It’s no secret that problems abound in our society, but two areas that quickly come to mind are major sources of national stress—at-risk school children and veterans returning from wars abroad with post-traumatic stress.
Enter iconic American filmmaker David Lynch, director of TV’s groundbreaking Twin Peaks, and feature films that include Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, The Straight Story, and most recently, Inland Empire. The United Kingdom’s highly reputed Guardian has dubbed Lynch “the best film director of this era,” but an illustrious career has not impeded his concern for the needy.
Mind you, many individuals and organizations have stepped forward in the troubled areas of our society. Much has been done, yet even more remains to be done. What is his modality of choice to help? Meditation, he declares, and specifically Transcendental Meditation, or TM, which is neither a religion nor a philosophy, and therefore requires no change of lifestyle.
Transcendental Meditation is a simple, easily learned technique, practiced for 20 minutes twice daily while sitting comfortably in a chair with eyes closed. This quiet time provides the mind and body with a unique state of “restful alertness” which allows stress and fatigue to be released in a natural way, resulting in better health, greater energy, more clarity of mind, and overall enhancement of the joy of life. It utilizes the natural tendency of the mind to go to a field of greater happiness, hence is basically effortless, differing thereby from all other meditation techniques, which invariably involve either concentration or contemplation, modalities that tend to keep the mind on the surface level of thought and so impede the transcending process.
John Hagelin, Ph.D., world-renowned quantum physicist (“What The Bleep Do We Know!?” and “The Secret”) and recipient of the coveted Kilby Award in physics, describes Transcendental Meditation as “a systematic means to turn the attention powerfully within, to experience and explore deeper levels of mind, quieter levels of human awareness, a state of rest for the body deeper than sleep, where deep-seated stress is dissolved, providing an effective prevention and treatment for stress-related illness.”
Over 600 scientific studies have been conducted on Transcendental Meditation at 250 medical schools and universities in over 30 countries to verify its wide range of benefits for the individual and society. Most notably, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, or NIH, funded in recent decades $26 million in grants to study the effects of TM practice on high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, obesity, and heart disease. Subjects for research have been readily available because the TM technique has now been taught to six million people in over 120 countries.
The timeless knowledge of TM derives from the Vedic heritage of India, the world’s oldest system of knowledge. Veda means truth, or knowledge, and this tradition provides knowledge about many areas of life. For example, Yoga comes from the Vedic tradition, as does Ayurveda, the world’s most ancient system of health care, and Sthapatya Veda, knowledge about building in accord with Natural Law. The knowledge of Transcendental Meditation was revived in our era by the revered sage Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, launched, in l957, a worldwide movement to make it available on every continent. Maharishi first came to the United States in l959, and on various occasions thereafter, to oversee the progress of the local TM movement.
Why did David Lynch take up the TM practice? Well, he just couldn’t think of anything better to do. Just kidding. Lynch not only writes, produces, and directs his own films, but also composes popular music, and paints stunning pictures that are exhibited in major art galleries. And oh, yes, crowning a plethora of other avocations, he recently opened his own nightclub in Paris.
As for Transcendental Meditation, his sister first brought it to his attention. “My sister called, and she had started TM,” he reminisces. “There was something in her voice—less stress and more happiness, a certain upbeat lilt. ‘I gotta have that,’ I said to myself. When I actually started, it was like boom, as if a cable had been cut and the elevator plunged right down into pure consciousness.
“I have been ‘diving within’ through the Transcendental Meditation technique for over 30 years now,” he continues. “It has changed my life, my world, allowing me to release stress that was causing fear and anxiety, opening the door to heightened creativity and bliss.”
“Not long ago, when I heard about the crippling levels of stress and violence in the lives of children today, about the need for armed guards to patrol school corridors, and about widespread use of prescription drugs with deleterious side effects, I became concerned about what this was doing to the health of these children and their ability to learn.”
“Discussing the matter with a friend, the thought came that in today’s turbulent world all school kids should have a class period to begin and end the school day where they can dive within and experience the field of silence, the transcendental level of life, which is an enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence within all of us.”
To help at-risk students, the director established the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace—and promptly made hefty donations to give it a jump-start.
Since then the DLF has helped fund “Quiet Time” programs, which are always voluntary, around the world, teaching TM to over 250,000 children in the United States and Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The US schools can be found in more than a dozen states.
Progress was made in the financial area by a benefit concert given at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and featuring such renowned meditating artists as Beatles Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, legendary singer/songwriter Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, flute virtuoso Paul Horn, Sheryl Crow, Moby, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, Russell Simmons, co-founder of the pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam, and Jerry Seinfeld in a winning stand-up comic skit. Since a huge number of schools around the world remain on a waiting list for Quiet Time programs, plans are underway for future benefit concerts in different venues. Watch News conference Highlights from the day before the concert, and Watch Event Highlights, which include clips of David Lynch interviewing Paul, Ringo, Sheryl, Eddie, and excerpts from that amazing magical evening. Check here for other DLF featured past events.
Transcendental Meditation in Education
Dr. Sanford Nidich, professor of education and physiology at Maharishi University of Management, has been working with at-risk adolescents in U.S. schools and reports on a study conducted at the University of Connecticut involving 106 secondary school students from three public schools, primarily from lower income, minority populations. “Meditating students,” he relates, showed significant reductions in anxiety, emotional problems, and hyperactivity, and improved overall mental health after an average of four months compared to controls.”
“Something must be done to help today’s youth deal with the enormous amount of stress in their lives,” says Dr. Robert Colbert, professor at the University of Connecticut and co-author of the study. “This study shows that something can help immediately—and it is easy to implement in any school setting.
Two more recent studies out last year, also funded by the David Lynch Foundation, showed TM improved standardized academic achievement and effectively lowered record stress levels in students.
The study, published in the journal Education, reported students who practiced the Transcendental Meditation program showed significant increases in math and English scale scores and performance level scores over a one-year period. Forty-one percent of the meditating students showed a gain of at least one performance level in math compared to 15.0% of the non-meditating controls.
The latest study published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology found the Transcendental Meditation technique significantly decreased psychological distress in at-risk racial and ethnic minority public school students by 36 percent over 4 months compared to controls. The study also found significant decreases in trait anxiety and depressive symptoms.
In the area of students with learning disabilities, one study, published in the 2009 issue of the peer-reviewed “Current Issues in Education,” followed a group of 10 middle-school students with ADHD who were practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique twice a day at school. After three months, researchers found over 50% reduction in stress and anxiety, and improvements in ADHD behavior regulation.
“The effect was much greater that we expected,” says Dr. Sarina Grosswald, Ed.D., a George Washington University-trained cognitive learning specialist and lead researcher on the study. “The children also showed improvements in attention, working memory, and organization.” The study was funded by grants from the Abramson Family Foundation and the David Lynch Foundation.
A follow-up study, also funded by the David Lynch Foundation, came out last year. This random-assignment controlled study conducted over a period of 6 months in an independent school for children with language-based learning disabilities in Washington, DC, found improved brain functioning, decreased symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, (ADHD), and improved language-based skills among ADHD students practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique. The paper, ADHD, Brain Functioning, and Transcendental Meditation Practice, was published in Mind & Brain, The Journal of Psychiatry.
At the Ideal Academy Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., students from 5th grade through 12th grade now practice the TM Quiet Time program. “It changed the whole climate of the school, says principal Dr. George Rutherford, a highly regarded D.C. educator. “It was just beautiful. The academic achievement has gone up, and behavioral problems have gone down. I could never work in a school that doesn’t have the TM Quiet Time program.”
One student at the Ideal Academy reports, “I notice I haven’t been mad for a while, since I learned TM. I used to get in fights and talk to people behind their back. And it helps me to not get distracted.”
A student at the Tucson, Arizona, Museum of Art School was struggling in math, but now says, “I’m doing really good in there, and my behavior’s been a lot better. One of the students at the Kingsbury School in Washington, D.C., states that just two weeks after practicing TM twice a day the nightmares he was having stopped, allowing him to sleep much better and so avoid the fatigue that usually followed during the day.
“I have had the pleasure of meeting many students who are “diving within” and experiencing Consciousness-Based Education,” sums up DLF founder David Lynch. “These students are all unique individuals, very much themselves. They are amazing, self sufficient, wide-awake, energetic, blissful, creative, powerfully intelligent and peaceful human beings. Meeting these students, for me, was the proof that Consciousness-Based Education is a profoundly good thing for our schools and for our world.”
Principal James Dierke agrees. The 2008 National Association of Secondary School Principals—National Middle School Principal of the Year, says, “Stress is the number one enemy of public education, especially in inner-city schools. It creates tension, violence, and compromises the cognitive and psychological capacity of students to learn and grow. The TM/Quiet Time program is the most powerful, effective program I have come across in my 39 years as a public school educator for addressing this problem. It is nourishing children and providing them an immensely valuable tool for life. It is saving lives.”
TM for Veterans: Operation Warrior Wellness
While the DLF’s work with at-risk children got into full gear, founder David Lynch was given the staggering statistics from the Veterans Administration showing that more soldiers are dying from the trauma of combat incurred in Iraq and Afghanistan than at the hands of enemy combatants. Over 500,000 veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, or PTS, since 2001, with 18 veterans committing suicide each day.
To help meet this challenging situation, the David Lynch Foundation launched Operation Warrior Wellness, a national outreach to help 10,000 war veterans suffering from PTS by teaching them Transcendental Meditation. A December 2010 press conference and follow-up fund raiser Gala Event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was supported by noted film directors Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, fashion maven Donna Karan, pop music mogul Russell Simmons, and yet another Russell, versatile actor/comedian Russell Brand, plus “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Mehmet Oz.
A year later on December 2011 the David Lynch Foundation launched Operation Warrior Wellness in Los Angeles with a global press conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel where David Lynch presented a check for one million dollars for Veterans to learn Transcendental Meditation. The 3rd Annual Change Begins Within Gala Event took place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Ellen DeGeneres opened the evening and then turned the proceedings over to host Russell Brand. Photos can be seen on the David Lynch Foundation photo stream.
Combatants from past and present conflicts delivered testimonials of their devastating war experiences and told of how TM gave them a new lease on life. World War II pilot Jerry Yellin spoke eloquently of the toll that extensive bombing raids against Japan had on his nervous system so that for three decades after the end of the war he felt no satisfaction from anything he did. “At 51,” he recounted, “I took up TM and only then did I finally find peace.”
Vietnam vet Dan Burks gave a moving account of the mental scars he carried after a battle in which he killed Vietnamese soldiers and lost many of his own comrades. “PTS” is a wound,” he concluded. “It takes your life away, just like losing a limb. But guess what? You can get rid of that wound. My life, after the discovery of Transcendental Meditation, was like the difference between heaven and hell.”
Finally, David George, 23, a former infantry soldier, told of the trauma he experienced not only in Iraq, but also on returning home, where long ago battles still raged deep within his system. “Happily,” he said, “I found TM and that cleared the air and I could tell where I was going. I felt this warm, groovy feeling. It just keeps getting better and better.”
Veterans with PTS showed a 50 percent reduction in their symptoms after just eight weeks of practicing the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique, according to a pilot study published in June 2011 in the scientific journal Military Medicine. The study found that Transcendental Meditation produced significant reductions in stress and depression and marked improvements in relationships and overall quality of life.
The paper’s senior researcher, Norman Rosenthal, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and director of research at Capital Clinical Research Associates in Rockville, Maryland. “These young men were in extreme distress as a direct result of trauma suffered during combat,” he affirms, “and the simple and effortless Transcendental Meditation technique literally transformed their lives.”
The findings were similar to those from a randomly controlled study of Vietnam veterans conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 1985. In that study, published in the Journal of Counseling and Development, after three months of twice-daily TM practice, the veterans had fewer symptoms than those receiving conventional psychotherapy of the day. In fact, most of the TM-treated subjects required no further treatment.
“The soldiers are truly suffering,” affirms David Lynch. “No one knows what they’ve been through. No one knows what they’ve done, what they’ve experienced, what they’ve seen, and their lives in many cases are a true nightmare. That’s why we want to offer them Transcendental Meditation. It’s a beautiful thing for the human being. It’s a big stress-buster, and when these soldiers get this simple effortless technique, they’re going to get their lives back again. It’s not hocus-pocus. It’s going to save lives, and help not only the soldiers, but all the families who are suffering, and their friendships as well.”
For the already noted Operation Warrior Wellness benefit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Clint Eastwood, best known for playing violent, hardened characters on screen, sent a video in which he stated his strong support of Transcendental Meditation. “I’ve been using it for almost 40 years now,” he declared. “It’s a great tool to combat stress, especially considering the stress our men and women in the armed forces are going through. There’s enough studies out there that show TM is something that can benefit everybody.”
Norman Zierold is the author of a bevy of books on Hollywood, including The Child Stars, The Moguls, Garbo, and Sex Goddesses of the Silent Screen, as well as two true-crime stories—Little Charley Ross: The Story of America’s First Kidnapping for Ransom, and Three Sisters in Black, recipient of a Special Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He has also published articles in a plethora of magazines, ranging from New York Magazine, McCall’s, and Popular Mechanics to Good Housekeeping, Variety, and Reader’s Digest.
David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace
Operation Warrior Wellness
The Transcendental Meditation program
Ask the Doctors—Specialists answer your questions
ADHD, the Mind and the TM technique
Maharishi University of Management
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