Bob Roth is one of the most experienced Transcendental Meditation teachers in the world. Some of his past students include Hugh Jackman, Oprah Winfrey, Katy Perry, and Tom Hanks – to name a few.
As the CEO of the David Lynch Foundation and a director of the Center for Leadership Performance, Bob Roth is at the forefront of doing outstanding work to help people achieve their ultimate success. Bob has helped bring Transcendental Meditation to more than one million students in underserved schools in 35 countries, to military veterans and their families who suffer from post-traumatic stress, and to women and children who are survivors of domestic violence and is the author of the 2018 New York Times bestseller, “Strength in Stillness.
Richtopia is shining a light on the invaluable contribution that mentoring makes.
Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
Bob Roth: Full Interview
1. How has mentorship helped you in your business and your life?
When I look back on my life; everything good about my life has come from mentors, whether the mentors were my father, who was a medical doctor who suffered from his own post-traumatic stress because he was a medic on the front lines of World War II in Europe, or my mother, who was a school teacher, or a German babysitter I had who taught me about resilience.
The most important people in my life and the biggest changes in my life have been people that I’ve been able to look up to and learn from. So I think mentoring is the most essential tool to live a good, healthy, and productive life.
2. In which ways do you think it’s important for people to pay attention to mentoring?
We grow and thrive when we are able to connect with other human beings. And the interesting thing is, some of the research is now showing that there’s something called a mirror neuron in the brain. And these are called smart neurons. And those are the neurons that reflect, we see someone behaving in a certain way, maybe I want to become a great pianist, and my teacher plays the piano. And it turns out; I can also learn remote; virtually some of those same areas in the brain are lit up when I watch the person with video as when they are right with me.
Now, obviously, we’d like to have the person right with us, but if not, it’s still very valuable. And so I think that kind of communication that’s been going on for tens of thousands of years, if not longer, among human beings is the basis of a flourishing integrated society. So the more mentoring, the better.
3. How can organisations use mentoring to advance their workforce?
I think it’s essential; I’m a student of the brain. And the more we understand that when you just read something in a book, its impact on the hippocampus, the memory, the emotional centres in the brain, the prefrontal cortex is much less than when you have human to human contact. When it’s human to human contact, then the learning is far deeper, far more ingrained, far more impactful. And when you have the learning, then you have the skill set to be able to act. And so I think more and more companies are doing this, they recognise that there’s no replacement. Book learning is fine, but there’s no replacement for having someone who’s in a position to be able to mentor and guide and lead and correct, no replacement for that, and there never will be a replacement for that.
And again, we go back to the brain. What a mirror neuron does is when I laugh, it activates a particular part of my brain. When I see someone else laugh, it activates the same part of the brain. When I cry, it activates a part of my brain. When I see someone in a movie cry, I cry; these are distinctly mirror neurons. It shows the importance of having someone be a model for us, a positive life-supporting model. And when you do mentoring in a school, when you are in a business, when you bring someone in who’s trained in mentoring, then you’re guaranteed because there’s a skill set for mentoring, and there’s a skill set for the mentee. And again, meditation. Transcendental Meditation prepares the mentor to teach, and it prepares the mentee to learn both together absolutely a complete protein as I like to say,
So all the essential amino acids are there, all the essential amino acids for learning, for thriving, meditation and mentoring both together, prepare yourself to learn, okay, because let’s say I’m a mentor in a school, I really want to give them a wonderful role model and teach them how to grow. Now that child doesn’t even have to come from a disadvantaged school; it could come from a wealthy school. Kids are coming to school so stressed; they haven’t slept. Maybe they’re taking their parents drugs! Now I come in to teach, to be a mentor, and I have to deal with that. So if that child, that student is able to take a few minutes and just settle down, calm down, calm the core to reduce the cortisol levels, calm the sympathetic nervous system, wake up the parasympathetic nervous system, wakeup the areas of the brain – the prefrontal cortex for judgment and planning. Oh my gosh, now the process of learning and teaching is on a high level. Now you start seeing brain synchronicity, i.e. the activity of the brain of the teacher or the mentor and the activity of the brain of the person learning lineup. This is new research.
So mentoring is going to be more essential going forward. It’s going to be, I think, the basis of a flourishing society. It has to be human to human contact, either face to face or remote, but still, you have to have it.
4. We’ve launched a campaign for every person to mentor someone on National Mentoring day, why is mentoring important?
The beautiful thing is there are so many people who have reached retirement age. They talk about three stages of life. One is called the student years where you’re sort of learning, it’s not this rigid, but you’re absorbing knowledge. The second phase of a person’s life is called householder, when you have a family and you raise them, you earn money, and you support your family and you sort of expand, and then your children have grown up, you moved on. Yet, you have so much knowledge to share, so much experience to share and a lot of these people feel set aside.
But if we have a National Mentoring Program, if it’s ingrained within the fabric of society – “Oh, you’ve retired”, you’re not done, now there’s these mentoring programs, and then you’re engaged, because that final stage is the stage of teaching. You take the experience, the life experience that you had, and now you raise the next generation. Now, obviously, it doesn’t mean they’re students that householder life is rigid. There was this wonderful mentor of mine when I was a boy scout, I remember a fellow named Bruce Wagner, I was 13 and he was 16, he was so important to me. So he was a mentor for me just leading me and teaching me by his example of how I could be a good young man. But this idea of making full use of millions of people who could really educate and enlighten the next generation, sorry for going so long but you got me all excited here.
Chelsey: When you think of the high rates of unemployment, we all have life skills to share as a mentor, we all have something to learn as a mentee, and it’s about paying it forward. And just helping somebody you know, get a step up the ladder. That’s why we’re really hoping that people step up to mentor someone on National Mentoring Day.
Yes, the person who’s learning is watching the behaviour of the mentor, their body language, emotions, how they react to somebody, I think, I learned more from a couple of bosses I had in my early days of how never to treat other people. It’s like, it went so deep. I mean, the mirror neuron, I keep coming back to this because it’s really a mentor neuron. Really the brain is hardwired for mentorship, absolutely.
And so a mirror neuron, not only do you see behaviour, like maybe a young daughter starts acting in a similar way, similar gestures as the mother. So it’s not just physical, Chelsey, but it’s emotional. It’s so you feel the other person’s discomfort or you feel the other person’s happiness, and to be a really good mentor, when you read anything about mentorship, they’re always talking about that relationship. So again, meditation and mentoring.
5. You’ve achieved outstanding success with all that you’ve contributed to the David Lynch Foundation, to your own work, and with your book, ‘Strength in Stillness’; so what is your definition of success?
200% of life, 100% outer fulfilment, a realisation of what you want to do with your life – “oh, I wanted to be a school teacher”, or “I wanted to be a mom and raise five kids”, “I wanted to be a mom and work as an architect or a lawyer”, “I wanted to be” … whatever the vision is outer but 100% inner, 100% development of my unlimited creative potential. And the developing of that unlimited inner creative potential, my own connectedness to myself does not come from just outer success. How many people do we know that have all the money in the world and they’re miserable, they’ve all the fame in the world, and they’re miserable; beautiful, supermodels, whatever, sad. So that inner development of the content of life, that inner hundred per cent, is also a measure of success.
So many people I work with work hard, they get to the top, and they’re so stressed out. And you’ll see when they get to the top; they don’t even enjoy it. They can’t enjoy their family, they can’t enjoy what they’ve got, they’re just stressed, their doctor tells them they have to stop because they have high blood pressure. It doesn’t have to be that way. Again, meditation and mentoring, this thing of taking time out, a few minutes, there are 1,440 minutes in our day, take a few minutes, 20, 30, 40 minutes out of the day for that developing success in the interior of life. Again, not a religion, not a philosophy; we’re talking about an evidence-based tool to develop the full potential of the brain and then apply it in life. So that’s what I think success is. It’s got to have both outer material success, you look around, they worked hard, but those people are not universally happy or healthy.
6. How can we accelerate this paradigm shift from everybody working separately to oneness to togetherness?
The surface of life is a field of differences. You know, when you are in your own family, everybody is stressed out in your family, everybody is on each others case, and “you did that”, and “you did that” – if they’re stressed and tired, and then everything is wrong, the person is a terrible person, and I’ve had it I can’t handle it. The same thing happens in a business, in the community, in a country, in the world. That’s on the surface. But we also know when the family goes away on a vacation, if they get to go away on vacation these days, or get some rest or just has a holiday and everybody settles down, everybody decompresses, everybody chills. Then that underlying love that was always there has a chance to sort of come to the surface. And yeah, “my sister drives me nuts, but I love my sister”. And yes, “I’ve been married to this man for 30 years and if he does that one more time, but I love my husband”. That underlying unity doesn’t come from just adopting a philosophy; it really has to come from taking the time out. It’s called self-care.
This world is in desperate need individually, in the schools, in a business, for self-care. And when we take a little bit of time out for self-care, we wake up our common humanity. And then we’re less at odds with each other. So to facilitate that, and I think society is already going in that direction, by eating better, by exercising more, as you said, more people meditating, there’s no magic bullet, there’s no magic pill, but those basics are essential for bringing unity. Unity comes from health, and health comes from self-care.
7. You told me at your last book launch, that there were studies done in Washington when people were meditating, and it had a knock-on effect of actually reducing crime.
Well, we all know that violence begets violence. We all know that stress begets stress. But now there’s research that shows calm, equanimity, deep silence also has a ready effect. And in society, there have been many studies that have small numbers of people who meditate. And when we’re talking about meditation, again, we’re not just talking about “I’m praying for peace” or “I’m trying to clear my mind” and thought. If you use the analogy of ocean waves on the surface, but then the depth of the ocean is silent. The mind is the same; the surface of the mind is active and agitated, but the depth of the ocean is unbounded and silent and powerful. So when in Transcendental Meditation, we access that inner calm that lies within us, the deepest level of my own nature. And there’s a whole constellation of neurophysiological changes that take place when I do that. Well, the research shows when you have just a few percentages of just a few people in a society or country doing that, it actually awakens; it actually helps neutralize the buildup of stress and tension in society. It does create, as you say, coherence, calm, clarity, the ability to work as a team; it just changes the environment. And this is for a lot of people, it’s just sort of oh, that’s hooey, but there’s so much research coming out now that says it’s true.
I think the only matter now is for scientists to understand the mechanics because it’s shown when you have a small number of people meditating in Washington DC, a few hundred people meditating in these powerful meditation techniques, over two months, randomized control trial, violent crime dropped 25% in the summer, and that was published in a top journal. So all these things are good to tie it back to mentoring; all these things are going to create an atmosphere of learning readiness, of a willingness to be open to new ideas, and a perfect time for all of the mentors to step forward and be really enlightened guides in society.
8. How do you see the future of humanity?
What I mean by coherence is a medical term; it’s a scientific term in society. Coherent systems, if you have a loudspeaker on one side of a huge auditorium and a loudspeaker on another side of the auditorium. You play the music through those, it sounds as loud as two loudspeakers, but when you put them next to each other, the amplitude square, now they’re as loud as four loudspeakers. And if you have three loudspeakers, you put them together, as loud as nine, the power of coherence, the power of synchrony, the power of togetherness, is much more powerful than the power of dyssynchrony, incoherence. And that’s in the body, that’s in the way the brain functions, that’s in life. And so I feel that the future is bright, and the only reason I feel the future is bright; more and more research on the brain, more and more research on what’s called the microbiome, which is our gut intelligence in the brain, gut access to all these things letting us know the terrible impact that stress has on an individual and society. And looking at these simple meditation techniques, ancient meditation techniques that show, oh, it balances the microbiome, oh, it reduces cortisol levels the stress hormone by 40%. Cortisol is like the death of society right now; it’s so toxic. All these changes take place in the brain and the body.
And when we see these kinds of developments, and when they get incorporated into our National Healthcare System, I think we’re talking a few years away, a person will be able to walk into the doctor and have a prescription to learn Transcendental Meditation for anxiety, or high blood pressure, or insomnia or depression, or any number of disorders. And they’ll learn to meditate, and they’ll be paid for by the government; they’ll learn to meditate from that. But then, once the blood pressure is down, all these other wonderful things still take place. It wakes up the creative networks in the brain; it opens the heart, we listen better, we’re more loving, we’re more compassionate; the transformation in society has to start from the individual. And that’s going to be driven by all this research and the fact that it saves lives. So I feel very bullish about the future.
9. So, as a world expert on consciousness, what do you think is required to advance consciousness in business?
It’s happening. Healthcare costs are undermining companies all across the world. Absenteeism, substance use disorder, heart attacks. I was speaking at a large bank in New York City, and they were interested – hundreds of thousands of employees. And I said, “why are you interested in TM?” I thought the woman was gonna say, “Well, you know, we have absenteeism” – she said, “too many suicides”. Too many suicides, the situation is getting dire. Post Traumatic Stress, which had been the domain of the soldiers in combat is now coming home to roost, particularly with COVID. And so business today is so focused on self-care, exercise, yoga classes, in giving you tools to help their employees become healthier. And when that happens, Chelsey, the byproduct, that’ll be one little thing, getting rid of stress, my point is, then you’re going to become more creative, then they’re going to be more insightful, then they’re going to be better team players, then they’re going to be better mentors and mentees. So the way it’s going to happen is, necessity is the mother of invention. And there’s a huge problem right now, with the sickness that comes from not having that equanimity inside. And they’re coming to Transcendental Meditation again, a couple of years, it’s going to be part of the healthcare system.
We have a study going on right now in nine VA hospitals in the United States Veterans Administration, with up to 1,000 veterans who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And the results of that study in a few years will be used to secure coverage by the VA and the Federal Government for 18 million veterans in the United States to learn to meditate, covered by the government. So it’s not far off, it’s not wishing, it’s; do the research like you would with a medicine. If you want to bring a new medicine to the market, do the research, medicine goes to market, you want to bring meditation to the people, do the research, same research gets brought to the people. So that’s what we’re doing now.
10. What steps do you think people can take to become good mentors themselves?
There are so many wonderful organisations. And I know that National Mentoring Day, that you can go online, and they can tell you. They say, to be a good leader, you have to be a good servant; to be a teacher, you have to be a good student. So just to be a good mentor means that you understand, you have to be receptive, you have to be alert. You have to be intuitive, you have to have your own knowledge, but really receptivity is, I think, one of the key things for being a good mentor. We think of mentoring, oh, I’m going to teach you this, but the first step is receptivity to open the channels of communication.
11. If you had the chance to go back in history and have any two mentors, who would they be, and what would you want to learn from them?
It’s gonna sound interesting, Jesus and Moses. I would have loved to be around Jesus and Moses, huge impacts that have gone beyond political discussion, beyond education or anything, what impacts to be around and just fly on the wall, not worthy to be too close, but just there to have seen these two cosmic individuals. I would just want to be a mirror, my mirror neurons. Just watch; it’s all on an unconscious level anyway. I would just want to unconsciously have my neurons soak up Jesus and Moses; I know it’s an unusual answer. That’s who I would like to be with.
12. How do you think mentoring can help with mental health issues? As I know, you’re so well versed in this subject and teaching it.
Well, to solve mental health issues, there’s no one magic bullet; there’s no one thing that takes care of everything when it comes to mental health issues. And so I mean, obviously, I think one of the interesting things right now in the research that I’ve done, is that the problem with the pharmaceutical companies right now is that they don’t know the pathology of mental health disease. They don’t; if I get an infection in my arm, they know, “oh, this is, and I’m going to put an antibiotic there, and it’s going to just get rid of the bacteria”. But with mental health issues, very fuzzy and hazy, they don’t know what the causes of anxiety is, depression is, bipolar disorder, any of these things, any of these eating disorders or whatever. But what they do know is that basic, going to sleep on time, exercising, meditation, a good diet, but also support from your environment.
And if I don’t have a strong family network, then my mentor becomes also somebody that I can open up to that I trust, becomes like a big brother or big sister. And I firmly believe a person will never get healthy from their mental health issues unless they have that mentoring influence in their life, not just a shoulder to cry on but a model to grow from. Oh, this is how this person deals with adversity; this is how this person loves her husband or her children. If we had an unhealthy upbringing, and we’re around a family that’s getting along with each other, you soak it in. So I think mentoring plays a role far bigger than just okay; I’m going to help you figure out how to do this widget or that thing, or how to play tennis. It’s a lifelong lesson that one learns and when I look back on the mentors in my life, from an early age, carried over for my whole life.
Mentoring doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, “Oh, I don’t have the time to do it,” No, no, no, “I don’t have the time to meditate” I don’t have the time to be a mentor. No, no, its what you DO have the time for, this is going to make you healthier and stronger and it’s going to make a better world, a better world is going to become better. You said about one person in the family can change not only that family but literally generations to come. You can change the genetic makeup of the code that’s passed along. Is it a traumatized genetic code or are the genes that are passed along, one that has greater resilience in overcoming adversity?
13. Why are you supporting our mission to make mentoring accessible to everyone?
Because the idea of mentoring is what I should do, “oh, yeah, I should be a mentor”. You know, it’s like, “I should get around to that”, or “wouldn’t that be great”, but it takes somebody, some organisation, some well-meaning brilliant people in an organisation to say, “No, no, this isn’t just an option, we’re going to drive this to the forefront, we’re going to bring it as front and centre, the world’s gonna have to know who we are, deal with this and respond because this is not an option”. Just like I don’t think meditation is just a luxury for the wealthy few who have the time to go to a yoga class that I’m going to do meditation and woo-woo stuff. No, meditation is now an essential component for survival, whether its survival physically, mentally, in a rough marketplace, while mentoring also is not an option anymore; I think National Mentoring Day and what you’re doing and your motto, share your knowledge with the world. It is the nature of the human being who’s not stressed out of her mind or his mind; the cup runneth over to share what we have to uplift others. So to have an organisation that provides a channel for that on such a high level with such good people with the right intentions has to be successful on so many levels. And so I applaud you, Chelsey, and I applaud the work of the whole of National Mentoring Day and all the mentoring organisations and mentors all over the world, in every culture, because it’s everywhere. And the time is now as you said.
And you know what happens when you’re a mentor, it’s for the other person, but they say the teacher learns more than the student. And when you’re a mentor, and I’m a mentor, it’s so satisfying. And even your brain responds, and your body responds. Now, when you’re mentoring, there’s research that shows that when you’re giving, your brain secretes something called oxytocin, which is the trust and love hormone, you release dopamine, which is the pleasure hormone, you raise serotonin levels, serotonin is your happiness and well being, your whole body and brain thrill. By you just doing something good like that and you don’t get all those hormones coming and feeling so good by just being selfish, it doesn’t happen. It’s so interesting the way nature has organised this, that by us being mentors, by us sharing the knowledge with the world, as you say, by doing all of these, we are strengthened, we are uplifted, our life is more fulfilling, we’re making other people’s life more satisfying. But boy, oh boy, if you’ve ever done that, it’s the mentors who get so much benefit.
Chelsey: I’ve mentored hundreds of individuals and businesses, and I get such a kick out of it. There’s nothing that lights me up more than, the hard work that I’ve done in learning my skill stack in my life but passing it forward to people. And it’s not only the individual that benefits from it. It’s also their family that benefits from the information, the knock-on effect, but it could also affect future generations. And this is why we’re trying to really create this culture of mentoring so that everyone, because I get a lot of questions asked to me, “Do I have the right skill set to be a mentor, or I’m not sure all I’ve mentored one person”, is not a hobby. Mentoring should be for life. And we need more mentors to keep up with the demand that society needs. And this is why we’re recognising mentors who are making a difference and shining a light on mentoring initiatives so that we can thank those people who make a difference. Thank you so much.
14. What is the one thing you want everyone to know about Bob?
That I do the best I can every day, I go to bed saying whatever it was; I did the best I can every day.
Chelsey: I’d like to thank you for supporting our mission to make mentoring accessible all over the world and for all the work you’ve done with the David Lynch Foundation and to evolve consciousness, to bring Transcendental Meditation to the students, the veterans, to women who’ve suffered terrible domestic violence and everybody that you’ve served. Thank you for your amazing contributions to humanity and all the work that you have done.
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