The Hammer Museum in Los Angeles this week hosted the West Coast premiere of Meditation, Creativity, Peace, a low-budget documentary that follows director David Lynch around on a tour of film schools in Europe and the Middle East. The 67-year-old director of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive politely answers the odd question about his films, but mostly he talks about Transcendental Meditation.
The line for tickets ran round the block.
“We didn’t have this many people when we had Patti Smith live,” says a stunned organizer, unpacking boxes of Lynch’s favorite Top Pot Doughnuts for the after-party.
A flurry of flashbulbs and TV cameramen signals the arrival of Lynch and his team from the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, which he founded in 2005 to promote the benefits of TM. Accompanying the group is the gangly British comedian Russell Brand, whom Lynch introduced to TM three years ago, and who’s here to moderate the evening’s Q&A. They are a pair designed for maximum contrast: Lynch with his Jimmy Neutron updo, Brand with his rock-star ringlets.
Lynch avoids the packed Billy Wilder Theater to wait backstage, while Brand sits in the front row, bantering with his neighbors.
“Have I told how much I love you?” says one man.
“You have. You’ve made it very clear. But I can always take a little more.”
The documentary opens with Lynch holding a jelly doughnut. “Transcendental Meditation gives an experience much sweeter than the sweetness of this doughnut,“ he says in his best Northwestern drawl. “It gives the experience of the sweetest nectar of life, pure bliss consciousness.”
Lynch is no one’s obvious choice for a TM guru. He grew up in Montana and uses folksy phrases like “happy camper” and “total baloney.” When he makes an analogy about world peace using yellowing leaves, one can’t help think of Chance the Gardener in Being There (“As long as the roots are not severed, all is well”). But Lynch’s authenticity is so deeply felt, his sincerity so dignified, all impulses to mock drift away. “It’s an ancient form of meditation,” he says, slowly extending his fingers towards the rapt audience like they're children at a birthday party. “Once you’re pointed within. Boom!”
Lynch says he discovered the practice 40 years via his sister when he was struggling with anger and anxiety. “I liked what she said about it. More importantly, I heard a change in her voice. More happiness. More self-assuredness. I said, ‘I want that mantra. I’m going to get it.’ And I went down and I learned. That was July 1, 1973. Saturday morning. Beautiful sunny day.”
His first instructor in Los Angeles looked like Doris Day, and he's practiced twice a day ever since. Repetition of your custom-tailored mantra moves the mind beyond self-consciousness and into pure consciousness, where one can connect with the eternal. “Concentration and contemplation are still on the surface,” he explains. “You have to dive within.”
“Excuse me, David, I think I have a clever thing to say. Can I say it?”
During the Q&A afterwards, Brand mentions sex after one minute, 52 seconds. “Sometimes, I find myself in a situation, alone, late at night,” he says, “and in this situation I have the opportunity for masturbatory activity or meditative activity, and I said to David, ‘Often in this situation, I will choose masturbation. Why is this?’ And David goes, ‘That’s because you love to masturbate!’”
Lynch is quite happy to be the counterpoint to Brand’s naughty schoolboy antics.
“Excuse me, David, I think I have a clever thing to say. Can I say it?” Lynch nods indulgently as Brand launches into an epic, serpentine definition of the benefits of TM.
“We’re making a little CD of this,” Lynch tells the audience. “And you can hit half-speed.”
The collision of TM and celebrity is nothing new. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who developed the practice in India in the 1950s, taught the Beatles in 1967 and became a chat-show staple in the '70s, when he was nicknamed the “Giggling Guru.” Clint Eastwood, a TM convert since his Dirty Harry days, appeared with the Maharishi on The Merv Griffin Show, even walking out holding a flower. “It is the utter simplicity of it that will attract you,” Eastwood told Griffin.
Many Hollywood stars have since followed suit, including Ellen DeGeneres, Martin Scorsese, and Oprah Winfrey. Last year, Jerry Seinfeld appeared on Good Morning America to reveal he had been doing TM for nearly 40 years. “The whole idea is we have active, noisy levels of the mind,” he told George Stephanopoulos (a recent convert himself). “But every human being has deep within, a settled, calm, silent level of your mind. And this transcendental meditation has that active mind slow down.”
Afterwards, in the green room, Lynch sits on a sofa and munches on a doughnut. A tanned woman in a tight dress is getting him to record an introduction for a screening in Palm Beach. A news reporter is shoving a microphone inches from his nose and asks about “TM-ers.”
I ask Lynch to draw a diagram to show the before and after of TM. (He draws a lot of diagrams in the film.) He takes the notepad and talks away happily as he draws.
“I’m going to draw ‘before’… Then this is ‘after,’ which is very good... And this is way after.” He turns the pages to squeeze in more captions. “‘Way after’ is just a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful wholeness. Totality. Total fulfillment. Liberation. Salvation. A state described as more than the most.”
In the background, a toilet flushes noisily.
“Pretty good thing,” says Lynch, biting into his doughnut, totally undisturbed. “Pretty good thing.”