By John McMurtrie
November 16, 2005 - 1:55 AM PST
Standing at a microphone, a student in a packed auditorium at the University of California at Berkeley faces David Lynch and tells him that he really likes his movies. Then, with a quizzical look, he adds, "But at the end, I don't get it."
Breaking into an easy grin, Lynch has a quick reply: "You start meditating, pal!"
Always reluctant to discuss the meanings of his famously idiosyncratic films - among them, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive - Lynch last week wrapped up the West Coast leg of a US tour of universities where he eagerly spoke of a subject as close to his heart as film: Transcendental Meditation. The talks, free to students and the public, were a rare opportunity to hear the director - dressed in a no-nonsense black suit, black tie and white shirt, his puffy hair slicked back - speak of the technique that he says reduces his stress, allows him to feel bliss and feeds his creativity.
"It's a beautiful thing," Lynch often says in his distinctive, nasally voice in describing TM, which became popular with the likes of the Beatles after Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced it in 1957. Not content to just meditate on his own (and "dive within," as he says), Lynch hopes to turn others on to the technique - he is quick to point out that TM is not a religion (though some critics view it as a cult that's after your cash). With this goal in mind, the director founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. "The stresses of today's world are taking an enormous toll on our children right now," Lynch writes on his Web site. "There are hundreds of schools, with thousands of students, who are eager to relieve this stress and bring out the full potential of every student by providing this Consciousness-Based education today."
As the name of his foundation also indicates, Lynch believes TM can help spread peace around the globe. The price of peace? Seven billion dollars. That's the lofty sum TM educators are looking to raise to create seven Universities of World Peace. Students there would not only be enrolled in classes but would meditate en masse to "radiate" peace throughout the world. This may sound like something from a movie, but for Lynch and his followers, it's what has to happen in the real world.
Lynch talked about it all in a phone call from his home in Los Angeles.
You've been meditating twice a day, every day, for 32 years. Some people can't even brush their teeth with such regularity. How did you become so passionate about meditation?
I wasn't interested in meditation for a while and I thought it was a waste of time. And I wasn't for it or I wasn't against it, really - I just didn't see it. And then suddenly I thought differently, and when I thought differently, I think I somehow got this yearning. It's money in the bank for me to get wet with that pure consciousness and bliss every day. And I didn't want to stay with the same size consciousness. I see this as common sense.
Initially, did you have any doubts about promoting Transcendental Meditation? Did you fear that some might say, "Oh, here's another liberal Hollywood kook telling us what to do?"
For sure. And yet at the same time, I figured, "Well, wait a minute, I wish I'd heard about it." And it's tied to world peace, it's tied to enlightenment. It makes life so much better, and right from the beginning, it's not a problem to talk about it.
You just finished a tour of colleges, telling students how TM can reduce stress in their lives. You say you get nervous in front of crowds - how stressful was all of this for you?
Well, still, speaking in front of a large crowd is not pleasant. Once it gets rolling, it's okay. But beforehand, it's murder. I'm getting a lot better. The first interview I ever did was in 1972, I believe, and I couldn't speak. I couldn't speak one word. I only said, "I painted it black." That was my one sentence. And so I have improved.
And people were really great on this tour. Way more receptive than I dreamed. Way more. And once the evening got rolling, the places had a great feel. Really great. And I think there's a thing in human beings - they sense that there's more than meets the eye. They hear this and a bunch of machinery starts rolling. And a lot of people come up with, "Wait a minute, this could be the way." "Could be" is good enough for me.
Do any ideas for your films come from meditation?
For Mulholland Drive, many ideas came in one beautiful string of pearls. During meditation, out it came, the way to make the pilot into a feature. The ideas came, and there they were, just right there in front of me. All I had to do was write them down. You don't spend your time in meditation thinking about your film or whatever you're working on - you dive in there and you experience that, and then you come out totally charged and with more of what it takes to catch those ideas.
Have you ever considered somehow including meditation in one of your films?
Not really. Nobody likes to be preached to. And a message film, like they say: "You want to send a message, go to Western Union." If I fell in love with an idea that had it, absolutely I would. But it has to be that way, not to make a film about a thing. That's the reverse of the way it works, at least with me.
What sort of a director do you think you'd be if you didn't meditate?
Well, for sure, I would have more fear, more anxiety, more tension. And fear makes a person weak and unsure. And it eats away at what you need to make it in this business. And when those things start lifting, because when you get more and more bliss consciousness from diving into that ocean of bliss consciousness, the negative things start to recede. And so you grow in inner happiness. Consciousness, intelligence, creativity start expanding. You can catch ideas, intuition grows, you can feel, think away, a knowingness grows. This is so beautiful for filmmaking, it's so beautiful for human beings.
Despite the meditation, it must be difficult to always keep your cool on a set.
You know, what happens is, you start looking at people differently. It's almost like you've met people before when you haven't. Everybody looks sort of familiar. You appreciate people more. You know, you can get angry, but you can't hold onto it. You can get sad, but you can't hold onto it for very long. You can dip into depression, but you can't hold it. And that's so beautiful. And [as] we all do influence our environment, the set gets happier.
We were on the East Coast tour when an article came out about somebody in Hollywood who runs their business on fear. Now, to me, that person, I'm sorry, is an idiot. I mean an idiot like I feel sorry for him, because he would like everybody to feel like him, and this is the way to run a business. When you think about it with an ounce of common sense, it's so stupid, and it's cruel. So the people are working under fear, they take that home, and their whole life is that. He's making their life a mess, and a suffering mess. And so fear can turn to hate. You hate to go to work, and then hate can turn to anger, and you'll be angry at your work. It makes a very bad world.
I would suggest this person dive within himself, experience the self, which is pure bliss, pure consciousness and grow in that. Grow in that, and become a realized human being. And then he's going to change that place. People are going to want to come to work. He's going to bring as much goodness to those people helping him as he can. They're going to go the extra mile for him, they're going to come up with ideas, get the whole business diving within every day. And some companies have done that, and it's not something new, it's something that works. Just a few more people have got to hear about it and it reaches a flashpoint. It's life-transforming.
Have you turned others on to TM in Hollywood?
I don't go around with a sign on Hollywood Boulevard, but if people ask me about it, I tell them about it. And if they don't, they don't. So some people, yeah, they see me go off and meditate during lunch, and they wonder what it is, and they want it.
You're trying to help raise $7 billion for a University of World Peace.
Seven universities. That would be $1 billion per, on a permanent basis, so the billion would never be touched. Only the interest coming off of it would be enough to sustain a permanent peace-creating group. It's not people who sing about peace or march about peace or talk about peace, it's literally enlivening that unified field, pure consciousness, enlivening that in world consciousness and bringing harmony, coherence, dynamic peace to earth.
You're a smoker and you drink a lot of coffee - I've read 15 cups a day...
That doesn't sound especially relaxing.
Well, you know, I'm pretty relaxed. [Laughs.] It's a funny thing. I just love coffee. You know, I'm proof that you don't have to give up something to start meditation, and that happiness does come from within. It's so powerful, it almost doesn't matter what we do. I think I would go faster on the trail if I, you know, was a hair cleaner.
I've read that when you're home in Los Angeles, you go to Bob's Big Boy every day.
I used to do that. Actually, I went there last night with my son Reilly. And I had a sandwich there.
What had made you stop? You were going there for seven years?
Well, I used to go there at 2:30 every afternoon to try to catch ideas. I'd have coffee and a chocolate shake. And one day, after about seven years - not every day, but I mean over a period of seven years; I really liked going there at that time and thinking - I crawled into a bin behind Bob's and looked at the ingredients of the shake, and everything ended with "zine" or "ate," and so I figured I better stop that. They don't serve those anymore. I don't want to say that those are still on the market there. They've changed their shakes.
You're now editing Inland Empire - "a mystery about a woman in trouble" is as much as you'll say in describing it. Is the movie like Blue Velvet or Mulholland Drive - just part of a big plan to freak us out and stress us out and send us running toward meditation to find relaxation?
[Laughs.] No, I don't know what this one will cause. I'm right in the middle of it now. I don't like to talk about film too much anyway. A film should stand on its own.
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"This is so beautiful for filmmaking, it's so beautiful for human beings."
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... writes about film for the San Francisco Chronicle.
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