Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity
Book Review by Michael Lodge
If you didn’t know, the man who created gas-sucking masochist Frank Booth in Blue Velvet visits bliss twice a day. In 1973, filmmaker David Lynch tried transcendental meditation for the first time and slipped into “an ocean of pure consciousness.” He’s not missed a day’s bliss since.
Catching the Big Fish is a meandering collection of thoughts on the relationship between Lynch’s meditation and his art. The title refers to his view that “ideas are like fish” and “if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.” Normal states of consciousness just won’t do for Lynch.
(Full disclosure: this reviewer traveled to northern India and visited several gompas. The region is suitably spiritual but the monks I encountered wore trainers, chewed gum and turned up to work in a VW van. I skimmed a book about Kundalini tantra in vain. In spiritual matters, I’m still on the outside looking in.)
To Lynch, his meditation is his source of creativity. He sees it as a holistic experience that we rarely experience in our fragmented lives. In a wider sense, Lynch implies that the meditation gives him an openness to ideas that others do not possess. He describes how, struggling to complete Eraserhead, he read a sentence in the bible that made the entire film clear – and then refuses to share the chapter and verse.
This openness, for example, is seen again in the way he casts his films. He doesn’t get actors to read. That’s far too conventional. He just gets them to speak while he runs the script through his head. He creates a space of possibility for them in the part.
Lynch doesn’t buy into the tortured artist as genius; that kind of suffering is not in his creed. He wonders whether Van Gogh (and others) would have been “even greater if he wasn’t so restricted by the things tormenting him.” To Lynch, it makes more sense to know about anger and misery but to “nurture the place where strength and clarity and energy come from.” Bliss is like a “flak jacket.”
This is fine, but as I walked away from a recent Lynch book reading in Los Angeles I was left asking this question: Where is the bliss in his movies? I can’t recall seeing this manifested in his work. Yes, intriguing puzzles. Yes, disturbing dreamscapes. But where’s the transcendental bliss? In the book, he acknowledges he’s asked this question often – and then dodges it completely.
Lynch believes in the power of meditation as a way to inspire children, too. He writes eagerly about schools that incorporate meditation into the syllabus. Indeed, the author’s proceeds from the book go to the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace. I know what you’re thinking: “Not ambitious enough. Couldn’t you take on a little more, Dave?”
Catching the Big Fish has enough trivia for his fans. He describes how he’s turned away from film in favor of digital cameras (but uses a cheap one that doesn’t capture a perfect image). He’s scathing about commentary and extras on DVDs. To Lynch, they destroy the magic of the director’s vision. (It’s difficult to disagree with him here. How does watching an alternative ending enhance your experience of a film?) He writes of his thirty second consultation with a shrink. Lynch asked him if the process might reduce his creativity. The shrink said it might. Lynch shook his hand and walked out.
We never quite discover enough about how Lynch transcends everyday life and “goes fishing” to create memorable films. Ultimately we’re still on the outside looking in.