Since the world was introduced to Transcendental Meditation through the Beatles late 60s association with its creator, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the spiritual practice has been inextricably intertwined with the music world. Today, Katy Perry, Lykke Li, Sting and Miguel are all vocal adherents. It cured of her Santigold writer's block, helped Jennifer Lopez manage an overwhelming workload and was part of Kesha's recovery from an eating disorder. Rick Rubin began practicing as a child.
The undisputed face of the movement, however, is David Lynch. The director runs the David Lynch Foundation, which brings TM to schoolchildren, veterans and survivors of domestic violence. The organization has a natural alignment with the music world (Lynch himself is a singer who has released two albums) and an upcoming national fundraiser in Washington DC will highlight Kesha, Ben Folds and Angélique Kidjo. Billboard spoke with foundation CEO Bob Roth about why TM is so important to musicians and how the organization is helping bring it to at-risk populations.
What exactly is TM?
Transcendental meditation is a very simple, natural, effortless technique that's practiced for twenty minutes twice a day, once in the morning, once in the later afternoon or early evening, sitting comfortably in a chair with the eyes closed. What it does is it allows your active, noisy, sometimes agitated, busy, busy, busy thinking mind to just settle down and go from a state of excitation to a state of great inner calm. When that happens your body gains a state of rest that, according to research, is deeper than the deepest part of deep sleep. The surface of our mind is constantly thinking and worrying and planning and all that, yet inside, overlooked, right now and all times is a level of every mind that is already calm. In transcendental meditation we learn how to access that.
Why does it resonate so much with musicians?
First there's getting rid of the stress, then there's more creative thinking and the third is work/life balance. I think it gives the artist greater inner stability to navigate all the competing demands and challenges, whether it's their own inner demands that they challenge for themselves, expectations that they have to be great tomorrow just as they're great today or the demands of travel and the demands of the people they love. I think it's essential for musicians.
The life of a musician can be very stressful, pressure packed [with] a lot of demands that people who aren't musicians have no idea [about]. When you sit and do TM, your body gains, as I said, a state of rest deeper than sleep that eliminates the build up of stress, tension, fatigue that inevitably compromises the health and well being of the musician. That quiet level of the mind is actually the source of our own unlimited creativity. It allows a freer flow of innovative and creative thoughts and ideas to come to the surface of the mind. Whether it's Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr or Katy Perry or Sting or Ben Folds and Kesha, so many young, old, across the board. What they find is that the meditation helps them not just get to the top but to stay there. Many artists say it's hard to get to the top but it's much harder to stay there over time.
As a teacher of TM, what are you emphasizing about the practice?
When a person learns TM it takes about an hour a day over four consecutive days. It's always one to one so you have your own personal meditation teacher. A teacher will give you your own mantra. That just takes a minute and then the rest of the four days, an hour a day over four days, is learning how to use it properly. We can teach a ten year old child. TM is the easiest. Cameron Diaz once said transcendental meditation isn't just the easiest meditation she's ever practiced, it's the easiest thing she's ever done in her life because it's the most natural.
How does the foundation work with children and victims of trauma?
We live in an epidemic of trauma and toxic stress. It hits everyone but in some regards it hits the underserved population more. The child who's growing up in a crime ridden neighborhood or the women who's a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault or the veteran who comes back from combat with PTSD and can't sleep more than an hour a night because of nightmares and the only tool they're given to heal is a handful of drugs. The foundation was established to raise the funds to bring TM instruction to at risk populations who may need it the most but don't have the access to it. In the past twelve years we've provided scholarships for half a million inner city school kids and veterans and women to learn to meditate. TM would not be offered in schools, would not be offered by the Veterans Administration unless there was a lot of hard core data to show this really works. Used often, it's better than anything else, particularly medicine.
Do you see TM becoming more popular?
It's such an interesting thing, from a music standpoint. It was the Beatles, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi got well known because the Beatles and Donovan Leitch and the Beach Boys and Paul Horn all started meditating with Maharishi back in '67 and '68. But it was a fad then. Today, it's no longer a fad. Now it's prescribed by medical doctors, it's offered by large companies as part of a wellness program, in schools and hospitals and military bases. It's integrated into the fabric of society.