“I feel like a ninja in a fight,” the man who runs the world’s most succesful hedge fund told Andrew Ross Sorkin, the CNBC host and New York Times financial columnist.
Ray Dalio, the secretive and eccentric billionaire founder of Bridgewater Associates, wasn’t talking about a deal or a trade, but instead “a calmness” and his ability to “operate in harmony with reality.”
Dalio spoke Tuesday night at an event in New York City hosted by the David Lynch Foundation, a group founded by the filmmaker that aims to bring Transcendental Meditation to poor children, veterans, and other underserved populations. Dalio and Sorkin are just two of the legion of famous practitioners of Transcendental Meditation, the meditation practice founded by the Indian religious figure Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and first popularized by the Beatles in the 1960s.
Sorkin said he started meditating a year and a half ago following an interview he did with Dalio, while Dalio started 42 years ago. “The Beatles were doing it and it caught my attention, it sounded good. I started it and it worked,” he said.
The practice, which starts with paid classes with a certified trainer, involves two 20-minute sessions every day, where repeating a mantra (a Sanskrit word that you’re not allowed to disclose to anyone) allows one to (hopefully) access a state of restful alertness — what Dalio described as “the void” or what Norman Rosenthal, a psychiatrist who has written about Transcendental Meditation, called “coherence” between the electrical waves coming from different parts of the brain.
Dalio offers Transcendental Meditation training to his entire company. “They pay for half, I pay for half so I know they have some skin in the game,” Dalio said, adding that the practice has been catching on at Bridgewater. According to someone familiar with the company, Bridgewater only started offering the classes in the last few years and Dalio has only recently become a more public advocate for Transcendental Meditation.
Bridgewater has a famously secretive and intense culture based on what’s supposed to be entirely honest, open criticism between employees up and down the ranks — and Dalio credits Transcendental Meditation with allowing his 1,300-person firm to operate the way it it does. Dalio said that there’s usually an “ego barrier” that inhibits honestly discussing disagreement which meditation can help break down. “Because of that calm equanimity, we can have those conversations that’ve been integral to whatever success we’ve had.”
“When you go into a void, it not only gives you relaxation, it gives you access to that neocortex and that imagination. You come out of those things with insight,” Dalio said, explaining how Transcendental Meditation allows him to solve problems, even saying that he’ll “just break off” and go into meditation in the middle of the day when he confronts stress and anxiety.
Dalio was later joined onstage by the restauranteur and TV personality Mario Batali, another practitioner, who said he can “meditate pretty comfortably coming down 9th Avenue on a Vespa.”
Batali decsribed himself as “by nature skeptical” (the word was used by several of the panelists) and said that he was originally turned off by the “very drug-induced” connotations Transcendental Meditations had when the Beatles introduced it to the West. But now, he said, “I’m an addict! I’m here to talk about it! I don’t miss. If someone offered you freedom of something like free money or free music, you would download it!”
When Sorkin asked what Batali had been doing with those 40 minutes every day before he started Transcendental Meditation, Batali said, “I was probably tweeting.”
Sorkin, Dalio, and Batali are joined by Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, Russell Simmons, Russell Brand, Paul McCartney, Arianna Huffington, Dr. Oz, and, of course, David Lynch in the rich and famous who have adopted Transcendental Meditation.
Oz, who spoke before Dalio and Batali, credited the practice with real physiological effects, including “25% reductions, not insignificant reductions” in the incidence of heart attacks and strokes” and said, “Without question it seems to reduce blood pressure as much as medication.”
But Dalio offered perhaps the most compelling testimony for Transcendental Meditation’s positive effects. Dalio, who’s worth $13.8 billion according to Bloomberg, wore rubbery, inexpensive-looking shoes and sported a floppy, Neil Diamond-y haircut. He looked utterly at ease with himself.
“Reality works like a machine,” he said, slowly and deliberately. “You’re just calm and realize that’s what reality brings you. It brings you things you want and brings you things you don’t want. You just have to deal with that reality and that equanimity and acceptance of reality is much easier with meditation.”