Written by A Wild Dove
Imagine if you dedicated just 10 to 12 minutes a day to accessing your deepest, most peaceful state - a feeling of transcendence that even 12 hours of sleep couldn’t reach. Now, imagine if your kids could travel there, too. How much better off would we all be? That’s what Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation, set out to do with Transcendental Meditation over 40 years ago.
As one of the most sought-after meditation teachers in the US, Bob discovered TM as a way to work through the tumult of the Vietnam War in 1960’s San Francisco. He found himself so stressed that he couldn’t sleep or remember things. When a friend suggested he learn TM, he was finally able to settle down his mind. Bob came to realize that he could use this tool for social transformation, particularly for children in vulnerable communities. Together with award-winning director David Lynch, the pair created the David Lynch Foundation as a way to offer TM to children in at-risk areas as a tool to work through the stress of everyday life. The results? A dramatic improvement health, cognitive capabilities and educational performance. We sat down with Bob to chat TM and its effect on modern family life.
Bob, thank you so much for chatting with us. Let’s start with the obvious. What is Transcendental Meditation and how does it differ from other types of meditation?
Whenever I talk about meditation, I use an analogy of the ocean. You’re stuck on a boat in the Atlantic and you have these 30 to 40 foot waves, and you look up and think the ocean is in upheaval, but that’s just one section of the ocean where you have these waves. The ocean is over a mile deep, so the surface is turbulent and the depth is always calm.
The word “Meditation” means thinking. According to science, there are three basic types -
- Focused Attention - Is concentration in the form of meditation. You clear the mind of thoughts. You focus on one thought, every time. That type of meditation in this analogy attempts to stop the waves on the surface of the ocean to create calm motion.
- Mindfulness Approach also called Open Monitoring - You are observing the waves rise and fall. Open Monitoring teaches us presence and to be in the moment.
- Transcendental Meditation - Is self-transcending. In that approach, we don’t mind the waves on the surface of the ocean. We don’t mind any thoughts we have. We have a naturally active mind but we see the mind as a vertical dimension. There’s depth to the mind and at its deepest level, the mind is naturally and completely calm yet wide awake - that is what Transcendental Meditation seeks.
You mention that you are a “teacher” of meditation. These days, it seems like anyone with a smartphone can meditate. But how did your learning TM one-on-one affect your experience? Is there a “right” or “wrong” way to learn?
Somethings can be learned in a group or online. But for over 5,000 years, learning how to transcend is natural but it’s so subtle and tender. So forever it’s always been taught by a teacher who gives you a mantra. A mantra is a word or sound with no meaning. You learn over four days by practicing for an hour a day, not to concentrate or force anything. We push in life, we focus, which is fine for some things, but to access deepest, quietest purist level of heart, it’s a gentle effortless process. That’s why you need a teacher. Once you have completed your TM course in four days, you practice for 20 min, 2 times a day (morning and evening) to realize the full benefits.
Can you define "transcending?"
To transcend, if you look it up is to go beyond human limitations, to break boundaries. We love transcendent moments. A new mother holding her child and time disappears, or some level of deep communication with a partner, or some moment and you slip into this universal moment of connectedness. Transcendent moments and those experiences happen rarely. The purpose, throughout time, is to go beyond the noisy, choppy, wavy mind and settle down with those quiet expanded levels. In TM you use a mantra and the teacher teaches you to use it. Kids with ADD even learn it and they sit peacefully.
We definitely want to talk more about kids. First, can you explain the scientific benefits behind TM?
There’s a connection between the mind and body, when you’re anxious in the mind, your body is tense. The mind system can be heated up, while cooler minds prevail and create ease in the body. The mind can be heated or cool. In TM the “thinking mind” are the waves at the surface of the ocean. Are we thinking about hotter levels, or are the same thoughts in a calmer, cooler level of the mind? In TM we don’t push out thoughts. They are just there. They are not an obstacle. The whole thing is about settling down. When that happens the body gains a state of rest that’s deeper than the deepest sleep, measured by oxygen consumption and breath. If you get a good night sleep, cortisol levels drop 10 percent. 20 minutes of TM leads to cortisol dropping 30-40 percent every time. We are hard-wired to take profound rest at will.
Can you tell us how you started working in TM with kids? Can you describe how it affects families?
My interest in kids goes back to the idea of social injustice, why we are born into a community or family and don’t have equal protection under the law. It was unacceptable and when I became a TM teacher in 1972, I went back to San Francisco and taught at inner city schools and at San Quentin prison. The program was called Freedom Behind Bars, but my desire was always with kids. They are the next generation, how are they going to change the world? So it’s not just giving kids an equal opportunity to study calculus or memorize state capitals. It’s not just about education like that, but education that wakes up the brain. Social emotional learning that prepares a child to become an adult and to handle that tumult. So 12 years ago, I started talking with my friend David Lynch. Kids were coming to school, going through metal detectors, bringing in guns. It was a hotbed. So we started a foundation to bring TM to inner city kids for free. So we started the foundation 12 years ago. So we were teaching TM for free to a half million kids throughout Africa, the Middle East, South America, all over the world.
How Does TM help families?
Parents are only as happy as their least happy child. Each family has a collective conscience, where they may not say a word but you can walk in and think, someone is not happy.
What is some advice to someone thinking of starting TM but feels overwhelmed at the thought or intimidated?
One thing you can do is find out more at DavidLynchFoundation.org. Watch a 20 minute video and learn about it. You can google TM.org and find out about TM centers in the area and non-profit educational organizations. The people who teach are wonderful, kind, generous people. It’s nothing to fear, just learning a technique that takes an hour a day over four days. And you can wake up and do it again in the beginning and end of the day and you enjoy your evening with family and friends and sleep better at night.
That sounds incredible. So what do you love most about TM ?
The technique. In the midst of a crazy busy day, where I’m running a 35 country foundation, at 5pm I can close the door in my office, or go meditate in a church or the backseat of a car or on an airplane. I can access a deep state of rest, deeper than sleep. I can do it for 20 minutes and come out of it refreshed and rejuvenated. I love that I don’t have to buy into anything. It’s good for anyone. I love the brain science.
What makes you fly?
Getting to have a wonderful conversation like this. I love to walk in New York City. Every block is like another country. I love the humanity. I love the people. I also love having a conversation about deep things. I love deep. I love honest. I love being authentic in relationships, in food, in culture. That’s what really makes me fly. Not just skimming the surface, but going deep with someone.