BY LINDA EGENES

 

Megan FairchildBeing a professional ballerina can be hard on your health, mentally and physically.

For Megan Fairchild, age 30, a principal at the New York City Ballet who danced the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in PBS’ telecast of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, stress almost derailed her career. On the fast track since joining the corps de ballet at age eighteen, becoming a soloist at nineteen and a principal by age twenty, she was suffering from debilitating panic attacks that put her out of work for days at a time.

“Life would get stressful, and one little thing like going to get a shot at the doctor’s office would trigger my whole system to shut down,” she says. “I would have panic attacks where I would pass out and be rushed to the emergency room.”

Megan says the panic attacks started at age eighteen, but were manageable because they happened only once every two years.

Then it started happening more often, just six months apart. “I had to miss some performances,” she says. “So I thought, ‘OK, this isn’t cool. This is affecting my job. I need to figure out how to manage my life in a way that is going to be a little more relaxing.’”

Fortunately for Megan, one of her ballet masters at NYCB, who did the Transcendental Meditation technique, suggested that she try it.

“She was the consummate professional and always in the moment and ready to get her job done,” says Megan. “I felt like, well, if she does it, and she swears by it, then I’m going to try it.”

Since starting TM, Megan has not had a single panic attack. She says, “There have been moments that, in the past, would have caused me to get light-headed and possibly go into an episode, but now I watch the moment pass by without any big event.”

As Megan explains it, “My level of pushing my body was up so high that, basically, a fuse would blow. With TM I turn my stress dial back a little bit every day instead of letting it constantly turn up and build on itself.”

She also attributes meditation to giving her the courage to make a bold career move. Just five months after starting TM, Megan got a text from the casting director of the Broadway musical On the Town, wondering if she wanted to audition for a lead role.

“At first I was like, ‘I am not a Broadway performer. This is crazy,’” she says. “I laughed about it for a day, and then something happened. The next morning I woke up and I thought, ‘Why not?’ Looking back, I think it’s no coincidence that my little opportunity happened after I learned Transcendental Meditation.”

Says Megan, “That was a really important moment for me. Normally I would have been too shy, or would have thought no, that is not me and stayed in my little bubble. Instead, I was thinking that I am at a point in my career where I am ready to try new and different things, and this could be an exercise in jumping out of my comfort zone. I honestly believe that TM had something to do with that decision.”

She ended up taking a year’s leave from the New York City Ballet and received rave reviews from critics and fans alike for her starring role as “Miss Turnstiles” in the popular revival of On the Town.

Megan notices other benefits from TM. “I think TM helps you be a little more fearless. Before, I would hold on to trying to be really perfect and also was kind of obsessed with certain technical steps. Now, it’s more of a bigger picture. I am enjoying my own performance more and taking every step and every movement to its fullest.”

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, March 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.)

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Like falling in love, the process of creating art can be a mystery, even to the person writing the song or sculpting the statue. As the novelist Eric Jerome Dickey said, “It’s impossible to explain creativity. It’s like asking a bird, ‘How do you fly?’ You just do.”

Yet a growing number of creative artists and actors—think Katy Perry, Lena Dunham, Hugh Jackman—have found that practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique is a powerful yet dependable way to capture the ever-elusive muse. And if one artist can boost creativity through meditation, you have to wonder what would happen if everyone on the set—singer, actors, producers, installation artists, production crew—practiced the TM technique?

“This reworking manages to enrich the sound without losing its ethereal quality.” —Indiewire.com

This actually happened when LA actress Elena Charbila (who has a dual career as a singer-songwriter under the moniker Kid Moxie) asked producer Michael Sternfeld to collaborate in creating a music video for her hauntingly beautiful rendition of the iconic score “Mysteries of Love,” composed by Angelo Badalamenti for director David Lynch’s 1986 film Blue Velvet. 

In just three long days of shooting and ten short days of editing, Elena, Michael, and a crew of over twenty—all of whom practice TM—created an artistic and evocative video that debuted at the “Music of David Lynch” tribute concert to a sold-out crowd of 1500. As reported in Rolling Stone, the concert not only raised funds for the David Lynch Foundation to teach TM to at-risk children, but featured an all-star lineup of Duran Duran, Moby, Donovan, Chrysta Bell, and Sky Ferreira performing music from the director’s movies and albums.

The “Mysteries of Love” music video garnered positive reviews, like this one from Indiewire.com: “While the original composition has long been a favorite among die-hard Lynch fans, this reworking manages to enrich the sound without losing its ethereal quality…and the end result is pretty great.”

Yet the real story is found in the making of the video, as the mythic power of love not only informed the theme of the song and video, but became the creative force that united the team and threaded its way through every image and sound.

Connecting with the David Lynch Universe

For Elena Charbila, the video was the fulfillment of a lifelong love affair with the work of award-winning director David Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti, who collaborated on the scores for most of David Lynch’s films.

“Some melodies become a part of you, inspire, and transform you,” says Elena. “The universe that David Lynch co-created with Angelo Badalamenti was like that for me.”

Although born in Greece, Elena based her career in LA, starring in films alongside Al Pacino and Malcolm McDowell. Five years ago, she had the chance to interview her personal hero, David Lynch, for a major Greek newspaper.

“The way he talked about meditation and creativity intrigued me,” she says. “Because I deeply respect his work as an artist, I thought there must be something there. So on my next birthday, I gave myself the gift of TM.”

“For me, the underlying theme was showing the dark and the light side of love.” —Elena Charbila

“It helped clear away the mental clutter,” Elena adds. “To have a clear idea of what you want to express through your art, you need to hear your own voice better. And TM certainly helps you do that.”

Soon she became a contributor to the David Lynch Foundation and its radio station, Transcendental Music, to help underserved children and adults learn the TM technique. Then one day she worked up the nerve to mail her music to Angelo Badalamenti.

The fabled composer not only liked her music, but at a later meeting, mentioned that he was remaking “Mysteries of Love” with a full orchestra and suggested that she perform the vocals.

Elena found his offer “both scary and extremely exciting” and recorded the song in the transcendental, delicate vocals that are her trademark. “It was a personally satisfying moment for me,” she says. “Angelo loved what I did with his song, and he was generous and gracious enough to let me use it for my new album, 1888.

The story might have ended there, but Elena couldn’t let go of a certain idea.

A Collaboration Based on Trust

“I remember that it was floating in my head that ‘Mysteries of Love’ was such a cinematic piece, an iconic song, and there was no video for it,” she says. “So I called up Michael Sternfeld and said, ‘We have to do this together.’ ”

Elena had met Michael Sternfeld through the David Lynch Foundation during Michael’s five-year stint as event producer for events featuring Paul McCartney, Ringo, Sheryl Crow, Moby, The Beach Boys, Jerry Seinfeld, and Jim Carrey.

From the start, the two felt tuned into each other’s thoughts to an uncanny degree. “We were laughing that we could read each other’s minds, and we both felt that there was trust,” says Elena. “That is a huge building block for starting anything.”

They decided to shoot the music video in Fairfield, Iowa, home of Maharishi University of Management (MUM). Michael set out to assemble the production team, recruiting directors Amine Kouider, media and communications faculty at MUM, and Sam Lieb, head of DLF.TV, as well as co-producer Donald Revolinski, faculty of the David Lynch MA in film at MUM.

At first it was challenging to get the team to clear their schedules. Then Michael thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we showed our music video at the live ‘Music of David Lynch’ concert?” Says Michael, “We didn’t even know if David wanted to feature music videos. It was basically a one-in-a-million chance, but the project suddenly went from some wild, pie-in-the-sky idea to something that could actually happen.”

The only problem was, there were only three weeks left before the concert.

The Art of Creative Collaboration

What transpired in just three long days and nights of shooting outdoors in freezing March temperatures was nothing short of magical.

Elena, who had never taken a creative journey with a group of people who were all TM meditators before, was struck by the level of harmony on the set. “There was extreme care with each other’s ideas. Egos were kept at a minimal healthy level. From the first meeting, there was so much love, like a nonverbal contract that we were going to stay connected, we were going to stay in love for the entire process. I had never felt that before.”

Elena also felt a heightened energy level that she finds hard to explain. “It was a very long shoot. We were reaching for the sky with the things we wanted to do. Yet the feeling level was electrifying. For me it was a beautiful pool to swim in.”

“Underneath there was a feeling of no doubt that we would finish, a deep trust in the flow of nature.” —Michael Sternfeld, producer

With shoots lasting into the wee hours of the morning, she appreciated the meditation breaks. “There was a mutual understanding that everyone was going to do it. Whereas here in LA, if somebody saw you meditating, they’d be like: ‘Hey what’s up? What are you doing?’ There, nobody asked any questions; everybody knew the process. That was pretty refreshing.”

Realizing the Vision

The video’s beautiful yet disturbing visual images of the cocoon unravelling into a butterfly, performed by S.B.Woods, a performance and installation artist who has been practicing the TM technique for 34 years, fit perfectly with the shared vision for the film.

“For me, the underlying theme was showing the dark and the light side of love,” says Elena. “Because love is both beautiful and scary, especially in the beginning stages.”

The motif of light and dark reverberated through images of the video’s mystical forest set, created in two days of freezing temperatures by “tree woman” Cherie Sampson, an environmental performance and video artist who previously taught at Maharishi University of Management and now teaches at the University of Missouri.

After the last day of shooting ended at 4:00 a.m., there were only five days left for the three editors to complete post-production editing—a task that would normally require three months of work.

“The entire project was a stretch,” says Michael, “But underneath there was a feeling of no doubt that we would finish, a deep trust in the flow of nature. We never gave in to fear or anxiety; we just did it. And that comes from working with a group of meditators.”

The crew waited as David Lynch and the producers of the LA concert reviewed the video. Finally, just a week before the concert, word came that David Lynch not only loved it, but it was the only music video approved for the live concert.

“That was stunning,” says Michael, “but there was no time to celebrate. Because we had sent an unfinished version, we spent the remaining five days on final edits and the coloring process, finishing just twenty minutes before being delivered to the control room in the theater at the ACE Hotel in LA.”

Michael notes that from the moment they conceived of this project, there was a feeling of inevitability that swept them along. “Instead of thinking, ‘we need to make something happen,’ what if love itself was making this happen?” he wonders. “And that, to me, is key—the feeling you’re left with at the end of this video. If the viewer’s heart opens to some deeper level of life, then we accomplished our job.”

Watch Mysteries of Love here YouTube Preview Image

[This article was originally published in Issue 25 of Enlightenment: the Transcendental Meditation Magazine.]

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An Interview with A NYC Ballet Star

BY LINDA EGENES

Megan Fairchild

“What makes a great performance is when you are free to dance to the music in a way that feels fresh and spontaneous and isn’t contrived. You are in the moment and reacting to the music as the orchestra plays it.” –Megan Fairchild

It’s not often that a fifteen-year-old girl from Salt Lake City finds herself auditioning for the School of American Ballet. And even less likely that the aspiring ballerina gets accepted, graduates, joins the New York City Ballet corps de ballet at age eighteen, becomes a soloist by the time she’s nineteen, and a principal by age twenty. Rarer still for this talented dancer to take the leap from ballet to Broadway star, dazzling crowds and critics alike.

It doesn’t sound real, yet this is the life of Megan Fairchild, age thirty, who is starring in the current revival of the Broadway musical On the Town to great acclaim.

Elisabeth Vincentelli of the New York Post writes, “The bell-bottomed boys traditionally dominate this show, but the brightest star in this new revival isn’t one of them: It’s Megan Fairchild, a New York City Ballet principal now making her Broadway debut. That she’s graceful and strikes breathtakingly beautiful lines was a given.…But it turns out the elfin ballerina’s also a nimble, effortlessly funny comedienne. The show explodes with unfettered joy every time she’s onstage.”

My level of pushing my body was up so high that, basically, a fuse would blow. With TM I turn my stress dial back a little bit every day instead of letting it constantly turn up and build on itself.

My level of pushing my body was up so high that, basically, a fuse would blow. With TM I turn my stress dial back a little bit every day instead of letting it constantly turn up and build on itself.

When I mention the rave reviews to Megan, she says modestly, “Yes, it’s been crazy.”

Megan has agreed to an interview one morning after performing the evening before. Here she talks about technique, artistry, and her life as a ballet dancer and Broadway star.

Linda Egenes: What made you take a year off from your successful career with the New York City Ballet (NYCB)?

Megan Fairchild: I think it’s no coincidence that my little opportunity happened after I learned Transcendental Meditation almost a year ago. Just five months after starting TM, I got a text from the casting director of On the Town, wondering if I’d be interested in auditioning.

And I’m like, “I am not a Broadway performer. This is crazy.” I laughed about it for a day, and then something happened. The next morning I woke up and I thought, “Why not?”

That was a really important moment for me. Normally I would have been too shy, or would have thought no, that is not me and stayed in my little bubble. Instead, I was thinking that I am at a point in my career where I am ready to try new and different things, and this could be an exercise in jumping out of my comfort zone. I honestly believe that TM had something to do with that decision.

Linda Egenes: How is performing on Broadway different from ballet?

Megan Fairchild: It’s more fun than I expected. Not that there isn’t pressure on Broadway, but there is a little bit more of an “it’s just entertainment” kind of attitude, as opposed to ballet where everything has an ideal or perfect line that you are trying to create. There’s a lot more freedom when dancing on Broadway.

Linda Egenes: Would you say it’s less stressful? I mean, there’s a popular perception that ballet is a stressful profession.

Megan Fairchild: I love my job at the NYCB because I love the people I go to work with. I love the jokes that we share and the sense of community. It’s a loyal company, as they only hire graduates of the School of American Ballet, so there are people that I have known since I was fifteen. It’s like family.

I think TM helps you be a little more fearless. Before, I would hold on to trying to be really perfect and also was kind of obsessed with certain technical steps. Now, it’s more of a bigger picture. I am enjoying my own performance more and taking every step and every movement to its fullest.

I think TM helps you be a little more fearless. Before, I would hold on to trying to be really perfect and also was kind of obsessed with certain technical steps. Now, it’s more of a bigger picture. I am enjoying my own performance more and taking every step and every movement to its fullest.

But now that I’m stepping away from ballet for a year, I see how much pressure we are all under. We are never done working on being perfect. It’s never, “Oh, that’s great.” It’s always, “Oh, you need to get your leg higher; I need you to turn around one more time in that pirouette; or, wouldn’t it be better if your feet were pointed more?” It’s endless.

Also, the ballet has a deeper meaning, and there is a lot of stress for the ballet dancer to uphold this legacy that is weighing on you every time you step on stage.

Linda Egenes: I understand that it was stress that brought you to TM in the first place.

Megan Fairchild: I would have panic attacks where I would pass out and be rushed to the emergency room. They were so intense that, literally, when I was regaining consciousness, I heard someone screaming, and it was me.

This happened every two years since I was eighteen. Life would get stressful, and one little thing like going to get a shot at the doctor’s office would trigger my whole system to shut down. Then it started happening more often, just six months apart. I had to miss some performances. So I thought, “OK, this isn’t cool. This is affecting my job. I need to figure out how to manage my life in a way that is going to be a little more relaxing.”

One of my ballet masters at NYCB, who did TM, suggested that I try it. She was the consummate professional and always in the moment and ready to get her job done. I felt like, well, if she does it, and she swears by it, then I’m going to try it.

Linda Egenes: So these episodes have subsided?

Megan Fairchild: Yes. The last one was before I started TM. There have been moments that, in the past, would have caused me to get light-headed and possibly go into an episode, but now I watch the moment pass by without any big event. My level of pushing my body was up so high that, basically, a fuse would blow. With TM I turn my stress dial back a little bit every day instead of letting it constantly turn up and build on itself.

Linda Egenes: How do you reconcile your own creative interpretation with the way the dances have been done in the past?

Megan Fairchild: Even if you get to a point artistically where you are feeling free with your technique, you are also trying to uphold the tradition while you put your stamp on it. I am lucky to work with wonderful ballet masters who are supportive in making me feel like I am the artist here and now, and it’s OK if what I do is a little different from the way ten other really special ballerinas have done it in the past to great fame. My ballet masters tell me the steps, and I feel how my body wants to do it and what feels true to me.

Linda Egenes: Does transcending in your daily TM practice help with balancing artistry with technique?

Megan Fairchild: I think it helps you be a little more fearless. Before, I would hold on to trying to be really perfect and also was kind of obsessed with certain technical steps. Now, it’s more of a bigger picture, being completely in the moment of each step as it’s happening instead of worrying about that technical step coming up. I am enjoying my own performance more and taking every step and every movement to its fullest.

Megan Fairchild

I used to feel that things would stick to me like Velcro, and now, things just roll off. I still recognize moments happening that would normally frustrate me, but they just don’t irritate me as much as they used to. I am more able to deal with the stresses that come with my job.

I think what makes a great performance is when you are free to dance to the music in a way that feels fresh and spontaneous and isn’t contrived. You are in the moment and reacting to the music as the orchestra plays it.

In general, I have more patience with myself.

Linda Egenes: In what ways?

Megan Fairchild: Say I do a bad turn or I don’t feel my best that day, or maybe I don’t feel like always being in a leotard or something. TM helps me to let the little stresses that come with being a ballet dancer just roll off a little easier. I am a lot more resilient. I am not getting obsessed over the difficulties of working with this partner or that. It’s just a little easier.

I used to feel that things would stick to me like Velcro, and now, things just roll off. I still recognize moments happening that would normally frustrate me, but they just don’t irritate me as much as they used to. I am more able to deal with the stresses that come with my job.

Linda Egenes: I understand that your brother is also a ballet dancer and is also taking a year off to star in the forthcoming Broadway musical, American in Paris?

Megan Fairchild: Yes, my brother, Robert Fairchild, is three years younger than me, and he is in the NYCB and so is his wife. And I am married to a principal at the company, Andrew Veyette. So we have a little family.

Linda Egenes: So your brother, Robert Fairchild, is following in your footsteps?

Megan Fairchild: Actually, in terms of Broadway, I am kind of following in his footsteps. He was always more into tap and jazz than I was. I got him to do ballet to work on his technique. He ended up in the NYCB and loves it. But he also loves the musicals, and he’s a great singer, actually. Who knew? [Writer’s note: After this interview, Robert Fairchild was nominated for a Tony for his leading role in American in Paris.]

Linda Egenes: I’m curious about the influences that made you and your brother both become professional ballet dancers?

Megan Fairchild: My mom always liked musicals, and because I was dancing around the house, she took me to tap class when I was growing up. There was never any pressure to become a dancer. I’d be thinking, “Oh, wow! I like this!” Then “I like ballet,” so I would be in the Nutcracker; and then “Oh, this is going well. I am going to do ballet full time.” So it was always, “Oh, I enjoy this. Let’s go to the next level.” It was never a grand plan.

 

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 22. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

 Isadora Duncan Dancers in Iowa

Lori Belilove and company perform “The Marches!” at the Alley Citigroup Theater.

If you’re like most people, you have a vague notion of Isadora Duncan as a free spirit and the Mother of Modern Dance. Wherever Isadora Duncan performed, she created an immediate sensation in the Victorian society of her times. Shunning the strict confines of ballet to listen to her inner teacher, she created a wholly original dance form that reflected the freedom of her own soul.

With flowing costumes, bare feet, and loose hair, Isadora was inspired by the ancient Greeks, the music of classical composers, and the elements of nature, such as the wind and the sea. “To dance is to live—what I want is a school of life, for the riches of man are in his Soul and his Imagination,” she wrote. And she advised her students, “You were wild once. Don’t let them tame you.”

At one point, Isadora’s vast dance repertoire was in danger of being lost to future generations. Fortunately, the Duncan tradition is alive and well today in the form of Lori Belilove, who at an early age studied directly with Isadora Duncan’s students and has devoted her life to performing in the Duncan tradition.

Hailed as the living embodiment of Isadora Duncan by the international dance community, Lori is the leading dancer in the award-winning PBS documentary Isadora Duncan: Movement From the Soul. As the founder, artistic director, and choreographer of the Isadora Duncan Dance Company & Foundation based in New York City, Lori and her troupe are considered the pre-eminent Duncan dance company performing in the world today.

 Isadora Duncan Dancer Lori Belilove Comes to Iowa for Rare Performance

Lori Belilove (photo by Darial Sneed)

Now Lori Belilove & the Isadora Duncan Dance Company are coming to Fairfield for two rare performances on November 15 and 16. The “Forever Isadora” performance will introduce not only the history but also the authentic recreation of Isadora Duncan dance.

An Artist’s Journey

Lori’s journey as an artist and preserver of the Isadora Duncan legacy began when she was barely a teenager. Like Isadora, Lori grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with a natural talent for dance, but ballet didn’t fit. Her free-thinking parents nurtured her love of the arts, taking their family on an extended tour of Europe during the 1960s. While in Athens, the Beliloves were introduced by chance to Vassos Kanellos, a prominent Greek dancer and painter who had been personally trained by Isadora Duncan.

“Lori was only 12, but she asked so many intelligent questions that Vassos said, ‘Lori, you must be the next Isadora,’ ” remembers Lori’s older brother Jim Belilove, co-founder of Fairfield’s Creative Edge and former owner of the Fairfield Art of Dance studio with his wife Ginger.

Upon returning home, Lori immersed herself in My Life, Isadora’s autobiography.  “I think that I understood Isadora in a way that is perhaps uncanny,” says Lori. “I immediately felt connected to her spirit and passion for life, but more than anything else, I wanted to find her dance.”

In her search for Isadora’s spirit and way of dancing, Lori took modern dance classes until graduating from high school, when she convinced her mother to return with her to Greece. For two years, she studied intensively with Vassos Kanellos, who passed on the techniques that Isadora Duncan had taught to him.

After returning to the Bay Area to pursue dance, religion, and classical studies at Mills College, Lori continued to study Duncan dance.

Lori emphasizes that she did not study or learn this work from books, photographs, or film. “The Duncan tradition was handed down to me through first- and second-generation Duncan dancers,” she says.

With her amazing combination of passion and luck, Lori was introduced to Irma Duncan and Anna Duncan, who were among the six adopted daughters of Isadora Duncan, known as the Isadorables.

“Isadora had chosen these women to tour and perform with her,” says Lori. “They were the living embodiment of her work. So it’s very exciting if you think about all that.”

Soon she was performing the same dances that Isadora had performed.

The Essence of Isadora

What sets Lori Belilove apart is not only her passion and unwavering dedication to performing Isadora Duncan dance, but her ability to create anew from her own wellspring of creativity and inspiration inside, her own untamed inner landscape that is the true essence of Isadora Duncan dance.

“Something came alive in me as I was studying,” she says. “I reached an aha moment when all the fragments of the teachings I had received unified in me. I could embrace her work and make it mine—it was an experience of artistic synthesis that has remained with me ever since.”

Dancers from the Isadora Dance Company

Dancers from the Isadora Dance Company

Isadora herself described her dance as a natural phenomenon—not an invention, but a rediscovery of the classical principles of beauty, motion, and form. She wrote, “The dance is an expression of an individual soul, of its deepest understanding and personal power. Imagine a dancer whose body dances in accordance with the music heard inwardly, in an expression of something out of another profounder world. A truly creative dancer, natural but not imitative. Speaking in movement . . . out of something greater than all selves.”

Although Isadora’s dance was deeply personal, she was also interested in being a conduit for great ideas. “Her works are timeless expressions that speak to universal issues of humankind, from sorrow, loneliness, compassion, pain, and death to resurgence,” says Lori. “Some of her dances are exquisite expressions of human joy.”

Forever Isadora

Like Isadora, Lori includes teaching and education in her life’s work. Since establishing the Isadora Duncan Dance Company & Foundation in 1980, Lori has ceaselessly continued the work of preserving, teaching, and performing Isadora’s dance in its original form.

The program for the “Forever Isadora” performance in Fairfield traces the life and art of Isadora Duncan between 1900 and 1924, showcasing 14 rarely seen solo and group dances of inner peace, strength, and light, interspersed with voice-overs taken from her own words.

Staged by Lori, the dances include early lyrical pieces set to Chopin and Schubert,  dramatic works like Marche Heroique set toTchaikovsky, and later revolutionary dances. Fairfield pianist Paul Jones will play the poignant Scriabin Etude in C# Minor to accompany “Mother,” the tragic solo Duncan created following the death of her children. Kids from the Fairfield community will join the company in selected performances.

Those who have seen Lori Belilove and her company perform can attest to their power and radiance. “It’s not just another night at the theater, but something from another world,” said a critic for theNew York Times. “Their dazzling blend of energy and fluid grace will take your breath away,” said theDayton Daily News.

Many Fairfielders will remember Bobby Dreier, who studied with Isadora Duncan as a young woman. Bobby, a progressive thinker all her long and eventful life, confided to me that she didn’t think many people understood the real Isadora.

Yet when she attended one of Lori Belilove’s performances during the 1980s, Bobby was so moved she stood up and cried, “Just like Isadora!”

(I originally wrote this article for The Iowa Source, November 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

What skills does it take to become an opera star? Enormous discipline, acting ability, emotional stability, concentration, focus, and constant study of Italian, German, French, and Russian languages, to name a few. Not to mention a highly trained singing voice that can span three octaves and project over a 90-piece orchestra, reaching the back of a hall of 4,000 people without the use of a microphone.

Brenda Boozer Metropolitan Opera Soloist and Transcendental Meditation

Brenda Boozer spent fourteen seasons as a soloist at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and has performed with the world’s most prestigious opera companies, including the Paris Opera, Covent Garden in London, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Teatro Comunale in Florence, Frankfurt Opera House in Germany, and the Houston Grand Opera.

As a dancer Boozer studied with Martha Graham, and as an actress she studied with Katharine Hepburn and Herbert Berghof of the Actors Studio. She has performed on theTonight Show Starring Johnny CarsonLate Night with David Letterman and ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment.

Currently, she sings, performs, and teaches voice to private students in New York City, Westchester, and Boone, NC. With her husband the pianist, composer, and organist Ford Lallerstedt, she has appeared in 150 recitals throughout the country.

Here, Brenda Boozer speaks about transcendence in music and meditation.

Enlightenment: How did you get interested in opera?

Brenda Boozer: I would say opera got interested in me. I was born with a unique voice. It was a gift. At the age of five, my grandmother heard me singing to my dolls, and said that I would be an opera singer when I grew up. At ten years old I was in a production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Menotti. At the age of fifteen, when my voice had matured, I began formal vocal training.

Enlightenment: What formative experiences contributed to your development?

Brenda Boozer: My mother always had classical music playing in our home. My mother and father both sang and had beautiful voices. My father liked sight-reading J. S. Bach chorales. My mother had sung at the Chautauqua Opera Festival in New York. We were always singing and harmonizing, whether washing dishes together or taking long trips in the car.

Brenda Boozer Opera Singer Joy and Transcendental Meditation I learned discipline beginning at the age of five when I began formal ballet training. My mother taught dance, drama, and creative movement in her studio in our home, and I was surrounded by that profession. My father was an ordained Methodist minister and a professor of religion at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Like many southern families, the church was the center of our lives. I sang solos every Sunday in Sunday school from the age of seven. Therefore, music and spirit were the cornerstones of my upbringing.

Enlightenment: You sing with such joy. What is your inner experience when you sing?

Brenda Boozer: In my first memory I was four years old, jumping up and down on a mattress singing “Johnny Appleseed” from the bottom of my heart to the top of my lungs. It was a feeling of unboundedness. I felt like I could fly.

As an opera singer you move a lot of breath freely through your body, making it a resonating chamber of power for sound and expression. As if defying gravity, it seems a deeper state of consciousness—of complete concentration and joy. When you make that kind of sound without a microphone, it connects you deeply within like meditation. There is no dependency on any external energy or power. It is just you and your ability to draw all that is needed from within. It is an unbounded connection to nature and a natural power.

You are pronounced alive on your first inhale, and pronounced dead on your last exhale. Breath is your life force. A singer rides on the breath and gives her breath. You inhale, and with your exhale your life force fills your sound with the poetry of the words.

Enlightenment: What is one of the best things about being a mezzo-soprano?

Brenda Boozer: Mezzo means “middle,” so as a mezzo-soprano you must sing quite high and low. That means you can perform female parts such as Carmen and also male parts that are written for your type of voice.

In 1979, after being a finalist in the National Metropolitan opera competition in New York City, I auditioned for Maestro James Levine and made my Metropolitan Opera debut as Hansel in Hansel and Gretel. One of my favorite roles is “Octavian,” a handsome young prince, in Die Rosenkavalier, which I also sang at the Metropolitan Opera. In the physical life of the character, you have to master male mannerisms and how a male walks, how he carries himself. It opens up an entirely new challenge and vocabulary for an actress.

Enlightenment: When and how did you come to TM® practice?

Brenda Boozer: I have been a spiritual seeker all of my life. Having grown up in what my father called “an Anglo-Saxon, white Christian ghetto,” I knew that there must be something beyond the concept of only an external God. I began seeking and studying Vedic knowledge for 22 years. This study was preparing me for the profound experience that was to come.

While in Boone, North Carolina, I met the Dreben family. They introduced me to Maharishi and the TM technique and Maharishi’s book, The Science of Being And Art of Living. Three years ago I learned the Transcendental Meditation technique, realizing that Maharishi was the teacher and the TM program was the meditation for which I had been searching.
Transcendental Meditation Music and Joy Brenda Boozer Opera Singer

Enlightenment: How has the Transcendental Meditation technique affected your life?

Brenda Boozer: As a performer, you have to be steady, established. I went to Juilliard with many talented singers, but not all of us had careers. There is so much demand on performers. There has to be a spiritual grounding not to be affected by fashion or criticism. Only an inward journey could bring this steadiness.

TM practice helps with clarity of mind and a restful alertness which allows a creative intelligence. Each of us is given a life force. It is an enormous gift, as well as a responsibility. This embodiment carries our spirit as well as our transcendence.

Meditation heals the very core of your being and allows self-healing. Then you’re coming from a healed, whole place of light. When you meditate twice a day, you start to feel that every area of your life changes in a beautiful way—there’s more kindness, more patience, more love.

Enlightenment: What do you feel opera contributes to our culture?

Brenda Boozer: There is only one art form that combines drama, history, orchestra, lighting, costumes, the natural singing voice acoustically unenhanced, and singing in foreign languages. It is a unique, historic, and great art form that is international.

I look at our beautiful world family, and music is something we have in common. Often I would perform in a foreign country where the cast included people from Russia, Germany, Italy, France, China, and Japan. We would come together as one voice to create a large work of art.

Music is an instrument of peace, an instrument of how we’re alike, not how we’re different. Opera is the ambassador of creating beautiful music to bring heaven to earth.

Enlightenment: Any words to leave us with?

Brenda Boozer: I feel that life becomes more profound as we grow older. There is a deeper sense of wisdom and infinity and gratitude. I want to give back and help others find their true, unique voice within. My advice is to transcend twice a day.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 14. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

James Meredith is not your typical classical musician. For one thing, he’s had a multifaceted career. As an accompanist he is a musical partner with mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade and dramatic soprano Olivia Strapp.

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 10.45.35 AMHe is the founding director of the celebrated Sonos Handbell Ensemble, which has brought audiences to their feet twice on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” show; given sold-out performances in multiple tours of the U.S., Asia, and Europe; and is widely acclaimed by music critics as the top handbell ensemble in the nation.

He dons a third hat when he creates arrangements and original compositions for the group—all while maintaining a roster of piano and vocal students, 10 of them gifted students from the Young Musicians program at UC Berkeley, where he is a faculty member.

Being accomplished in so many areas is not the only unusual thing about him. He is famous for handling the pressure of performance with grace, humility, and ease.

Meredith says his secret is, ironically, the hours that he spends away from his music, closing his eyes to practice the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“Being a concert musician touring and performing is highly stressful,” acknowledges Meredith. “Just to be able to get some rest when going through those stressful experiences was the first benefit I noticed after I started the Transcendental Meditation technique as a young musician. And now my colleagues notice that after years of performing, they are tired, while I’m still going strong. I can’t imagine having the career I’m having without it.”

Searching for Transcendence

While talking to Jim in his cozy Oakland home, I get the feeling that his life is composed of many moments of being in the right place at the right time.

As luck would have it, his Greenville, North Carolina grade school was located in a college town and near the hall where the state orchestra performed, so he heard many concerts and had lessons from master musicians as part of his early education.

He recalls his first performance experience as a class when his fourth-grade music teacher rolled a piano into the room and asked someone to volunteer to sing a solo stanza. “I raised my hand, and it was one of those thrillingly exciting yet petrifying moments,” he says. “I sat down and immediately wanted to do it again.”

Meredith started playing clarinet that same year, and inspired by a seventh-grade school friend, soon was teaching himself piano. Noting his gifts, his parents eventually agreed to pay for piano lessons and, lucky again, he was able to study with a gifted teacher who was a graduate of the music conservatory in Riga, Latvia.

In college, he majored in piano at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and took his master’s in piano at Tulane University, both on scholarships.

It was during his undergraduate recital at Chapel Hill that he had his first transcendental experience. “Everybody in music seeks for those experiences that are transcendent, when you are out of your limitations, when you’re completely in the moment,” he says. “I remember sitting at the piano to play the fiendishly difficult second movement of Alberto Ginastera’s ‘Sonata for Piano’ and thinking ‘Oh God,’ and somewhere between those two words I performed the entire piece.”

After graduation in 1969 he was drafted and found himself playing the clarinet in an army band in Germany. As luck would have it, a fellow piano player mentioned that he did something called Transcendental Meditation.

It wasn’t long before Jim was instructed in the TM®technique. He noticed that he not only had more energy for performance, but he was able to understand the music at a deeper level.

“Musicians have to constantly be digging deeper and deeper into the music,” he says. “With great composers, there is something in their music that transcends everyday life, and that’s why we listen to it today. Practicing meditation helped me to find more of that universal experience in the music and bring it out when I play.”

Drawn to the transcendental experience, Meredith became a teacher of the TM technique and taught full-time in Birmingham, Heidelberg (Germany), New Orleans, and Berkeley for 10 years.

“I still performed some, and I always knew my music profession was on the back burner,” he said. But with a musician’s skill in timing, he wanted to wait until the desire “bubbled up more and more.”

It wasn’t until 1983 that Meredith decided to return to music as a full-time profession, teaching private students and master classes at universities, performing as a solo pianist and accompanist, conducting the Oakland Symphony Chorus, and becoming chorus master of the Festival Opera. His work has taken him to Europe and Asia, and has brought him into contact with such artists as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, one of the most renowned opera singers of the 20th century.

A Gift for Synchrony

Then in 1990, he became the founding artistic director of the Sonos Handbell Ensemble. “I knew from the start that I wanted it to be professional musicians playing classical music, with the tours and performances handled professionally,” he said.

Sonos Handbell Ensemble

Playing the beautiful, flowing music of handbells is an exercise in synchronicity. Using over 56 bells, the twelve musicians of Sonos Handbell Ensemble have to create the sound of one instrument. As Meredith says, “Instead of one pianist with ten fingers sitting at the piano, it’s as if you had ten pianists, each playing only one finger at a time, trying to play a Bach fugue.”

Such syncronicity requires intense rehearsal. “It’s a collective effort. There’s a lot more group rehearsal than with other ensembles,” notes Meredith. “You have to coalesce as a group. The individual ego has to get out of the way.”

Jim is known in the profession as someone who doesn’t allow his ego to get in the way. Instead, he bends and flows with the harmonies around him.

“Particularly while accompanying a vocalist, you have to anticipate what is going wrong,” he says. “You have to be in total synchrony with that person. There are many performances where a performer has skipped a bar or jumped from the first to the second line. Often times it’s not even conscious on my part, but just a split second before they skip that bar, I feel that they’re going to go there, so I move with them. And it happens so automatically, so spontaneously, no one knows that it happened.”

Meredith says that later, the singer might ask, ‘Did we skip a bar?’ and in Meredith’s unassuming style, he’ll say, “I think so. It happened so automatically, I’m not really sure.”

It is this humility and skill that endears him to his fellow musicians. “I cannot assemble enough kudos to do justice to our beloved Jim,” says the world-famous mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade.

“He has a heart as big as California, great talent and a generosity of spirit and caring that shines light on everyone that knows him. He has truly mastered the art of making music and, more importantly, sharing it with everyone he knows. His enthusiasm and humor enrich every situation on and off stage.”

Intuition and Creativity

Growth in intuition is something Meredith attributes to his years of Transcendental Meditation practice. He also feels it has opened up his creativity, making it possible to compose music.

“I was never trained in composing—I never felt I could compose a fugue like Bach or a sonata like Beethoven,” he says. “But after I started Sonos, the handbell ensemble, it was obvious that the kind of music I wanted to perform had not yet been created. Then we were asked to perform a contemporary piece at an important concert in Spokane, and I felt we had to jolt the handbell world out of its safe style. We didn’t have the money to pay anyone to compose a piece, so I said I’d write it. I can only attribute the courage and desire to do that to all these years of meditating.”

Since then Meredith has become a published composer, riveting audiences with his handbell pieces performed by the Sonos Handbell Ensemble internationally and on several DVDs. He also arranges most of the music the group performs.

Sonos Handbell Ensemble

Meredith notices that his intuition functions in a similar way in both teaching and composing. “I find the experience of having the right response to a student come increasingly more from intuitive levels,” he says. “In the same way, I used to have to consciously think about how to approach a problem in composition, and over the years the right approach seems to come more spontaneously. It surprises me sometimes and I often ask of myself, ‘Where did that come from?’”

He finds this ability to be comforting. “I remember composing a work that went very smoothly until the end. I was just not sure how to end the piece. It had to be right or it would negate all that was good before it. After a few days the solution just popped up. I look back at it now and I can’t remember how it happened. It’s as if ‘I’ didn’t do it.”

Noting that it is through repeated experience in meditation that one gets one acquainted with these more subtle levels, Meredith says with typical humility, “I have not had many memorable experiences in meditation, but the results in activity have become welcome friends.”

Giving Back to the Community

It’s late afternoon when we finish our interview and Alisa knocks on Jim’s door. A tall girl for just 13, she’s part of the Young Musicians Program, which gives gifted high school and elementary school children whose families could never afford it the opportunity to study with professional musicians in the San Francisco Bay area. For 15 years Meredith has taught, coached, and accompanied vocal students with remarkable results—all have attended top music colleges and conservatories, many on scholarships.

“You seem quiet today,” Meredith says. She nods and says she is tired. Like every good teacher, he notices things about his students. Then he sits down at his Mason & Hamlin, a grand piano sitting beside a Bechstein grand that he once hauled across the country in a trailer along with a collection of potted plants, and starts to play scales while Alisa sings. After warm-ups, he reads a summary of Clair de Lune, a French love-song by Gabriel Fauré, and starts to play.

Alisa opens her mouth and sings like a lark. It’s astonishing to hear such sophisticated music coming from a thirteen-year-old.

As the lesson progresses to an Italian song by Rossini, Meredith asks her to assess her own singing. She says her voice is not as clear today, and he reminds her of certain breathing techniques, explaining how a performance musician would address a problem like that. When he asks her what some of the French words mean so she can create the proper feeling she’s right there with him.

At one point he stops to talk to her. “You’re talented. You can move people with your voice. You must know this. And how does that make you feel?” he asks.

“Good,” the girl says and smiles. She’s quiet and shy. Yet there is no doubt that at 13 she is already, thanks to Meredith, thinking of herself as a pro.

You can listen to the music of Sonos Handbell Ensemble, conducted by James Meredith, at http://sonos.org/

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 9. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Sharon IsbinSharon Isbin is considered, quite simply, the leading classical guitarist of our time. Among her many honors, she was named “Best Classical Guitarist” by Guitar Player magazine and is the first guitarist in over 40 years to receive two classical GRAMMY Awards (in 2001 and 2010). A former student of Andrés Segovia and a graduate of Yale University, she has performed to sold-out audiences around the world—from Carnegie Hall to London’s Barbican to the White House. As head of the guitar department at the Aspen Music Festival and The Juilliard School, she has developed an original technique for teaching classical guitar. Yet she doesn’t limit herself to classical music—she has mastered a musical palette that ranges from bossa nova to jazz to folk, collaborating with other guitarists in new ways. Here she explains how she has been able to combine her virtuosity, her technique, and her passion in order to create music that reaches into the heart and touches the soul.

Sharon Isbin Best Classical Guitarist Transcendental Meditation and Music

 

What do you feel has made your music stand out from the crowd?

I explore a variety of genres, from my home base in classical to unusual collaborations in jazz, bossa nova, folk, country, rock, and even film music, performing on Scorsese’s The Departed. But most important to me and to listeners is the emotion, lyricism, sensuality, and passion.

What is your process of interpreting the music that you play? How do you go about it?

I choose music that I love and which speaks to me, and that makes it easy to be expressive. The more I play a new work, the more I discover in it. My goal is to enter the mind of the composer while feeling and expressing the emotion from within. In a way, I explore different characters of a piece much like actors do with a script. And when I choose dynamics and shadings to delineate the different layers and levels of voicing, architecture, and structure within a work, it’s much like a director staging and guiding actors in the foreground, middle, background, etc.

Are there any principles of creativity that you employ when you create an album such as Sharon Isbin and Friends or prepare for a concert performance?

Developing an album is a varied process. For example, my solo disc Dreams of a World (2001 GRAMMY Award) came together from a pile of scores I’d assembled over time, which I’d found to be particularly beautiful and which happened to be all folk-inspired. Journey to the Amazon has music from countries bordering the Amazon, and evolved from making several trips to the rainforest and then performing with a composer/organic percussionist from a tribe in the Amazon, Thiago de Mello, and saxophonist Paul Winter. J.S. Bach Complete Lute Suiteswas a natural after ten years of study with the great keyboard artist/Bach scholar Rosalyn Tureck. When I was invited to make the New York Philharmonic’s first and only guitar recording, I chose Latin music from Spain, Brazil, and Mexico. Other collections include Baroque concerti, American concerti, Latin Romances, etc.

My recent Journey to the New World (2010 GRAMMY Award) is an exploration of folk music beginning in the 16th century British Isles, Ireland, and Scotland and crossing the ocean with the immigrants to the New World. Its centerpiece, “Joan Baez Suite,” was written for me by John Duarte and inspired by music Baez made famous in the early part of her career. When Joan heard it, she offered to sing on the album and performs beautiful renditions of “Wayfaring Stranger” and “Go ’Way from my Window.” Virtuoso country fiddler Mark O’Connor concludes the journey, joining me in the folk suite he wrote for us.

My latest, Sharon Isbin & Friends: Guitar Passions (Sony), pays tribute to my guitar heroes and includes guest rock stars Steve Vai, Steve Morse, and Nancy Wilson (from Heart); jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan; bossa-nova singer/guitarist Rosa Passos; and more. The Latin-flavored disc also honors past heroes like Andrés Segovia, with whom I studied; Joaquin Rodrigo, who wrote the famous “Adagio”; and Tom Jobim, with whom I had collaborated.

Do you feel different when you perform a piece by Joan Baez versus a classical piece? Is the creative process any different?

Though I explore a different kind of rhythmic and stylistic freedom when playing with Joan Baez or Steve Vai than I do playing Bach (though Bach’s music, with all its improvised ornaments and embellishments, was the jazz of its time!), my goal is always to make the music sound fresh, imaginative, and heartfelt.

You have been called “the Monet of classical guitar—a master colorist.” Why do you think people have such an emotional reaction to your music?

I love to be expressive on the guitar with lyricism, dynamic contrasts, nuances, phrasing, articulation, and a panoply of colors and timbres. I cultivate these techniques to serve the music and to communicate it with feeling and emotion. For example, I can make the guitar sound like a human voice by connecting notes of a melody with nuances of sound while shaping the contour of the line as a vocalist would do. This also creates a three-dimensional quality and depth.

Sharon Isbin Classical Guitarist Transcendental Meditation TechniqueI understand that you have written a teaching guitar book. Are there new techniques that you have developed and are passing on to your students? What was the process for developing those?

Among the topics I explore with my students at Juilliard and in my Classical Guitar Answer Book are techniques I’ve developed of preparation, memorization, and visualization to encourage peak performance. These are the secrets and methods I’ve discovered and refined over years of performing which I am able to share with others. I find it particularly effective to practice these techniques at the end of a session of meditation when the mind is especially stress free and receptive to suggestions and learning. The end of a meditation is an ideal time, in fact, to plant any suggestion about a goal or task you wish to achieve.

I read that you have been practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique since you were 17. Do you feel that transcending on a regular basis has had an influence on your artistry and work, and if so, how?

Practicing TM has inspired heights of creativity for me on many levels: as a musician, arranger, educator, writer, and artistic director. Because TM is so effective at eliminating stress and distraction, it encourages laser-sharp focus and concentration for any task.

As a musician, TM enhances my mental stamina, memory, concentration, and ability to learn. It puts me in touch with my innermost creative core and enables its expression through music. Most importantly, it facilitates instant access to a state of “cosmic immersion,” that feeling of being in the flow, or in “the zone.” When I perform onstage, I enter a state of being very similar to the one I enter daily when practicing TM. It’s a sense of communion with the energy of the universe, the audience, the composer, and the music—without ego or interference. It’s a feeling of unity between me and the listeners, a sense of “oneness” in which we are all experiencing the beauty of the music together. That sensation is one of the reasons live performances can be so powerful—everyone is focused and transported, and the experience is unique and in the moment, never to be replicated.

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 7. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

When Keelan Dimick was three years old, he started tinkering on the piano. At first he taught himself to play by ear, then took two years of instruction in classical piano. But it wasn’t until he switched to jazz that great things started to happen.

Transcendental Meditation with Pianist Keelan Dimick

At age 13, just four months after taking his first jazz piano lesson, he won first place in the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival, junior division. Two years later, he won first place at the senior division and was recruited by top music schools.

It turns out that Keelan had a secret weapon that set him apart from other contestants: his practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“It’s easier to get into the zone when you do your meditation regularly,” he says. “It also balances the whole system, calms you down so it’s easier to let go. That’s the main thing when playing jazz, to let go. Then the music will play itself.”

Keelan, who recently graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, says that with regular meditation, composing music is easier too. “You plant a seed and then let the music write itself. Meditation helps you stay on the feeling level. The more intellect you put into your music, the less moving it’s going to be to an audience.”

Right now he’s excited about opportunities that are popping up, including a New Year’s Eve gig in Santa Barbara with a big jazz band that will be playing Keelan’s own compositions. And he’s taking two months to help set up a jazz music program and train faculty at a Filipino university this fall.

Keelan is one of thousands of young people who are turning to the TM technique not only to give them a cutting edge as students, but also to help them launch their careers in the competitive field of the arts.

Transcendental Meditation helps Overcome Dyslexia Anxiety Depression Dana FarleyOvercoming Dyslexia, Anxiety, and Depression

Take Dana Farley, age 22, a Long Island native who credits the Transcendental Meditation technique with helping her to overcome the challenges of dyslexia as well as teenage anxiety and depression. A chance meeting with director David Lynch started her on the path to TM and filmmaking.

“I was a sophomore in high school, and my mom asked me, ‘Do you want to go to the city and meet a director?’ I was really into film, so I hate to admit that I didn’t know who David Lynch was at the time. But I went to the meeting where he showed us a video of kids in an inner city school who, because of the David Lynch Foundation, started practicing TM. They sat quietly and meditated twice a day, there was no more school violence, and the kids did better in school. After hearing that, I was interested in learning the technique and seeing what it could do for me.”

Having struggled with severe dyslexia since childhood, Dana says, “I had a lot of insecurities when it came to school. Since starting TM I’m not putting myself down all the time. The negative thoughts just don’t appear. Instead of thinking, ‘I can’t do this’ I’m thinking ‘Why not?’”

Aware of the high stress levels and a troubling rise in suicide rates and depression in American teenagers, Dana had the idea to create a documentary about her own TM experience. She started making the film in high school, and continued working on it even while an undergraduate at Bucknell University. Even though Dana majored in English, she joined a film club to get more practice behind the camera.

Dana’s perseverance paid off. While still a junior in college her documentary Beyond the Noise: My Transcendental Meditation Journey, which featured David Lynch and Dana, was released and received a favorable response at the Marbella International Film Festival.

In the film, Dana talks about how TM practice can help young people deal with stress. “Instead of running away from or avoiding the problems and hassles you have by taking drugs or fooling around in other ways, TM practice helps bring a sense of inner freedom, of being ‘high’ in a completely natural way. It gives you a lift in your spirits—a freedom from the stress you are feeling and the sense of burden you are feeling.”

Since the film came out in 2011, Dana has created another documentary, completed internships with Howard Stern radio, and graduated from college. She is currently pursuing work in documentary film and the nonprofit sector. She says, “I think of where I want to be in ten years, and it would be nice to in some way make a difference, to help people, to leave the world a little bit better than it was before.”

Transcendental Meditation helps women model Tanell Pretorius

Looking For Something More

Tanell Pretorius of South Africa has taken a different route—postponing college to pursue a glamorous London modeling career that included TV commercials for Sony PlayStation, catalogue work for Marks and Spencer, and shoots with Rankin, the legendary British photographer.

“The TV work was really fun,” she says. “You’d arrive at five a.m. and see hundreds of lighting people, gaffers, and set designers running around, and often you’d be the hero of the whole thing.”

But the long hours (one shoot started at 3:00 in the afternoon and lasted until 9:00 a.m.) and the pressure of constant self-scrutiny started to take their toll.

“In modeling your body is your product,” Tanell says. “Like most models, I started to develop weird habits with food. I was working out too much and injured myself. That’s when I found meditation.”

Tanell says that all her life, she had been looking for something more, even after becoming a top model. “When I started the TM technique, I immediately felt that this is the missing part of life, this is the thing that makes life complete, that makes it full and amazing. I started to feel so deeply in touch with myself, a lot more connected to my body and my needs. It even healed my sports injuries.”

At that point Tanell decided to leave full-time modeling and explore her love of learning at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. A media and communications major, she is also earning certification as a Maharishi Ayurveda wellness consultant. She plans to use her skills in writing to share what she’s learned about health, yoga, and fitness with other women.

“I’d love to help women to get more in touch with themselves, to work out and choose what to eat from an intuitive level rather than from what a magazine or an article is telling them to do,” she says.

As an undergraduate, Tanell is already writing for a regional magazine on health and fitness topics. She says that TM practice helps writers because “the fog of stress goes away and you’re able to experience life more richly. With the TM technique, you get more in touch with the universal truths of life. That’s what makes any art powerful—whether it’s writing or film or music. TM practice allows the writer to feel and experience those truths more deeply, and so the audience can also feel more deeply.”

These three creative twenty-somethings have one thing in common—they all highly recommend the TM technique to other young people.

“When you’re a student, it’s easy to float around and get lost, defeating the purpose of going to college—which is to get grounded and to learn, not to party all the time,” says Keelan. “Meditation helps you to prioritize and puts you automatically on the right path.”

Tanell agrees. “It’s helped me to not be so confused by the little things, moment to moment,” she says. “The great thing about the TM technique, you’re not just talking about the bigger picture, you’re experiencing it. And it’s so freeing, so liberating, to feel the largeness of life, how big you really are as a person, within yourself. Then you don’t get lost in the small things.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 14. Reprinted with permission.)