David Lynch is wiggling his fingers. As the filmmaker becomes excited, wiggle speed increases. He is really wiggling now. He is talking about diving into an infinite ocean of pure bliss.
Earthlings, pack a bag. David Lynch is on a mission. It might not be the mission you would have chosen for him. But it is his mission and he appears sincere. The director behind some of the most disturbing images in cinema, who brought us the mutant baby in the avant-garde classic "Eraserhead" and the portable gas-inhaling mask apparatus for Dennis Hopper's "mommy, mommy, mommy" character in "Blue Velvet," would now like to save the planet from negativity.
"It's a no-brainer," he says.
The plan? Peace factories.
"You build a facility like a factory, you house the people, you feed the people, they do their meditation," he says, "and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing for the world."
Lynch is sitting in the recording studio at his three-house modernist complex in the Hollywood Hills, just down the road, as it turns out, from Mulholland Drive, which is also the title of one of his inscrutable films.
His space, if not his mind, is spare and uncluttered. There is a row of guitars (he plays). A studio for his canvases (he paints). In a kitchen sits a high-end espresso machine. He confesses a fondness for caffeine and sweets (he famously went to a nearby Bob's Big Boy restaurant almost every day for seven years for a chocolate milkshake). On a recent morning, the 59-year-old artist is dressed in a white shirt, buttoned to the collar, like a cowboy nerd. His pompadour of gray is swept up, three stories tall. He smells richly of recent cigarettes.
From his work in film and television (he was also the creator of the series "Twin Peaks"), one might expect Lynch to be creepy. He is not. Instead, he appears almost sunny, as happy as can be, talking about his plans for the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace and about his ongoing tour of college campuses to promote his vision.
For 32 years, twice a day, morning and evening for 20 minutes, Lynch says, he has practiced the Transcendental Meditation technique developed by the Beatles' former guru, His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, originally from India and now living in Holland.
The peace factory workers would do the regular TM, Lynch says, and more.
"This is going to blow your mind," Lynch warns.
"The advanced techniques."
Of course, the advanced techniques. Specifically, the advanced techniques taught by Maharishi that include "yogic flying," which the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Fairfield, Iowa, describes in its literature as "blissful hops." A photograph on its Web site shows a pair of students with legs crossed in the lotus position lifting off a mat, meaning they're levitating.
Here's his plan: "At least 8,000 beautiful souls working like factory workers doing their program, pumping peace for the world," Lynch says. Why 8,000? That is, approximately, the square root of 1 percent of the world's population, which is the number needed to produce the Global Maharishi Effect for reducing international conflict.
The price tag? Seven billion dollars, Lynch says. Give or take. The figures are in flux. For seven peace factories. (Why seven when you only need one? "A safety factor.")
Lynch so far has spent $400,000 of his own money and raised $1 million in donations from a handful of wealthy individuals and organizations. "Money will open so many doors. It will start snowballing." Still. Seven billion -- it's a lot of money. Or is it?
Lynch estimates that world peace, or what Maharishi's followers call "Heaven on Earth," can be purchased for the price of 31/2 B-1 bombers. "In which case," Lynch says, "it would be a bargain."
Tom Cruise and Scientology. Madonna and Kabbalah. The recent results of celebrity endorsement for higher consciousness are mixed.
Lynch, once famous for his reclusive habits, has been touring college campus since September. First he did the East Coast, then the West, and early next year he plans to do the Midwest and South. To date he has visited 13 schools, including several Ivy-league colleges, as well as American University, home of a Lynch-inspired research project to see whether meditation increases healthy habits and work performance while reducing stress. AU psychology professor David Haaga, who learned TM years ago but no longer practices it, is a principal investigator for the study. He expects 300 students to participate; they get TM training free (it usually costs $2,500), paid for by Lynch and the Abramson Family Foundation.
Last month, Lynch appeared at the performing arts auditorium at the University of Southern California. The free event was filled to the balcony seats. Bob Roth, a longtime figure in the TM establishment (which claims 6 million people worldwide have undergone training) and now vice president of the Lynch Foundation, warns the students in Los Angeles that his boss will be using "big words" such as bliss, consciousness, being and enlightenment. "David really doesn't like public speaking," Roth says.
Lynch strides to the podium in a skinny black tie, white shirt and rumpled jacket and announces, "I will try to answer questions on film and meditation and consciousness." He does not give a speech, going right to the Q&A.
The inquiries roam the range.
Like, what is "Mulholland Drive" about? (The film is notorious for its opacity.) "I'm sorry," Lynch says in a friendly way. "I can't do that."
Or, okay, so you're meditating and there's this infinite oneness and total being and so you become, like, God?
Lynch says he is not an enlightened being: "I'm sorry to say, but I'm on my way. Every day gets better and better."
Another student asks how many drugs, in particular hallucinogens, Lynch has ingested. That seems a reasonable question. "I have smoked marijuana," he says, to scattered applause. "I don't smoke anymore. I was in art school in the '60s, so you can imagine what was going on. But my friends said, 'No, no, no, David, don't take those drugs.' " Nervous laughter rises from audience.
He is asked how he started meditating, and Lynch says, "Initially I had zero interest in it," but there was something in the voice of his sister, who had just been trained in TM, and he signed up. He explains that "you're expert from your first mediation." He says he's never missed a session in 32 years. "You sit down comfortably, close your eyes, say your mantra and away you go!" (Lynch, like other TM-ers, keeps his mantra secret.)
Some of the questions sound like they come from TM practitioners planted in the audience, but Roth later says that is not so.
When he talks to the students about his meditation, Lynch makes it sound quite nice. "Like blissful electricity," he says, and he is evangelical in regard to its benefits. As a spur to creativity. As salve for stress. "Things that used to crush you, don't," he tells them. "Life becomes more of a game that's fun to play." (In a later interview, Lynch described his first time, in 1973: "You're taught how. I went to a little room. Quiet. I closed my eyes. Started that mantra. It was like I was in an elevator and they snipped the cables. And fuummm! Down I went into pure bliss. I've said this many times, but the word unique should be saved for that experience.")
Then it's time for show and tell. Fred Travis, director of the Psychophysiology Center at the Maharishi University of Management, comes onstage with Shane Zisman, a "volunteer" who is wearing a blue cap bristling with electrode sensors. Zisman, who has been meditating since he was 5 years old, takes a seat and Travis plugs him into an electroencephalograph, and the EEG readout is projected on a large screen. Travis asks Zisman to close his eyes and begin to mediate. After 16 seconds, Travis points to a change in the waves. "See! There!" But if the squiggles are profound, it's hard to grasp. The demonstration seems a little cheesy. The audience is not moved to ooohhs and aaahhs.
Next up is John Hagelin, a Harvard-trained physicist, past presidential candidate from the Natural Law Party (dominated by TM-ers) and now at Maharishi University. Hagelin alludes to such concepts of physics as the Grand Unified Theory and cosmic superstrings, though he does not describe them in any detail. "The universe," he announces, "is superficially complex and fundamentally simple." This does not seem to blow anyone's mind. Hagelin and Travis appear to serve a need in that the TM movement strives to prove itself as "scientific" as opposed to "religious" (because the meditation does have its roots planted in the Hindu tradition).
Then Hagelin makes the pitch. David Lynch wants to see TM introduced into the curriculum from elementary school to college. He wants students everywhere to learn to meditate. He wants world peace. There are "52 published studies," Hagelin says, that prove "the spillover effect" that TM emits, like some kind of cosmic wi-fi, into the surrounding communities. Back in 1993, about 4,000 TM-ers gathered in Washington for two months to repeat their mantras and according to Hagelin reduced violent crime by 18 percent (though police commanders at the time attributed the decrease to increased patrols and arrests).
"If you can't teach George W. Bush to meditate, then you surround him with meditators," Hagelin says. He tells the students to fill out a card on the way out and David Lynch will get back to them shortly on how and where to get a scholarship to learn Transcendental Meditation.
The next morning at his home, Lynch seems pleased with the talk. (According to Roth, more than 100 students asked for more information at the USC event and, to date, several hundred across the country have gotten TM scholarships. Their goal, he says, is to train 10,000 in the next 18 months.)
Lynch is asked why he is doing this.
"I was just a regular meditator for a long while, making films and paintings," Lynch says, but he saw what TM did for him, how it helped him navigate the perils of Hollywood. In this town, "people hate you. People would really like to kill you and they'll do it many ways. Do this to your film. They'll threaten you. Put that pressure on you. It happens to everybody in this business, and every business. If I ran my set on fear, I wouldn't get 1 percent of what I could. Fear in the workplace. A macho cool thing. They're total idiots. Fearful. There's no joy. Zip. Fear turns to hate. Hate turns to anger. You want to kill your boss. Going to go the extra mile? No, you want to kill him. This is what Maharishi talks about. Don't worry about the darkness. Walk toward the light. Turn on the light."
Using meditation to reduce stress is one thing. But these peace factories, even Lynch says, "sounded kind of unbelievable."
"They say it's pie in the sky. They say it's baloney."
"But to enliven this beautiful field of bliss, love, the unity of life. Through the greatest machines on Earth, the human brain, to dive within, because we are built to dive within. We're built for enlightenment."
His fingers are really wiggling now. "When people catch on to this," he says, "this is a done deal."
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Beatles' former guru, is Lynch's inspiration.
David Lynch figures that, if they'll bring world peace, $7 billion worth of TM institutes is a pretty good investment. He's chipped in $400,000.