David Lynch, known for his nightmarish movies, wants to solve the world’s problems through the gentle art of meditation. Marcus Warren meets him.
Of all the unlikely candidates for the job of bringing peace and goodwill to mankind, one of the most improbable must be David Lynch. But the master of disturbing cinema is determined to put an end to war and suffering – and he claims to know just how to do it.
His remedy for our troubles is Transcendental Meditation. At a press conference in New York last month, the eccentric 57-year-old film director unveiled an ambitious project to build hundreds of “peace palaces” around the world. Eight thousand like-minded followers of Transcendental Meditation will live, eat and sleep inside the first of these temples permanently, all meditating like crazy. Between them, they will harness the power of a great, global wave of positive consciousness that will usher in a new era of love and harmony. Bingo. That’s all there is to it.
“Eight thousand people, going every day. It’s world peace. There will be peace in the Middle East. Peace in the whole world. It could happen this year,” Lynch explains, almost tripping over the words in his excitement.
“This is like quantum physics and Vedic science. It’s, like, ancient and modern. It’s based on the most profound law of nature and it will work. It just needs to go permanent, day in and day out, and it’s a done deal.”
An inkling of self-doubt suddenly surfaces. “When you think about it, it does sound too good to be true,” he concedes with a grin. “But I believe it.”
The news that Lynch has been meditating regularly for 30 years might come as a surprise to anyone familiar with nightmare-inducing films such as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and The Elephant Man. But inside his Beverly Hills compound, just off Mulholland Drive, there are plenty of reminders that the master of the house is not just another Hollywood convert to the latest quasi-mystical fad, or some sort of spiritual fashion victim – although he is certainly a man with a seriously warped imagination.
“Who are you?” reads a sign on a black cut-out figure, half blob, half human, which greets visitors. Upstairs hangs a series of canvases depicting images of an embryo-like homunculus called “Bob”. “Bob loves Sally until she is blue in the face,” proclaims one painting, which depicts what seems to be a rape on a mortuary slab.
The chamber-of-horrors ambience in his house notwithstanding, my host is courtesy personified. Mel Brooks once described Lynch as “Jimmy Stewart from Mars”, but his appearance and behaviour are those of a polite, affable, all-American guy. A thick head of greying hair is swept back over his scalp and his jacket has a large hole where its right elbow should be.
He leads me into his screening room cum mixing studio, where he is busy working on his internet site, various photographic projects (“factories and nudes” are his favourite subjects) and ideas for his next movie. But all of that might have to wait until he has helped to teach the world to live in perfect harmony. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, but I have to say that peace on Earth would be a top priority,” he says.
Sadly, Lynch has no plans to join in the group meditation exercises himself. But he is lending his enthusiastic support to the campaign to raise funds for the venture and is more than happy to proselytise on behalf of Transcendental Meditation.
However, explaining TM to the uninitiated is a difficult task. It is not tied to any particular religion, and does not involve any chanting, intense concentration or sitting in painful positions, so it can be difficult to visualise. The techniques involved, which were developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the Fifties, are said to be easy to master. It is reported that more than five million people around the world have learnt them and there are 80 teaching centres in Britain, all dedicated to reducing stress, improving health and unlocking the potential of the mind.
John Lennon, who studied with the Maharishi along with the other Beatles in the late Sixties, described the experience as “limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns”. How would Lynch describe it?
“It’s unbounded, infinite, eternal. It’s the absolute,” he says, shifting to an even higher plane of excitement. “You literally go beyond the field of relativity. You go beyond boundaries of space and time and you go into the unified field, which is pure bliss. It’s what you call self-referential consciousness.”
A creature of habit – he once ate the same lunch, a chocolate milk-shake and a coffee, every day for seven years – Lynch has meditated twice a day for three decades without missing a single session; not one, he says.
To demonstrate, he sits back in his chair and closes his eyes, tight. Then he relaxes and clasps his hands across his chest. “And away you go,” he says.
It all looks so simple, but there is a more advanced technique that he politely refuses to perform for my benefit. It is “yogic flying”, which, despite the name, looks as if the person meditating is bouncing up and down in a cross-legged position. “It’s pretty unbelievably beautiful and they call it ‘bubbling bliss’,” says Lynch, who has tried it himself. “And, as they’re flying, that bliss is so fantastic, it’s just blasting them.”
It’s hard to believe that this is the same man who once declined to undergo psychoanalysis after being told that therapy might compromise his creativity. In fact, so frightened was he of losing his dark artistic edge that he walked out of the analyst’s office there and then.
Yes, there is a paradox in this, he concedes, but Transcendental Meditation is all about “cleansing and infusing” and doesn’t adversely affect his work. He describes the difference between the experience of meditating and not meditating as follows: if you don’t meditate, it’s as though you have woken up after a fitful night’s sleep, feeling stressed, and you will run into traffic jams on the commute to work; if you meditate, “you wake up and it’s Saturday morning and the sun is up, the birds are chirruping away. You’ve got the whole weekend to look forward to and you’re eating your favourite breakfast.”
It sounds rather like a vision from his film Blue Velvet, I tell him. And we all know what horrors were going on behind those white picket fences.
“Listen, pal, I know what you’re getting at,” Lynch says, the closest he comes to raising his voice. “If I told you I was enlightened while I was making Blue Velvet, you might think that was pretty strange. But I like the human struggle and I like absurdity. I also like well-lit coffee shops so that I have this happiness around me. I can go to some darker worlds and experience them mentally, and then I can come back to the coffee shop and have this happiness inside.”
Lynch’s enthusiasm for Transcendental Meditation is palpable but, despite having encouraged actress Heather Graham to take up the practice, he is no missionary.
“Before I started, I had zero interest,” he says. “I came out to California and people were eating nuts and raisins, and that’s the kind of thing I thought meditation was. But if you don’t want to try it, that’s OK. I had that feeling myself.”
He can tell that I’m not yet ready to be converted, and that’s fine with him. “But one day,” he says, “you could be going around the corner and – whango! – you’ll say: ‘I’ve got to try that’.”
For more information about Transcendental Meditation, tel: 0870 514 3733 or see www.tm.org