The woman to my right wore her long silver hair in a sort of anime chignon held up by chopsticks. Wavy tendrils fell down her long neck, on which balanced a smooth walnut head. I watched her large “transitioning” glasses fade clear from a warm, rosy brown. Her coral silk dress fell in generous folds around her yoga-toned body. Stopping before the bleachers at the back of the room, she took a cushion made of saffron fabric from her bag and placed it on the bench. She sat and removed a thin journal from her bag. The book had flowers printed on the front, and a word in black print that I couldn’t make out, but it looked like it said “dreams.”
I was inside Maharishi University of Management’s (MUM) Henry Ogden Clark Auditorium for the opening reception of the second annual David Lynch Weekend. The subtitle of the event was “Exploring the frontiers of consciousness, creativity and the brain,” and the schedule promised seminars on creativity with director David Lynch and Donovan. About three years ago, Lynch became suddenly loquacious about his thirty-year involvement with Transcendental Meditation (TM). In the fall of 2005 the previously interview-wary Lynch undertook a campus tour across America, lecturing about meditation’s effect on his creative process. Fans of the director crowded into theaters with questions about the filmmaker’s most beloved movies and production secrets. Lynch’s answers were both elucidating and evasive, towing the publicity line of mystery and apocryphal stories long since established in Lynch lore: The director does not have a favorite of his films, but Dune is his least favorite. He discovered he wanted to make movies when, as an art student in the late 1960s, he looked at a painting and decided he’d like it to move. A book called The Art Spirit by Robert Henri bolstered his early interest in art. He does not talk about the baby in Eraserhead.
But another, somewhat cuddlier Lynch emerged on his lecture tour. Wiggling his hands in the air, face shining, Lynch explained over and over again – in answer to almost every question – about the blissful process of “diving within” to an “ocean of pure energy” where ideas like “big fish” were abundant for the catching. In 2005, David Lynch founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, an initiative promoting the incorporation of meditation into education. The first David Lynch Weekend was held at MUM (located in Fairfield, Iowa) in March of last year, and in December Lynch published Catching the Big Fish, a sort of creative memoir detailing his relationship with meditation. Along with Lynch, the event’s keynote speaker was John Hagelin, Ph.D., a physicist who claimed to have found scientific evidence of a “unified field” – Lynch’s energy ocean – on the molecular level. For the weekend’s second year, British singer-songwriter Donovan had joined the roster of luminaries.
On the opening night of the second David Lynch Weekend, the average age of an attendee seemed to be around forty-five. Sensible shoes, beige flax outfits and long, straight hair were favored by men and women alike. Lynch Weekend fell on the same three days as prospective student and alumni weekends at MUM. All visitors to the university had passes to the Lynch events. “Student hosts” in flashy green t-shirts congregated around the punch table in the lobby. MUM operates a tobacco-, alcohol-, drug-, and meat-free campus, so the punch was a mixture of white grape juice and apple cider and the students were uniformly earthy, self-assured young people. Although I envied their nattily designed green t-shirts, which featured a triumvirate of stylized portraits of Lynch, Donovan and John Hagelin, their smiling authority proved unreliable; other than directions around the campus, they could provide little in the way of information. “Do you know when the shuttle is running?” I asked one of them. “No,” she answered, “But let me check with someone else.” When she came back, she simply shook her head sadly.
Inside the auditorium, the silver-haired woman scribbled a few words inside her journal and closed it quickly as Robert Roth, the vice president of the David Lynch Foundation and event coordinator for the weekend, took the stage. He deemed the strange couple of Lynch and Donovan “two of the greatest creative artists of our time.” Both were accorded a short video introduction. Donovan’s was a quick-moving montage of images of the musician walking near the ocean, wearing a variety of hats, and singing on television to an audience of contemplative girls in black and white, set to a sound collage of each of his top singles, beginning with “Catch the Wind.” The video also included Dylan’s proclamation of hatred for Donovan from Don’t Look Back and strategically placed pictures of the singer with the Beatles. As a young man, Donovan had a full halo of dark curly hair, a mischievous Pied Piper (whom he played in a Jacques Demy movie) face and snaggleteeth. After Roth murmured through a crescendoing introduction, pronouncing Donovan “the poet…the man that forty years ago returned from India with the mission of spreading the ideals of meditation…the most extraordinary musician,” the man himself entered stage left from behind a thick velvet curtain. His hair has rearranged itself slightly but lost none of its fullness, and Donovan’s eyes have, if anything, become brighter in the lined map of his face. His teeth, presumably, have remained constant. He spoke about muses, five-stringed instruments, “the Goddess” and his wife, Linda, whom he identified as his muse and connection to the Goddess.
Then Lynch’s video intro was cued; the audience was told it had been directed by one Sam Lee, and featured “Lynch’s own music.” What followed was a somewhat blah slideshow of Lynch headshots and candids set to the Twin Peaks theme, intercut with quotes from the director relating to the weekend’s raison d’etre. The music segued into Julee Cruise’s “Mysteries of Love,” the song that plays in the penultimate moments of Blue Velvet, and the content of the photographs changed to shots of Lynch at schools, embracing children. Then with little ado, Lynch also pushed through the curtain, wearing his trademark flyaway pompadour, black suit and skinny tie. He took the podium and remarked that his journey had begun in a mud puddle with a childhood friend named Little Dickie, and joked that there were not many fish to be caught in that pond. “There is a big pond in every human being,” Lynch said. Roth explained that the director and someone named Emily had just arrived from Cannes, where he had debuted a new short film and “been lauded beyond what any of us can imagine.” Both he and Donovan were very tired, but each would answer one pre-selected question, submitted by an audience member.
The question was “What does the creative process feel like for you?” Considering that Catching the Big Fish is essentially a 176-page answer to this question, it seemed a bit redundant, and Lynch responded by paraphrasing the book: “Very, very good,” followed by a long pause. “Nothing is happening, and then something happens. And the whole process is just so blissful. I guess I just could have said blissful.” Donovan explained that when he found himself in connection with the goddess, he began to have poetic thoughts, and it didn’t matter whether what he was doing was any good or not. “But then, I start to think my poetic connection might help another person’s poetic connection, and I want to share it.” The great artists were thanked, and Roth announced there would be desserts in the lobby, followed by some “student entertainment.” I followed the woman with the rose-colored glasses into the lobby, where she delicately nibbled some olive tapenade on a melba toast.
I came to Lynch Weekend largely because of my love of Lynch’s work, but I also admire Donovan; I grew up listening to him in the car with my mother every morning on the way to school. The combination of these two men struck me as an unlikely event, made all the more remarkable by the fact that their pairing took place in small-town Iowa. Transcendental Meditation has sometimes been called a cult. The campus’s corps of smiling thin people in light colored clothing and strict all-vegetarian dining halls made this allegation easy to understand, but as I waited for the shuttle back to my hotel I did not feel as if I were being indoctrinated. “Student entertainment” trailed out of the auditorium in the form of an old-timey electric guitar riff. A girl wearing a prospective student badge talked excitedly to a green-shirted boy. The air held a heady mixture of 1960s idealism and postmodern spiritual seeking. The diverse other attendees, including two Native American school groups, milled around, speaking their own patois of mixed accents and unique vocabulary: “yogic flying,” “energy node,” “troubadour experience.” These people had come to the center of the country to celebrate the power of thought. I watched their shadows streak down and away from inside the shuttle that had finally come, bearing me smoothly back to the hotel.