When Lynch Met Fellini

In 2007, David Lynch published a short book on Transcendental Meditation, titled Catching the Big Fish. Roughly half the book is devoted to extolling the virtues of meditation in decidedly Lynchian terms: “I call [depression and anger] the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It’s suffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve.” The other half reads like a scrapbook of anecdotes (“There’s a scene [in Eraserhead] in which [Henry] is on one side of the door; and it wasn’t until a year and a half later that we filmed him coming through the other side of that door”), musings (“there’ a safety to thinking in a diner”) and filmmaking advice (DV, DV, DV). One of the most touching sections describes Lynch’s first and last meeting with the great Italian director Federico Fellini:

I was shooting a commercial in Rome, and I was working with two people who had worked with Fellini. So I said, “Do you think it’d be possible to go over and say hello to him?” And they said, “Yeah, we’ll try to arrange that.” There was an attempt on a Thursday night that fell through, but Friday night, we went over. It was about six o’clock in the evening in summer – a beautiful, warm evening. Two of us went in and were taken to Fellini’s room. There was another man in the room and my friend knew him, so he went over and talked to him. Fellini had me sit down. He was in a little wheelchair between the two beds, and he took my hand, and we sat and talked for half an hour. I don’t think I asked him much. I just listened a lot. He talked about the old days – how things were. He told stories. I really liked sitting near him. And then we left. That was Friday night, and on Sunday he went into a coma and never came out.

The book’s rapturous tone can feel surreal when keeping the author in mind. Just imagine Lynch saying out loud, to you, “when you dive within, the Self is there and true happiness is there… it’s bliss  physical, emotional, mental and spiritual happiness that starts growing from within.” But in another section, Lynch addresses the obvious question: is he’s such a blissful guy, why are his films so dark? “I fall in love with certain ideas. And I am where I am. Now, if I told you that I was enlightened, and this is enlightened filmmaking, that would be another story. But I’m just a guy from Missoula, Montana, doing my thing, going down the road like everybody else.”

Lynch states that meditation changed his life. Coilhouse readers, who here meditates? Is it as healing as David Lynch says? Who’s never meditated properly, and doesn’t really get how it works (me!)? Lynch’s passion and clown suit metaphors make me want to try again.

26 Responses to “When Lynch Met Fellini”

  1. Elana Says:

    I know a psychiatrist who runs workshops that use “mindfulness”, including meditation, as a method to treat chronic depression, anxiety, and other disorders. He’s a skeptic, an atheist, etc. etc., and finds it impossible to put meditation into his regular life, but the clinical research (as well as his own patients’ success) shows that mindfulness meditation treats, if not cures, a statistically significant proportion of the time it is employed — better than some medications, I think he said. I went with him on a creepy zealots’ retreat to learn meditation so that he could teach it to his patients. It’s Really Boring. Instead of meditating, I found myself having little hallucinations in the hair of the lady in front of me. My brain was desperate to keep itself entertained.

    I’m not sure what my argument is here.

  2. Carrie Cleaver Says:

    I LOVE David Lynch. That said, meditation comes in all forms. Who hasn’t sat and stared into space while listening to relaxing music? Maybe you lay there with your eyes closed just clearing your brain before you go to sleep. Maybe you have to. That my dear, is also meditation.

  3. Seamyst Says:

    I meditate on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes I “zone” to a certain music album, sometimes I do simple visualization exercises. My favorite exercise is to imagine that I’m breathing in a color (usually deep blue, which is calming for me), and that the color floods my body with each breath. It really helps me get to sleep.

    Really, though, just trying to not think of anything in particular and breathing deeply for a couple of minutes is good. Meditation doesn’t have to be big and complicated.

  4. Nadya Says:

    Elana, I know where you’re coming from! I want it to work for me so badly. Studies have shown that it works. In the David Lynch book, he talks about how schools where meditation was taught had decreased rates of violence, kids were happier, grades went up, etc. But when I try it… I just end up Really Bored. And then, my mind races. I think of all the things I have to do for Coilhouse, for example. I’m like, “why am I sitting here? I could be doing this or this or this or that…”

    Carrie, I know what you mean too. I like spacing out. I guess I’m just thinking that there’s a more focused way to do it that’s supposed to bring greater bliss and consciousness – at least, according to David Lynch.

    Seamyst, I’m going to try that tonight when I go to sleep! Thank you.

  5. Carrie Cleaver Says:

    Nadya, Seamyst:

    You’ve both inspired me to look into this deeper. Perhaps Yoga? It seems so overrated. But again, N, thank you for featuring Mr. Lynch.

  6. secretia Says:

    i LOVE meditation…i don’t do it nearly as often as i would like…i use it when i’m about to sleep, or at the end of a yoga session when my mind and body are already restful…

    when i’m about to sleep; it’s about LETTING all those ideas and thoughts that flood into my mind exist…it’s about allowing them to BE…so that i can digest each thought…

    after yoga; i use more guided, purposeful techniques and start by floating upon a substance that i can only describe as honey…it laps upon my body and slowly envelops it…that’s not as suffocating as it sounds!..when i emerge from the honey i am in a different location, always a forest clearing and always guided by a departed cat, mogwai…


  7. Kale Kip Says:

    Never meditated properly, don’t get how it works. Way too many times I had people try to explain or teach me, but it just feels like a complete waste of time.

    But I generally also don’t like the work of David Lynch. Most of his movies I saw I thought were just constructed along one metaphor or some narrative trick. And I never got the point why it had to be so overly complicated. I like things to be odd. But I like them better when they make a certain sense of their own, rather then just be a straight story with a twisted perspective.

    It is kind of similar to meditation now I think about it. Forcing your thoughts into some seemingly random direction and then ending up with a completely empty feeling. I guess it might work for some people, but for me it definitely doesn’t.

  8. gobsmacked Says:

    @Kale Kip – its not about ‘forcing’, more about letting go of thoughts as they arise.

    @Nadya – there’s a materialist approach among westerners that meditating will ‘get’ them more bliss, or they can ‘achieve’ enlightenment or whatever, but that belief is itself counter-productive, its our desires, our need to get and achieve, that causes most of the problems in the first place.

    Meditation can just be about being aware of your senses for a while, without blindly listening to your inner commentary, but just letting go of it each time it starts up. That way it becomes easier to do this during your life generally.

  9. R. Says:

    It’s the only way I can write with a clear head. If not I can’t focus and I have to force the words.

  10. Ales Kot Says:

    I do, 4-5 times a week, as long as needed. Last year, sometimes even three hours or longer. This year, I’m starting with one hour sessions 5 days a week, but I suspect the time will partially vanish — which, to me, is a big part of why meditation works. Out of time, out of space.

  11. Konstantin Says:

    Meditation comes in many forms, not just the cross-legged boredom one commonly envisions. It can come in the form of martial arts such as iaido and tai chi (moving meditation), it can be doing something productive yet quite simple and repetitive, it can be daydreaming, it can be stretching and progressive relaxation. Walking alone in the rain, absorbed in thought – that too can be meditation, if you feel focussed and refreshed. Even meditation in the more traditional sense of the word can refer to a huge variety in techniques.

    The key is to find something that works for you, rather than try to force your body to agree with something. Give it all a try – meditation workshops, yoga, a martial art, stretching, music, etc. Eventually you’ll come across something that makes you relaxed and zoned out, and afterwards you’ll have that “holy crap, that was cool!” moment. Personally, I could never just… sit there, but I definitely try to have that experience in my life through other, more active means.

  12. Amelia Says:

    Focused breathing is meditation and makes all those ‘OMGosh I have write this article and walk that dog’ thoughts seem not so important. If you just sit and breathe and focus on how your nose feels when you inhale, then how your throat feels, then how your lungs feel. I find the focus on different body parts stops the boredom, because you are thinking about something. Personally, it reminds me that as long as I have breath, everything will be fine.

  13. Stache Says:

    I was excited to explore Transcendental Meditation (TM) after listening to recorded lectures for students by Lynch a few years ago.

    Then I researched the TM organization and its followers. I found some ugly information from a few who had gone through its system and came out worse for the wear. Many claimed the organization is essentially a hierarchical pyramid scheme.

    Not quite daunted, I contacted a local chapter group (because there are regional “certified” TM practitioners who conduct teachings and handle new members). I was shocked to discover that fees start at $2500 just to become a member and receive training which, as far as I could tell since it’s secretive, was to grant me a sort of personally cosmically unique meditation phrase to be repeated during sessions.

    As one can imagine, I was more than turned off and now lean more to the scam view of TM. Still, some people like Lynch are devotees. Of course, there are addicts to all kinds of weird shit like Scientology, UNARIUS, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pagan Goddess Worship, Acid, Norwegian Black Metal, Moby Dick, iPhones, etc.

  14. Michelle Says:

    I really love meditation and yoga. I used to have…I don’t know if it could be called an anxiety disorder, because it was never diagnosed, but let’s just say I went through 2-3 weeks of anxiety induced insomnia where I got maybe four hours of sleep a night. I used to have panic attacks and sometimes get so anxious that I’d have a hard time eating.

    Despite being of a pagan persuasion, I am generally very skeptical when it comes to what I tend to view as crunchy hippy granola new age crap. I tried meditation on a simple whim, mostly out of sheer desperation, and it has worked SO WELL. I did it for about 5-10 minutes a day for probably a month and a half, and then dropped off to fifteen minutes like…once every three days for a while, and now I probably only do it once a week or so. But I do yoga every morning.

    When I meditated, I would either just focus on my breathing (and count one in inhale, two on exhale) or I would do like…visualizing the future stuff. I think just having a time set aside to be still, no matter what you’re thinking about, helps out a lot.

    Anyways, six months after I decided to give it a shot, I can sleep without medication, haven’t had a panic attack for those six months, and generally seem to have my anxiety pretty well under control now. And I don’t even meditate on a daily basis any more! (although I would like to start again) I highly, HIGHLY recommend it.

  15. alumiere Says:

    Hmmm… typical sit still and empty your mind fails every time for me. I’ve wanted an off switch for my brain since I was a kid, and meditation isn’t it.

    But as several people mentioned it doesn’t have to be sitting still breathing. I find exercise and especially dancing are what allows my mind to shut up already for a while. Movement + music (good rhythm & some kind of traditional melody hook are required here) = perfect. One of my friends compared me to a Sufi Whirling Dervish, and in the sense that dance is my center I understand what she means.

  16. Mark Says:

    Having recently watched Twin Peaks for the first time, when I first imagine Lynch speaking out loud it’s his cameo there that comes into my head.

  17. Tequila Says:

    With all the noise burning about it seems meditation has gone from new age punch line in western culture to a valuable and needed practice. I’d heard about Lynch’s book and he’s not the first in recent years to speak so highly again of Transcendental Meditation. We even have a whole town built around its teachings in the states (the fasted growing by last reports.)

    All these positive experiences have me curious, think I’ll give it a go. You’d think with the amount of TV we Americans watch, sitting still and letting the brain fall silent would be easy…

    About the closest I have to meditation in my life now is listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan albums. They do take you out of yourself (or deeper into ones self) quite a bit…it’s a great feeling.

    The Fellini story is great…I hear the nicest stories associated with him. The weirdest too..but some real gems.

  18. bruce bourassa Says:

    DL is on target. meditation is not a carefully crafted myth, supported by invested true believers, but the accessible existential realestate of any sentient being in possession (or even the presence of) a mind. it is mind calisthenics to train flacid, go with the flow minds to have sufficient self awarness to get out of traffic & start taking responsibility for their own content & the consequences of the attitudes, thoughts & decisions that they entertain. i am not an adept; not enough consistent practice, but enough episodes of immersion (when the alternatives were going to be ptsd or some paralizing form of depression) that i have had at least 3 distinct experiences of satori, & several extended periods when the visable circumstances of my life were utter chaos during which i could readily & at will access a zone of functional bliss (independent of pharmaceuticals, tho not necessarily exclusive of some benign botanical versions) which allowed me to work thru the apparent dilemas & pass those waters with my boat, leaky & battered but still seaworthy. i never could have afforded “professional intervention”. i suggest readings in zen & tibbetan traditions (thick nhat hanh’s “miracle of mindfullness”, (zen) or chogyam trungpa’s “cutting through spiritual materialism” or “glimpses of abhi dharma”
    some observation re comments above. TM & other organized institutions suffer the same handicaps endemic to any religion; that of being captive to corporate pressures & inclined to corporate remedies. look for a local meditation temple or group with a mentor that is actually a person of spiritual accomplishment. let someone who you respect & who is also a practicioner lead you to that leader. then give it an honest try (doesn’t mean submitting cult style as per scientology etc). otherwise books are good. some of the practices are very simple. mindfulness (alumiere – you should try thich nhat hanh’s “guide to walking meditation, but see miracle of mindfulness first. total reading investment is less than 200 pges together) is not a switch; it’s more like a rheostat, & you have to find it first before you say it’s not there. the mind chatter is darkness. you are groping. as for hours of TV being apprenticeship for clarity. wouldn’t that be an interesting contradiction. Timothy Leary (any of you juvenile delinquents remember what LSD is) did resarch with flashing strobe lights. found out that the human brain can be wiped clean, & made ready for free ascocciative hallucinatory suggestion by exposure in a dark room to certain frequencies. 60 mega hertz is one of em. because of already in place alternating current delivered in that frequency, it is the rate at which the TV picture wipes . happy accident for the pervayors of the most accute narcotic in human history. & you thought you were watching it because there is so much great information & it is so artfully produced (get a hold of what you were watching 5 years ago – see if you can sit thru it). actually TV is producing a large portion of the mind clutter that has to be sorted out, along with misrepresentative politics, consumer maddness, perscription & cartell narcotics, & noise & light pollution. actually humans are becoming very hardy. if you were to take say a 17th century maiori warrior & plunk him or her down at the corner of wilshire & westwood. he/she would probably experience cardiac arrest on the spot. was ever a moment more ripe for & needful of trancendant epiphany. things that need to happen always do. you are either on the boat or in the water. your pharmeseuticals will not see you there esp if they get wet, run out or get nicked. as jesus said, “your endocrine secretions you will have always with yo” get a handle on their techniques. meditation is part of the user’s manual for a human life QED

  19. Karri Says:

    I think of meditation as the treadmill for the mind. Just like with your body, you can’t expect your mind to be a marathoner after a lifetime of cerebral couch-surfing. Start with something simple. Try paying attention to your breathing. When your busy mind tries to interfere, treat it like a screaming toddler–make sure there’s no blood, then get back to what you were doing. Don’t try for a 62 hour tantric experience right off the bat. Start with a minute or two, then work your way up. Just like Konstantin says, there are a lot of places to go from there. Find something that resonates with you, then stick with it. You can go some pretty remarkable places in your head with enough practice.

    A word of caution though. A lot of people get confused and frustrated because they try to do something they found in a book or on YouTube, and don’t get it. From my limited experience, the best thing you can do is find a real live human being to teach you. They will make sure you understand what you’re supposed to be doing, and be able to answer your questions as you go.

  20. Nadya Says:

    Guys, thank you all for the incredible advice here. I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who finds TM™ suspect (I had that feeling when I finished reading the book), but the actual idea of meditation appeals to me even more now that I’ve read the comments. I think I’ll try some breathing techniques and just visualizing a color or a phrase. Won’t force it too much. We’ll see how it goes! Thank you to everyone who commented.

  21. nekojita Says:

    P,S, Thank you Coilhouse! You make everyone’s life better.

  22. Charlotte Says:

    I don’t know if anyone has already covered these points, ’cause, er, tl;dr…but I thought these were worth mentioning:

    1. David Lynch is *specifically* into Transcendental Meditation (TM), the type founded and taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who you might know of from his work with The Beatles…”jai guru deva” was a phrase they picked up from him). I don’t know whether David Lynch believes that other types of meditation, such as those associated with Zen Buddhism, are as effective as this type. Followers are a little cultish about it, honestly.

    2. I can’t meditate. I can’t make my little, chattering monkey-mind shut up for long enough. I’m still working on it, but there are so many distractions.

    3. Apparently there are 2 conflicting brain systems dealing with self-awareness. (I’m not a neuro-anything, so please correct me if I’m wrong). One system perceives feelings (hot/cold/soft/hard) and emotions, the other puts those feelings into words. Ideally, in meditation, you’d like to get to the point where you can just sense, without it being necessary to define what those senses mean to you on an abstract level.

    4. If you’re doing it right, meditation should be boring. Or so I’ve read.

  23. agent double oh-no Says:

    I just learned that the comedian Andy Kaufman meditated for three hours a day. I wouldn’t mind a little of THAT brand of Enlightenment! (Really, just a little, not too much.)

    I’ve found that I get all of the benefits from formal meditation – focus, epiphanies, a greater sense of well being – from long hours of sustained reading or writing. The added advantage is that I’ve also accomplished something tangible.

    – Jeff

  24. BrittanyTwoFacedStabberHead Says:

    An American Zen Buddhist , Charlotte Joko Beck, prescribes in her book Everyday Zen a method called Beep Meditation (likely not the origin). You sit quietly and when a thought comes up, you say ‘beep’ out loud or to yourself. I’ve tried this and it is very frustrating but I think it is useful in forcing yourself to face the useless abstractions/distractions that crop up in conscious thought by forcing ownership of them. Horrible, horrible.

    The first time I tried meditation was when I picked up a self-help book about falling asleep, the old now your toes are asleep, now your ankles are asleep, your calves… routine. That works. I concur with the mention of subtler forms of meditation, the ones that just kinda happen, usually due to reverie of something or monotonous work, those don’t set off my own sincerity alarm.

    One day I would like to have someone teach me, if the discipline for formal meditation is not there I think it might need the formalization of bells and gongs and some poor person to deal with the whining and be able to (pardon the french) ‘rip someone a new one’ to get them back on track.


  25. HerbT Says:

    The book by Jon Kabat Zinn “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life” is an excellent introduction to meditation.


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