I thought you might like to read the concluding chapter of my new book, RADICAL PEACE: People Refusing War. Just published by Trine Day, it’s a journey along diverse paths of nonviolence, the true stories of people working for peace in unconventional and often spiritual ways.
Noam Chomsky called it, “A book that captures such complexities and depths of human existence, even apart from the
World Peace Depends upon Our Collective Consciousness
From the book
Radical Peace: People Refusing War
By William T. Hathaway
Published by Trine Day 2010
I was sitting in full lotus, body wrapped in a blanket, mind rapt in deep stillness, breathing lightly, wisps of air curling
into the infinite space behind my closed eyes. My mantra had gone beyond sound
to become a pulse of light in an emptiness that contained everything.
An electric shock flashed down my spine and through my body. My head snapped back, limbs jerked, a cry burst from my throat. Every
muscle in my body contracted — neck rigid, jaws clenched, forehead tight. Bolts
of pain shot through me in all directions, then drew together in my chest.
Heart attack! I thought. I managed to lie down, then noticed I wasn’t breathing
— maybe I was already dead. I groaned and gulped a huge breath, which stirred a
whirl of thoughts and images.
Vietnam again: Rotor wind from a hovering helicopter flails the water of a rice paddy while farmers run frantically for cover. Points of fire spark out
from a bamboo grove to become dopplered whines past my ears. A plane dives on
the grove to release a bomb which tumbles end over end and bursts into an orange
globe of napalm. A man in my arms shakes in spasms as his chest gushes blood.
I held my head and tried to force the images out, but the montage of scenes flowed on, needing release. I could only lie there
under a torrent of grief, regret, terror and guilt. My chest felt like it was
caving in under the pressure. I clung to my mantra like a lifeline to sanity. I
was breathing in short, shallow gasps, but gradually my breath slowed and
deepened, the feelings became less gripping, and I reoriented back into the
here and now: my small room in Spain on a Transcendental Meditation teacher
I lay on my narrow bed stunned by this flashback from four years ago when I’d been a Green Beret in Vietnam.
I had thought I’d left all that behind, but here it was again.
I sat up and was able to do some yoga exercises but couldn’t meditate. Instead I took a walk on the beach. For the rest of that
day and the next I was confused and irritable and could hardly meditate or
sleep. But the following day I felt lightened and relieved, purged of a load of
trauma, and my meditations were clear. My anxiety about the war was much less;
the violence was in the past, not raging right now in my head.
Gradually I became aware of a delicate joy permeating not just me but also my surroundings. I knew somehow it had always been there,
inhering deep in everything, but my stress had been blocking my perception of
it. I felt closer to the other people on the course, connected by a shared
consciousness. Then I started feeling closer to everything around me; birds and
grass, even rocks and water were basically the same as me. Our surface
separations were an illusion; essentially we were all one consciousness
expressing itself in different forms. Rather than being just an isolated
individual, I knew I was united with the universe, joined in a field of
felicity. This perception faded after a few days, but it gave me a glimpse of
what enlightenment must be like.
The whole experience was a dramatic example of what Maharishi Mahesh Yogi called “unstressing,” the nervous system’s
purging itself of blockages caused by our past actions. Since my past actions
had been extreme, the healing process was also extreme.
I had begun meditating in 1968, several months after returning from the war. I’d come back laden with fear and anger, but I
had denied those emotions, burying them under an “I’m all right,
Jack,” attitude. I was tough, I could take it, I was a survivor. Within
certain parameters I could function well, but when my superficial control broke
down, I would fall into self-destructive depressions. I finally had to admit I
was carrying a huge burden of stress, and I knew I had to get rid of that
before I could live at peace with myself or anyone else.
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. The effects were more real than anything I’d experienced
through prayer or psychedelics. My stress and pressure began to be relieved.
I started going on World Peace Assemblies, large courses led by Maharishi or one of his assistants where we meditated as a
group. This strengthened the effects, making me feel both tranquil and energized.
Then I attended this four-month course to learn to be a teacher of
Transcendental Meditation. Every day we did hours of “rounding,”
repeating cycles of meditation, yoga and breathing exercises, each taking us
deeper towards transcendental consciousness. Afternoons and evenings Maharishi
would answer questions and teach us how to be teachers of meditation.
One of his favorite topics was the connection between modern science and Vedic science. After getting a master’s degree in
physics, he had studied metaphysics with one of the great swamis of India,
so he could integrate both worlds. He taught us how the unified field that
physics has discovered is the same as our own consciousness, that the
fundamental level of the universe is the fundamental level of ourselves. And
most importantly, he taught us how to experience this unity, where the duality
of subject and object disappears and separation merges into oneness. This is
the source of creation, a realm of bliss where even the concept of enemy
doesn’t exist. It’s the level from which energy manifests into matter and form.
Enlightened people live there all the time, but all of us can experience it,
and once we do, our reality is different.
Ordinarily, our awareness is directed via sense perception outwards to physical objects. When we meditate, we reverse this
direction and move our awareness back towards its source, the unified field.
The mind goes inward and perceives progressively more refined levels of
thinking until all thoughts drop away and we reach the ground state of
transcendental consciousness, in which the mind is alert but without thoughts,
pure awareness without an object. In place of thoughts, we are filled with a
joy that can only be described as divine. Here we are united with all of
creation. We are no longer observing the universe; we are the universe.
The path to transcendental consciousness, however, is not always smooth. Our stresses — the inner effects of past actions
— can make our mind murky and unsettled, thus blocking us off from a clear
experience of the transcendent. But stress can be healed. During Transcendental
Meditation the nervous system repairs itself and removes the obstructions so
that our awareness isn’t confined to the surface thinking level but can flow
into the silent depths, providing deep rest for the mind and body. In this
physiological condition, stress is cured and higher states of consciousness
The process can be unsettling because as stresses are dissolved, some of their qualities may affect our awareness in the form of
physical pain, old buried emotions, or hectic streams of thoughts. Sometimes
the unconscious has to be made conscious before it can be healed. I’d had a
first-hand experience of this sort of unstressing, and it cleared away my war
trauma. I haven’t had a flashback in all the years since then, but I’ve had
many experiences of the blissful unity that came afterwards.
The deep calm of meditation is more than just a subjective experience. 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
repairs the damage done by traumatic events and illnesses.
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 friendlier to
ourselves, and so we can be friendlier 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.
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,
Puerto Rico, Nicaragua,
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
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 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 7,000 meditators, the square root of one percent of
the world population. He gathered them together at the TM university 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
Groups of 7,000 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. Twenty-three 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 7,000 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, 80 nations
signed an agreement that saved the ozone layer, black and white South Africans
dismantled apartheid, hostile borders became open and friendly, former enemies
signed arms reduction and nonaggression treaties. 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
Again, no government was interested. Why did they turn down such a scientifically verified program that would cost little, harm
nothing and possibly bring world peace?
In three of the countries that participated in the initial experiments, the governments were thrown out of office after the
assemblies. Three dictators — the Shah in Iran, Somoza in Nicaragua and Marcos in the Philippines
— had invited the TM teachers because their populations were rising in
rebellion. They hoped the meditating groups would act as a social tranquilizer
that would pacify the rebels. The opposite turned out to be the case. The
increased coherence generated by the groups enabled the whole society to join
together and throw out the dictators with a minimum of violence. Other
governments didn’t want to risk losing power through a similar upsurge in the
collective consciousness of their people.
Another reason was that although many governments pay lip service to peace, they don’t really want it. What they want is to use
the military to control their people and enforce their aggressive foreign
policies. They also profit from the arms trade; peace would be bad for
A third reason is that the concept of meditators being able to decrease violence half the world away is just too unconventional
for most politicians to comprehend. It doesn’t fit the worldview they’ve been
educated into. Our society is still living in the shadow of 19th-century
empiricism, where matter was seen as the basis of reality. Science has moved
far beyond this position, but the old view still has a lingering effect on our
thinking, causing us to reject what we don’t understand. The insights of
unified field physics are only slowly being absorbed by the general population.
Most people can’t yet comprehend that energy rather than matter is the basic
component of the universe, and that this energy is identical with our own
In addition, the intellectual rebellion against dogmatic religion has gone to the opposite extreme where many people now
embrace skepticism as the ultimate wisdom. Doubt has become the new orthodoxy,
and definitive statements about the world are automatically suspect.
Seeing consciousness as primary and matter as being manifested from it is a whole different way of looking at the universe
and will require some getting used to. But every paradigm shift in human
thinking has had to confront the prejudices of its time. As Arthur Schopenhauer
said, a new worldview is first ridiculed, then attacked and finally accepted as
But unfortunately in the early 1990s when the group of 7,000 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 dissolved 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. Although Maharishi died in
2008, there’s currently a group of 4,000 in India and 2,000 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.
My other books include A WORLD OF HURT (Rinehart Foundation Award), CD-RING and SUMMER SNOW. I was a Fulbright
professor of creative writing at universities in Germany, where I’m currently living.
A selection of my work is available at www.peacewriter.org.
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