David Lynch: The weird world of David Lynch

From the man who brought us 'Blue Velvet' and 'Twin Peaks' comes The Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. David Usborne meditates on the maverick director's strangest project yet
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The Independent Online

Remember, Lynch is just different, not a nutcase. Never mind that through much of the 1970s he went to the same Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Los Angeles every day at 2.30pm for a chocolate milkshake. And who cares if he walked away when George Lucas asked him to direct Return of the Jedi and made his own sci-fi epic instead, Dune, which was a commercial calamity?

Lynch, ever in a shirt and a bootlace tie, and with an American Spirit cigarette in his lips, has never pretended to fit into the Hollywood system, and that is why he has so many fans. The easy news to digest is that Lynch does have a new film project on the go. It will be called INLAND EMPIRE (the capitalisation is deliberate) and will feature many of the actors he has used before, including Laura Dern and Harry Dean Stanton. Beyond that, we don't know much about the film's content. It will, we assume, be a mystery of some kind.

What may shock you, however, is the fact that, this morning, the director who recently turned 59 is starting up a philanthropic organisation with a less than catchy name: "The David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace". It appears to have various aims. To raise lots of money - he hopes $7bn - to end all war and human strife and, first of all, to encourage every American schoolchild to sit cross-legged on the gym floor or in the playground and chant "om".

To explain: Lynch hopes through this organisation to make the teaching of transcendental meditation (TM) available to students in every school in America. He calculates that introducing students to the discipline will help to lower stress, anxiety and blood-pressure in the country's classrooms. Where there is bullying there will be bliss. Excellence will replace mediocrity. And so on.

Students who meditate, Lynch assured the New York Post yesterday, will: "Start shining like a bright, shiny penny and their anxieties will go away. By diving within, they will attain a field of pure consciousness, pure bliss, creativity, intelligence, dynamic peace. You enliven the field, and every day it gets better. Negativity recedes."

There's more. With his new outfit, Lynch also intends to ease tension for all the rest of us by putting together "peace-creating super groups of 8,000 meditators" around the world, who will all chant simultaneously for peace and harmony. It is important that each group has 8,000 participants because "it's the size of the square root of one per cent of the world's population".

At this point, even the most committed Lynch fans may be starting to quiver. He may not have succumbed to Hollywood's embrace, but perhaps Lynch has caught one of its newest disorders - the surrender to, and propagation of, a religion or mental discipline that mainstream society might consider off-beat or wacky. Other patients in the ward, of course, include Madonna and Tom Cruise, who respectively went loopy for Kabbalah and Scientology.

But Lynch, you should know, has not fallen under the spell of TM only recently. He has been a committed student of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, once famous as guru to The Beatles, for 32 years. The Maharishi, now in his 80s, developed a meditation technique based on the Indian Vedic spiritual tradition that is meant to help anyone who tries it "transcend" to a higher state of consciousness. All that is required of them is that they silently repeat a one-syllable Sanskrit mantra for about 20 minutes a day.

Lynch has insisted in recent interviews that he still has some way to go with TM before achieving full enlightenment. A few years ago, however, he did achieve the status of "siddha", or yogic flier. In other words, he is one of those people whose state of meditation becomes so profound that they are meant to levitate from the ground. (In practice this seems to involve a lot of hopping about one knee, hopefully on a rubber mat.) "I'm not a great flier," he said recently.

He is adamant about the promise that TM holds. "Negativity," he said recently, "is like darkness - it goes away when you turn on this light of peace and unity. Bliss is our nature. Bliss. We should be like little puppy dogs. So happy. And that includes unbounded, infinite intelligence, creativity, consciousness." He adds: "When you do TM, this level of unity can be enlivening the world consciousness and it can go into the atmosphere. When the sun comes up the darkness goes away."

No wonder he wants Americans to start young. "I am starting this foundation to ensure that every child in America who wants to meditate can learn," he said in statement. "Our schools are under enormous pressure to cram as much information as quickly as possible into a student's brain. But the sheer amount of information is exploding so fast that students are physically incapable of absorbing all that information and putting it to use. And that is why the problem of stress has become so all-pervasive in our schools. Transcendental meditation makes it much easier for students for learn and teachers to teach."

It's Lynch's intention that the foundation will pay the cost of TM instruction to every student who wants it - about $2,500 per person - as well as provide scholarships to those who want to attend to attend colleges where transcendental meditation is taught, such as the Maharishi's own university in Iowa.

Most baffling here is the apparent contradiction between the content of so much of Lynch's work and his quest now for puppy-dog nirvana. If negativity is like darkness, as he says, then a few minutes watching Dennis Hopper as the sicko, oxygen-sipping Frank Booth in Blue Velvet must surely take us darker than the deepest recesses of the oceans. Is Lynch feeling guilty about the sheer screwy evil of some of his films?

He is not saying. Nor can we be sure, at least until the release of INLAND EMPIRE, if his devotion to TM might mean less dark and more light in his films. But fans can be assured that Lynch plans to limit his TM evangelising to his foundation. He will not be using his films to spread the Maharishi's word.

"They say, if you want to send a message, go to Western Union," he says. "Film is a different thing. I love painting, I love photography, and I love music. And you know, if it comes through there, it comes through there in an innocent way. I'm not about to make a film to sell this thing."

The story of 'Om'

* Mahesh Yogi was born in 1917. He graduated from Allahabad University in 1940 with a degree in physics, before going on to study at Jotyr Math, a monastery in Badarinath under Guru Dev

* In 1953, Yogi went on a retreat in the Himalayan foothills. He re-emerged, two years later, having refined a meditation technique that could be universally practised

* In 1957 he founded the Transcendental Meditation Movement. Devotees have included The Beatles and Mia Farrow. David Lynch has been a follower for over 30 years

* In 1972 he announced his 'World Plan' - to share his spiritual vision with the world

* In 1976, the World Plan Council announced an advanced siddha programme which teaches devotees levitation - otherwise known as yogic flying

* In 2001, Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa, was incorporated as a model of ideal city life: to promote perfect health and world peace. David Lynch has credited the Vedic city as inspiration for his new foundation

* The Maharishi has established the RAAM in an attempt to create a global currency. Its use is illegal in Iowa, but it can be exchanged at the rate of 1 RAAM per €10 in the Netherlands

* Over 6 million people have studied transcendental meditation. His Holiness now has over 3,000 centres worldwide

Louise Jack