David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption began with the director featured on screen drawing a line graph in Magnum Sharpie against a piece of science-fair-style poster board. As he described "oneness" with each lingering, squeaky drag of the marker, Lynch cultivated an experience I deem even more relaxing than the process of Transcendental Meditation itself. “This here represents the surface of life,” he instructed, illustrating a flat horizontal line which specified a section for mind and matter. Sitting atop a desk in what appeared to be a college classroom, Lynch delved further into scientific evidence that supports the technique, reminding his audience that TM is not a hokey hippie byproduct of the ‘60s, but a thing that can be described in the language of molecules, atoms, and unified fields. Sonics of his celestial synth-infused background music— which was of course too integral to the experience to be considered background music—led us throughout, only to be eclipsed by two in depth conversations with comedians Pete Holmes and Bill Hader.
As Lynch described, Transcendental Meditation is “to go beyond the field of relativity to experience pure, unbounded consciousness.” In 1973, the “Twin Peaks” auteur began practicing TM and hasn’t missed a day of sitting twice a day since. 32 years later, he founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace to bring relief to children and adults everywhere who suffer from the hellscapes of post-traumatic stress disorder and domestic violence. Following in the footsteps of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (the guru credited for founding the mantra-based meditation technique that popularized after the Beatles joined the bandwagon in the late ‘60s), Lynch is after one thing and one thing only: world peace from the quantum level.
I showed up to the meditation session at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning at the Theatre at Ace Hotel under the impression that we were actually going to meditate. Considering the session was titled “Meditation: Bob Roth with Pete Holmes,” I hoped to be summoned into a group odyssey towards inner peace, picturing myself moseying out of the auditorium feeling ten pounds emotionally lighter. I can describe this #goal mood as pleasantly alert; a bit like when your body buoys to the top after swimming under water. I even wore flower-printed bell bottom leggings. A) because I wanted to be comfortable, since I thought we were going to meditate and B) because I love to dress in harmony with my environment. While we did jointly participate in a 2-minute breathing exercise towards the end of the hour, the majority of the meditation symposiums were elaborate elevator pitches espousing the benefits of TM while learning about Pete Holmes and Bill Hader’s experiences meditating, creating, and generally becoming less anxious and more focused individuals. For those seeking a free TM informational session sans upwards of $250 ticket prices, please do contact your local center. I was really lucky to have acquired a press pass.
To witness the sanguine comedic anomaly Pete Holmes, creator of HBO’s “Crashing,” describe feeling like he’s “wrapped in marshmallow” every time he meditates—in addition to being reminded that famous, funny people suffer too, was still pretty cool. Pete got into TM five years ago because he desired to get in touch with “something.” As he described, that “something” is where the joy is. Pete grew up a fundamentalist Christian with a bout of childhood anxiety that once left him with a bald spot (SAME!), and he still wrestles with his own fraught relationship with religion. The comedian’s fascination with connecting to a higher power seems to have been *sort of* replaced with the relaxing vibrations of TM. “Meditation is turning the volume down on your thoughts, and you experience God by lowering your brain,” he remarked, before code-switching into philosophical stoner parlance about how amazing it is that we humans can see, hear, memorize, and breathe. I’m not being sarcastic when I say, I agree, although I think it can be easy to dismiss how miraculous basic mortal functions are when the world seems to be raging in disaster everywhere we look. And let’s not forget the mindless distractions we numb ourselves with every day: I.E. the damn Internets and other people’s lives.
Bill Hader, who has the demeanor of a reptile-human-hybrid (because he’s really nice and warm but I bet when nightfall hits he turns into a lizard), began meditating again on the morning of November 9, 2016. Trump’s victory (and probably other things) was the deciding factor. He first began practicing TM following four years of “can’t breathe, can’t speak” panic attacks that haunted him each Saturday evening as a “Saturday Night Live” cast member. Throughout the whole festival, even before angel empress Laura Marling took to the stage, there were testimonial videos on how TM has helped tons of kids in inner-city high schools find moments of peace in their lives. This year, the University of Chicago Crime Lab began studying the effectiveness of “Quiet Time,” a benevolent Lynch Foundation-funded program. It tugged at the heartstrings and made you want to start meditating and donating to the cause as soon as possible; but when you’re privy to endless testimonial videos and speakers on one subject, anything can start to feel cultish—even if the people behind it have incredible intentions. Disclaimer: I’ve taken a TM course and it is in no way a cult. Still, I got the chance to ask Bill if he had any fears before committing to the method and he said, “The thing that helped me out of that was listening to Howard Stern talk about it. And there’s so many comedians who do it. For me personally, just because you can perform doesn’t mean you have the capacity to get up in a front of a room full of people like I am today. If I didn’t meditate, I couldn’t do this.” I mean…if Howard does it…and if it cured Bill Hader’s panic attacks…there’s definitely something to it.
Even though I left the room feeling just about the same as when I entered, I thought to myself, if we can use TM as an instrument for emotional transformation, we can definitely use it to evoke social and political revolutions, too. It all starts with one reactive person with power simply calming down. Take a look at Donald Trump. If someone (Ivanka?) could get that man to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes, I bet we’d see far fewer reflexive Tweets and maybe he would even recall some more nuanced vocabulary from a book or two I suppose he read at Wharton. And that bloated monster Harvey Weinstein could learn a great deal about sitting with himself, facing his personal demons and learning some fucking impulse control. Maybe that's what he's doing holed up in Arizona. ONE CAN ONLY HOPE. Alas, an evidence-based prescription for immoral, power hungry men everywhere: just sit with your fucking mantra for 20 minutes, twice a day. I surmise the world might be a far better place if you did. And I assure you, you can still curse if you meditate. The two are not mutually exclusive.
P.S. Although the title is exclusionary, I'm not gender-biased when it comes to meditation. Of course women will benefit! We all could use the escape.