It was as if he were in an elevator and someone cut the cable….BOOM! That’s how David Lynch describes his first meditation experience. He was sitting, eyes closed, in a little room in L.A. on July 1, 1973. He started his mantra (as provided by his instructor) and then felt bliss, a feeling so familiar yet unique, even profound. Lynch has since been on a 43-year streak of never missing a day’s practice — 20 minutes in the morning, another 20 in the evening.
It’s hard to imagine the hypereccentric filmmaker intentionally thinking about nothing. Famed for the dark, surrealist films, including Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and the cult classic series Twin Peaks, Lynch describes his “dives within” in a watery, abstract way: from the “oceans of pure, vibrant consciousness inside each of us.” He catches his creative ideas like fish: “If you want to catch the big fish, you have to go deeper.” He claims transcending quiets his negativity — be it stress, anger, anxiety, or depression — and reveals new creative possibilities.
Conceivably today’s poster boy for mindfulness, Lynch has helped spread Transcendental Meditation (TM) to thousands, a technique developed in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 2005, Lynch founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace, an organization aimed to bring meditation to some of the most stressed-out populations in America, including inner-city youth, the homeless, war veterans, and prisoners. Since opening, they’ve removed the cost of TM instruction for over 500,000 people around the world. (TM fees range from US$360 to $960, depending on one’s age, and location, and can vary by instructor).
According to Wikipedia, “TM is one of the most widely practiced and researched meditation techniques. It is impossible to say whether or not it has any effect on health, as the research to date is of poor quality.”
Still, there is great enthusiasm for its claimed transformative powers. We chatted with Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation and close friend of Lynch, about the growing interest in TM, what inspired the foundation, and its audacious goals for using meditation to help achieve global peace.
Why are we hearing more and more about TM?
There is a climate of stress now. The world is 24/7; there’s no downtime. I think human beings crave silence and quiet or calm. If we don’t get it, it’s crippling to our health. Our brains are overstimulated. We’re finally realizing that we can’t take a pill (right now)to get rid of or prevent stress. We can mask it with six glasses of wine or manage it with hypertension or anti-anxiety medication, but that’s not a solution. This is where meditation comes in. The benefits [of TM] are backed by 40+ years of scientific research, on top of being recommended by top doctors and medical schools.
What inspired the creation of the David Lynch Foundation?
The Foundation was created 11 years ago, at a time when few people had heard of Transcendental Meditation or there were negative connotations. David and I had met at a conference in L.A. and became friends. We started talking about the problem of stress and violence in schools, and the idea came up to start a foundation where we could raise funds to pay for TM teachers to go and instruct kids, teachers, and parents in underserved areas without cost. Lynch has already helped us catapult from an obscure organization with no money, to something that’s now contracting with the Department of Defense, with school districts all over the country and world, working with women, homeless shelters, and prisons.
The Foundation has an audacious, far-future goal of bringing peace to the world through meditation. Can you talk more about this vision?
The United Nations’ message is “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences to peace must be constructed.” In other words, wars begin within the minds of human beings. We will never create genuine peace in the world without elevating the human spirit and condition. We need to understand that there’s no peace where there’s poverty or disease. Through education — which is the focus of the David Lynch Foundation — we believe that if you simply add a few minutes of meditation during the school day in a child’s and teenager’s formative years, you can create a whole new generation of healthier, more dynamic, more progressive, more creative human beings. That child becomes an adult, a more resilient one, and that’s where peace comes from.
We’re just a small, little foundation, but we want to serve as a catalyst. We can’t just pray for peace and hope there’s going to be a miracle. That’s fine, praying for peace, but it’s in the domain of religion. Our vision is in the domain of health. Peace comes from a lot of different areas; you need people working to get better housing and food, but you also need to have people working to address the epidemic of trauma and toxic stress in the lives of billions of people. We’re talking with the United Nations right now. I’d like to bring TM to the millions of Syrian refugees; these are people who are traumatized beyond belief. Ultimately, TM is not a religion. It’s not a philosophy. You don’t have to have a special skill set, and there’s no change in lifestyle. It’s simply a tool that anyone can master within a few hours, and they have it for the rest of their life.
It’s a big vision, an impossible vision, but I’m happy about that because we’ve tried all the possible things and nothing’s working, so let’s try and see what happens.