Call it the ultimate comeback. Transcendental meditation -- which involves speaking a silent mantra to oneself for 20 minutes, twice daily -- is an ancient practice that is now attracting some of Hollywood's biggest names, who insist that its stress-relief benefits are nothing short of miraculous: Among its most powerful practitioners are Jerry Seinfeld, Hugh Jackman and Russell Brand -- who all have become supporters of David Lynch and his plans to bring meditation to people in dire need of stress relief. A directing genius whose dark dreamscapes are littered with severed ears and plastic-wrapped homecoming queens, Lynch, 67, has morphed into one of the world's most enthusiastic if unlikely TM cheerleaders.
Lynch first encountered TM in 1974, as he searched for ways to combat mounting anger and depression relating to his epic struggle to get his first feature, the mind-bending Eraserhead, to the big screen. "I had a weakness inside," says Lynch from his Hollywood Hills studio, a splash of sunlight illuminating his famous white pompadour. "That kind of thing, in this business, you're a sitting duck. You could get slaughtered." It was then that he decided to try his hand at TM, an ancient practice revived by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an expat from India who rocketed to stardom during the 1960s as The Beatles' spiritual adviser. Lynch feared TM might dull his artistic edge, but he says the opposite happened -- it helped him to access untapped fonts of creativity. He even goes so far as to credit the practice with potentially having saved his life: "I was even thinking at the time, 'If I didn't have this meditation, I might have seen that a way out was suicide.' "
The Twin Peaks mastermind hasn't missed a single day of meditation in the 40 years since. In 2005, that devotion led him to found The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, a nonprofit that brings TM to inner-city students, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and victims of domestic violence. The foundation has taught the fundamentals to more than 500,000 at-risk candidates, and Lynch says the effects have been astonishing: "Before too long, they're saying, 'Thank you very much. I got my life back again.' " In celebration of Lynch's birthday on Jan. 20, DLF Live, the foundation's live-performance arm, is mounting a benefit at the El Rey Theatre, where Ringo Starr is set to receive the Lifetime of Peace & Love Award. Ben Harper and Ben Folds are slated to perform. And on Feb. 27, Dixie Chicks will headline a night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel honoring record producer (and longtime TM practitioner) Rick Rubin. For the admittedly shy director, Hollywood's ongoing love affair with TM offers a highly effective method of spreading the gospel. "Life gets better and better and better," says Lynch of his 40-year journey. "That's the long and the short of it."
This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.