David Lynch likes to swim in “an ocean of consciousness,” which he was describing to a sold-out crowd at Radio City Music Hall on the evening of Saturday, April 4.
“It is an ocean of infinite intelligence. Creativity. Happiness known as bliss. Infinite universal love. Energy. Dynamic peace,” mused the 63-year-old filmmaker, dressed in a black suit and a yellow tie that was brighter than his signature silver pompadour, at the beginning of a star-studded concert he had organized at the famed venue. “When a human being, any human being, dives within and experiences this ocean, swims in this ocean, life gets better and better and better.”
He was referring to Transcendental Meditation, also known as TM, the trademarked meditation technique developed in the 1960s by Indian spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and which Mr. Lynch, himself a meditator of 35 years, plans to teach to 1 million “at-risk youth” via his namesake foundation. The concert was a benefit for this initiative.
His co-host for the evening was Laura Dern, one of Mr. Lynch’s favorite actresses, whose head-to-toe black ensemble accentuated her shiny blonde locks and bright red lipstick.
“It’s pure bliss to be on a film with you because it’s boundary-less,” said Ms. Dern (we’re noticing a “bliss” theme here!), standing next to Mr. Lynch at stage right, “and I’m just curious if the boundary-less-ness that you bring to all of us comes from your connection to meditation.”
“You better believe it!” he replied.
If Tom Cruise is the celebrity face of Scientology, and Madonna is the celebrity face of Kabbalah, Mr. Lynch has become that for TM, which has a less cultish, although not entirely uncontroversial, reputation. And as was evidenced by Saturday’s concert–the highlight of which was a rare performance by surviving Beatles Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr–he is but one on a long list of bold-faced names that use or endorse the practice. Jennifer Aniston, Yoko Ono, John McEnroe, Martin Scorsese, Kyle MacLachlin, Michael J. Fox, Matthew Broderick and Jason Bateman, though not necessarily all meditators themselves, were among the attendees.
“I’ve been meditating for 37 years,” said Jerry Seinfeld, who made a surprise appearance midway through the concert, before launching into a series of jokes about bathroom stalls and taxis.
Soon afterward, fellow comedian and 38-year TM practitioner Howard Stern took the stage.
“Mike Love of the legendary Beach Boys saw me backstage and he said to me, ‘Howard, you prove that you do not have to be a pussy to meditate!’” he said.
Other TM-ers to perform included Angelo Badalamente (to The Daily Transom’s utter excitement, he opened the concert with a flawless recital of the Twin Peaks theme song), Ben Harper (did you know he was married to Ms. Dern?), Donovan, Moby, Betty Lavette, Sheryl Crow and Eddie Vedder, who was looking very 1992 with his unbuttoned flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, blue jeans, wavy shoulder-length hair and scruffy goatee. Hip Hop mogul and philanthropist Russell Simmons addressed the audience via a taped video message, but he had appeared in person the previous afternoon at a pre-concert press conference in Radio City’s lobby.
“I operate most days from my meditation,” he said. “It gives me the ability to function in a world that is full of stress.”
The concept of TM as a celebrity cause isn’t entirely new. In fact, The Beatles were largely responsible for importing TM to the West after studying under the Maharishi in 1968 at his ashram in Rishikesh, India. The technique involves repeating a mantra with one’s eyes closed twice a day for 20 minutes.
“It was a great gift the Maharishi gave to us,” said Mr. McCartney, standing next to Mr. Starr at the press conference, and looking quite hip for his age. “It came at a time when we were looking for something to stabilize us toward the end of the crazy ‘60s. And it is a lifelong gift. It’s something you can call on at any time.”
Of course, to describe TM as a “gift” in 2009 is somewhat misleading; it costs $2,000 for an adult, or $1,000 for a full-time student, to learn the technique—not exactly the most recession-friendly investment—hence the need to raise so much money so the kids can learn it for free. (The pricey Radio City benefit generated an estimated $3 million, according to The David Lynch Foundation.)
Perhaps that’s why critics have accused the TM crowd of being a bit cultish. Even Moby, a more recent TM convert, couldn’t resist making a wisecrack about it.
“Growing up, anything associated with TM and hippies scared the shit out of me,” he joked. “I thought it involved ritual animal sacrifice and moving to some country and renouncing wealth and materialism and eating bugs.”
But in the end, TM’s “simplicity” won him over.
“One of the things that makes TM so effective is that you don’t really have to do all that much,” he said, “and as a profoundly lazy person, I appreciate that.”