David Lynch Foundation to host ‘Laughter & Song’ at Kennedy Center

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the 'Night of Laughter & Song' (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — “Twin Peaks” returns to television on Sunday, but did you ever wonder how its transcendent creator frees his mind to think outside the box?

The secret will be revealed as the David Lynch Foundation presents “A Night of Laughter & Song” at the Kennedy Center on Monday, June 5, including Jerry Seinfeld, Hugh Jackman, Jay Leno, Katie Couric, Margaret Cho, Deborra-lee Furness, Ke$ha, Ben Folds, Angelique Kidjo and Sharon Isbin.

“These are all people who support the work of the David Lynch Foundation,” co-founder and president Bob Roth told WTOP. “[These artists] want to make a better world by addressing the epidemic of trauma and toxic stress that so many are enduring right now, particularly underserved or at-risk people, like veterans who come back from combat with post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Proceeds will be used to teach meditation to 10,000 veterans and at-risk youth in the D.C. area.

“We’re working with V.A. hospitals, schools, shelters and THE ARC, an amazing community center in Anacostia, to deliver meditation to people who need it the most,” Roth said. “The problem is there’s no drug or medicine that any of us can take to prevent stress or cure it. We certainly mask it with alcohol and coffee or other drugs, but nothing that gets to the core of it. … The solution is not just to take more Ambien, Xanax, Klonopin. … 80 percent of all illnesses are said to be caused by stress.”

That’s why the foundation is teaching Transcendental Meditation (TM) to provide peace of mind.

“Transcendental Meditation is a very simple, easily-learned meditation technique that’s considered the gold standard of meditations right now,” Roth said. “TM is the most medically-sound, evidence-based. … There are hundreds of research studies published in top journals by the American Medical Association and funded by the National Institutes of Health that show that this particular meditation is as effective, if not more effective, than any medicine you could ever take to address this problem.”

What exactly does TM look like in practice?

“Your mind is completely awake, you’re not going into a trance or anything, you’re just settled,” Roth said. “You’re just sitting comfortably in a chair with eyes closed. You can do it on a plane, on a train, at home, the office, or a car [as a passenger]. … It’s a simple technique that anyone can do … that gives the body a state of rest, deeper than the deepest of deep sleep, during that 10 or 20-minute practice.”

How long does it take to learn?

“It takes an hour a day over four consecutive days to learn how to do it in personal instruction,” Roth said. “You’re given a word or a sound used silently, called a ‘mantra,’ [which] serves as a catalyst that allows your active, agitated, excited mind — like turbulent waves on the ocean — to settle down and access a level of the mind that’s already calm and settled like the silence at the depths of the ocean.”

Roth says this form of meditation is over 5,000 years old.

“It predates all the major religions, Buddhism, Judaism, Catholicism; it was practiced for a long time and then was lost,” Roth said. “Because we live in a scientific age, researchers at Harvard Medical School, Georgetown and Stanford began doing research on different approaches to meditation.”

What are common misconceptions by meditation skeptics?

“I’m science-based — I’m not into New Age or Woo Woo,” he said. “Fortunately, research has stripped away those misunderstandings. … You don’t have to believe in gravity, yet you’re sitting in a chair. You don’t have to believe in TM, yet you get all the benefits research has shown. … TM is not a religion or philosophy or change in lifestyle. It’s just a technique, like you learn a technique of situps or chin-ups. In the past, all of our exercise has been from the neck-down. TM is just exercise from the neck-up!”

Roth says he first discovered it as a stressed-out college student taking a friend’s recommendation.

“I went and learned it and had such a significant physiological response [that] I thought, ‘Boy, I’d really like to be able to teach this to kids, because I was on track to become an educator,” he said. “I became a teacher and I taught it at top medical schools and universities. Then I taught it at Apple Computer, AT&T, General Motors, and 12 years ago now, I teamed up with the great filmmaker David Lynch.”

Turns out, Lynch had also pursued meditation for decades, dreaming up the deep concepts explored in such wonderfully-weird masterpieces as “Blue Velvet” (1986) and “Mulholland Drive” (2001).

“He is a very profound, transcendent filmmaker himself, one of the greatest filmmakers ever,” Roth said. “David has been meditating over 40 years himself. He started before he made ‘Eraserhead.’ He’s been meditating all these years and it really helped him with creativity, innovation, helped him sleep better and be more resilient and healthier. He had a lot of actors he worked with on set — Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Justin Theroux, Laura Dern and others — learn to meditate over the years.”

All the while, Roth was himself training countless celebrities the art of TM, including Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Russell Brand, Katy Perry and Martin Scorsese.

“It’s very difficult to get to the top, but they tell me it’s even more difficult to stay at the top,” Roth said. “To get to the top requires incredible resilience of mind and body, tremendous focus, energy and creativity. … And once you’re up there, there’s a lot of people trying to knock you off. The demand for innovative thinking and creativity … is even more heightened. So, these people learn to meditate.”

Combining their mutual interests, Roth and Lynch co-founded the David Lynch Foundation in 2005, raising money to promote key meditation practices to reduce stress and trauma for those in need.

“I said, ‘David, I’d like to start a foundation, raise the money, bring this to kids, and he said, ‘Great idea,'” Roth said. “I don’t think he thought it would get as big as it is. We’re in 35 countries now! … It was just the right time; David is a good man, actually one of the most enlightened people that I know. He’s fearless and loves to create. As you know, ‘Twin Peaks’ is starting again May 21, coincidentally.”

It’s only fitting that the”Twin Peaks” revival serves as a prelude to “A Night of Laughter & Song.”

“We’ve provided this to half a million inner-city kids, veterans, women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Roth said. “This event at the Kennedy Center is to raise funds because the demand is so big in D.C., ‘Stress Capital of the World.’ We want to bring it to 10,000 people there.”

Click here for more on the “Night of Laughter & Song.” Listen to the full conversation with Bob Roth below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Bob Roth (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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