Posted by: bobroth | February 9, 2010

Travels with David Lynch

The man is without fear

I have traveled a lot with the tireless, fearless David Lynch over the past nearly five years. Here he is welcomed by grateful meditating students who know him not as a famous Hollywood director, but as the man who brought Transcendental Meditation to their school.

I love traveling with David Lynch. For nearly five years, we toured probably 40 cities in 22 countries on four continents… He was a rock star (without the baggage) when he spoke to more than ten thousand film students in Jerusalem and Rio and London and Kiev. And in Los Angeles, at the Kodak Theatre, he slipped unseen into the hearts of a jaded Hollywood audience with his humor, candor, kindness, and wisdom.

People love the guy.

But overall praise for David, while always satisfying, is not my purpose here.

Today, I want to talk about something I admire most about David: his fearlessness.

To get there, I need to give a little background:

Other than questions about Transcendental Meditation, the single most oft asked question David gets from his film fans and the press is:

“Mr. Lynch, if you are so peaceful and full of bliss from your meditation, what’s with all the violence in your films?”

The audience roars. That question has been hanging heavily since filmmaker David first described his meditation as diving into an ocean of peace and bliss.

David laughs. He says he gets the same question everywhere he goes. David opens by saying what I expect him to say: Art reflects the world around the artist. The world today is far more violent, far more bizarre, far more surreal than any film that he has ever made.

“But what about suffering?” This question usually comes from a perplexed 20-something-year-old film student. “Don’t you have to suffer to have an edge? Does meditation take away your edge?”

David has been expecting that question, too. He is firm: An artist doesn’t have to suffer to show suffering—just as an artist doesn’t have to die to show a death scene. He or she just has to understand suffering, he or she has to understand death. Besides, if an artist is really suffering, with depression or a migraine, then he can’t even get out of bed in the morning to work. Suffering chokes off the flow of creativity.

David says that meditation opens a channel to an infinite reservoir of creativity within. Rather than losing an edge, the meditation process sharpens the edge.

David adds that the suffering in real life is a unspeakable horror—that suffering should remain as a story line on the screen and not in the dreaded experiences of the world.

I look over to the audience. People shift in their seats, look to their neighbor, some take notes. There is a collective mulling going on. An unexpected truth has been revealed by the master of abstraction. And the unexpected comes with a resolute ring of truth.

David then comes to his own defense. My films, he says, are not only about dark. There is a lot of light in them. The audience takes him at his word. Next time they look, they will look for the light as well.

Reporters are always eager to interview David about his work and his foundation. They think he is going to be weird. I warn them ahead of time. “David is the nicest, kindest person you will talk to.” I say it, but no one listens. Afterwards, after the interview is complete and the reporter has digested the experience, I get this inevitable phone call or text message. “Great interview with Mr. Lynch. Why didn’t you tell me he was such a nice guy.”

David is an Eagle Scout from Missoula, Montana. He had a happy, healthy upbringing with two loving parents. He is an acknowledged creative genius. The Guardian newspaper in London named him the greatest filmmaker in the last 40 years.

So what’s the deal with meditation and scary?

Here is my take: What I consider to be scary is not scary for David. He is without fears. He is as entranced by observing, in minute detail, how a tree (or, say, a rabbit) grows up healthy and strong as he is by watching how the tree or rabbit deteriorate and die (and decompose). He is fascinated by higher states of consciousness and he is fascinated by mental disorders. And why not? They are all natural processes, all predictably governed by natural laws… He didn’t make up those laws. The same source that creates day creates night. He explores without fear both.

Me? I still find myself turning away from the darkness, avoiding the grotesque. Not David. Light and dark, heaven and hell, sweet and sour, happy and sad. It’s all part of the play and display of Life, of Creative Intelligence, of Nature, of God (you pick the descriptive noun).

David is one of the most enlightened people I know—if you define enlightened as “Knowing who you are, being true to who you are, having the energy and creativity and conviction to express who you are… and not hurting others…” If you include those characteristics in your definition of enlightenment (and I do), then David is a very enlightened guy.

I don’t envy many people for much. But I do aspire to David’s fearlessness—his witnessing of the world of change, where life and death, light and dark, move on towards some goal inextricably together, enmeshed, fingers interlaced with fingers, arm-in-arm, sharing the dance of life.

For David, a creative force and a man of peace, life is without fear.

(David talks about meditation, anger and the creative process here.)


  1. before meeting David and also before starting TM myself, i felt the same way about his art. it was hard to understand that such gruesome and grotesque things could come from someone that was neither of those things.

    it’s beautiful because after learning TM i fully understand what he’s talking about and where he’s coming from.

    TM allows you to feel the most beautiful feelings a human can feel, whilst being able to look at the suffering in the world from a new prospective.

    honestly Bobby, i have both you and David to thank because you’ve both helped me discover the most beautiful tool that any person could have.

  2. I’m reading your post for the first time. (after find the first one 1 hour so so ago)

    This is a very nice article. I think you must be pretty amazing and secure with yourself as well. It is rare to find someone who can talk openly and honestly AND NOT find mean.

    Keep writing, I’ll keep reading and passing it on. Let’s hear about your travels, and your thoughts on the crowd’s reactions. Or your thoughts about how meditation can improve the lives of children. -how parents can make it a part of family life so we are raised with this tool, and on and on. (I got ideas, too!)

    Looking forward to hearing more from you.

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