David Lynch on Meditation & Filmmaking, Apr 06 | Filmmaking, Meditation, and the Whole Enchilada


"I’m just a guy from Missoula, Montana," said renowned filmmaker David Lynch during the "Exploring the Frontiers of Consciousness" weekend at Maharishi University of Management. (PHOTO BY GABE WALKER)

With his city-sleek black suit and silver whorl of hair, David Lynch certainly cut a distinctive figure in speck-on-the-map Fairfield, Iowa, over the weekend of March 24–26, 2006. The avant-garde filmmaker was the celebrated guest of honor at the whirlwind “Weekend with David Lynch and John Hagelin, Ph.D., Exploring the Frontiers of Consciousness, Creativity, and the Brain,” a three-day seminar hosted by Maharishi University of Management.

More than 1,000 participants showed up for the event—mainly film junkies, students, educators, and journalists. Guest speaker John Hagelin, Ph.D., of “What the Bleep Do We Know?” fame spoke on quantum physics and consciousness, and guest musician Donovan performed two ‘60s nostalgia memory-lane concerts. University tours were given, and guests received a crash course in the fundamental principles behind the unique school, founded in 1974 by East Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

But the true highlight of the weekend was Lynch—mild mannered, meditation-espousing Lynch, a filmmaking guru in his own right.

The eclectic director’s career has spanned more than three decades and includes strange and seminal films including Eraserhead (1978), Blue Velvet (1986), and Mulholland Drive (2001), along with the 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. Lynch has been practicing Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation technique (TM) since the 1970s, and he heavily credits his success in filmmaking and in life to the practice.

In a 2005 Newsweek interview with Karen Springen, Lynch said, “Anywhere I am, twice a day I go off and meditate. Twenty minutes in the morning, 20 minutes in the evening is the deal. And things start getting better. That’s the reason you do it. All the stresses and fears and anxieties begin to recede and a really beautiful inner kind of energy and happiness grows…and those things that used to knock you out don’t have the same power any more. Things get smoother and way more fun (“The Magic of Meditation,” Newsweek, July 26, 2005).”

Over many Q&A sessions during the Fairfield seminar, Lynch highlighted the connection between meditation and filmmaking. “Maharishi Mahesh Yogi speaks of the ocean of creativity within every human being,” said Lynch. “And there’s great value to diving into it to accelerate growth as an artist. In Lynch’s experience, TM can help foster the “growth of intuition,” which, in his eyes, is “critical to filmmaking.”

Somewhat paradoxical words coming from the director of films that often revolve around violence, sexuality, and generally whacked-out subject matter, which one student pointed out during a Q&A round.

David Lynch on dark and light in his films:

“Most films reflect the world in which we live,” responded Lynch, who doesn’t claim to be enlightened. “I’m just a guy from Missoula, Montana,” he said with a laugh. Lynch explained that while his films may reflect some of the harsher and more disturbing realities of modern life, meditation enhances his ability to enjoy the creative process more.

“I enjoy the ‘doing’ more,” he said, crediting meditation for giving him more prolific and better ideas, better focus, and the ability to see beauty in otherwise disturbing things. For instance, the visual “texture” of a dead squirrel: “I’m the kind of guy who enjoys looking at that,” he said, inciting laughter from the audience.

Topics of discussion didn’t revolve strictly around meditation during the seminar. Film students wanted to know what type of camera Lynch currently uses in his projects (Sony DV PD 150) and whether or not he felt rehearsals were important before filming (absolutely). They were also curious to know how he came into the genre of film.

“I was a painter,” he said of his early days in college, “I had no interest in film.” Then, one day, “I was in a studio and…I was doing a painting of a garden at night [somehow fitting], mostly black with green. The painting started to move and I heard a wind, and I was not taking drugs! And I thought, oh, that was interesting—I want to make a moving painting.”

The young Lynch then created an eight-foot wooden screen and projected a “crudely animated film” upon it, in an attempt to realize his vision. One thing led to another, and soon he was receiving grants from the American Film Institute.

As his filmmaking career grew, Lynch found cinema to be the ideal medium for him to express his creativity. “Cinema is a language,” hesaid. “I’m not so good with words. [With film] you can say abstract things, make a feeling and a thought that can’t be expressedany other way. It’s a magical medium.”

Lynch stressed the absolute importance of paying close attention to one’s vision and intuition in filmmaking. “The idea is the whole thing,” hesaid. “You just stay true to the idea and it tells you everything.”

Most of all, however, Lynch seemed to enjoy espousing the value of meditation—both in life in general and in filmmaking in particular. According to Lynch, regular meditation helps people to dissolve the “suffocating rubber clown suit of negativity” they may be walking around in.

Getting rid of old stresses is not always an easy process, says Lynch. "[The suit’s] very stinky, especially when it starts to dissolve!"

For Lynch, though, keeping the end goal in sight makes it all worthwhile: “We’re talking total liberation. The whole enchilada.”

See Neil Fauerso’s review of Mulholland Drive.