A funny thing happened on the way to enlightenment. The quest got stripped of yogic posturing, Buddhist trappings, and even the last vestige of spirituality and turned into a search for the kind of clarity that might help us all in our worldly pursuits. Which is why movers and shakers are again embracing that seventies mainstay Transcendental Meditation. You're likely to hear it spoken of reverentially in interviews: Russell Brand, whose wildman behavior was cartoonish in its intensity, credits TM with helping him to conquer his heroin, sex, and alcohol addictions. "After meditation," he has said, "I felt this beautiful serenity and selfless connection." And where celebrities venture (the latest wave of TM-ers includes the likes of Hugh Jackman and Naomi Watts), many of us are likely to follow. The rolls of practitioners have tripled in the past three years, according to the Transcendental Meditation Program, the practice's national organization.
"The game-changer, I think, is David Lynch and his foundation," says Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, the Georgetown University psychiatry professor who wrote the recent best seller Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation. Lynch, the surrealist director of Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Dr., had been quietly practicing TM since, yes, the seventies, but about six years ago he came out of the closet, launching a foundation to promote the practice and later publishing a manifesto, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity.
It's a process perfectly matched to our self-interested times—"no pain, but a lot of gain," according to Rosenthal. Bob Roth, an executive director of the David Lynch Foundation, who taught TM to Brand and Moby, explains that when the mind has been calmed with the help of a mantra, a Sanskrit word given to each TM grad, it will effortlessly sink below the level of thought to "pure consciousness." Practically speaking, sit in a chair, close your eyes, and silently repeat the mantra for 20 minutes. Once you get the hang of it, Lynch says, you cut the elevator cables of your normal-thinking mind to descend to a place that feels different. You may experience a connection with the universe or a mental light show, what Rosenthal calls "four-star graphic effects." At the very least, you should be blissfully relaxed, which is the foundation of the health benefits that have been measured in the medical research amassed, much of it funded by the government. The deep tranquillity TM promotes quiets the body's "fight or flight" stress response, lowering blood pressure and anxiety and combating depression.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the so-called giggling guru, who hosted the Beatles and Mia Farrow, among others, was the innovator who stripped Hindu meditation practice of its religious baggage and repackaged it as a systematic, stress-reducing, creativity-building technique. Lynch, a disciple, is responsible for adding a fresh civic-mindedness to the game. His foundation aims to bring TM free of charge to those most in need of its calming effects—at-risk kids, prison inmates, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. That, of course, means fund-raising benefits, which means reeling in rich folk and entertainers (many introduced to TM by Lynch and Roth), all of which attracts media coverage and an increased brand awareness among those in the general public who might be willing to shell out $1,500 for the basic course.
"It was straight out of The Great Gatsby," Rosenthal says of the poolside benefit party thrown this past June at the Malibu home of Juicy Couture cofounder Pam Levy and her TV-director husband, Jefery Levy. One imagines the vibes spreading to their neighbor Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO of Relativity Media, the freshly minted Converse-wearing, 36-year-old movie mogul who practices TM twice a day. Kavanaugh, who started out as a stockbroker, has leveraged his connections by allying with the New York hedge fund Elliot Associates, among other investors, giving his company the billions required to dominate Hollywood film production. But his secret weapon is his risk-assessment algorithm, a high-tech quantitative analysis of the big picture that he says allows him to make money even on box-office dogs.
As the New York hard-chargers who flock to the TM courses Roth teaches at the Center for Leadership Performance soon learn, this kind of success is not coincidental. According to published research, TM enhances neural activity in the part of the brain that houses the decision-making "executive center." "The businesspeople say they're more focused during the day," Roth says. As do the other Gotham heavy hitters who've evangelized for TM and the Lynch Foundation, from Jerry Seinfeld and Heather Graham to Ben Foster and Howard Stern. Leave it to Mr. Katy Perry himself, speaking at a gala fund-raiser at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this past winter, to get at the essence of TM's guilt-free marriage of creativity and commerce: "I literally had an idea drop into my brain the other day while I was meditating which I think is worth millions of dollars."