How Meditation Will Help Change the World
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1950s and ‘60s, wanting to change the world. I was not alone. A lot of us did. In fact, during my senior year in high school, I worked for Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee on the California ballot. It’s now been 52 years since his campaign, but I still have a clear snapshot in my mind of watching Senator Kennedy speak at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium on June 1, 1968, and looking around the hall filled with 2,000 energized, determined, and excited faces and thinking, “Yes, we are going to do something great here.” Then four days later, Bobby Kennedy was gone. I was 17 years old and devastated. Hopes smashed. I entered the University of California at Berkeley in October 1968 with the firm conviction that I would attend law school, go into politics, and become a US senator like Bobby Kennedy. I had my life figured out. I knew how I would change the world.
Then I didn’t. It took me about one month at Berkeley, amidst all the craziness of the ‘60s and the Vietnam war demonstrations, to realize that politics was not my calling. It was too divisive, too destructive and, I felt, could never heal the soul of the nation. Politics would always be important to me, just not my path.
If not a life in politics, then what? My mother was a school teacher and I thought, I could get a degree in education and focus on developing curriculum that would provide practical tools to students—in particular those in the under-resourced communities of the Mission District and Hunter’s Point in San Francisco—to help them navigate the terrible stresses and traumas of their lives. Education could change the world, one child at a time.
So there I was: Attempting to attend classes with US Army tanks in the streets and helicopters spewing tear gas overhead, working part-time and feeling very, very stressed. I needed something to help me navigate the stresses and traumas of my own life. Being a full-on skeptic with zero tolerance for New Age woo-woo or the rabbit hole of drugs, I was lost, and didn’t know where to turn.
Then, through a series of serendipitous happenstances that could only manifest in the ‘60s, I discovered something called Transcendental Meditation. My skepticism kicked in; it was way out of my comfort zone. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there might be something there so I decided to give it a try. I still remember the first experience: my tightly wound neck and shoulder muscles unknotted, almost instantly, and my mind settled into a unique yet somehow familiar state of ease and wakefulness. I still remember my first thoughts after that initial meditation: “Oh, so this is the tool I am going to teach those kids.”
That was June 28, 1969. Three years later I became a TM teacher and have since instructed thousands of people to meditate. Now, fast forward to today. I run the David Lynch Foundation, an international nonprofit that has provided scholarships for over one million children to learn TM for free in underserved communities throughout the US and in 35 other countries. We also work with veterans and their families who suffer from PTS, women and children survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, adults and teens battling addiction, and traumatized healthcare providers who are on the frontlines of the battle against Covid-19.
Our mission is to target another deadly pandemic that is ravaging the world: the pandemic of trauma and toxic stress. No one is immune. It can strike as early as conception causing untold adverse childhood experiences that can distort a child’s life into adulthood. It fuels inflammation that can cause or exacerbate cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, autoimmune disorders, even violent behavior.
And worse, there is no global task force in search of a magic pill or vaccine that will prevent or cure this stress pandemic.
But the good news is, albeit it largely under the radar, meditation works, big time. The bad news is, it’s not working for enough people. And that is where the David Lynch Foundation comes in. We are dedicated to the democratization of meditation. If meditation is so good then it should be available for everyone, not just the relative few who have the time, access, and resources to learn. It should be offered through Medicare, Tricare, employee assistance programs, and private insurers. Fortunately, that day is not far off. For example, large-scale, multi-site, randomized controlled trials are under way, documenting the effects of TM for reducing PTS among veterans and burnout among healthcare providers. With statistically significant findings that are both replicable and scalable, TM (along with other modalities that meet the same criteria) will soon join the ranks of the health care system.
While it may not seem like much at first glance, consider a society where everyone has access to the countless side-benefits of stress-reducing meditation in the same way they currently have access to anti-depressant, anti-hypertensive, anti-anxiety, anti-insomnia, anti-indigestion, and anti-everything medications.
Recently, I find myself reflecting back to Senator Kennedy’s talk during those dark and rudderless days. And I sense the same quiet optimism and hope that I had while sitting among thousands in the San Francisco Civic Auditorium 52 years ago. I believe big changes are coming. Necessary changes. Like the ‘60s but much more so—more substantive, more systemic, and more sustainable. And this time, I believe, meditation is going to play a pivotal role in making it all happen.
This essay was featured in the July 26th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.