Thursday, October 25, 2007
by Amol Rajan
One is among Hollywood's most celebrated directors, with a reputation for making dark films and a fondness for creating "peace palaces" in his spare time. The other is an ageing Scottish folk singer who once collaborated with The Beatles. Together, they want to change education across the world forever.
The unlikely coalition of David Lynch and Donovan Leitch is set to launch itself upon British schools with a tour to promulgate "Consciousness-based education and world peace". Their aim: to bring transcendental meditation (TM) to millions of pupils.
But when they came across a sceptical Edward Stourton on Radio 4's Today programme yesterday morning, they induced their interviewer into a fit of the giggles rather than a state of blissful tranquillity.
Explaining that he first came across the TM technique when he visited India in 1968 with the Beatles, Donovan said: "I discussed it with George Harrison. There is a place inside all of us and if only we could contact it, it would bring forth our full potential."
At this stage, Stourton hadn't flinched. But when Donovan, who made his name with a string of hit albums in the late 1960s, handed over to his spiritual twin, the hyperbole soon became too much for the usually sober presenter. "There is a treasury inside each one of us human beings... it's pure bliss, pure consciousness," said Lynch, the brains behind such flicks as The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet.
"It's a simple, easy, effortless technique. A 10-year-old child could do it. Dive within, transcend and... experience this pure bliss, pure creativity, infinite intelligence, love, energy, power... the engine that runs the universe."
Such verbiage proved too much for Stourton, who overcame a bout of laughter to defiantly declare: "Er, we don't really do 'bliss' on the Today programme very often I'm afraid". Unperturbed, Lynch advised him: "You should do bliss Ed, you should do bliss. It will change your life, man."
Though drawing inspiration from spiritual matters, the pair's UK tour has a wider, more commercial function, which is the promotion of Lynch's new book, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity. But Lynch believes the gospel of TM should be brought to children across Britain. "When children get a chance to learn this technique, it transforms their life", he said. "Children are suffering more and more with stress at a younger age and this gets rid of stress. All negativity begins to lift."
Lynch's foundation, launched two years ago to promote the teaching of TM in schools, has provided more than $5m (£2.5m) in grants to schools willing to experiment with the technique. If adopted, TM would require pupils to conduct two 20-minute sessions per day in silence. They would close their eyes, concentrate only on themselves, and with sufficient practice, come upon nirvana.
But does it actually work? Donovan is clearly convinced. "It has shown enormous success in schools around the world where it has been used," he said. "Had I had TM in my school days I would have excelled as a child. Once you see the results it's extraordinary."
Bryan Appleyard, vice-president of The Buddhist Society, said the concentration techniques associated with meditation could be of enormous benefit "not only for children, but also teachers". If successful, meditation in schools could produce "greater concentration, awareness, clarity, equanimity and tranquillity", he said.
A fortnight ago the first major report into British primary school children for 40 years concluded they were stressed, anxious, and under-achieving. But are we likely to see thousands of classrooms across the UK converted from chaos to contemplation? A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools, and Families did not rule it out. "We don't really have a position on meditation," he said. "We let teachers decide what's best for the pupils at a local level."
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