5 Dec 2010

David Lynch not happy with new documentary exposé of Transcendental Meditation that portrays him as the Tom Cruise of TM

Macleans - Canada May 19, 2010

Flying yogis and flying millions

Acolyte David Lynch isn’t happy with this exposé of Transcendental Meditation

by Brian D. Johnson

He was the original guru pop star. Made famous by the Beatles in the 1960s, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the godfather of the Transcendental Meditation movement, known as TM. He inspired such acolytes as author Deepak Chopra and filmmaker David Lynch, and remained TM’s figurehead until his death in 2008 at the age of 94. The Maharishi was once dubbed “the giggling guru.” But now it appears he may have been giggling all the way to the bank. David Wants to Fly, a new documentary shown last week at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, offers compelling evidence that the Maharishi’s empire of enlightenment is more devoted to shaking down its followers and amassing wealth than transcending the material world.

The “David” of David Wants to Fly refers to the film’s director, a cheeky 32-year-old German named David Sieveking, and to the dubious feat of “yogic flying” or levitation. It could also refer to David Lynch, who has emerged as TM’s most prominent spokesman and is the prime target of Sieveking’s obsessive investigation. Sieveking embarked on his documentary as an avid Lynch fan dying to meet the genius behind Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. But by the time he’d completed his film, five years later, it had turned into an exposé. Sieveking told Maclean’s that Lynch threatened to sue him and tried to block the film’s Berlin premiere. No wonder. It depicts TM as a secretive hierarchy with overtones of Scientology, and portrays Lynch as its Tom Cruise.

Sieveking, who makes himself a character in the documentary—a neurotic man on a mission—is like a cross between a young Werner Herzog and a skinny Michael Moore. He first travels to America to interview Lynch as a star-struck fan, then becomes an eager student of TM. As his odyssey takes him from Manhattan to the headwaters of the Ganges, he never loses faith in the power of meditation, but he becomes deeply skeptical about TM’s well-heeled leadership.

He learns that its “rajas” pay $1 million for their exalted rank. At a groundbreaking ceremony for a TM university in Switzerland, we see Lynch introduce Raja Emanuel, TM’s “King of Germany,” who wears a gold crown and offers a provocative pledge: “I’m a good German who wants to make Germany invincible.” Jeers erupt from the crowd and a voice yells, “That’s what Adolf Hitler wanted!” Emanuel replies: “Unfortunately, he couldn’t do it. He didn’t have the right technique.” Trying to quell the catcalls, Lynch leaps to the raja’s defence, and hails him as “a great human being.”

Sieveking interviews several TM defectors, including Colorado publisher Earl Kaplan, who donated over US$150 million toward the construction of a vast meditation centre in India, where 24-7 shifts of 10,000 yogic flyers would create world peace. Visiting the project site, Sieveking finds an abandoned, half-built ghost town. And he shows footage of “yogic flying,” which looks more like cross-legged yogic hopping. We also meet the Maharishi’s former personal assistant, who says, “He’d use people and discard them when they ran out of money.” And although the guru preached celibacy, the ex-aide says one of his jobs was to bring women to the Maharishi’s room for sex. Another ex-disciple, Judith Bourque, reminisces about her torrid love affair with the Maharishi, which ended when he found another young woman.

Rumours of the guru’s sybaritic lifestyle have been rampant ever since the Beatles heard that he had hit on Mia Farrow in the late ’60s. His behaviour provoked John Lennon to write a derisive song called Maharishi, which George Harrison persuaded him to retitle Sexy Sadie (“What have you done? You made a fool of everyone”). The film shows Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr rallying to support TM at Lynch’s star-studded 2009 TM benefit. “John Lennon,” says Sieveking, “would be rolling in his grave.”

As for the analogy between TM and Scientology, the director acknowledges certain parallels, but considers TM less rigid—“you can’t be a moderate Scientologist.” Sieveking says he became paranoid after the German raja threatened to destroy his film career. Yet Lynch “is still a guru for me as a filmmaker,” he maintains, just not as a spiritual figure. “I wanted to be his friend. It’s tough for me, because now he sees me as an enemy.” But Sieveking may have found a new guru. Apparently Michael Moore, that documentary raja, is anxious to see his film.

This article was found at:



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  1. UK pupils to get lessons in yoga and transcendental meditation


    A STATE-funded school which will offer pupils yoga and meditation lessons was yesterday slammed as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

    The Maharishi School opens its doors for the new academic year as one of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s free schools, which have already cost up to £130million.

    It will be run according to the beliefs and teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who became the Beatles’ spiritual adviser, and boasts on its website that the activities are on the timetable.

    Labour MP Lisa Nandy said last night: “People will be shocked that their taxes are going on teaching transcendental meditation.

    “We have one million unemployed young people in this country and the Government is spending money on teaching pupils yoga.

    “It is completely ridiculous. The money would be much better spent on improving existing schools and building the new classrooms the Government scrapped.”

    Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham said the free schools scheme is a “gamble” which could be damaging – as it was in Sweden, where the idea originated
    He said: “I have worries that this is a gamble and I don’t see the evidence that it will automatically lead to higher standards.

    “But the bigger question we need to ask is, in a time of scarce resources, is it right to have a school system where funding is given according to demand rather than need?”

    The school, in Ormskirk, Lancs, boasts on its website that “pupils exhibit a beautiful balance and wholeness rarely seen in other schools”. It adds: “The reason for this is the use of consciousness-based education founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, which includes Transcendental Meditation, as an essential part of their daily classroom timetable”.

    Head Derek Cassells talks up the benefits of meditation in a promotional DVD, saying: “Restful alertness combines profound physiological rest with inner alertness.”

    [read the rest at the link above]

  2. BHA signs letter expressing concern at pseudo-scientific Maharishi and Steiner Free Schools

    by British Humanist Association May 14, 2012

    A letter in yesterday’s Observer expressing concern about pseudo-scientific Free Schools has been signed by the British Humanist Association (BHA). Amongst others, the letter was also signed by Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter; David Colquhoun, Professor of Pharmacology at University College London; and the science writer Simon Singh, and is specifically directed at Maharishi and Steiner schools.

    The letter reads:

    Sir – Since the formation of the coalition, a lot of public concern has been expressed over the potential establishment of creationist Free Schools. This concern resulted in the Government changing the rules for Free Schools to prevent them from teaching pseudoscience (Richard Dawkins celebrates a victory over creationists, 15 January 2012).

    However, not enough attention has been paid to what we believe to be two equally grave threats to science education, namely Maharishi and Steiner schools. Maharishi schools follow the educational methods of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, guru of the Transcendental Meditation movement, while Steiner education is based on an esoteric/occultist movement called Anthroposophy, founded by Austrian mystic Rudolf Steiner (Holistic unit will ‘tarnish’ Aberdeen University reputation, 29 April 2012).

    The Maharishi School has as its specialist subject the ‘Science of Creative Intelligence’, which is not based on science. It also teaches the ‘Maharishi Vedic Approach to Health’, a system of herbal medicine, most of which lacks evidence of efficacy and safety. Anthroposophy, or spiritual science, is centred on beliefs in karma, reincarnation and advancing children’s connection to the spirit world.

    The first Steiner Academy opened in 2008, with a Free School pre-approved by the Government to open this September. The first Maharishi School opened last September. Both groups have interviews to open more Free Schools in 2013. We believe that the new rules on teaching pseudoscience mean that no more Steiner or Maharishi schools should open.

    Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association
    Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine, University of Exeter
    David Colquhoun, Professor of Pharmacology, University College London and blogger, dcscience.net
    Simon Singh, science writer
    Andy Lewis, Quackometer.net
    Alan Henness, zenosblog.com
    Melanie Byng
    Richard Byng, medical academic
    James Gray
    Mark Hayes
    David Simpson

    Applications to open Steiner Free Schools in Exeter, Leeds and Suffolk (the Fullfledge Ecology School) and a Maharishi Free School in Richmond in 2013 have recently been accepted to interview by the Department for Education (DfE). Progress of other applications is unknown.

  3. David Lynch Is Back … as a Guru of Transcendental Meditation

    By CLAIRE HOFFMAN The New York Times February 22, 2013

    Inside David Lynch’s bunker of a studio in Los Angeles, a small crowd of happy people gathered on a late summer morning to meditate and learn about the nature of consciousness. The dozen or so young actors and musicians and others were recent initiates of Transcendental Meditation, a trademarked form of relaxation that involves sitting quietly and saying a mantra to yourself for 20 minutes twice a day. T.M. initiation — a multiday instruction program that includes the bestowing of a secret personalized mantra — costs, on average, $1,000. But those gathered had been initiated as a gift of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Through its work, Lynch, who has been practicing T.M. for 40 years, hopes to teach meditation to the world and, as a result, create world peace.

    Lynch’s compound is where Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette dove into a nether world of lust, porn, murder and shadow selves in his 1997 film, “Lost Highway.” But “Lost Highway” was 16 years ago, and besides, it was just a movie. On that recent summer morning, the sun flooded into the dining room and the table was laid out with pastries and lemonade. The wild-eyed actor B. J. Novak, formerly of “The Office,” wandered in, holding a to-go cup of coffee. The heiress Aileen Getty, whose foundation supports Lynch’s work in teaching the homeless to meditate, lingered near the door. Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, stars of the sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” stood to the side, laughing. Adam Gaynor, a former member of the band Matchbox 20, told me how meditation helped him deal with the recent death of his mother. “I heard about it and pushed it off a few times,” he said. “But afterward, I was so grateful.”

    Near a window that looked out onto the Hollywood Hills, a large, framed, pastel poster was set up. Standing beside it was Lynn Kaplan, a dark-haired, energetic woman who works for Lynch’s foundation, which is based in Manhattan. Kaplan had assembled this group of young talent and personally initiated each one with their own mantra. “This is where the mantra comes from,” Kaplan explained, gesturing toward the evolutionary pictogram of Indian men radiating light. At the base stood a small man in a white robe, his hands clasped. This was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, she said, the late founder of the T.M. movement and Lynch’s guru. Beneath him floated a pastel world, glowing.

    Word came that Lynch was on his way down, and the crowd shuffled over to his in-house recording studio and screening room, settling into built-in, modern easy chairs. Lynch slunk in through a side door, casting a leery eye up at his audience. He took a seat near the wall, looking uncomfortable. Everyone fell silent. Lynch was stylishly rumpled. His frame was lean and his hair was pomaded loosely into a mature faux-hawk. He wore faded khaki pants that bloused over a worn leather belt. In the breast pocket of his white dress shirt, a pack of American Spirit cigarettes was at the ready. Lynch is a notorious creature of habit: he spent seven years drinking the same chocolate milkshake at the same time every day from Bob’s Big Boy in L.A., because he thought it affected his creative process; and part of his persona is his uniform approach to dress. That day, a yellow watch gave a flash of color.

    Lynch, 67, has the plain-spoken demeanor of an old cowboy actor, a posture that masks a lifelong fear of public speaking. When his quietness got uncomfortable, Kaplan announced the start of a short meditation. For 10 minutes, the soundproofed room was dead silent. When it was over, Lynch stood up, refreshed. “So, do you guys have any questions?” he asked.

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  4. Kat Dennings’s boyfriend raised his hand and asked how he started meditation. Lynch made a funny face — he has answered this question a hundred times, all over the world. “I started here in Los Angeles on July 1, around 11 o’clock in the morning, a beautiful Saturday sunny day in 1973.” The group laughed at his exactness. “It was just yesterday,” he said softly. He continued: “I always tell the same story. The Beatles were over with Maharishi in India and lots of people were getting hip to Transcendental Meditation and different kinds of meditation, and I thought it was real baloney.” There was a knowing murmur — those in the audience had once had their doubts, too. “I thought I would become a raisin-and-nut eater, and I just wanted to work. And then all of a sudden, I heard this phrase, ‘True happiness is not out there, true happiness lies within.’ And this phrase had a ring of truth.”

    Lynch brightened proudly. “You just got to stay regular in your meditation,” he eventually said. “It’s the transcendent that does everything good for us human beings. You get a key that opens the door to that with Transcendental Meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.”

    Over the past few decades, David Lynch’s babbling dwarfs, ominous red curtains and just-around-the-corner episodes of hideous violence have become shorthand for a generation of art-house filmmaking. “Blue Velvet,” “Wild at Heart,” “Mulholland Drive” and his hit TV series “Twin Peaks” received critical acclaim. And somewhere along the way, Lynch’s fringe vision of reality became a marketable brand. He directed commercials — with flickering light and his signature unease — for Calvin Klein and Dior. He has lent his name to several products, from Lynch edition bottles of Dom Pérignon to the David Lynch Signature Cup Organic Coffee company. He recently released a discordant musical album — “Crazy Clown Time” — and has produced a number of others. For decades he has exhibited paintings and drawings and photographs around the world. He designed a nightclub, Silencio (a reference to the theater in “Mulholland Drive”), in Paris. Every night, people line up outside with hopes of experiencing something Lynchian, a phrase that David Foster Wallace once defined as that which “refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s containment within the latter.”

    What Lynch has not been doing, though, is making movies. Since “Mulholland Drive” was released in 2001, Lynch seems to have turned his focus almost entirely away from shadowy underworlds and toward spreading the word about Transcendental Meditation. In 2003, he told a group of reporters that he was part of a project to build “peace palaces” all around the world, where thousands of practitioners would live, eat, sleep and meditate around the clock. And during the last decade, Lynch has traveled the world, telling all who will listen about transcending to a unified field of being. In the meantime, he has only released one feature film.

    Whether his tireless work for T.M. has prevented him from focusing on his directorial work or whether the peaceful world he now inhabits has become his higher calling remains unclear. But in 2011, the independent film director Abel Ferrara told the blog Indiewire that he thought Lynch had given up on movies entirely. “Lynch doesn’t even want to make films anymore,” he said. “I’ve talked to him about it, O.K.? I can tell when he talks about it.” And then, rhetorically: “I’m a lunatic, and he’s pushing Transcendental Meditation.”

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  5. Watching Lynch stand in front of a giant movie screen, preaching in his singsong frontier voice about how meditation could transform all that ails, it seemed as if Ferrara might be right. Lynch told someone in the audience that the decision to meditate should be an easy one: “If you had a choice to vomit all day or feel healthy and strong, it would be kind of obvious.” Then he cackled, and it occurred to me then that, despite the lack of dwarfs or talking animals in the screening room, Lynch might be up to something else too. Trying to create world peace through meditation might simply be the most Lynchian thing that Lynch has ever done.

    From the moment that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi arrived at the Honolulu airport in 1958, wearing robes, his ambition was to make Transcendental Meditation a global practice. He had been traveling across India for a few years, spreading the notion that meditation wasn’t just for monks and yogis but instead could be simplified for the masses. He would soon seize on a generation of young people’s desires to recreate the nirvana of hallucinogenic drugs and to live meaningful lives. In 1967, the Beatles met Maharishi, and he quickly became their spiritual adviser. Life magazine declared 1968 “the Year of the Guru,” with photographs of Maharishi. By 1977, a Gallup poll reported that 4 percent of Americans said they practiced T.M.

    But then things got murky, and questions about the cult of personality grew. The Beatles left Maharishi’s ashram in a huff. Maharishi intensified his focus on a “world plan” to create peace through what he called the “Maharishi Effect,” in which 1 percent of the square root of the world population would meditate and radiate positivity. By the late 1970s, he had told his followers that they should practice more advanced, and more expensive, meditation techniques that took about two hours a day and could result in superhuman powers — the strength of an elephant and the ability to levitate.

    By the 1980s, only a devout base remained dedicated to the world plan, and many of them settled in a small community in a corner of southern Iowa. Deepak Chopra, who worked for the Maharishi at the time, told me, “I started to be uncomfortable with what I sensed was a cultish atmosphere around Maharishi.” Soon, Maharishi stopped making public appearances, spending his time in an isolated compound in the Netherlands. He named a Lebanese neuroscientist as his successor, giving him the ceremonial name and title Majaraja Adiraj Rajaraam, the First Ruler of the Global Country of World Peace. He had given him his weight in gold.

    Far away, in Southern California, David Lynch drank, made money, married a number of women and directed violent and dark movies. Still, he loved meditating. On set, he would leave each day to go spend time alone in his trailer, “diving within.” Then, in 2001, Lynch heard about a rare opportunity: the Enlightenment Course. Maharishi, who had barely been seen in public for years, was offering devotees the chance to pay about a million dollars to spend a month with him in the Netherlands.

    When Lynch arrived at the compound in Vlodrop, in June 2002, he had hopes that the $1 million fee — a significant investment for him — would allow him to spend a month at his master’s knee, basking in the glow of his enlightened consciousness. He was disappointed when he was told that Maharishi would not physically attend the meetings but instead would communicate with the small group of devoted benefactors via a teleconference system from his room upstairs. But it didn’t matter — like all things Maharishi did, Lynch says, his absence made sense. “When I play it back in my mind, he was right there,” he said. “It’s a strange thing. He was right above us but came through the television. But it was as if there was no television. And that’s the way it was.”

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  6. At the end of the Enlightenment Course, Lynch made his way back to Los Angeles as a changed man. “Everyone I saw was like a hero to me, trying to do the best they can, live life,” he said. “I was just in the strangest place. I’d pass through these different airports, and I’d look at the people, and I’d just love, love, loved the people.” I asked him if he still had the same feeling. “Yeah,” he said, looking away from me. “But the thing is, you could very easily sit under a tree. But if I heard that before I started — that you might want to sit under a tree, I’d stay away from that ’cause I want to work. You see what I mean? It gives you that feeling that you could sit under a tree, but it also gives you the feeling you could just go work.”

    Could he have ended up sitting under a tree? I asked.

    “No. I’m not enlightened.”

    Lynch did feel a new sense of mission. “It was important for me to say something to the people, whether they listened or not, about my personal experience,” he said. Though he had long been fairly private about his love of T.M., Lynch started announcing his support of not only meditation but of Maharishi’s agenda for world change. This zeal didn’t go unnoticed by the leaders of Maharishi’s organization. In 2005, John Hagelin and Bob Roth, who spent decades working for Maharishi, suggested that Lynch start a foundation dedicated to helping troubled children through meditation. Lynch quickly expanded on the idea: he wanted to raise $7 billion to spread T.M. “I just remember him taking this idea and going two or three ideas beyond what we had in mind,” Hagelin said.

    A year after the inception of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, Lynch’s life began to change more visibly. He filed for divorce from Mary Sweeney, his third wife, longtime collaborator and the mother of his 14-year-old son. Not long after, Lynch was engaged to Emily Stofle, an unknown actress decades younger. When asked why he married so many times, he told this magazine: “We live in the field of relativity. Things change.” In 2006, Lynch released his first film in five years, “Inland Empire,” which grossed a meager $4 million. The Times called it a “savagely uncompromised” piece of art; others panned it as alienating nonsense.

    Regardless, it would be his last movie to date. Lynch set out on a two-year global speaking tour that took him to more than 30 countries to talk to mostly college-age audiences about meditation, creativity and peace. Lynch’s phobia of public speaking was such that he occasionally pretaped acceptance speeches when honored with an award and stood silently at the microphone as the recorder played his voice. But on the global speaking tour, in front of audiences of hundreds, sometimes even thousands, he cracked jokes and told personal stories of his own transformation.

    Then, in February 2008, Maharishi died. In the weeks before his death, the guru acknowledged Lynch’s birthday in a group teleconference — a special honor. “It was a celebration taking place long-distance over Skype,” Hagelin said. “Maharishi was so intent on participating and hearing, and he took great satisfaction. Even then Maharishi saw with David the great potential to meet many people, to fulfill Maharishi’s vision of alleviating the problems of the world.”

    On a 100-degree morning last summer, I was with Lynch in the back of a stretch limousine for a long, slow ride down Mulholland Drive. The narrow two-lane road, which runs along the top of the Hollywood Hills, separates the multimillion-dollar canyon homes of Los Angeles from the sprawl of split-levels that make up the San Fernando Valley. Tacking between suburban and glamorous, the road itself is broken down, potholed and in places overgrown with desert flower bushes. It always feels a little lonely.

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  7. There was an unspoken logic to us being up there. It was during the making of “Mulholland Drive,” which opens on a shot of a stretch limo lurching down the road, that Lynch began his transformation from iconoclastic director with a public-speaking phobia to global public evangelist for meditation and peace. On that summer morning, Lynch was a bit grouchy. (He was on a cleanse.) He squinted, watching the road as if we were braving a blizzard.

    As the car hummed along and we relived his spiritual journey, I asked Lynch what he really believed. Did he see Transcendental Meditation as simply a technique for relaxation, perfect for young Hollywood actresses, or rather as an all-encompassing way of life, as Maharishi had encouraged — one with peace palaces and an army of meditators fomenting world peace? Lynch paused, and then spoke for more than five minutes, explaining that T.M. was the answer for all seeking true inner happiness. He ended with this thought: “Things like traumatic stress and anxiety and tension and sorrow and depression and hate and bitter, selfish anger and fear start to lift away. And that’s a huge sense of freedom when that heavy weight of negativity begins to lift. So it’s like gold flowing in from within and garbage going out. The things in life that used to almost kill you, stress you, depress you, make you sad, make you afraid — they have less and less power. It’s like you’re building up a flak jacket of protection. You’re starting to glow with this from within.”

    Lynch looked over at me scribbling on my notepad. When I finished, there was a pause, and I laughed — what could I say after all that? I had asked if T.M. was something he believed could be compartmentalized, like doing yoga or avoiding dairy. Lynch chuckled, but it seemed as if it was because he felt that he’d just given the definitive answer to all questions that might follow from me or from the universe for that matter.

    I should say here that Lynch was not explaining transcendence to a neophyte. I got my first T.M. mantra when I was 3 years old, and for as long as I can remember, meditation and Maharishi were the basis for everything I did growing up. I was 5 when my family moved to Fairfield, the small town in Iowa where Maharishi and his followers bought a bankrupt college and established a community. Most of my early education took place at the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, where our curriculum was interwoven with our guru’s philosophy. His photograph hung on nearly every wall of my school and home. We wore crisp conservative uniforms and meditated twice a day in our classrooms. Those meditations were graded.

    I still meditate. For 20 minutes or more, twice a day, I’m able to step back from the news scroll of thoughts and be truly quiet. I use T.M. to deal with anxiety and fatigue and to stave off occasional despair. But that’s because, in my head, I’ve managed to excise the weird flotsam of spirituality that engulfed T.M. for the first part of my life. Now, for me, it is something very simple, like doing yoga or avoiding dairy. Objectively speaking, meditation has been shown to decrease the incidence of heart attacks and strokes and increase longevity. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense commissioned studies to determine whether T.M. can help veterans alleviate post-traumatic stress disorder. Thanks to the David Lynch foundation, low-performing public schools have instituted “Quiet Time,” an elective 10 minutes, twice a day, during which students meditate, with some encouraging results.

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  8. Lynch seemed unsatisfied with my limited appreciation for the possibility of T.M. “Now, Claire,” Lynch said, leaning forward and staring into my eyes. “When I first met you, I felt that you had doubts. Is that a real feeling?” By doubts, Lynch was talking about T.M. as a worldview and the belief that Maharishi was an enlightened guru. He was talking about the T.M. organization’s $7 billion plan to create world peace. He seemed to want me to understand that transcending would change everything, for everyone. I had doubts.

    As the sunlight streamed through the tinted windows, my mind turned to Laura Harring, the red-lipped heroine of “Mulholland Drive,” and the way Lynch used this road as a portal into an underworld where monsters and dwarfs await by the nearest stalk of bougainvillea. Where had transcending taken Lynch? Had T.M. stripped him of the subversive weirdness that made him such a powerful artist? Had he allowed himself, on some level, to sit under a tree? Then, before I had a moment to consider the notion, he was nudging me, laughing. “Wave to them! Wave to them!” He rolled down his window and waved gaily to a Hollywood tour bus across the street, full of passengers frantically taking photographs of our limo. Lynch beamed. It was hard to see the macabre in the mundane.

    As he rolled up his window, I asked him about the rewards of immersing himself in advocacy and philanthropy. Did they outweigh those he felt as an artist? He snapped at me — saying that this was all just a thing that happened and that his real focus was his wife, his children and his work. Lynch said he was just waiting for a movie idea to come to him. Then he quickly switched to the quantum mechanics of transcendence, and my mind wandered to what Abel Ferrara said. It must be hard to come up with an idea for a movie when you believe that you have the power to change people’s lives and maybe even the world.

    The office of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace in New York is filled with young adults, many of whom grew up practicing Transcendental Meditation. Since Lynch started spreading the good news about T.M., the number of people learning the technique has increased tenfold. Close to Lynch’s heart are those suffering from PTSD, it seems, but it is in his own industry that he has made a more visible impact. Roth, who runs the foundation, spends much of his time flying around the world as well as initiating a long list of public figures: Gwyneth Paltrow, Ellen DeGeneres, Russell Simmons, Katy Perry, Susan Sarandon, Candy Crowley, Soledad O’Brien, George Stephanopoulos and Paul McCartney’s grandchildren.

    Russell Brand, the British comedian, often accompanies Lynch as an M.C. at the foundation’s star-studded fund-raisers in New York and Los Angeles. Howard Stern, Laura Dern, Clint Eastwood and Jerry Seinfeld, who meditated without much fanfare for decades, have filmed testimonials to help Lynch reach his $7 billion goal. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr sang together for the first time in years at a Lynch fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall in 2009. Oprah Winfrey recently dedicated an entire show to T.M. As did Dr. Mehmet Oz.

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  9. Despite the totality of the vision he laid out in the limo, one thing that is abundantly clear inside the foundation’s office is that the Lynch brand of Transcendental Meditation is vibrant and uncomplicated and unburdened by T.M.’s more controversial past. It is no longer, as Brand often says, “for weird, old hippies.” Nor is it only for committed devotees willing to spend their lives meditating in rural Iowa. Maharishi’s visage was nowhere to be seen.

    Maharishi, in fact, seems to have disappeared from the conversation entirely. Many of those I interviewed, who learned T.M. through Lynch’s foundation, compared the practice to going to the gym. Kevin Law, a former music-industry executive who has been invited to join the foundation’s board, told me that he was inspired by the fact that people like Martin Scorsese and the billionaire hedge-fund manager Ray Dalio were very public that T.M. had changed their lives. “These masters of the universe,” he said, “all from different backgrounds, all have one thing in common and it’s Transcendental Meditation.” Law said that for him, T.M. is more like working out. When I asked him about his sense of Maharishi, he said, “I know shockingly little about him because it’s not important.”

    This reminded me of a conversation I had with Lynch along Mulholland Drive. I asked him why he went from someone who would talk only to friends and family about meditation to someone who was spending his life on the road, promoting a cause. At the time, he shrugged and demurred that he had simply been asked. Now, in the clean and well-lighted office of the David Lynch foundation, I wondered if this, in fact, was the reason he was asked. Was this simplified version of T.M., based in an office with Oriental rugs and pictures of Seinfeld, in keeping with Maharishi’s dying wish? Or was it a creation of Lynchian proportions?

    A few months later, I reached Lynch by phone at his hotel room in Paris. Bob Roth had told me that Lynch said he was working on a new script and that it was typically dark. When I asked Lynch about this, he paused, annoyed. “Bobby’s got a big mouth,” he said. I asked him if the script was influenced by his work with T.M., and he said no, absolutely not. This will be a David Lynch picture, he said, adding, “I think people would probably recognize it.”

    During our time together, I heard audiences ask Lynch over and over how he could create disturbing movies while dipping into a field of pure bliss. He had universally assured them that it was no problem: he has been meditating for years, and it actually helps him be more creative, to come up with better, more visceral stories. But when I pointed out that it had been more than six years since his last film, Lynch demurred. He was just a tool, he told me, in some larger, transcendent plan. “Mother Nature is very, very happy when people stop suffering and move things forward in a beautiful way,” Lynch said. “That makes me feel good. I’m just the messenger. I’m just telling them what Maharishi told me.”

    Claire Hoffman is a journalist who has written for Rolling Stone and The New Yorker. She lives in Los Angeles.


  10. Do All Cults, Like All Psychotherapies, Exploit the Placebo Effect?

    By John Horgan |Scientific American (blog) March 4, 2013

    I’m a child of the Sixties, so I’ve known lots of people over the years who’ve joined cults. One of the most popular was Transcendental Meditation, which the Indian-born guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi began marketing to westerners, notably the Beatles, a half century ago. TM is making a comeback, in large part because of the efforts of David Lynch, director of Eraser Head, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and other creepy classics. Over the past eight years he has become a global evangelist for TM. According to a recent New York Times Magazine profile, Lynch believes that TM can yield “true inner happiness.”

    I have no doubt that for Lynch and many other practitioners, TM works; that is, it makes them feel better. “Better” can include anything from feeling calmer and less stressed to having a stronger sense of purpose, meaning and connection to other people and all of life.

    Of course, by this criterion Scientology, Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Tibetan Buddhism, the Hare Krishna movement, Unification Church and every other cult works. (Some readers may prefer the term “religion” for some of these institutions, but I view religions as cults that have achieved respectability, in some cases by abandoning extreme tenets.) After all, numerous studies have found a correlation between health and religious faith.

    The question is, why do cults work? Why do they make adherents feel better? The obvious (to me) answer is that they harness the placebo effect, the tendency of our belief that something will benefit us to be self-fulfilling. Cults share many elements that seem designed to evoke potent placebo effects:

    *Specialness. Each cult usually insists on its uniqueness and superiority to all rivals. It offers not just a path to knowledge and happiness but The Path. The cult holds out the hope that diligent adherents can achieve special states of being, called salvation, enlightenment, getting clear, etc. Followers are often encouraged to persuade others to convert.

    *Supernatural Founder. Each cult insists that its founder—and sometimes its current leader–possesses revelatory knowledge and powers beyond those of ordinary mortals. This prophet, savior or guru is said to be infallible, enlightened, chosen by God, semi-divine or divine. Examples: Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Reverend Moon, the Dalai Lama, the Pope, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

    *Rituals. Adherence to the cult often entails ritualized practices such as meditation, yoga, prayer, signing hymns to God, attending regular group services and so on.

    *Secrecy. Some cults bind adherents together with secret knowledge. When I lived in Denver in the 1970s, I had friends who joined a cult called Divine Light Mission, which taught members meditation techniques that they could not reveal to outsiders. Each TM practitioner is also given a unique, secret mantra to repeat during meditation. I once pestered two friends who had learned TM to reveal their secret mantras. One finally told me, and the other blurted out in dismay that he had been given the same mantra.

    *Money. We value what we pay for, so not surprisingly religions ask devotees to donate or tithe, and some, such as Scientology and TM, charge for spiritual training. Learning basic TM costs $1000, and advanced courses cost much more. In 2002, Lynch paid $1 million for an “Enlightenment Course” taught by Maharishi Yogi himself (who didn’t even teach in the flesh!). Sigmund Freud, who was no fool, insisted that payments were a crucial component of psychoanalysis. It’s a win-win situation for therapist and patient, guru and devotee.

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  11. Speaking of Freud and psychoanalysis, I’ve written about how different psychotherapies all produce roughly the same benefits, or lack thereof, an equivalence that has been dubbed “the Dodo effect.” The term refers to an Alice in Wonderland scene in which a dodo bird, after watching Alice and other characters run a race, announces, “Everyone has won, and all must have prizes!” The Dodo effect is consistent with the hypothesis that all psychotherapies harness the placebo effect. My guess is that the dodo effect applies to all cults as well as to all psychotherapies.

    Cults and psychotherapies are hardly alone in exploiting the placebo effect. In his new book The Placebo Effect in Clinical Practice, psychiatrist Walter Brown of Brown University writes that “the history of medical treatment is largely a chronicle of placebos. When subjected to scientific scrutiny, the overwhelming majority of treatments have turned out to be devoid of intrinsic therapeutic effectiveness; they derived their benefits from the placebo effect.”

    So here’s another question: What happens if you just practice one of a cult’s rituals—singing in a church choir, say, or eating peyote–without buying into all the claptrap about its supernatural specialness?

    Journalist Claire Hoffman, who wrote the Times Lynch profile, apparently falls into this category. She learned TM as a child and still meditates twice a day “to deal with anxiety and fatigue and to stave off occasional despair.” But she doesn’t buy Lynch’s claim that if we all embrace TM it will “change everything, for everyone.” She calls her practice “something very simple, like doing yoga or avoiding dairy.”

    Hoffman might get much stronger placebo effects if she had as much faith in TM as Lynch. The more you believe in the uniquely transformative power of your cult, the more you get out of it. The only price you have to pay is your rationality.

    About the Author: Every week, hockey-playing science writer John Horgan takes a puckish, provocative look at breaking science. A teacher at Stevens Institute of Technology, Horgan is the author of four books, including The End of Science (Addison Wesley, 1996) and The End of War (McSweeney's, 2012). Follow on Twitter @Horganism.


  12. Transcendental Meditation: How I Paid $2,500 For a Password to Inner Peace

    Humans are anxious, tired and distracted; but we don’t need to pay big bucks to learn to relax.

    By Lynn Stuart Parramore, AlterNet March 31, 2013

    Transcendental Meditation, that vestige of the 1960s fascination with Eastern-oriented enlightenment, is back with a vengeance. Celebs like Russell Brand and Moby swear by it. The celebrated filmmaker behind Blue Velvet and Eraserhead has made it his mission to spread the good word about TM through the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Oprah recently devoted a TV show to the TM movement.

    Over a decade ago, I found myself introduced to TM in what turned out to be a very expensive, hype-filled journey to enlightenment. Allow me to share the wisdom I gained.

    The Price of Inner Peace

    I was dating a screenwriter when I stumbled upon TM. He was nearly two decades older than me and had come of age in the late '60s and early '70s, bringing with him a number of interesting relics from that era, including a twice-daily practice of TM. Each morning he would sit up in bed for 30 minutes, chin resting on his chest, looking enviably blissful as I stumbled around in a bleary funk trying to find my shoes. In the afternoon, he would repeat this sublime performance. Neither deadline nor meeting could distract him from his ritual. If necessary, he would don earplugs and conduct his journey inward on the subway or the bus. I was in awe.

    My boyfriend didn’t participate in the broader Transcendental Meditation movement and insisted that there was nothing mystical, or even particularly special, about what he was doing. “Look, I took a course 30 years ago, and I liked the technique, so I stuck with it. Period." His daily practice, he assured me, had kept him grounded and sane ever since. That sounded pretty good to me. I’ve always been a rather high-strung creative type, and at the time I was in the throes of procrastination on my doctoral dissertation and a struggle to figure out whether a career in academia or journalism would best cure me of a deep sense of futility. So I signed up for a free introductory class on TM in Manhattan.

    During the free intro, I heard a lot about scientific reports on the benefits of TM, like reducing stress and releasing creativity. It sounded reasonable enough, and I was impressed that the people in the room looked pretty normal. The instructor didn’t go into any religious stuff and could have easily fit into a corporate office with his clean-cut appearance and fondness for graphs and charts. The technique, he assured the class, was easy to learn and could provide a lifetime of benefits for both mind and body. We were invited to consider taking a beginner course, after which we would have access to a lifetime of “free followup and support.” Then came the kicker: the price of a beginner course was $2,500.

    I gulped. That was quite a pricetag. But at this point, I was already looking forward to my transformation. Wasn’t inner peace worth it? I rationalized that people paid far more than this for therapy in New York City, and after all, I had hard evidence from my boyfriend that the technique could have long-lasting effects. I had just landed a lucrative ghostwriting contract, and if learning TM would make me less stressed and more productive, it would be worth it, right? My inner skeptic was silenced. I went for it.

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  13. Over several courses, I learned to sit with my eyes closed and just let my thoughts flow until I began to feel a sense of peaceful awareness come over me. There was no need to concentrate or sit in any particular way, or refrain from scratching my nose. A steady flow of references to scientific studies promising increased intelligence and emotional development padded what was otherwise a pretty straightforward lesson on sitting still and chilling out. After the completion of the course, there was a special "graduation" ceremony in which students were given individual mantras to use in our practice. This was the first real whiff of spirituality. I was told to bring an offering of flowers to meet the instructor, who now appeared wearing a robe. He solemnly told me that he had a special word to give me that was mine alone and would be the key to my successful practice of TM.

    “I know something about you,” he said, staring meaningfully into my eyes. “And that’s why I’m giving you this particular mantra.” I was no longer a student in a class, but an initiate into a special order of enlightened beings. I was invited to attend group meditation sessions where the combined force of our effort would increase harmonic vibrations of the universe and contribute to global peace. Or something like that.

    The Big Reveal

    Meditation is an ancient technique for relaxing, and it comes in a variety of forms. Some focus on breathing; others on an object, like a flame or a bowl of water. Mindfulness meditation adds on the directive to be attentive to feelings of gratitude and not to be an asshole. There’s even a form that makes the orgasm the focus in reaching a meditative state.

    Transcendental Meditation is just a fancy name for a common variety of meditation in which a mantra – a word or series of syllables – is repeated with the intention of creating a meditative state. Pretty much any word or syllable will do, despite the hype of TM, which insists that a mantra can only be given by a "qualified" instructor. The TM initiate is told never to reveal her mantra under any circumstances, lest its magic be lost. My instructor suggested that he had some particular insight into me in choosing my mantra, but this is utter nonsense. People who have taught TM have admitted that they are given a list of mantras they’re supposed to divvy out according to age and gender. Nothing mystical about it. Here’s one list, http://caic.org.au/eastern/sydda/free-tm.htm which contains a version of my "personal" mantra. In violation of the sacred rules of TM, I’m now going to reveal it to you: “aima.” That’s my mantra. Two syllables. Vaguely pleasant sounding. If I repeat it consistently for several minutes, I begin to feel a little spacey. The same thing happens, I have found, when I repeat the word “Tallahasee.”

    My boyfriend was horrified that I had paid $2,500 to learn TM. His course cost him a mere $50 back in 1973, and as it turns out, he had long ago dispensed with the mantra-business and simply focused on an image when he sat down to meditate, which happened to be the sound of the blind on his childhood window tapping in the wind, a sound that to him signaled relaxation. Technically, he wasn’t even doing TM; he was simply relaxing for an hour a day. To achieve a similar result, some people take a nap. Others go for a walk. You could add all kinds of fancy components to a relaxing activity like walking, and call it Globally Conscious Perambulation or some such BS and require the muttering of special words and the donning of special attire, but it would still be a walk. Its primary benefits would still come from relaxing the body and mind, and if done regularly, adding some purposeful structure to the day. Dress it up in a thousand scientific studies and it’s still just a freaking walk.

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  14. TM merely adds a scientific veneer to a simple technique and pretends that there is something unique about it. There isn’t. You could stroll down to your local community center and learn to practice meditation, perhaps for a donation of ten bucks. I paid $2,500 for a mantra, which, I will now tell you, is idiotic. I’ve tried several forms of meditation since, and I actually find other techniques better suited to me. I’ve paid a couple of hundred bucks for weekend retreats and trivial amounts for group sessions at various centers, always in the form of voluntary donations. I don’t meditate regularly these days, but when I do, I often feel refreshed. But I will never feel good about the ridiculous amount of money I forked over to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his merry band of hustlers.

    The Giggling Guru

    Unfortunately, one thing that links many forms of meditation is the preponderance of guru figures associated with it. This is not always the case, but it’s common enough to muddy the waters of the river of consciousness. For many practitioners, it’s not enough simply to pass on a simple technique that may be beneficial to some people. Those who aspire to gurudom have to be the voice of global consciousness. Or moral transcendence. Or whatever. They have to be the One Who Knows. And all too often, the One Who Gets Paid Big Bucks. Or perhaps the One Who is Having Sex With Disciples.

    TM’s famous guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, known as the “giggling guru,” was an Indian yogi who rose to notoriety as the spiritual counselor to the Beatles. The giggling guru had plenty to smile about, as he got people to pay millions for his lessons on transcendence. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, his organization, which boasts real estate holdings, schools and clinics, was worth more than $3 billion by the late 1990s. Teaching meditation was never enough for the Maharishi, or “His Holiness,” as followers called him. A marketing wiz, he launched the official TM-Sidhi program in the late 1970s that offered devotees the ability to levitate and bring about world peace. The levitation, or “yogic flying,” as followers call it, basically involves sitting on your duff in lotus position and bouncing up and down in what is possibly the most ridiculous-looking New Age practice on Earth -- and that’s saying something. This is thought to bring global consciousness. You really have to see it to believe it, so be sure to click here.

    The Maharishi’s enthusiasm for the butt-flying technique actually led to the formation of a political party in 1992, the Natural Law Party, which runs campaigns in several countries, including the U.S. It must be admitted that most politicians speak out of their rear ends, so why not just make that part of the anatomy central to an entire platform? Makes sense to me.

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  15. In 2000, the tireless Maharishi created the Global Country of World Peace, a “country without borders” that even has its own currency, the “Raam.” In 2008, the guru announced his retirement, went into silence and promptly died. Transcendental Meditation, with its expensive classes and ridiculous advanced practices, might have fallen into oblivion, but for David Lynch. Lynch paid a small fortune for his guru status within the TM movement when, in 2003, he forked over a cool million to participate in the Maharishi’s four-week "Millionaire's Enlightenment Course." Since Lynch came on board, TM has been on the rise, perhaps benefitting from the decreasing market share of Scientology among celebrities.

    Lynch has gotten a ton of press attention, including a recent profile in the New York Times. He has not been pleased, however, with all of it. In 2010, a German TM follower and filmmaker named David Sieveking produced a Roger and Me-style documentary about his quest to meet Lynch, which he eventually accomplished. In David Wants to Fly, the young man moves from an enthusiast of TM to a critic alarmed by the shaking-down of followers and the great wealth amassed by the leaders of a movement purportedly devoted to world peace. Sieveking claims to have received legal threats from the David Lynch Foundation since releasing the film.

    As a concession to recessionary times, the TM movement dropped the price of its introductory course to $1,500 in 2008. That’s still an absurd amount of money for teaching a technique that could be learned in a hour. Any organization or movement that demands so much up-front cash from followers (still more if they choose advanced courses) and proffers such BS as global peace through butt-flying is bound to have a cultic dimension. I didn’t stick around long enough to explore it myself, but there are plenty of accounts of those who go beyond the initial meditation technique and find themselves feeling ripped off, angry andspiritually abused.

    We humans are anxious, tired and distracted in the modern world. We need to relax. We just don’t need to pay thousands of dollars to do it.

    For more on TM, visit Skepdic.com.

    Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' She received her Ph.d in English and Cultural Theory from NYU, where she has taught essay writing and semiotics. She is the Director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

    to read the links embedded in this article go to:


  16. Using Meditation to Help Close the Achievement Gap

    By NORMAN E. ROSENTHAL, M.D., The New York Times JUNE 2, 2016

    NOTE: The following text in italics originally appeared at the end of this New York Times blog article. I have placed it here where it belongs to inform readers of the author's bias

    Norman E. Rosenthal is a psychiatrist and the author of “Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life Through Transcendental Meditation.”

    Closing the so-called achievement gap between poor inner-city children and their more affluent suburban counterparts is among the biggest challenges for education reformers. The success of some schools’ efforts suggests that meditation might significantly improve children’s school performance – and help close that gap.

    In 2007, James Dierke, then the principal of the Visitacion Valley Middle School in a troubled neighborhood in San Francisco, was determined to improve both the quality of education and student behavior in his school. He partnered with the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education to develop a Quiet Time Program for his school. The program, which had initial funding from the David Lynch Foundation, involved introducing two 15-minute periods of quiet into the school day. During those times, students could either practice Transcendental Meditation, which is taught as part of the program, or engage in other quiet activities like silent reading.

    A major factor preventing underserved children from learning is the stress they encounter on a daily basis – from factors like poverty, deprivation, lack of steady parental input, physical danger and constant fear. Research shows that chronic stress can impair healthy brain development and the ability to learn, and that Transcendental Meditation, a stress-reducing technique that involves thinking of a mantra, can reduce stress and its manifestations – for example, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Mr. Dierke wondered whether meditation might reduce students’ stress levels and help them learn.

    Over the next three years, Visitacion Valley’s suspensions dropped by 79 percent, attendance rose to 98 percent, and students’ grade point averages rose each year. Of even greater interest, the increase in G.P.A. for the lowest performing demographic was double that for the overall student group.

    Anecdotally, favorable feedback poured in from both students and staff members. One seventh grader at Visitacion Valley said, “I used to be really fidgety, couldn’t stay in my seat for very long. Now, after meditating, I can sit down for a whole class without standing up.” Barry O’Driscoll, the school’s director of physical education for the past 14 years, said, “In the first seven years of my tenure, the school was dominated by stress and fighting.” But in the last few years, he said, “we have had very few fights.”

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  17. One other middle school and two high schools in the Bay Area adopted the program. And a 2015 review of the program, issued by the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education in collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District research department, had more good news.

    The results of 17 studies conducted to date in the Bay Area, varying in duration from three months to one year, showed benefits across parameters including reduced stress, increased emotional intelligence, reduced suspensions, increased attendance and increased academic performance.

    Although controlled studies are difficult to perform in an academic setting, collectively the results of the Bay Area studies are encouraging. Two controlled studies have been published so far; others are in submission for publication. In one, the effects of the Quiet Time Program, conducted over half the academic year, were evaluated in public middle school students performing below proficiency level. Annual math and English scores improved in the students who meditated, while they declined in those who didn’t meditate. Given that the students in the study were performing below par at baseline, these results are promising.

    The second controlled study, authored by WestEd, an independent evaluator, found that after seven months of the Quiet Time Program, ninth grade students who meditated showed a significant decrease in anxiety and a significant increase in resilience compared to nonmeditating students. In addition, meditating students reported sleeping better as well as higher levels of self-confidence and happiness.

    It would be naïve to think that meditation alone could erase the effects of the many factors, like poverty, that are barriers to educational achievement. But Quiet Time is a relatively inexpensive intervention that teachers and students enjoy and which preliminary data suggest is effective.

    And although this program has focused on schools in low-income areas, adolescents from middle-class and affluent families could benefit from stress reduction as well. Why shouldn’t all our students have access to meditation?


  18. Conflicts of interest abound in NYT post on Transcendental Meditation

    BY Joy Victory, deputy managing editor of HealthNewsReview.org JUNE 6, 2016

    Twelve years ago, as a newspaper reporter in the New York City suburbs of Westchester County, a news release came across my desk alerting me that Transcendental Meditation (TM) followers were planning to bring their specific type of meditation to nearby public schools.

    At first I thought, OK, our affluent readership will love this story, and it will be an easy one to bang out under deadline. But then I dug into the research, and quickly realized there were lots of questionable claims flying around (in some cases quite literally–ability to levitate is one made by TM founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi).

    Other problems ranged from accusations of cult-like behaviors to self-funded, overwhelmingly positive studies rarely being conducted using rigorous science. This research became the underpinnings of my nearly 3,000-word investigation of the TM movement.

    So perhaps it felt a bit personal when I scanned the recent posts of Well (the New York Times’ health blog), and saw “Using Meditation to Help Close the Achievement Gap.” The post describes a program called “Quiet Time” that’s being offered in economically disadvantaged schools. It involves adding two 15-minute sessions of “quiet” into the school day. During this time, kids are encouraged to meditate–using specifically the TM method.

    It’s worth noting that while there are many types of meditation, and most of it is free, TM is trademarked and generates substantial earnings. I tallied $65 million in income from 2014 tax records of just six major TM-related non-profit organizations. Including more than a dozen smaller non-profits in the analysis would have brought the total even higher.

    Amazingly, the Times tells us, after this Quiet Time was put in place “suspensions dropped by 79 percent, attendance rose to 98 percent, and students’ grade point averages rose each year.”

    Yup, I thought while reading the post, looks like the TM folks are still up to their old ways. I wondered why news outlets–especially one as prestigious as the New York Times—weren’t applying a higher level of scrutiny.

    Where’s the critical scrutiny of this research?

    While there’s no shortage of puff pieces about the TM movement, there’s also reporting, opinion pieces and even a documentary that take a closer look at the claims and science, including these stories from The Daily Mail, Forbes, Scientific American, MacLeans, and even the Times itself.

    In other words, this isn’t under-the-radar stuff anymore, and just as with any medical study where claims of benefit are being made, meditation research deserves a hearty dose of scrutiny and viewpoints from independent experts.

    ‘No evidence that mantra meditation programs improve psychological stress’

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  19. A good example is this Scientific American column “Meta-Meditation: A Skeptic Meditates on Meditation.” It includes these important findings from a 2014 systematic review:

    “The Johns Hopkins University Evidence-Based Practice Center examined 17,801 papers on meditation and found 41 relatively high-quality studies involving 2,993 subjects. Of these 41 studies, only 10 had a “low risk of bias,” according to the Johns Hopkins team. In other words, even the highest-quality studies were, for the most part, carried out and interpreted in a manner that favored positive outcomes.”

    When it came to the style of meditation that TM uses, using “mantras,” the review said “we found no evidence that mantra meditation programs improve psychological stress and well-being.”

    The recent New York Times post doesn’t go there. Instead it tells us “Research shows that … Transcendental Meditation, a stress-reducing technique that involves thinking of a mantra, can reduce stress and its manifestations – for example, anxiety, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.”

    TM research has deep ties with TM employees

    Curious, I looked up the two controlled studies specifically called out in the post, and saw this same risk for bias noted by the Johns Hopkins review. The study author on this one is on staff at the Maharishi University of Management.

    And the other study included researchers who are on staff at the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education, which is funded in part by the David Lynch Foundation. Lynch, a movie and TV director, is a big proponent of TM.

    And the Times author is a TM follower with potential for bias

    But that’s not where the problems end with this post. After closing on a very emphatic quote–”Why shouldn’t all our students have access to meditation?”–we finally get a byline: “Norman E. Rosenthal is a psychiatrist and the author of “Super Mind: How to Boost Performance and Live a Richer and Happier Life Through Transcendental Meditation.”

    So, along with potentially biased research, we’ve got a potentially biased author.

    If this post had been clearly labeled an opinion piece, that wouldn’t be so frustrating. But the post reads as straight news until the very end, where it closes with an emphatic opinion. And many readers will never make it down to the conflict of interest disclosure at the bottom.

    If the Times wanted to pursue this topic, a better option would have been to assign it to someone without such a direct conflict of interest, and to ensure that independent expert perspective was included.

    Or, they could’ve followed the Washington Post’s example and simply printed an excerpt from Rosenthal’s book. With the Post’s approach, we know right away that Rosenthal is a TM follower–and stands to gain income from selling his book about how TM can create a “Super Mind.”

    Super Mind, OK. But we’re looking for super journalism, too.


  20. A Childhood Of Transcendental Meditation Spent In The Shadow Of A Guru

    NPR, Heard on Fresh Air June 13, 20161

    Greetings from Utopia Park
    Surviving a Transcendent Childhood
    by Claire Hoffman
    Hardcover, 265 pages

    Author Claire Hoffman estimates that she's spent at least 2,200 hours of her life meditating — but not because she became a devotee of the practice as an adult. Her mother was a follower of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and Hoffman spent most of her childhood in a community in Fairfield, Iowa that was devoted to Transcendental Meditation.

    Hoffman, who writes about her unusual upbringing in the new memoir Greetings from Utopia Park, tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies that moving to the utopian community from New York City when she was kindergarten-aged was idyllic — at least initially. "Those first few years, it was entirely magical," Hoffman says. "We believed that we were changing the world, and everybody was meditating. ... It was this sort of blissful experience."

    Maharishi, the Yogi whose teachings inspired her mother, specialized in "Yogic Flying," a practice that he claimed would infuse practitioners with the power to levitate. He charged Hoffman's mother and other devotees thousands of dollars to learn it.

    Because Yogic Flying was practiced in secret, Hoffman believed for years that her mother could, in fact, fly. Then, when she was 9 or 10, she attended a demonstration of the practice and was crushed.

    "It was this sort of funny frog hop that they were doing across the room," Hoffman says. "For me that moment of seeing this sort of awkward, ugly jumping, as opposed to this incredible levitation that I as a kid had imagined was a first moment, for me, of doubt."

    Interview Highlights

    On Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the origins of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement
    His father was, I believe, a local administrator. He was born around 1919. There is some debate about his age. And he went to college. He was a physics student. He really loved science and math, which you see later on in the movement. ... He went to go see a guru and he decided to drop out of college and become this guru's secretary. The guru was called Guru Dev. ...

    Maharishi ... he wasn't part of this sort of religious caste, he was from a clerical caste. He wasn't supposed to be a monk, he just worked as a secretary. And after Guru Dev died, the sort of story goes that he went and lived in a cave for a few years, and he came out and he sort of had this revelation that he wanted to teach the world to meditate. This is in the mid-to-late '50s. Meditation had been sort of the stuff of spiritual people like monks and yogis and gurus and his idea was to give it to what he called "the householder class," and it was sort of a revolutionary thought that regular people in India or around the world could just meditate and then go to work and have a job and have a family.

    On moving to Fairfield, Iowa, so her mother could go to the Maharishi International University and live in the utopian community

    We had lived for most of my life in New York City, so my image of moving to Iowa was this sort of rural paradise where we would live on a farm and there would be animals, I would be free to go outside and do whatever I wanted, which I didn't have in New York. I imagined, because my mom told me we were moving to this community, that everyone would meditate, and that had definitely been this part of our life, but not something we shared with anyone else. So I was really excited to have this community.

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  21. We got there in the middle of winter, and it was very cold, and we drove to Fairfield and I was sort of taken aback. I found it very crummy, sort of old houses, dirty snow. There was a population of people there who had been there before the meditators showed up, who we called "townies," and they called us "gurus," or "rus,"and they weren't friendly to us. They were not happy to have us there. It was sort of all these city slickers or weirdos from California or the coasts, as well as a bunch of Europeans, who showed up in their town. So there was a lot of hostility.

    On being sent to the town school, because her mother couldn't afford to send her to the Maharishi school

    My first day of school I was immediately asked, "Does your mom meditate?" and I said, "Yes." And they said, "Does your mother fly?" and I said, "No, but that's why we're here. She wants to learn to fly." I was immediately categorized as a "Ru" and on top of that, I had my sugar-free lunches with bagels and wheat bread and cream cheese and cucumbers. Everything I did was totally strange to them.

    We would, during recess, play outside, and the kids from Maharishi School would walk past and the townie kids would rattle the fence and scream, "Guru!" sort of swearing and yelling and taunting them. Later on, when I did go to the Maharishi school, I would walk past my former friends who would yell at me.

    On the idea that meditation could create world peace

    A big part of life in Fairfield — in order to understand why everyone moved there and what the vision was — was that Maharishi had a theory that large groups of people practicing his trademarked form of meditation and his advanced form of meditation, which he called "Yogic Flying," would create world peace. He had a scientific formula that he had come up with where it was to be precise, the square root of one percent of the population — if that amount of people were meditating it would radiate this sort of peace engine that would change the world.

    So the people that moved there, moved there to meditate together. And in the late '70s, early '80s, they built these two gigantic, golden dome-shaped buildings. There was a women's dome and a men's dome, and twice a day, people would go and meditate together. In the '80s and into the '90s it was thousands of people and they would meditate for about an hour and a half to two hours each session. So it would be an hour and a half to two hours, twice a day, so three to four hours.

    On Yogic Flying

    A big schismatic moment for the Transcendental Meditation movement happened in the late '70s. Up until that, Maharishi had been really advocating this 20 minutes of simple meditation twice a day, and he introduced something called the TM-Sidhi program and "sidhi," loosely translated, means superpowers, and so there were advertisements at the time — you can still find them — that say the "strength of an elephant," or you would get the powers of invisibility and that you could fly, you could levitate.

    [People] paid thousands of dollars and they did these advanced TM programs. So Yogic Flying is sort of the core of what people who moved to Fairfield were practicing. I say that it was schismatic because TM was very mainstream in the '70s, and then he introduces levitation and he loses a lot of people.

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  22. On why the Yogic Flying Course was so expensive

    It cost thousands of dollars because Maharishi said that Americans don't value things unless they pay a lot of money for them. ...

    It cost thousands of dollars because Maharishi said that Americans don't value things unless they pay a lot of money for them.

    Claire Hoffman

    As time went on living in Fairfield, more and more there were all these different sort of trappings or accouterments of enlightenment. They all cost money. So you had to have a special kind of paste before you went to go practice your Yogic Flying, and the paste cost, like, $150, and the Yogic Flying cost thousands of dollars to learn, and then your badge to get into the dome to practice the group meditation cost $100 a month. Everything cost money. Everything about our life there, it felt like it became commodified.

    By the time I was a teenager there was a special form of medicine, Maharishi Ayurveda; there was a special form of architecture, Maharishi sthapatya veda; there was astrology to follow and have your charts done, which was Maharishi jyotish; there was special gemstones and gemstone technology, I don't even know what that its, but it was there.

    On what she thought this project would be and what it turned out to be

    I never met Maharishi. My mother loved and loves him so much, and the people that I grew up with, my friend's parents, they loved him so much. He was so important to them. That does mean something to me. He gave them these incredible experiences, he changed their lives. He really shaped my life in so many ways.

    In the process of writing this book my opinion of him changed. I think when I first started thinking about writing a book about the TM movement I was a youngish investigative reporter and I thought, I'm going to figure out what happened with all this money. I'm going to expose the hypocrisy. And over time and working on this book I feel like it's so much more complicated than that, because I think what happened in Fairfield we did to ourselves.

    Maharishi never lived there. He was always somewhere else. So it was almost like we were existing with the shadow of a guru. So everything was trickle-down knowledge. We wanted to do everything the way that he said we should do it and we wanted to live life exactly according to his principles. But he was never there, so it was this distillation of power, which meant a lot of jockeying and positioning, and I think it created a very kind of screwed up community for a number of years. But I think that was our fault. ... I think by the end of doing this book, I feel like we do it to ourselves and why do we do it? I think that's such a more interesting question than, "Was he a great man or was he a con artist?" Who cares? What I care about is why people do this.