Posted by: bobroth | December 31, 2009

Aunt Adele and Teaching in DC

I have been in Washington, DC, for the past four days…

Weather: Blue skies; a stiff, cutting wind; and icy cold…

My theme for December (after spending two survivor weeks traveling through India and two relatively cushy weeks in New York City and Washington):

Balancing opposites.

Today, I will have lunch with my 94-year-old Aunt Adele, my (late) mom’s sister. Aunt Adele is great. Together with her (late) husband, Morty, she built from scratch a small chain of very successful department stores in the DC area in the 1950s and 60s. They also bought a large tract of land about 10 miles out in the (then) sticks from DC in Virginia. Today, that land is in the hoity-toity township of McLean, and Aunt Adele is a wealthy lady with a generous heart. She has turned her 8-acre front “yard” into a big, sprawling park for children.

Really. One day over lunch a few years ago, she tells me about how she wants lots of children around her as she grows old. Six months later I come back for a visit and her front yard–several football fields worth of sloping grassland, stretching from very near her front door all the way to the main street–is now a big, beautiful, colorful jumble of swing sets, jungle gyms (at least that is what we used to call them as kids), climbing tunnels, hoops and walls… with a parking lot and surrounding grounds filled with cars and bikes and wheel chairs and strollers and picnic tables with really happy, really noisy kids. (Aunt Adele provides a bus to bring disadvantaged kids from miles away to play.)

Twenty feet from her front door is a fence to provide a modicum of privacy and security. But other than that, Aunt Adele lives her dream in a kid park.

I ask her how Uncle Morty (a tad more fiscally conservative, to say the least) would feel about her deeding her property over to the city–and building a park for children.

“He would be spinning in his grave,” she says with a sly grin.


So what does Aunt Adele have to do with the David Lynch Foundation?

Basically nothing. Just a nice story about a woman I love and admire so much.

I came to DC at the invitation of a local physician, a long time meditator, who said two of his friends–both very prominent psychiatrists–wanted to learn to meditate. And would I teach them. (They spend much of their time commuting to New York so I can follow up with them there.)

Of course, say I.

They have impressive resumes. Both are authors of definitive medical textbooks on psychiatry, both have burgeoning private practices, and both supervise massive research efforts on new drugs for a host of mental health disorders.

And both are stressed as hell. Their words.

One doctor, I will call him Ted, didn’t really know anything about TM,  never dabbled in any form of meditation, and probably, until recently, frowned on anything tagged as “alternative.”

The other, I will call him Jed (I have a novelist’s knack for cool names, I know), has practiced Vipasana meditation since the late 1980s. He also does something called a Buddhist “compassion” meditation.

Ted was open and kind of innocent about the whole thing.

Jed was the skeptic who had read a lot, combed the internet (visiting the good, the bad and the ugly sites), and came loaded with questions.

We talked openly about everything, the technique, the organization that teaches the technique, the research, the outcomes, etc.

Both asked me to teach them. So I taught them.

And now, after just three days, I am happy to report, both say they are enjoying their practice–and doing much better than they expected…

Ted says he is feeling more energetic (he is in his ’70s) and more “affectionate” with his wife of 40 years… In fact, Ted was a little more descriptive with the intimate details than I needed to hear, but I guess that’s what psychiatrists do. He has already recommended meditation to a few of his patients.

Jed, who has been absorbed for several years dealing with the very painful break up of a longstanding relationship with a lady friend, is basically hoping the meditation will help mitigate some of the pain and give him the strength to power on. So far so good.

While I have been here, I also taught a wonderful older couple to meditate, whose perspective and orientation couldn’t have been more different from the psychiatrists. The husband and wife are devout Christians who run a faith-based organization that aims to prevent millions of inner-city high school kids from dropping out of school. (The stats are depressing on dropouts. Compared to graduates, dropouts are disproportionately far more likely to become drug addicts, commit violent crimes, and end up in prison–at an immeasurable cost on all levels to society.)

The wife is a priest in the Episcopal Church. Both have done what they described as “Christian Centering Meditation” for years.

Both heard about TM from a family friend.

We talk, I answer their questions about stress, religion, and how TM practice differs from Christian Centering (completely different, I say, and explain how).

They decide to start.

Yesterday, when we meet for a follow-up session, the wife (the priest) says her prayer after meditation is deeper and far more satisfying.

I will finish up the initial course of teaching today (it takes about 90 minutes a day over four consecutive days)…

Then tomorrow I take Amtrak back up to New York City for New Year’s eve. (And no, I will not be on Times Square to see the ball drop–the aging fuddy-duddy that I am.)

After a few days of rest I will head to Europe for a few weeks of Foundation work (more on that later)…

So, if I don’t get to say it tomorrow, then I wish you a very, very, very Happy New Year …

As always, thanks for listening.

Travelin’ Bobby


  1. I like both stories. Hope I’d be like your aunt if I arrive to this age! The experience of teaching TM is very instructive too and it partly answers to some question I had. So, thank you! Have a nice journey in Europe!*
    And Happy New Year!

    *Theoretically the roads will be better there!!

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