Deep Thoughts by David Lynch

The director of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet on calming his twisted mind

| Utne Reader May / June 2007

The First Dive
He whose happiness is within, whose contentment is within, whose light is all within, that yogi, being one with Brahman, attains eternal freedom in divine consciousness.
-- Bhagavad-Gita

When I first heard about meditation, I had zero interest in it. I wasn't even curious. It sounded like a waste of time.

What got me interested, though, was the phrase 'true happiness lies within.' At first I thought it sounded kind of mean, because it doesn't tell you where the 'within' is, or how to get there. But still it had a ring of truth. And I began to think that maybe meditation was a way to go within.

Transcendental Meditation takes you to an ocean of pure consciousness, pure knowingness. But it's familiar; it's you. And right away a sense of happiness emerges -- not a goofball happiness, but a thick beauty.

I have never missed a meditation in 33 years. I meditate once in the morning and again in the afternoon, for about 20 minutes each time. Then I go about the business of my day. And I find that the joy of doing increases. Intuition increases. The pleasure of life grows. And negativity recedes.

Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit
It would be easier to roll up the entire sky into a small cloth than it would be
to obtain true happiness without knowing the Self.

-- Upanishads

When I started meditating, I was filled with anxieties and fears. I felt a sense of depression and anger.

I often took out this anger on my first wife. After I had been meditating for about two weeks, she came to me and said, 'What's going on?' I was quiet for a moment. But finally I said, 'What do you mean?' And she said, 'This anger, where did it go?' And I hadn't even realized that it had lifted.

I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It's suffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve. You finally realize how putrid was the stink when it starts to go. Then, when it dissolves, you have freedom.

Anger and depression and sorrow are beautiful things in a story, but they're like poison to the filmmaker or artist. They're like a vise grip on creativity. If you're in that grip, you can hardly get out of bed, much less experience the flow of creativity and ideas. You must have clarity to create. You have to be able to catch ideas.

Starting Out
I started out just as a regular person, growing up in the Northwest. My father was a research scientist for the Department of Agriculture, studying trees. So I was in the woods a lot. And the woods for a child are magical. I lived in what people call small towns. My world was what would be considered about a city block, maybe two blocks. Everything occurred in that space. All the dreaming, all my friends existed in that small world. But to me it seemed so huge and magical. There was plenty of time available to dream and be with friends.

I liked to paint and I liked to draw. And I often thought, wrongly, that when you got to be an adult, you stopped painting and drawing and did something more serious. When I was in the ninth grade, my family moved to Alexandria, Virginia. On the front lawn of my girlfriend's house one night, 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 somewhat interested in science, but I suddenly knew that I wanted to be a painter. And I wanted to live the art life.

A Garden at Night
So I was a painter. I painted and I went to art school. I had no interest in film. I would go to a film sometimes, but I really just wanted to paint.

One day I was sitting in a big studio room at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The room was divided into little cubicles. I was in my cubicle; it was about three o'clock in the afternoon. And I had a painting going, which was of a garden at night. It had a lot of black, with green plants emerging out of the darkness. All of a sudden, these plants started to move, and I heard a wind. I wasn't taking drugs! I thought, Oh, how fantastic this is! And I began to wonder if film could be a way to make paintings move.

At the end of each year, there was an experimental painting and sculpture contest. The year before, I had built something for the contest, and this time I thought: I'm going to do a moving painting. I built a sculptured screen -- six feet by eight feet -- and projected a pretty crudely animated stop-motion film on it. It was called Six Men Getting Sick. I thought that was going to be the extent of my film career, because this thing actually cost a fortune to make -- two hundred dollars. I simply can't afford to go down this road, I thought. But an older student saw the project and commissioned me to build one for his home. And that was what started the ball rolling. After that, I just kept getting green lights. Then little by little -- or rather leap by leap -- I fell in love with this medium.

Cinema is a language. It can say things -- big, abstract things. And I love that about it.

I'm not always good with words. Some people are poets and have a beautiful way of saying things with words. But cinema is its own language. And with it you can say so many things, because you've got time and sequences. You've got dialogue. You've got music. You've got sound effects. You have so many tools. And so you can express a feeling and a thought that can't be conveyed any other way. It's a magical medium.

For me, it's so beautiful to think about these pictures and sounds flowing together in time and in sequence, making something that can be done only through cinema. It's not just words or music -- it's a whole range of elements coming together and making something that didn't exist before. It's telling stories. It's devising a world, an experience, that people cannot have unless they see that film.

When I catch an idea for a film, I fall in love with the way cinema can express it. I like a story that holds abstractions, and that's what cinema can do.

An idea is a thought. It's a thought that holds more than you think it does when you receive it. But in that first moment there is a spark. In a comic strip, if someone gets an idea, a lightbulb goes on. It happens in an instant, just as in life.

It would be great if the entire film came all at once. But it comes, for me, in fragments. That first fragment is like the Rosetta stone. It's the piece of the puzzle that indicates the rest. It's a hopeful puzzle piece.

In Blue Velvet, it was red lips, green lawns, and the song -- Bobby Vinton's version of 'Blue Velvet.' The next thing was an ear lying in a field. And that was it.

You fall in love with the first idea, that little tiny piece. And once you've got it, the rest will come in time.

Eraserhead is my most spiritual movie. No one understands when I say that, but it is.

Eraserhead was growing in a certain way, and I didn't know what it meant. I was looking for a key to unlock what these sequences were saying. Of course, I understood some of it; but I didn't know the thing that just pulled it all together. And it was a struggle. So I got out my Bible and I started reading. And one day, I read a sentence. And I closed the Bible, because that was it. And then I saw the thing as a whole. And it fulfilled this vision for me, 100 percent.

I don't think I'll ever say what that sentence was.

I went to a psychiatrist once. I was doing something that had become a pattern in my life, and I thought, Well, I should go talk to a psychiatrist. When I got into the room, I asked him, 'Do you think that this process could, in any way, damage my creativity?' And he said, 'Well, David, I have to be honest: It could.' And I shook his hand and left.

It doesn't matter how wonderful an actor is; when you're casting, you have to pick the person who marries to that part, who can do that part.

I don't ever give actors cold readings. I feel that's a torment for them, and I don't learn anything. Plus, then I would want to start rehearsing with them. It would take a long, long time to do that with every actor. So I like to just talk with them and look at them while they talk. I start running them through the script in my head as they're talking. Some of them go partway and then stop. Then one of them will go all the way through, and I'll know.

On Blue Velvet, I worked with a casting director, Johanna Ray. And we had all brought up Dennis Hopper. But everybody said, 'No, no; you can't work with Dennis. He's really in bad shape, and you'll have nothing but trouble.' So we continued looking for people. But one day, Dennis' agent called and said that Dennis was clean and sober and had already done another picture, and I could talk to that director to verify it. Then Dennis called and said, 'I have to play Frank, because I am Frank.' That thrilled me, and scared me.

People have asked me why -- if meditation is so great and gives you so much bliss -- are my films so dark, and there's so much violence?

There are many, many dark things flowing around in this world right now, and most films reflect the world in which we live. They're stories. Stories are always going to have conflict. They're going to have highs and lows, and good and bad.

I fall in love with certain ideas. And I am where I am. Now, if I told you I was enlightened, and this is enlightened filmmaking, that would be another story. But I'm just a guy from Missoula, Montana, doing my thing, going down the road like everybody else.

We all reflect the world we live in. Even if you make a period film, it will reflect your times. You can see the way period films differ, depending on when they were made. It's a sensibility -- how they talk, certain themes -- and those things change as the world changes.

And so, even though I'm from Missoula, Montana, which is not the surrealistic capital of the world, you could be anywhere and see a kind of strangeness in how the world is these days, or have a certain way of looking at things.

The Truth upholds the fragrant Earth and makes the living water wet. Truth makes fire burn and the air move, makes the sun shine and all life grow. A hidden truth supports everything. Find it and win.
-- Ramayana

Stay true to yourself. Let your voice ring out, and don't let anybody fiddle with it. Never turn down a good idea, but never take a bad idea. And meditate. It's very important to experience that Self, that pure consciousness. It's really helped me. I think it would help any filmmaker. So start diving within, enlivening that bliss consciousness. Grow in happiness and intuition. Experience the joy of doing. And you'll glow in this peaceful way. Your friends will be very, very happy with you. Everyone will want to sit next to you. And people will give you money!

David Lynch's most recent film, Inland Empire, will be released on DVD in August by Rhino Entertainment. Excerpted from Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch by arrangement with Tarcher, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright (c) 2006 by Bobkind Inc.

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