Andrew Ross Sorkin looks vaguely confused. A while back, he interviewed eccentric hedge-fund squillionaire Ray Dalio, who sent him to a meditation class, and now all of a sudden, the New York Times scribe and CNBC host is here, onstage at the Axa building on a Tuesday night, hosting an event titled “Meditation: Creativity, Performance, and Stress.” It is sponsored by the David Lynch Foundation, which, the program tells us, was founded by the Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks auteur to teach disadvantaged teenagers and war veterans transcendental meditation, or TM, as it is has come to be known. Like any David Lynch production, the cast is star-studded — the list of panelists includes Dalio, Mario Batali, Dr. Oz, and Arianna Huffington — the point is inscrutable, and the mood is surreal.
Onstage, Sorkin fiddles with multiple rubber bracelets, one of which may or may not be in support of the small minority he belongs to, of Journalists Who Have Crossed Over Into the Realm of the People They Cover and Aren’t Always Comfortable With It. He tells the audience he is a natural skeptic.“When I’m sitting on the floor, reciting my mantra, my wife is like, Ugh,” he says. “She thinks I’m a quack.”
The woman next to me makes a harrumphing sound that suggests, were she Sorkin’s wife, she would never discourage his spiritual growth. But could she agent his $2 million book deals? Maybe, actually. Tickets to tonight’s event cost $200, and the topics of conversation seem geared towards high-intensity individuals: world-beaters who are interested in adding the spirituality stick to their arsenal of weapons. “You are one of the busiest people I know,” Sorkin says to Dr. Oz, because apparently Sorkin knows Dr. Oz. “When do you find time to meditate?”
The Great and Powerful says he finds the TM routine — mediating for 20 minutes two times a day — to be a time-saver, in that having a clear mind allows him to accomplish tasks more quickly. For this reason, he has introduced it to the people in his office. A brief video is shown of Oz’s employees talking about how it has made them all more calm. “And I mean, I work with some high-strung people,” one producer says to the camera. After that, Oz and a panel of medical experts talk about the science behind TM. Meditating subjects, they say, have been found to have increased waves of activity across the prefrontal cortex — or, “the CEO of the brain,” as Dr. Pamela Peeke, who describes herself as “quintuple-A personality,” refers to it. Another doctor with a Freudian accent affirms that TM can positively impact blood pressure, prevent heart attacks — even death. The audience murmurs appreciatively. If there is one certainty wealthy baby boomers are more committed to beating than taxes, it is death.
Not to mention, TM can give you those investment ideas that can make you squillions. “It’s a tool,” says Ray Dalio, who is on second panel, the theme of which seems to be Entrepreneurs Who Have Combined Hippie Values and Capitalistic Drive to Achieve Great Success. “New ideas keep coming up out of your subconscious,” he says. “It makes me feel like a ninja in a fight.” In addition to promoting radical honesty at his Connecticut-based hedge fund, Dalio says he encourages employees to take meditation lessons by paying for half the cost. A video of Bridgewater Capital headquarters plays on the screen above: water rushing over rocks, a Japanese garden, a row of trading screens. “Meditation is the greatest gift I can give someone,” said the hedge-fund manager, whose net worth is approximately $12.9 billion. He says he got into it when the Beatles made everyone aware of transcendentalism in the 60s. It is difficult to picture him bowing at the feet of the Maharishi. Less so Mario Batali, who is sitting next to him in his trademark non-threatening ponytail and Crocs. But Batali says he was introduced to TM by a friend he admired. “It’s like downloading music,” he says. “When someone really successful says, this is a really good tool I use, and you can have it for free, you do it.”
The next panel begins with Arianna Huffington, who settles comfortably into a chair onstage. “My mother was a very strong Greek voman,” she begins, and immediately I go into what I assume is a meditative trance. I think of something a friend told me over the weekend. “I’m reading a lot of corporate self-help books,” she said. “Because it really helps to know how assholes think.” Earlier, one of the panelists had mentioned how General Motors and others in the corporate world were promoting TM among their employees. Perhaps transcendental meditation is or will soon become the new hobby of assholes? It would, after all, be a natural progression from the teachings of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli. When I come to, Huffington is hosting what looks like an extended live tryout for The View along with Dr. Peeke, the editor of More magazine, and Mary Schmidt Campbell, the former dean of NYU. “What I vant is for this to be about vimmin,” she was saying. “Ve are all vimmin. And one great man,” she adds, in acknowledgement of Sorkin, whose chair looks like it has actually been pushed off to the side. “Anyway, thank you,” he says finally, and after hustling the vimmin offstage, queues up a video featuring some of the “at-risk” people the David Lynch Foundation teaches meditation to with contributions from world-beating hippies. “We were attacked, at this place called Buda,” one war veteran says, choking back tears. “The first night, I killed 14 people.” OH. So that’s what this is about.
It was the David Lynchiest of David Lynch productions: weird, confusing, haunting and indelible. When it ends, the lights come up. Sorkin looks vaguely shell-shocked. Music from Twin Peaks starts playing, and everyone files out in a meditative state.