HuffPost Live - The science of Peace(Interview of John Hagelin, Bob Roth and Colonel Brian Rees)
Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani: I’m Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani, you’re watching HuffPost Live. The attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have heightened fears about terrorism and prompted calls for the U.S. to step up its fight against the self-described Islamic State. Last night at the Republican Presidential Debate in Las Vegas, candidates were vying for carpet bombing ISIS, even if civilians get caught up in the fight, and ignoring questions that this may actually play into ISIS’s hands.
Some people are calling for great humanity at this time of heightened fear. The Global Union of Scientists for Peace wrote this letter to President’s Obama, Hollande, and Putin, requesting that they use meditation as a way to temper the responses to terrorism.
Joining me now to discuss just how this works are Bob Roth, the Executive Director of the David Lynch Foundation, Dr. John Hagelin, a quantum physicist and President of the Global Union of Scientists for Peace, and Colonel Brian Rees, a retired Army veteran and a physician. So thank you all very much for joining us today.
And Bob, you know, I’ll start with you because you and I have spoken many times about Transcendental Meditation and its applications. Some people might say, “Wait a second. TM and terrorism? Maybe that’s a step too far.” What would you say?
Bob Roth: Well I want to hand this over to Dr. Hagelin, but I think it’s very interesting that Transcendental Meditation is very well established as a simple, evidence-based tool—and we’ve talked about this—for reducing the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress in individuals, and that’s irrational, violent behavior, that’s insomnia, that’s substance abuse, that’s violence. Well it turns out whole societies are beginning to exhibit qualities or characteristics of PTSD. America, you know, violent, irrational behavior, substance abuse, insomnia, high blood pressure. So the question is, can something like Transcendental Meditation, which has been shown without a doubt to affect an individual and reduce Post Traumatic Stress particularly among our veterans to reduce PTSD, is there some way that can be translated onto a societal scale?
Caroline: And Dr. Hagelin, you think there is? In terms of the application of Transcendental Meditation when we’re talking about terrorism, where do you see its benefits?
John Hagelin: Fortunately, what I think is less important then what actually has worked. And there’s an abundance of research in the top journals that show that this amazingly simple approach is very effective.
It is a knee-jerk response to think that we can, you know, bomb the enemy or get rid of the negativity through a military intervention. It’s kind of a knee-jerk response. But everybody in the field of conflict knows that the first stage in the emergence of war is mounting tensions, acute political, ethnic, religious tensions, which have allowed to build inevitably reach a boiling point and then spill over as social violence.
What’s interesting is you have a very powerful stress-reducing technique like TM, which is used by the military, to remove the effects of Post Traumatic Stress, really deep stress, and you apply that on a societal scale with even a relatively small percentage of a population, the whole population starts to chill down. Not completely, but enough to keep the stress from boiling over into war.
Caroline: So you mentioned PTSD, so obviously this is something that unfortunately happens after a traumatic event, after a traumatic episode or a conflict. How can TM be used as a sort of precursor to any trauma that might occur?
John: That’s a very good question and Colonel Rees may have something to add about it, but TM is now being incorporated into military training at Norwich University and military training programs actually all over the world to vaccinate our troops against the ravages of war stress, to make the nervous system more resilient and strong. So you can prevent the effects of stress and that’s a very good thing for, well, anybody, but certainly somebody going to risk their life at war. But even better than that, on a preventative level, if you can prevent the deep-seated anger and lust for vengeance that seethes in critical hot-spots throughout the world from erupting, you can prevent the war and not even end up having to send our troops into war.
So prevention is key. And if you compare this, which has now been studied and used seven times in the Middle East to basically stop war violence and has been very carefully studied and researched, believe it or not, there is nothing else as of today that has been shown to be as effective at preventing and stopping war than this, I’d say, very foundational influence of increasing peace in the society.
Caroline: Interesting, yeah. I want to bring Colonel Rees into the conversation as well. So, Colonel Rees, meditation and the military, they seem like they may be absolutely at odds. You don’t think that that is the case. Tell us how and why?
Colonel Rees: Well there’s certainly some reactionary elements within the military that kind of hold on to the traditional ways of doing things, but especially after these, our experience in these current wars, the military’s become quite a bit more open about exploring just about any opportunity to treat veterans with Posttraumatic Stress because the problem has really become somewhat overwhelming. Problems with PTSD and subsequent suicides and so forth are very topical and problematic.
So I think we’ve touched upon these three main areas where TM should be applicable. One would be clinically in treating, either stand-alone or as an adjunct to other treatments for Posttraumatic Stress. We have very good data with regard to promotion of resilience which is very important. Of course, you want to have service personnel to be as psychologically and spiritually robust as they can be before they’re exposed to these extreme stressors that are found in combat.
And then operationally and geopolitically it is a stone that is unturned. It is essentially underutilized; it’s unutilized by the military, by our diplomatic forces. The Pentagon recognizes that there’s no military solution to the current problems, for instance, in the Middle East and it really is going to take efforts to, you know, win this war, the civil war of ideas within Islam, from the soul of Islam, and so forth. Essentially that just means changing people’s minds, allowing them to be less stReesd and less attached to these medieval ideas, and that’s exactly what has been found by the application of this technique in these group settings.
Caroline: So Bob, I mean Colonel Rees said that this is relatively untapped when it comes to the, you know, the ways and the applications of TM. How do you see the United States as being a leader when it comes to this? Or should be a leader when it comes to this?
Bob: Well, it certainly is a leader when it comes to the use of Transcendental Meditation for veterans. Norwich University, which is the oldest private military college in the country, has been offering Transcendental Meditation to its cadets for years now. And the President of the University, Admiral Schneider, Richard Schneider, feels that this should actually be part of basic training. So that as you were saying, that you know, you can give a young man or a woman something to safeguard so they don’t get hit physically, but what do they do for the emotional?
Caroline: Sort of physical armor, but have the mental armor?
Bob: Yeah. And also the Department of Defense just gave two and a half million dollars for a study on the effects of TM on preventing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and through the VA Hospitals we’re working with active duty military who suffer from traumatic brain injury. So actually in the U.S. there’s a widespread use.
I think the interesting thing here is what do you do, or can you do anything with this rising ethnic, societal, political, racial tensions, because you can’t bomb that to get rid of it and you can’t—I know that the U.S. under George, President Bush, tried to do nation-building. Okay, so we’ll build schools in Afghanistan and that’s going to turn the tide and change the thinking. Didn’t work.
So the hypothesis here is, if you have a small number, a relatively small percentage of a population meditating, transcending, experiencing that deep calm within themselves through a mechanism that Dr. Hagelin, as a quantum physicist can explain better than I, just as you could say violence begets violence, through this meditation practice, enough people, peace can beget peace.
Caroline: So now that’s interesting. Does it have to be then, Dr. Hagelin, that the aggressor and then the aggressee both have to be practicing this? So, taking a you know sort of more local situation as an example, Black Lives Matter. So we’ve seen this in the United States, huge movement, a lot of people feeling social unease, social unrest as result of what they see are long standing, deep-rooted racial tensions in this country. They feel that they’re absolutely marginalized in this country and then you’ve had the police response. Does this only work when both sides are practicing TM?
John: Ideally, but absolutely not necessary. The U.S., like every country, has its deep-seated problems, it’s inequities, it’s racial inequities, economic inequities. People have cause to be angry and concerned, but despite those causes, which aren’t going to go away overnight, people’s ability to cope with those causes and respond in the most effective and most positive possible way, that’s something from inside of us, each of us.
So what’s very interesting here is, for example, in a say Middle Eastern community that’s got a great deal of terrorist roots, what happens in those societies is there’s communal support, there’s actually communal support for men and women who are willing to take desperate acts of terrorism and claim their own lives in the process, a very abnormal situation. What happens is, you don’t actually have to get the potential terrorists involved in meditation, which would be very good if you could, but I don’t think they’re going to be inclined to do it. If you can get just people in society, embedded groups, individuals is fine, but groups have more power in this respect, to meditate, the society itself settles and the support for these individual terrorists dries up and the whole society starts to behave differently.
Caroline: So let’s talk about Syria for one second—sorry, Bob—I just want to get this clear, because—
Bob: It’s your show.
Caroline: Yeah, well, so, no, no. I just, I mean, it’s always fascinating, but you know, let’s take Syria as sort of a microcosm and somewhere like Aleppo. So you have obviously Bashar al-Assad, you know, instigator of a lot of the violence against his own people. We’ve seen that and we’ve documented that. It’s been well documented. And you have some group like the self-proclaimed Islamic State, they come in and then say to people, “Listen, we can shore up the security situation, we can help get food flowing back here again. If you need water, we can do that. Fuel, no problem. We’ve got this covered.” This was sort of their M.O. [mode of operation?] So they were trying to shore up the sort of systemic approaches. Now we’re seeing that start to break down, it’s just not sustainable. However, you know, I think that that notion of the systemic issues that then causes people, civilians, who might not necessarily agree with the credo of a, you know, the group like the Islamic State, but they certainly then feel like, “That’s my basic needs met. I need to have my basic needs met before I can think about anything else.” What would you say to those people? I mean, you know, can TM be applicable in those instances where systemic problems have taken so much root?
John: Absolutely. At least in the following way: There are negotiated settlements that have been proposed and that are possible. The problem with any settlement is it requires support; support from the leadership and then ultimately eventually support form the people. If a negotiated leader makes a settlement that the people are absolutely not willing to stomach, it’s not going to last. That’s the course of history.
But what you can do is you can create a far more supportive atmosphere where at least the grudging and need for revenge and vengeance that seethes throughout the different parts of society, if you can basically diffuse that, then people can enter into a dialogue from a much better place and be willing to compromise, and compromise is something that’s almost missing in a society where stress is on the rampage.
If you can change the state of mind, which you can scientifically—that’s really the amazing scientific finding. Relatively few can have a measurable influence on the many. Then you’re going to provide a situation where settlements work.
This was done seven times in the Middle East and what happened was not only did war deaths and war injuries and level of fighting drop significantly, but the progress towards peace among the rival factions, the negotiated truces started to bear fruit and they lasted. Historically they don’t last very long if it’s just a bandaid approach that doesn’t address the underlying cause of violence which is mounting, acute, political, ethnic, and religious tensions.
Caroline: Interesting. Bob, what was your point?
Bob: I was just going to say that I did a show with you where we were talking about the David Lynch Foundation which I head up and we work with at-risk populations, and we were talking about that we wanted to, we’re talking with partnering with UNICEF to bring Transcendental Meditation to the refugees. And one man called in and said, “This is ludicrous. This is ludicrous. These people need, you know, water, they need shelter, they need food. This is—they don’t need meditation.” And then, you know, the point is all these people suffer from acute levels of trauma and toxic stress in their lives. They don’t sleep, they’re just, they’re crazed. And by offering them this other element, a way to reduce that trauma and toxic stress, heal the brain, you’re doing two things, you’re making their current life more manageable, but you’re also preventing the birth—I believe—of terrorists.
Caroline: Now that’s an interesting point. Colonel Rees, talk to us more about that. I mean does this have the potential to then stop future terrorists?
Colonel Rees: Yes it does. And if you think of what’s going to happen, you brought up Syria, in the next ten or thirty or however many years, you know, there will be some sort of a burnout of the violence, there will be some sort of a negotiated settlement where Assad will be eased out and the Iranians and Russians will cooperate in some way to have some other sort of surrogate, and Sunni extremists with nations that are sending money to them will see that it’s not on their self-interest to do that, and all this will evolve over the course of a generation or whatever. There’s no need to wait. In the meantime, there are going to be hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of people displaced and what is needed is some, you know, the diplomatic grease that’s going to make that happen. That’s exactly what this procedure seems to be able to do.
And I reemphasize the point that Dr. Hagelin made that it doesn’t require members of ISIS to learn TM. Or it would be great for the refugees to have access to this technique, but this really can be affected by relatively small groups, some hundreds of people, thousands of people, a couple thousand would have a tremendous effect in that area. But it only requires a small number of people practicing this technique in order to change the trends of time, change some subtle thinking on that very subtle level that can’t be blocked. It works irrespective of geography and culture and politics and so forth. It has a settling effect on all of the minds that are in that area and I think this is exactly what we need in order to disrupt the stress in these negative feedback loops that spiral into the types of thinking that lead to the birth of—the soil in which these terrorists emerge.
Bob: We’re saying stop military action, we’re not saying stop negotiated settlement, economic sanctions where appropriate. We’re saying add this missing element, because somehow you have to address, as Dr. Hagelin put so eloquently, this buildup of racial, religious, political tensions that have gone on for generations. And it’s not going to happen by dropping bombs, and it’s not going to happen by starving the people, and it’s not going to happen by just signing something. You need those things! But here’s an element. And whether it’s understood fully by someone or not, there’s so much research on it now and it’s worth looking at and it’s worth considering because—no, you go ahead.
Caroline: No, I was going to say actually on the research front, I think it’s important, it’s an element of the conversation we haven’t kind of hit on yet. Dr. Hagelin, we’ve been talking about the sort of science behind this, and of course you’re here in your capacity as somebody who has not just studied this area, but nuclear physics as well. Just for those who are not aware of your bonafides, so, you know, what’s your background and how did you end up sitting on a couch with Bob?
Bob: Well, I take—
Caroline: In the nicest possible way.
John: I tolerate Bob because I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation for a long time. I’m what’s called a quantum field theorists or you could say a nuclear physicist. I’ve done research on the nature of consciousness and brain functioning relevant to this. Basically though, what you can do, it’s pretty easy to do, it’s been done many times by many different scientific groups, you can actually train a group in a very powerful stress-reducing technology of TM pretty easily, of course. And you can do that, for example, in the middle of Lebanon during the peak of the Lebanon war. It only took several hundred to start to notice an effect.
But scientifically, you create the group, remove the group, you create the group, you remove the group. You have them there for two days, they’re gone for three, you have them back, and you watch the level of war, fighting, war deaths, war injuries rise and fall in very strong correlation to the number of people who are creating peace and dissolving stress in the collective consciousness.
When you’ve published forty or fifty studies like that, you end up building up evidence that is really beyond irrefutable. There’s never been an approach that has been studied as carefully and has been demonstrated to be so powerful.
The effects can actually be felt very, very soon. And as Bob said, you know, you can’t just do that. But everything that we do conventionally, which is trying to find agreement and negotiated settlements, starts to work when the attitude of the leaders and the people starts to shift. And you can shift consciousness very easily. The actual physics of that is a little sophisticated for a quick interview, but it has to do with the fact that we are actually all deeply connected. We don’t see the connections on the physical level, but at the level of quantum mechanics, quantum field theory, and unified field theory, ultimately we are all one.
And consciousness has different levels, very excited, very chaotic, but there are deeper, quieter levels of mind and these quieter levels of mind, deeper levels of mind. At those deeper and deeper levels we’re actually more closely linked, more closely connected, according to quantum mechanics, then you can see. You can feel it, but you can’t really see it. Those connections run deep and ultimately by taking some of the awareness to the deepest, most expanded level of who we are inside—which is huge, this big, universal field of calm, field of consciousness within—that’s the level where we’re pretty much touching each other, no matter how far away from each other we are.
Caroline: Well it’s interesting you mentioned that kind of connectivity because I think that for a lot of people, sort of bringing it back home again, they feel like there’s been a disconnect between people being able to actually understand one another, you know, just goes beyond really just race. I mean even in politics, we’ve never been as partisan as we are today and you can see that from the way the debates are playing out as well. I talked to the Quilliam Foundation earlier this year. So they study and they look at terrorism and why people become terrorists, and I was talking to the head of the foundation, you know, we were talking about how do you stop somebody? How do you stop somebody who feels so disgruntled, so disconnected from the society that they live in to then succumb to an invitation by some group like ISIS? And the guy at the Quilliam Foundation said to me, “You just need one percent. That’s it. A one percent seed of doubt. That’s all you need.” So I guess a one percent disrupter, I guess—
John: That’s right.
Caroline: —in all of this. Is that what you’re talking about here? Because the people are not going to be, you know, not hungry, not impoverished overnight. But are you talking about the once percent that stops them then doing something which then—
John: Caroline, that is very, very well put. It’s very well put. The thing is, water doesn’t boil at ninety nine degrees centigrade, it boils at one hundred degrees. And you can’t get rid of societal stress and the historic tensions among different ethnic groups just by meditating. Not overnight, anyway. But what you can do is you can calm it to the point where the water isn’t boiling. You can keep the social stress basically within bounds. And if somebody is not utterly wild in their mind, ready to die just to claim the lives of innocent people who may belong to a different religion; that is an extremely abnormal and imbalanced state of mind. If you can bring even a semblance of calm to that person, they’re going to wake up and think, “Gosh, I don’t think I want to do this today.”
Bob: And there’s enough research that shows that children growing up in war-torn areas, violence, crime-ridden areas, that the damage it does to the brain, the trauma that it does to the brain—and even in the United States, a child who grows up in the Bronx or East L.A. and sees two or three acute childhood experiences, they say, they’re in a prison pipeline. Just before the age of six.
Now you’ve got hundreds of thousands of these, of people like that. If there’s two things you can do, offer it to all of them, which the David Lynch Foundation is working to do so they have their own tool to help them manage stress, but do what Dr. Hagelin said.
And I’d say yes, on the surface we’ve lost connection, but the beautiful thing is, the deeper you go in nature, we’re all connected. And that’s not a New Age philosophy anymore, that’s quantum physics. And I also want to make one more point and that is, what Dr. Hagelin is saying, these are studies published in peer-reviewed journals. This isn’t nonsense. And I’m very passionate, and we’ve talked about this, about peace and the need to look outside the box because we all now know conventional approaches do not work.
Caroline: Well, and also this idea of looking outside the box, I suppose, when you’re talking about a group like ISIS, just as again, another example, their rationale, such that it is, is rooted in this very, very warped misreading of the Quran, a very, very warped understanding of what Islam is, and this notion that the end of days basically is going to be upon on. So, you know, in terms of, Colonel Rees, sort of tackling that rationale with something like Transcendental Meditation, how effective do you think it can be, particularly when you’re trying to appeal to a group where they’re not necessarily rooted in reality, they’re rooted in this sort of mythological fantasy that they have been told is true Islam.
Colonel Rees: Well, that’s exactly right. They’re not rooted in reality. Their arguments are impervious to reason, impervious to rational argument, so dealing with it on those superficial levels is ineffective. So a lot of our psychological operations and efforts at putting out Tweets and leaflets and so forth, I don’t think are going to be very productive.
So it really is exactly what Dr. Hagelin was talking about in getting individuals just not have that thought that, “Okay, yes, I’m, you know, maybe I do or don’t have a job, or I don’t have a girlfriend, I’m not getting paid, things aren’t great, and it’s because I’m a marginalized member of society.” Okay, but then to take that next step to say, “I’m going to go to Turkey and try to get across the border and join ISIS.” That’s a step that if we can intervene before that step. And sometimes, as you know, I think you’re talking about Maajid Nawaz and his group and the work that they’re doing in the U.K., it’s wonderful, it’s great work.
But the beauty of this approach is that we can influence the thinking of those persons even if we’re not talking to them, not doing anything to them, not employing them. Just by influencing their thinking we can prevent them from having these disordered thoughts that then lead to this type of behavior.
And again, I reemphasize what both Bobby and John have been saying, you know, these studies were published in peer-reviewed journals, these data are fairly incontrovertible, and we really need to look. If you’re objectively thinking, “What can we do in this situation?” We need to look at those data. And if you’re unhappy with the model, with this idea that we’re connected on some deeper level, fine. If you don’t like the model, come up with a different model. But in the meantime, the data are incontrovertible. It works. If you don’t like the way it works, fine, come up with something else, but this works every time.
Caroline: Well, bringing it back home for a second, I got a comment here from Jay Goldman who says, “This conversation has got me to think about the stress put on black families by the killing and arrest of their friends, family, and others in the community. I’m wondering why this topic question has not been discussed in the negative effects on the black community. This may discuss—uh this may explain a lot about what’s happening in places like Chicago. We’re talking about Syria and Yemen, lets talk about PTSD in America.” You know, we touch about that in a small way, but, you know, Dr. Hagelin tell us a little bit more about what we can do at home.
John: This is a very good point. And this particular short segment has to do with a crisis of terror at the moment, but we have had deep discussion and I think very good action in terms of applying the same effective peace-promoting technology in our communities here in the United States, whether New York City, or Los Angeles, or San Francisco, or now in Chicago, the person mentioned Chicago, programs where the TM Technique, or transcending, is being incorporated into education, public schools, charter schools, both. And the effects in schools are just unbelievable, but in the neighborhoods of those schools and the community surrounding those schools, marked reductions in crime and certainly reduced crime and reduced prison and so forth. It’s really quite transformational.
Let me add a quick thought. It takes an out of balance mind to buy into a theology that has been so warped and is so extremely irrational that a balanced mind simply wouldn’t buy that type of philosophy. I mean every religion has its extreme wing and the people who adopt to those very violent and dramatic and fanatical aspects or versions of religions are people whose minds are prone to that. Behavior is based on the brain and you can try to talk to somebody who’s in prison out of doing crime, but that sort of counseling rehabilitation program hasn’t been effective in the past.
You have to actually impact the brain. And something that’s as powerful as TM profoundly and permanently effects the brain making it orderly, coherent, reducing the effects of stress on the brain, and what are called functional holes in the brain that come due to stress. If you can restore balanced brain functioning and expand comprehension, physiologically, then you have a foundation for better behavior. And somebody who’s been living with a fanatical and crazy philosophy will wake up one morning and say, “Wait a minute. Actually that really doesn’t make sense.”
Caroline: Well so now I just want to get a final question to you Bob because we’ve run out of time, but in terms of this open letter, you know, it wasn’t just to President Obama, it was also to French President François Hollande and also Vladimir Putin of Russia. What are you hoping, Bob, will actually come from this letter and from conversations like this? Are you hoping that it will actually impact policy from a sort of Pentagon governmental level?
Bob: I think it’s public awareness. I think you’re to be congratulated to have this discussion. And I think the discussion we’re having today about the collective effects of Transcendental Meditation is as significant as twenty or thirty years ago when people were talking about the individual benefits of Transcendental Meditation and that was thought to be cutting edge.
And I just have to say the work of Dr. Hagelin, and I have to add that Brian Rees, Dr. Rees, is a great American hero. He spent five tours of duty in Afghanistan and in Iraq. He defended the country, he served the nation, and now he feels quite strongly that we have to adopt a new approach. So what you’re doing in a discussion like this, and then taking the ad out in the New York Times, and discussions we’re going to have with the Pentagon and the V.A. [Veterans Affairs http://www.va.gov/ ] and in Congress, that discussion has to happen. And it just takes one person, whether a wealthy person who can say, “Let’s do this. Let’s do this.” It’s a fraction of what we’re spending like in a minute in combat to do what we’re doing. And if it doesn’t work, it’s another thing that’s failed, but if it does work, it can change the world.
Caroline: Well I appreciate you both coming here and talking about this today. Thank you so much Bob, Dr. Hagelin, and Colonel Rees, thank you so much for joining us via Skype as well. And guys thank you for watching and for your great questions. For more information about what we’ve been talking about, Transcendental Meditation and the David Lynch Foundation, you can check out the links in our resources, below. And stick around Josh Zepps is coming up next.
"Operation Warrior Wellness is bringing the stress-reducing Transcendental Meditation technique to 10,000 veterans and their families with PTSD".