Bob Roth: schools can be “completely transformed” by meditation

Paul Ellson talks to Bob Roth, director of the David Lynch Foundation, about transcendental meditation and the organisation’s plans to one day set up ‘peace universities’ on every continent

Film director David Lynch had been practicing transcendental meditation (T-M) for 33 years when, in 2005, he and meditation teacher Bob Roth were inspired to launch the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. Based in the US, the foundation’s main objective is to make T-M freely available to any interested child worldwide. But beyond that, it aims to set up ‘peace universities’ on every continent.

Positive News: Can you start by talking about the foundation’s goals?

Bob Roth: The first and final goal is to establish peace creating groups of 8,000 advanced T-M meditators; a university of world peace on each continent. And how do we get those students? One way is that we already teach school kids to meditate, and then they can go to our universities.

Our first Change Begins Within concert was at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in April 2009, which featured the reunion of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. From there we set out to raise the funds to teach one million at-risk youth and we are at about half a million now.

How does a school get involved with the David Lynch Foundation?

We have a meeting with the school principal and top staff, and offer to teach them to meditate. If they like it, we talk to the whole faculty and teach some of them. After that, the school has to decide whether to set up what we call ‘quiet time’, which is when the entire school takes 15 minutes at the beginning and the end of each school day for quiet.

The students have a choice: they can do silent, sustained reading; they can take a nap; they can do T-M; they can do whatever they want so long as it is silent. We find that 98% of the kids do T-M because it’s an enjoyable thing. We instruct them and we do the follow-ups. We take questions from parents; air the whole thing out. And once they have it, the school is completely transformed. That’s no exaggeration; because they meditate twice a day, regularly, the results are very powerful.

Much of your work focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); can you tell us more about this?

PTSD is the common denominator for all of the David Lynch Foundation programmes. We have identified a survival crisis that is traumatic stress; not just acute stress, but sustained trauma. Sadly, it turns out that there is no other approach that remotely matches the effects of T-M for getting to the root cause of traumatic stress. Inner city school students who suffer from the trauma of living in violent neighbourhoods, vulnerable women and children, men and women behind bars, the homeless, Native Americans living in poverty on reservations, and, of course, war veterans with PTSD – it all comes back to that root cause.

In the US they say that if a doctor diagnoses that a person has PTSD, it’s a one million dollar diagnosis. That’s how much it’s going to cost for that one person to be treated, and it’ll be even more if they end up going into a life of violence and crime to deal with their issues.

You also work with vulnerable women?

Yes, in New York for example, Mayor Bloomberg has an office called the Family Justice Center where women and their children who have been victims of abuse come for counselling and medical check-ups. Now we are offering T-M through those programmes with a very satisfying result.

Leading such a positive organisation yet seeing what the global challenges are, what is your take on the future for humankind?

I have hope in the younger generations and here I’m including people in their 30s and 40s. They are learning to meditate and they have no biases about it. For example, we are teaching a lot of people now in New York City, cutting-edge people in high tech industries, very creative people, some of whom are coming into an enormous amount of financial resources and are looking to support charitable work. They are looking around for something new, more foundational: the work with meditation, with at-risk people and new approaches to peace.

I am very bullish, but I feel like every day counts. Maharishi [Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of transcendental meditation] was talking once about wanting to build hospitals, farms, universities – big projects. Someone quite close to him said “But Maharishi, you are talking about all these plans but nobody is really learning to meditate”. Maharishi smiled and said “We are digging canals in the desert for when the floods come.” You cannot dig the canals once the floods have come. Each one of us has to do our share to dig those canals.