INTERVIEW: Brian Levine, TM teacher
March 20, 2014
We continue our series of interviews with practitioners and teachers of Transcendental Meditation. Please meet Brian Levine, 25, from Los Angeles.
Majoring in psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, Brian’s research took him into non-pharmaceutical approaches to well-being. His findings were life-changing. Four and half years later, Brian is a passionate meditation teacher who helps others – from celebrities to homeless people, from businessmen to students – unlock their own infinite resources of well-being.
Brian, you’re a full-time teacher of Transcendental Meditation. Where do you teach?
BRIAN LEVINE: I teach TM full-time for the David Lynch Foundation in Los Angeles, CA. We have partnered with several organizations in Los Angeles, bringing TM to children in inner-city schools, the homeless, veterans with post-traumatic stress, and women and children who have been abused. On a day-to-day basis we are primarily providing the Rest-Time program to 1,000 students in four different schools.
What kind of schools are they?
BRIAN LEVINE: These are charter schools in different parts of Los Angeles. Before we started bringing meditation into those schools, you could perhaps have called them inner city schools. But when you start teaching meditation – even if the school is in the middle of a bad neighborhood, the whole environment transforms. So when you go into these schools now, it feels completely peaceful. And that’s really amazing.
What was the initial reaction from the staff and the student body when you started with the program?
BRIAN LEVINE: First, these schools had heard about Transcendental Meditation being taught at schools, and they contacted the David Lynch Foundation. So there you have a positive starting point.
Second, when we begin with the Quiet Time program at a school, we first train all of the faculty and administrators. In order for us to actually proceed teaching the students, there has to be a 100% buy-in from the staff. Not everyone has to learn TM, but they at least have to be supportive of it for the students.
What about the students? How many of them actually end up participating in the program and meditating twice during their school day?
BRIAN LEVINE: Even if the students don’t know much about TM, the introductory lecture usually gets them interested enough to sign up and try it. The school where I’m primarily working at has been running the Quiet Time program for a few years already. So it has become part and parcel of the culture of the school – around 90-95% of the student body ends up taking the course. And that happens with an explicit written consent from their parents.
Of course, occasionally a student doesn’t want to learn to meditate or they are simply not sure yet. And that’s completely fine. They can join in later, or not join in at all. There is absolutely no obligation to do it.
Yet what is significant is that once a student does sign up and decides to take the course, he or she is usually really happy about that choice and sticks with the practice.
How is it organized logistically? Do all the students get together in an auditorium, twice a day, for a joint meditation ’class’?
BRIAN LEVINE: No, they do it in their separate classrooms. We have two 15-minutes blocks, one around 9 AM, and the other one in the afternoon, around 1 PM.
The kids and staff who’ve been trained, they meditate, and the others – those who aren’t yet trained or who’ve chosen to abstain from the program – use this time period for resting.
How do you spend those periods?
BRIAN LEVINE: I either meditate together with the students and teachers in a classroom, or I go quietly around, seeing how it’s working. But we really want to empower the teachers so that they can take their class into the meditation and conduct it themselves. It works the best when the teachers behind it are passionate about it and know the real value of this program.
Can you describe this value in some quantifiable manner?
BRIAN LEVINE: Sure. There’s a lot of data and numerical evidence from San Francisco, where the Quiet Time program has now been at schools for around 7 years. 65% decrease in violent conflict; 40% reduction in psychological distress, including stress, anxiety and depression; 86% reduction in suspensions over two years; 10% improvement in test scores — just to mention a few of the empirical findings.
The same is true about our project in Los Angeles. Suspension rates are being drastically cut, students’ academic performance is going up… For instance, I taught TM to a boy who was getting Ds and Fs. After a month of meditation, he was getting As and Bs. So the effect it’s definitely quantifiable!
And there’s nothing mysterious to it. When you give your body and mind this deep, unique type of rest, it simply refreshes the nervous system to such an extent that it brings real, immediate benefits.
Watch a David Lynch Foundation video about how the Quiet Time program is changing students’ lives at New Village Charter School in Los Angeles:
How did you yourself come across Transcendental Meditation?
BRIAN LEVINE: I learned TM about four and a half years ago. I was a senior student at Duke University in North Carolina. I was studying psychology and neuroscience, considering going into medical school.
I was very interested in the connection of the mind and the body as it pertains to health, looking into alternative, non-pharmaceutical approaches to increasing well-being. So I took a class where I was comparing scientific research on different methods of stress reduction and relaxation. And when you start looking at this kind of research, TM pops up pretty soon!
Intrigued by the depth and width of the research, I went into an introductory lecture about 15 minutes from the campus. I decided to give it a shot. Already from the first session of meditation, it was very pleasurable and enjoyable – I was captivated right away.
What is meditation for you now, almost five years later?
BRIAN LEVINE: I almost wouldn’t use the word ’meditation’ because of the connotations it has taken on in popular culture. What you’re doing in TM goes far beyond meditation – which is why they call it Transcendental Meditation.
For me, it is just experiencing your own mind independent of everything else in the world. And in the process of that, you’re constantly refreshing and rejuvenating yourself. In other words, TM allows you to contact and activate that source of energy, positivity, and happiness which is present in every one of us.
Have you encountered, how shall we put it, anything surprising along the way?
BRIAN LEVINE (laughs): Very much so! Initially, I was primarily interested in just stress reduction. I wanted to do better at school and feel healthier. But now it really has brought the spiritual component of my being, my own inner-voice, more and more present in my day-to-day awareness. That’s, I’d say, is the most beautiful thing I’ve received from TM. It’s this appreciation of the world.
You’ve said that “pure consciousness is the most fundamental value of creation and full cognition of that is called enlightenment“. Can you elaborate on this?
BRIAN LEVINE: It goes with this realization – and I’m not sure now if it came to me in meditation or outside of it – that Transcendental Meditation allows one to accept the past, live in and enjoy the present, and look forward to the future.
So pure consciousness is just closing the eyes, starting the TM techinque, and going to the most calm level of mind which then brings this calmness to the body and purifies the emotions. Opening the eyes and coming out of your meditation, you enjoy everything a little more, and a little more… There’s little more wakefulness that goes with this increase of calmness. It’s also an expansion of love and appreciation. It doesn’t mean that it has completely stabilized for me, but it’s growing day by day. And teaching TM is an activity that really encourages this growth in a very nice way.
Listen to an extract from the conversation:
Brian tells about his reaction to his TM teachers suggestion that he, too, might become a meditation teacher. ––
Can you think of any concrete examples from your life where this widening of the horizon has caused you to re-evaluate things or relationships?
BRIAN LEVINE: Absolutely. It happens all the time.
Let’s say something happens and you get angry during the day. Then you go into meditation, and this anger doesn’t want to stay, really… It doesn’t feel good, so it dissolves. And for me, in this process of dissolving, it simultaneously gives rise to this feeling of love and knowledge.
It’s both an emotional and an intellectual thing. You see where this person who caused you pain or irritation was coming from. And this understanding brings forth compassion and love.
This can happen with my friends, my family, or with complete strangers.
For instance, the other day while driving in the city, I wanted to make a turn and blocked this lady when switching lanes. So she got really upset, furious – I saw this really mean face in my mirror. It kind of rubbed me the wrong way, and then I was upset, too. If I hadn’t been able to kind of transcend and dissolve this experience with meditation, it would still perhaps bother me – if I hadn’t been meditating, then seeing this lady today would probably evoke anger or fear in me. But after meditating, you just appreciate that we’re both human beings trying to get somewhere, trying to live our lives – trying to cope with complex and difficult situations like navigating traffic in a big city. When you realize this, you connect at this deepest level. And then there’s no problem anymore. The stress and tension just dissolves.
It’s actually even difficult to believe that something like this used to bother you – once you’ve turned the fight-or-flight mode off.
Listen to a tranquil, soothing piano
composition by Brian, titled “Earth”:
As you’ve observed, knowledge is different at different states of consciousness.
BRIAN LEVINE: Yes. Maharishi has said that ’normal life only starts after Enlightenment’…
You know, that’s enticing us forward: ’Wait, guys, you haven’t seen anything yet!“
BRIAN LEVINE: Exactly. From my own experience with meditation… well, it zooms out your perspective. My view of life has really zoomed out in the sense that I kind of see the big picture more and more. And it’s not just an intellectual matter. It’s very important to include the heart in this discussion. The ability to feel love and compassion, and to have that co-ordinated with the activity of the mind. That, for me, is what development of consciousness is all about.
And it is translated into everyday activity, right?
BRIAN LEVINE: I think I always had a desire to help, to be of service. But with learning TM and being a TM teacher, it gave me such a clear channel to do that – I just knew I was doing something good, assisting my fellow man. It’s so uplifting to help people.
One of the passages in the Bhagavad Gita is about continuing to act in the world even after you’ve gained enlightenment: You will still perform activity, but you will act desiring the welfare of the world. So there’s a shift from individuality to seeing the value of assisting the whole world family. That’s still developing in me, and it’s growing day by day.
It’s beautiful how you’ve seamlessly harmonized this inner development with your profession, teaching TM to other people.
BRIAN LEVINE: I don’t think TM is an instant solution. But if you’re going to solve all the innumerable problems we face in the world – well, the best first step, the most fundamental step would be to just offer Transcendental Meditation to the whole world. Make it available to all who want to learn it. By doing that, you’d create the most rapid improvement in our global society in terms of health, happiness and peace.
At least at this point in my young life, I cannot see any tool being better for creating that. I just feel very lucky to have stumbled upon it. I love teaching TM – it’s a great joy to me, and I love when other people feel it’s a gift for them, too.
Brian, thank you so much for this inspiring conversation!