Can Howard County lower its crime rate through transcendental meditation?

It may sound like magic, says financial analyst Kevin P. Condon, but statistics show that transcendental meditation can have a beneficial effect on communities -- and he wants Howard countians to give it a shot.

"Why not?" says Condon, a 46-year-old Ellicott City resident. "Everyone's seen the same old anti-crime programs for years, and we basically know they don't work. So let's try this. What have we got to lose?"

Condon and about 10 other TM practitioners are hoping to get as many as 200 Howard County residents to participate in a local "TM-Sidhi program," which the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of transcendental meditation, claims will lower crime rates in any area whereit is practiced.

The theory behind the program is that large groups of transcendentalists, who meditate to a "unified field of increased coherency and consciousness," will in some metaphysical way reach out to their surroundings and positively affect them.

Condon expects that many of the participants will be like him: professionals fromHoward County's mainstream.

"Meditation is no longer a fad," he said. "A lot of highly educated people have been practicing TM for many years, and it has made them successful in their business and familylives." His business, Baltimore-Washington Financial Advisors, earned him over $100,000 last year.

Practitioners in the Sidhi anti-crime program would meet at a yet unspecified Howard County location in the morning, presumably before work, and in the afternoon. Each person would be expected to perform his or her normal meditation routine.

"The super-shot of coherency that is achieved in each of the practitioners will have a 'splashing-out' effect onto people in the community," Condon said. "Those who practice it have no doubt that it will work."

Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey said the technique "is one of the most unusual crime-fighting methods I've heard of in25 years," although he said he had no objections to transcendentalist crime-fighting measures.

"All I can say is, if it works, then more power to them, and no pun intended," he said.

Condon is representative of the 1990s breed of transcendentalists, many of whom are "in the establishment," he says.

Howard County, with its reputation for attracting affluent business executives and high-ranking federal officials, is a place where transcendentalism will probably be viewedas quite attractive, he said.

"I think TM offers everything that Howard countians aspire to. People involved in the struggle for success eventually see that doing what everyone else is doing won't get them anywhere but where everyone else is," Condon said.

"When you get everything you want, like a lot of Howard County people do, then you are left with the inevitable thought: Is this it? Is this all thereis?"

Condon says those questions stir up interest in transcendental meditation, which he became interested in during a 1968 visit to Berkeley, Calif. The 1991 transcendentalist, he says, has adopted a stronger sense of what peace of mind can do for an individual community.

Hilary Winter, a 37-year-old mother of two who lives in Columbia, is one of about 10 Howard County residents who has participated in the TM-Sidhi program. While transcendentalists can still reap the personal benefits of meditation, the Sidhi program offers a societal benefit, Winter said.

"I would describe it as contributing to the community much the same way an opera singer does, when they send out beautiful music into the world," Winter said. "Who can really explain why the beautiful music touches people and improves the community? It just happens."

In this region, the TM-Sidhi program has meeting locations in Bethesda, Howard University, Silver Spring and numerous communities in Washington and suburban Virginia.

Winter said she is optimistic about Howard County's program: "I'm looking forward to moremothers joining."

Transcendentalists, who typically meditate for two 15-minute sessions each day, say that the experience leaves them not only with a feeling of relaxation, but also with clarity of mind and a strong desire to live their lives to full potential.

In turn, those feelings of well-being somehow spread throughout a community,Winter said.

For many, the scientific rationale behind such an idea is unfathomable and unexplainable, Condon says. But transcendentalists maintain that the program has shown lower crime rates in areas of California and the Midwest.

John Davies, research coordinator for the University of Maryland's Center for International Development and Conflict Management, in a recent report described the TM-Sidhi program as having impressive statistical results.

"In a field where authorities have been at a loss to find ways of containing escalating crime rate, these results have important implications," Davies wrote.

Larry Briskin, a financial planner for CIGNA Cos. in Columbia anda TM-Sidhi practitioner, said the 1990s are "an auspicious time" to organize more group practices of TM.

To attract 200 Howard County transcendentalists "is an ambitious program," but the goal is not an unrealistic one, he said.

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