‘The missing ingredient in spirituality is critical thinking’
Rick Archer emerged from a troubled youth to become a leading teacher of Transcendental Meditation. 12 years ago, he left TM and started Buddha At The Gas Pump, a podcast where he interviews spiritual teachers. It now has millions of views and downloads. I talked to Rick about how spirituality has changed since he first started meditating in 1968, and how he thinks New Age culture has fared during the COVID pandemic.
How did you get into spirituality?
I grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut. I’d had a troubled home life. My father was an alcoholic. My mother nearly succeeded in committing suicide three times. One summer day in 1967 I was driving with three friends and one of them was reading aloud from Timothy Leary’s and Richard Alpert’s (Ram Dass’s) commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It dawned on me: ‘That’s it! Enlightenment! That’s what I’m supposed to do!’ But at that stage I rationalized that doing drugs would somehow be relevant to enlightenment, and besides, they were fun, at least at first. So, I kept doing them for a year, during which time I dropped out of two high schools, got arrested twice for marijuana possession, became increasingly confused and paranoid, and started dabbling with hard drugs. One night, high on some psychedelic, unable to sleep, I picked up Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps. Reading stories of the Zen masters, I thought, ‘these guys were really serious and I’m just screwing around. If I keep on like this, I’m going to live a short, miserable life. So, that’s it. I’m going to stop drugs and learn to meditate.’
Two weeks later, in July of 1968, at the age of 18, I learned Transcendental Meditation. From the first sitting, I had beautiful results. I wasn’t a particularly consistent person, as I’ve just described, and most of my friends thought it was a phase that might last a week or two, but I soon dropped those friends, got a high school equivalency diploma, and enrolled in college. I became a TM teacher in 1970, was successful at it, lived a semi-monastic life for 15 years, and got married in ’87. My life is blessed. I’m happy, healthy, energetic, enthusiastic. I haven’t missed a twice daily meditation since the day I leaned. I started with 30 minutes twice a day, and for most of these 53 years, it’s been two or three hours a day.