INTERVIEW: Bob Roth, Executive Director of the David Lynch Foundation
May 23, 2016
The Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) has been proven to provide top-notch stress relief.
Bob Roth’s job is to make sure that people who need it most – inner-city kids, veterans, survivors of domestic violence and so forth – can use the technique not just to survive but to thrive. In this exclusive interview, we asked Bob to recall a few dramatic stories and to explain a couple of important points.
You entered university planning to go into politics, but then shifted your focus to education, wanting to “change the world starting with kindergarteners,” as you once put it. Now you are living this dream, working at the David Lynch Foundation (DLF) to make Transcendental Meditation available to children around the globe. Have you been able to follow up on some of the kids who have learned TM thanks to DLF and observe the changes the practice has made in their lives over the long run?
BOB ROTH: I recently met a student who learned to meditate ten years ago when he was a 13-year-old. He had meditated through high school and college and he’s now married and has a job. He came from an inner-city school and said he never could have made it without Transcendental Meditation.
The amazing thing about life is that if you can positively impact even a single person, you’d consider what you do to be a success. But through Transcendental Meditation hundreds of thousands of lives are being transformed.
What have been some of the most touching moments and most inspiring stories that you have come across in your work?
BOB ROTH: There was this 11-year-old girl who lived in a neighborhood with very high crime rates. Her school would start the day with Quiet Time – the practice of Transcendental Meditation. One time, she came running into class. She was late, out of breath, and upset. Her white dress was spattered with red paint.
When the teacher told her, “Charlene, you’ve come in late, so you have to step outside so we can talk,” the girl started to cry.
It turned out that the spatter was not red paint. It was her uncle’s blood. She had been standing in a bus stop with her uncle when he was wounded badly by a drive-by shooting. And the only safe place she could run to was school and her meditation. She did not feel safe at home or any other place, and she did not want to miss her meditation.
How many children are just like this little girl, all over the world? Her story has done so much to inspire me and all of us at the David Lynch Foundation to work as hard as we can and as smart as we can to bring Transcendental Meditation to every child everywhere in the world who would like to meditate.
Another person who immediately comes to my mind is a young man who had been serving in the Army and had been deployed in Iraq. His tank had driven over a land mine and had exploded, leaving all his buddies dead. Since that day, he had not slept for four months, literally, because every time he would close his eyes, the nightmares would start. In an attempt to drown it all out, he had started drinking. His mother heard about our work and called us up, asking if there was any chance her son could learn Transcendental Meditation.
We arranged a scholarship for him to learn TM. The first day he meditated, he went home and slept for 14 hours straight…. Now he’s gone back to college, he is sober, and his health is excellent.
One time a reporter asked Maharishi, “How can Transcendental Meditation create such a profound impact in a person’s life so quickly?”
He responded, “You can have a room that has been in darkness for one night or you can have a room that’s been in darkness for a hundred years. But when you turn on the light, the darkness disappears from both instantly. It does not matter how long a person has suffered. When you turn on that light from within, the darkness disappears.”
At DLF, we want to be able to provide this light to all the men and women in the military who see and experience atrocities which we can never even begin to imagine.
People often ask about the seemingly high price of learning Transcendental Meditation. What would you say to explain the cost of learning TM?
BOB ROTH: In the pressure-packed life that we lead today, stress is taking a toll on us even at an early age. It’s cutting back our ability to be happy, think clearly and be creative.
There are many “mass meditations” that anyone can learn online or out of a book. They can give some transitory improvements of mood or behavior. But if you consider that your quality of life is of paramount importance, then you want to learn a technique that has been proven to relieve stress effectively and improve the health of both your mind and body.
TM is something you take time to learn once in your life – and then you have follow-up support for the rest of your life for free.
When you provide any kind of quality education or health care, there’s a cost involved. The qualified TM teacher deserves to be paid properly. He or she may have a family to support or may need to put kids through school.
One of our roles at DLF is to work with governments, businesses and insurance companies to arrange funding for TM instruction so that money is not an obstacle for anyone. Until that happens, TM teachers who work for the non-profit TM organizations worldwide must be properly compensated for their jobs by course fees.
Yet the beautiful thing is that part of the money a person pays to learn Transcendental Meditation goes to help a child or a veteran, or a woman who is a victim of domestic violence, to learn to meditate for free.
So those who have the ability to pay help those who do not have the ability to pay.
You’ve mentioned that TM has passed a “tipping point” where the benefits it provides are no longer questioned. What has this meant for the DLF both generally and more specifically, in terms of new and exciting projects coming up?
BOB ROTH: In the United States and around the world, there are waiting lists of schools wanting to implement the Quiet Time program. Educational foundations and government agencies are talking to us about providing funding for these institutional programs.
This means that there is no longer just a demand to learn TM through the local TM Centers but also a growing demand from large institutions that want to hire TM teachers to come in and teach all their employees, or all their students, or everyone at a military base. That’s the future—and that future is now.
For you personally, what are some of the important long-term goals you would like DLF to achieve?
BOB ROTH: Transcendental Meditation is worth every penny. However, for some people the cost is more than they can afford. I would like to eliminate that obstacle, everywhere in the world. We are close to that target.
The problem of stress is so great. Insurance companies have to find ways to prevent the avalanche of stress-induced health problems, such as high blood pressure, depression, and substance abuse. Businesses are being crippled and bankrupted by the associated costs and loss of productivity.
And even beyond that, people need to continue to perform at higher and higher levels of success. For example, students today need to learn so much information, to be more creative, more intelligent, more focused. By far, the most effective method to meet all those demands is the ability to transcend through TM.
Your work includes the two extremes – the populations whom the society at large sees as destitute, like the homeless veterans or inner-city kids, and on the other hand individuals whom the society views as successful or even enviable, like celebrities and entrepreneurs.
Yet Transcendental Meditation seems to be a good fit for both, as stress seems to be an equal opportunity destroyer of health and happiness. Is there any difference in how the need for stress relief is perceived and received by those seemingly so different groups of people?
BOB ROTH: Whenever any certified TM teacher instructs a person to meditate, the particular role that person plays in life – whether doctor, student, or famous celebrity – falls away. All that’s left is a human being.
Even if people have all the money in the world, it does not mean that they can sleep. They can have all the fame in the world, but this does not mean that they are not gripped by anxiety.
Obviously, a veteran who has post-traumatic stress has much more difficulty just existing than a businessperson who can’t sleep at night, but when a TM teacher is teaching them to meditate, they are just human beings. And as human beings, they are in dire need of relief from their suffering.
Stress hits everyone. Not in equal proportions, but a person who is suffering is a person who is suffering.
I have now been teaching Transcendental Meditation for 44 years, full time. Every morning when I wake up, I feel grateful beyond words that I get to have this profession. It’s the most satisfying job.
What is something you wish you had been asked in an interview, something you would really like to express?
BOB ROTH: I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to Maharishi, for coming into this world – as stressful, ignorant and violent a world as it was – and for travelling around that world virtually alone for years, doing the work, until people came along.
Maharishi established the effortlessness of Transcendental Meditation, trained tens of thousands of teachers, established thousands of teaching centers all over the world, promoted rigorous scientific research, and established universities, hospitals and medical clinics.
I look forward to the day when the whole world can appreciate Maharishi’s unfathomably enormous contribution to profoundly changing the trends of time.