David Lynch is an acclaimed and widely recognized writer/director as well as television producer, photographer, cartoonist, composer, and graphic artist. More than any other arthouse filmmaker of his era, he has enjoyed considerable mass acceptance and has helped to redefine commercial tastes, creating a style so visionary and deeply personal that the phrase Lynchian has been coined to describe it.
David has become renowned for his work both in film and television. From his first feature film, Eraserhead, which became a cult classic, David went on to make many films which garnered both critical and public acclaim. He has been nominated twice for Academy Awards as Best Director, first for The Elephant Man, and later for Blue Velvet. His film Wild at Heart received the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1990 and he was awarded the Cannes Festival Award for Best Director in 2001 for Mulholland Drive.
Likewise, his television series Twin Peaks was a cultural phenomenon and resulted in his appearance on the cover of Time magazine.
In recent years, David’s public appearances have focused on his inner journey as he has appeared numerous times to support the programs for education and world peace offered by His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who brought Transcendental Meditation to the West.
As one of David’s close friends, this interview is conducted by Robert Roth, Director of Media Relations for the Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy and author of TM – Transcendental Meditation : A New Introduction to Maharishi’s Easy, Effective and Scientifically Proven Technique for Promoting Better Health, Unfolding Your Creative Potential, and Creating Peace in the World.
Robert Roth: David, you have been called a pop surrealist master and the renaissance man of modern American filmmaking. On the other hand, Roger Ebert has said, There is something inside of me that resists the films of David Lynch.
Your films clearly evoke a wide range of responses. What is the passion in your life which has given rise to the unique and unusual work you have created?
David Lynch: It’s difficult to answer that question. I started out just as a regular person. I liked to paint and I liked to draw. I grew up in the Northwest and I sort of thought, wrongly, that when you got to be an adult, you stopped painting and drawing and did something more serious.
In the ninth grade, my family moved to Alexandria, Virginia. On the front lawn, one night, of my girlfriend’s house, I met a guy named Toby Keeler. As we were talking, he said his father was a painter. I thought maybe he might have been a house painter, but further talking got me around to the fact that he was a fine artist.
This conversation changed my life. I had been interested in science somewhat, and I suddenly knew that I wanted to be a painter. I started out in painting, and the thing is, like everybody knows, we all have a voice and it’s just a question of working to bring it out. The more you work, the more it comes out. It’s not something, I don’t think, that can really be taught.
It just comes out, and you want your own voice to come out, and in a kind of freedom. I lucked into filmmaking really. I made a moving painting when I was at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. A guy saw this and commissioned me to make another, and my camera was broken, so I made a live action and animation combo, which he said he would like.
That led me to get a grant from the American Film Institute, so in filmmaking, I came in through painting, I just got green lights and I didn’t really know anything. I really believe that by doing, things come out. You just have to be true to yourself and keep that voice going. It’s like that.
Then you realize, very quickly, that not everybody loves what you do. The doing should be enjoyable. One of the things that you can test, is that you would do it whether you got paid or not. It’s just fantastically enjoyable. When a thing is finished and you release it into the world, you never know what’s going to happen. If you’ve enjoyed the doing and you get bad reviews, you can still live with it. If you sell out and you get bad reviews, it’s very, very, very tough.
Robert Roth: When you sent out Mulholland Drive, when you sent out The Elephant Man, you had no indication what the response was going to be? It was completely sending it off into the unknown?
David Lynch: You have some indication from the number of people that have seen it before you actually do a release, but that can be misleading. There have been stories of films that have gotten great previews and then go on to be huge failures, so you never really know how people will take to something.
Robert Roth: You talked about your friend whose father was not a house painter, and these different things. Could you isolate specifically how you discovered the personal passions which gave rise to your masterpieces, or was is just starting and doing?
David Lynch: It’s what you love to do. Sometimes, I know there are people out there who love making films or love making paintings, but like they say, they can’t get accepted. They just don’t have a gallery dealer who likes their work or they haven’t gotten a green light into film companies. That’s a tough road.
If you love what you’re doing, you’re going to keep on doing it anyway. I say I’ve been very lucky. Along the way, there are people who help us. I’ve had plenty of those people in my life who’ve helped me go to the next step, but you get that help because you’ve done something. It goes like that.
Robert Roth: Your luck, good fortune, that really gets driven by your passion, your persistence and your conviction to just do and then you have to have the hope or the conviction that good things will come your way?
David Lynch: Exactly. You have hope, but you love the doing so much, you’re constantly working.
Robert Roth: One reviewer has said, More than any other art house filmmaker of his era, David Lynch has enjoyed considerable, mass acceptance, and has helped to redefine commercial tastes. David, how have you been able to remain true to yourself and your own passions, and yet still create works which appeal to a mass audience?
David Lynch: There’s no way to answer that. In the world of film, more and more, a director is (this is speaking very generally) a hired hand. A lot of directors don’t have final cut on their films, and this to me is an absurdity.
Robert Roth: They don’t have final cut on their films?
David Lynch: This is the way it is. Many of the decisions for final film are made by committee, and I’m talking generally. It’s not always the case, but it’s drifting in that direction. If a painter finishes a painting, there’s no bunch of people that come in and say they don’t like this blue or they don’t like that and you’ve got to change this.
Filmmaking should, in my opinion, be exactly that and the director is the filmmaker. Yes, he’s got plenty of help along the way, and one of the rules is you never turn down a good idea, but you never take a bad idea. You’re the filter through which all these ideas pass and you have to have that follow-through of one vision for the thing to hold together.
You just stay true to that, stay true to the ideas. Like we were saying, the idea comes pretty complete, but it’s a seed, and as you go, you keep checking back and seeing if it’s true to that original idea. Stay true to that as you go along. New ideas can come in, but then you have to decide if those marry to the thing and they make it better, or they just don’t fit in this one, and you put that idea in a little box.
You march through – it’s got to feel correct, feel correct, feel correct – every element and then it has a chance of holding together. What happens afterwards, like I said, you cannot control. There are some people who stay really true to their voice, they get into theaters, and people don’t like what they’ve done.
Now, maybe they luck out and 10 years later, people come around to loving it. This happens in painting all the time. In film, you’ve got to stay true to yourself, you’ve got to stay true to your voice, and then you have at least a chance of being able to live with yourself.
Robert Roth: How does David Lynch define passion? What is passion to you?
David Lynch: Passion is a small dog going by a chocolate shop. He first starts smelling that chocolate, then speeding up, you see the smile on the dog’s face, and in he goes.
Robert Roth: I just see this little dog hustling into this corner chocolate store with a chocoholic addiction.
Mulholland Drive was going in a million different directions because it had no resolution. Now, all of a sudden, you’re going to have to tie it all together, much to the frustration of most viewers, to make a film. You didn’t know what to do and you said the solution came during meditation.
I practice transcendental meditation. Its purpose is not to arrive at any particular conclusion or have any particular thought during the process, but you said something came as a result of that, that tied it together. Could you describe how all of this diversity got unified from your practice of TM?
David Lynch: Well, Mulholland Drive started out being a television pilot. A pilot is supposed to be open ended so that people seeing the pilot become very interested in the characters and the possibilities, and they want to see it next week and the week after – like that. When the deal was completed to make it into a feature, I didn’t have the ideas to make it into a feature, and that was a kind of a traumatic time.
Robert Roth: How so? What was the experience of the trauma?
David Lynch: The experience was: What am I going to do? I need ideas. I’d had quite some time to think about it, so maybe somewhere it was all being thought about, but if you were to ask me what I was going to do, I wouldn’t know. I sat down to meditate one night, and about halfway through, these ideas started racing out.
I wrote those down because if you don’t write an idea down and you forget it, that is unforgivable, so you write them down. I wrote them down, and there was the solution to putting it into a finished, complete feature film – that came, almost all of it, at once.
Robert Roth: Why did that happen?
David Lynch: I don’t know, Bobby. They just came out. I see it as a gift.
Robert Roth: You learned transcendental meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – many people have heard of Maharishi. They may not know much about him. They know the Beatles, Merv Griffin, people who have been around for 50 years; but they don’t know who Maharishi is.
Millions of people of all religions have learned the technique, but there’s not a nature or a feeling about who Maharishi is. There’s more of a name, a picture or something you’ve heard about in the past. From your experience, who is Maharishi? What is he like? What is your experience with Maharishi? Why do you have such a conviction about him and what he’s doing, that you would stand up boldly in support of his programs?
David Lynch: I don’t know Maharishi personally really, but Maharishi is a holy man. They say one definition of a holy man is a man who is whole, complete. There could be holy men who don’t teach a way for others to become holy men, and Maharishi teaches transcendental meditation.
It’s a simple, easy, effortless, but supremely profound technique that takes you within. All our senses are pointed out. Transcendental meditation turns the mind within and you experience subtler levels of mind, intellect and transcend and experience this feeling of unity, oneness, that modern science calls the unified field because they discovered the same field 30 years ago.
If you went out onto the street and asked somebody, Please, tell me about the unified field and how do I get there? you wouldn’t get an answer. It’s so beautiful and so fantastic that this exists – a way to dive within and experience this field. It’s not an intellectual thing, it’s an experience.
As you know, Bobby, it’s the only experience that lights the whole brain on the EEG machine. It’s a holistic experience. It takes the full brain to experience the field of unity. Who can teach this? Ask George Bush if he can tell you how to transcend and experience the ultimate reality.
It’s a huge thing and Maharishi has been going around, tirelessly teaching and trying to help individuals and the world for 50 years. Night and day, almost 24/7, he hardly sleeps, and for people, for the world.
Robert Roth: You say the words holy man. People could think, ‘Well, I’m a Christian, I’m a Buddhist, I already have a religion. Is Maharishi your religious leader?
David Lynch: For me, all the great religions are like rivers and every one of these rivers is beautiful and they all flow to the same ocean. Everything is fine, and transcendental meditation takes you to the ocean, and that’s the whole thing. It’s the unified field, it’s rather large, it’s unbounded, infinite and eternal.
It’s that field that is the kingdom of Heaven. It never had a beginning; it is, and it will always be. Modern science, bless their hearts, have now verified what Maharishi’s Vedic science has been saying all along. Veda means pertaining to total knowledge. The Vedas are the laws of nature, which exist in the field of unity, unified field, and it’s an eternal science.
Transcendental meditation is an ancient technique. This is all part of a human thing, it’s a natural thing. It’s our home. It’s where we’re all spun out of, pure consciousness, which exists there. It’s our home. You’re just diving within and experiencing what they call atman, the self, and that’s the big self of us all.
Once you start experiencing that, things start getting better. The experience enlivens it, unfolds it, it grows, and things get better. Negativity like darkness can’t live in the light of this unity, like darkness can’t live in bright light. It makes so much sense to me. I don’t know why everybody isn’t meditating. It brings so much happiness and a multitude of benefits.
Another thing, Maharishi has kept the same message, just expanded it and expanded it and expanded it through the 50 years. He’s got such a great sense of humor and can be a very stern father at the same time and can be like a child. Listening to him speak, to me, and seeing him is like sitting next to the fireplace with your favorite people. It’s a beautiful thing.
The more of that being, the absolute, the unified field we have, the more people like being around it, like being around you. It’s just like people do not like being around someone who is super-depressed or super-angry. It’s the reverse of that, and that’s the proof that something beautiful is going on.
Robert Roth: From your experience with Maharishi, what have you taken from that? I know you just spent some time in Holland a little while ago. You were over there, where Maharishi is, in the forest in Holland, where he has his headquarters. What was that experience like?
David Lynch: What it’s like is being around someone that is completely filled with everything it takes and so blissful. It’s a unique thing. I think you know it when you see it. I think the thing is, I would like to be that way. Enlightenment is the full potential of each human being and they say it’s our birth right to enjoy enlightenment.
The way you get it is to get so familiar with the unified field, get so filled with that. Enlightenment, they say, is a state described as more than the most. It’s there in Maharishi and there’s no two ways about it.
Robert Roth: I think Maharishi sees that in you because I happen to know that in all of Maharishi’s interactions with you, Maharishi holds you in enormous respect for your creativity, honesty and boldness. I think that enlightenment respects and appreciates growing enlightenment. People can hear it in the passion, in your distinct individuality.
David Lynch: Well, I’m not enlightened but I’m growing in that. The way you grow more quickly is to take on this technique that allows you to dive within, which is a great, great, super gift that Maharishi has brought.
Robert Roth: I want to ask you about the foundation you have established. July 21st this is going to be legally established, the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. You’re launching a campaign to raise money and to give money to offer transcendental meditation to any child in America who wants to meditate. Why are you doing this?
David Lynch: I’m doing this because, number one, I think everybody has realized, or is quickly realizing, that education, at least in America, is very poor. It’s happened gradually. Maybe it wasn’t so great to begin with, but it’s gotten worse and worse, but so gradually that people kind of accept it.
Everyone wants to change it, but they don’t know quite what to do and it keeps getting worse. More and more private schools are popping up and even those schools don’t fully educate a child. There’s all kinds of rising stress going on and many problems we all know about in the schools.
I visited Maharishi University of Management and Maharishi School and I saw a play. I remember it was a rainy, cold night, and it’s a tiny, little theater, but the theater was packed. I sat there thinking, ‘This is going to be such a boring evening.’
I was in the middle. There was no way I could leave, and I’m going to see a high school play. I started watching this thing and literally, in maybe 15 seconds, I realized this wasn’t going to be boring. Then it just got better and better. I saw things on that stage that I couldn’t believe. I saw a level of intelligence and a consciousness just beaming off these students, who weren’t actors, but were doing incredible things.
So creative was the play, so great was every person, and it just pulled me in, and I said, What in the world is going on? I’ve never seen a thing like that. Afterwards, I thought, ‘Every actor has got to start meditation.’ It puts a thing on a screen or on a stage that is really incredible. It’s a thing you are pulled into.
The intelligence coming off, the timing of this thing and the humor of the things – it was so beautiful. I’ve come to realize that consciousness-based education is education where students learn transcendental meditation, they learn to dive within, and they learn about the knower and then they can learn about the object of knowledge.
Right now, most schools are just avenues of knowledge and no knowledge of the knower, the self, and they say it’s like learning about the rays of the sun – all the different avenues that we learn in school – but not about the sun itself. You just add this element to school and every time it’s done, the students just blossom.
All the problems that they’ve had in the schools, where they’ve introduced this consciousness-based education, the problems go away and the students blossom. They get great, fantastic grades and they’re not just book nuts; in every single avenue, they blossom. I wanted to help get that going. That’s why the consciousness-based education. This ties in, as you know, to world peace as well.
Robert Roth: I would like to add here that when you look on the website, you’ll see that there have been programs in inner-city schools, Washington, D.C. and Detroit, and research has been conducted on meditating school kids, for example, by the University of Michigan.
They’ve found that these kids at this inner-city school in Detroit have reduced depression, better grades, get along better with each other. There are other studies that have shown higher grade point averages, improvements with kids with learning disorders, ADHD in Washington, D.C.
In Fairfield, the school you were talking about, Maharishi’s School, that school, for 15 consecutive years has scored in the top 99th percentile in the country in national standardized tests. They have 10 times the national average for National Merit Scholars, so it is an extraordinary school. and I think, an example of what can happen when children get a chance to just develop who they are inside.
David Lynch: Exactly right.
Robert Roth: At Healthy Wealthy nWise, we believe strongly in the power of intention to manifest outcomes. What is your biggest current project, and what intention would you like us at Healthy Wealthy nWise to hold for you?
David Lynch: That’s beautiful. Maharishi says, Where the attention is, that becomes lively, and I see that as a focus. What you’re focusing on, for instance, ideas – when you focus, the focusing is like the bait on a hook and the ideas are like fish. If your focus is good enough, the fish will come in. The deeper the water, the bigger the fish, so when you add meditation to your life, you start getting a bigger reach to the big fish.
Right now, I’m working on a film called Inland Empire, and I’ve never worked on a project in this way before. I don’t know exactly how this thing will finally unfold. If people want to help me in focusing, that would be incredibly beautiful, and maybe I’ll get one last big fish to swim in.
Robert Roth: Without going into details, because I know you don’t want to talk about the film, how is this film different? You’re following your passion; how is this different than other films like Mulholland Drive or The Elephant Man?
David Lynch: This film is very different because I don’t have a script. I write the thing scene by scene and much of it is shot and I don’t have much of a clue where it will end. It’s a risk, but I have this feeling that because all things are unified, this idea over here in that room will somehow relate to that idea over there in the pink room.
Robert Roth: Do you think that all great artists, scientists or thinkers share this going on their own? This is really following your passion. This is really being true to yourself. You are just going with your intuition, your instincts. I know you have funding for the thing and this is a risk.
David Lynch: It’s a risk and I’m working with a very great company, Canal Plus, Le Studio Canal, in France, who just believe in me, enough anyway, to let me find my way. I don’t know how other people work. Like I said, this is a different way of working than I’ve ever done before, but it’s pretty exciting.
Robert Roth: Is it stressful?
David Lynch: It’s a hair stressful, Bobby, because I’m out there in a boat, trying to get the idea for a paddle.
Robert Roth: You’re hoping for that dog who smells the chocolate…
David Lynch: I’m hoping there’s a chocolate shop around the corner.
For more information about the David Lynch Foundation and the work they are doing to bring meditation to students around the world, go to: www.davidlynchfoundation.com.
To hear the full hour long interview for FREE