Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Two articles: the first on David Lynch’s TM charity in Washington, DC and the second on Ivanka Trump’s twice daily meditation practice, originally posted at Ivanka Trump’s Team blog.
So let’s stop pretending that meditation is a measure of anything, of your ethics or values, of your standing as a “good person” or a person of conscience or an ‘awakened being’. I mean think about it: the ever so rich and greedy Ivanka Trump meditates, so does Jared Kushner, who is under investigation by the FBI for criminal collusion with Russian neo-fascists. So did Hitler, as Rev. Kyodo Williams likes to point out. The fact that you meditate is not an indication of anything but your own capacity for self care. Good for you. If you really want to a measure that you are an ‘awakened one’ or a person of conscience as a Buddhist, let it be the degree to which you can put aside self-interest and put the welfare of others first.
originally published at WaPo June 5, 2017
With Washington at what feels like peak stress (just check your Twitter feed if you’re not feeling it yet), Monday night was a moment for its antidote: relaxing meditation.
The David Lynch Foundation — a nonprofit started by the “Twin Peaks” director aimed at spreading the use of Transcendental Meditation to poor children in urban areas, veterans and victims of violence — held its first D.C. fundraiser, a celeb-studded concert at the Kennedy Center that drew an audience including first daughter/White House adviser Ivanka Trump and her husband and fellow West Winger, Jared Kushner.
Trump and Kushner (who are practitioners of TM) didn’t speak but sat gamely listening to performances by the likes of comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Margaret Cho, actor Hugh Jackman, and music by Ben Folds, Kesha, and Angelique Kidjo.
No longer is TM seen as the exclusive terrain of crystal-bearing kooks — everyone’sdoing it these days, Seinfeld assured us during the pre-show red carpet interviews.
“Starting seven or eight years ago, there are very few top athletes or top business people who don’t have any meditation technique,” said the comic, who began practicing TM in 1972. “Everybody has something now.”
Seinfeld is now a huge evangelist, and says he recently got A-list actor Tom Hanks — who had confessed to Seinfeld that he wanted to take a year off work to de-stress — “100 percent better” by getting him into TM.
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“I love it. I honestly could not do these things I do without it — I’m 63! I would be tired.”
Folds, too, extolled its benefits. He said he tried it after touring had taken a toll on his mental and physical health. “I came out of my first week with it not white-knuckling the steering wheel in traffic, not having to return phone calls immediately, and the knock-on effect was far better decisions than I had been making,” he said.
Jackman and his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness Jackman, said they even invite friends over for meditation sessions (the technique involves two 20-minute sessions of meditation daily). “We do shots before and after,” Jackman joked. “But in between we’re very still — no drinking.”
Though TM clearly has its celebrity devotees, the point of the fundraiser was to spread the use of TM to disadvantaged kids in city schools, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress, and victims of domestic and sexual violence, noted foundation President Bob Roth. The foundation is opening an office on Capitol Hill, and organizers said the sold-out show would bring meditation training to 10,000 Washingtonians.
“We’ll be offering this to anyone and everyone who thinks they need some help,” Roth said.
Ivanka shared one of her favorite habits with the team.
Fun fact: Ivanka meditates twice daily—she even has her recurring twenty-minute sessions blocked off in her calendar. When she finds something she’s excited about, she has to share it (we’ve received emails from her at 11 p.m. with details on the latest thing she’s found and wants to try)—which is why our team found ourselves taking meditations this spring. Ivanka gave us the incredible opportunity to participate in a full transcendental meditation (TM) course, led by her friend, Bob Roth, of the David Lynch Foundation.
Each member of the team was treated to a one-on-one session with a trained TM instructor, where we were each given a personal mantra—a word or sound that, through repetition, helped to quiet our minds. We then meditated as a group each day for the rest of the week and learned about the many, varied benefits of TM (less stress and more productivity, among others).
Katie Evans, our art director, was totally into it.
In our one-on-one sessions, our instructors started us off with three very short meditations. “After the first short meditation, I almost laughed when my instructor asked me how it was,” Katie said. “I felt the same as I had when I walked in. I wasn’t sure what I should be feeling. We did a couple more short meditations together before she left me alone to do a longer one on my own. I was able to let my thoughts flow and concentrate on my mantra slowly and softly. Somewhere in that last 20-minute meditation I lost myself and I felt very peaceful.”
Transcendental meditation is proven to reduce stress, anxiety, mood disorders, insomnia and hypertension. It reduces your cortisol levels (the stress hormone), lowers your risk of a heart attack and improves your brain function. Basically, it makes you healthier, happier and more effective in your day-to-day (who doesn’t want that?). Katie agreed. “Since starting to meditate, I feel calmer. My husband even said I’ve been more patient.”
“My instructor assured me it was completely normal for thoughts to come and go during my meditation.” Thoughts are totally normal and, in fact, are a sign that you’re doing it right.
“After that first meditation, I felt like I was on a cloud. My mind was blissed out. Since then, I haven’t been able to get back to that level of peace, which has been frustrating, but my instructor said that it’s okay (and totally normal) to have a mix of good and bad meditations.”
For some of us, it still hasn’t caught on. Everyone agreed that the toughest part is making time to fit it in. Even though she knew how beneficial it would be, Katie also struggled to make it part of her daily routine. “It’s actually been almost FIVE days since my last attempt (I tried on an airplane) and I can feel the difference of not doing it already. It’s silly that I can’t find that 20 minutes in the morning and evening.” But, hey, if Ivanka can make time for it, anyone can, right? Challenge accepted.