufficiently loyal to the TM mandates or to Maharishi’s teachings.
Transcendental Meditation Produced Fraudulent Research to Promote the Cult
TM promoted excessive involvement in meditation. While meditation may be beneficial for some, it needs to be used appropriately and in limited amounts. Members of TM were initially encouraged to meditate 20 minutes twice daily, a fact that is constantly emphasized in the information provided by TM to the public. In reality, as members became more deeply drawn into the cult, meditation of two or more hours at a time, twice a day, was encouraged for months on end. Excessive meditation can cause a dissociative state, even psychosis, and Catena recalls that many members were referred to as “Space Cadets” because of their negative reactions to extended meditation. Others in Catena’s circle became psychotic from prolonged meditations, were admitted to mental institutions, or committed suicide. Within the TM community, such reactions were attributed to the individuals’ “unstressing” or to their karma.
TM performed its own research on meditation, but that research was not done according to any accepted scientific standards. Catena recalls being asked to participate in one of TM’s research studies. When she asked if people who seemed to be suffering negative effects of prolonged meditation would be included, she was told no. They were essentially doing research that produced false or misleading results because they wanted to “prove the benefit of Maharishi’s teaching!” Catena is not aware of research by Transcendental Meditation practitioners or others about the negative effects of prolonged meditations which are encouraged in the so-called advanced courses.
Members who were struggling with the effects of cult indoctrination and excessive meditation were said to be experiencing “enlightenment,” and Unity Consciousness, and that modern psychology just doesn’t understand that. Disgustingly, even suicide was cast as a “good thing,” because it freed someone from this terrible world.
Catena is working on a memoir that will provide great detail about all of her experiences in TM, and the way she finally broke free and faced the difficult process of finding her true self. But I asked her to share a few of the problems she faced during that process and to provide advice to anyone who is leaving a cult situation.
Leaving a Cult is Extremely Difficult
The most important thing to realize is that it is not enough to just leave physically. The internal psychological effects need to be addressed. When she first got out, Catena tried to put 30 years of her life behind her, in essence pretending that it hadn’t really happened. This led to her making some bad decisions and getting into relationships and situations that were not healthy.
When someone has been raised in a cult, they generally have no resources in the outside world to fall back on. It is important to have an exit plan, to seek out resources such as #igotout, or groups of former members who can provide support. Catena also shared numerous books and publications that she found helpful in her process of understanding the lifelong effects of cult indoctrination. Links to these books are provided below.
Healing from the effects of cult indoctrination is a long and complicated process. Finding a qualified therapist who understands cult indoctrination and its after-effects is critical. Catena refers to this process as “psychological chemotherapy,” a difficult and often painful process. However, as Catena and I (along with all the other people who have freed themselves from authoritarian cult brainwashing) can attest, it is worth the struggle. Living with freedom of mind and making decisions based on objective and truthful information is every human being’s right. Catena and her grown children have now become educated professionals who approach inevitable life challenges in a pragmatic fashion and lead full, happy, non-cult lives.
Further information and resources:
Transcendental Deception website by Aryeh Siegel