Just as we wouldn't expect David Lynch to deliver a traditional movie, nor should we expect him to deliver a traditional commencement address. "I did an interview with the Des Moines Register and said that this would be a strange commencement speech," the creator of Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, and (with Mark Frost) Twin Peaks tells the 2016 graduating class of the Maharishi University of Management by way of opening not a speech but an on-stage question-and-answer session. The questions came from select students who want to know things like how he sees the world looking in ten years, what makes a good leader, and what makes a meaningful life.
One also wants to know how to "reconcile a job or career with our dharma or purpose." To that question, the very first, Lynch can respond with only one word: "Wow." But then, he had to have expected that question from a student at MUM, an institution established to provide something called "Consciousness-Based education" under which you don't just gain knowledge but "your awareness expands, improving your ability to absorb knowledge and see the big picture."
Integral to all this is Transcendental Meditation, the technique developed by MUM founder (and guru to the likes of the Beatles and the Beach Boys) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and which Lynch himself has practiced since 1973.
Even if you have no interest in Lynch's memories of the Maharishi (a possible subject of a future movie of his, he implies), or in meditation of any kind, Lynch still dispenses a fair few pieces of valuable advice during these twenty minutes. "I always equate ideas sort of like fish — we don’t make the fish, we catch the fish," he says in response to one student who asks about how he falls in love with the ideas out of which his projects develop. "You fall in love with an idea and for me it may just be a fragment of a whole thing like a script, or a whole film, but this little fragment is so thrilling and you fall in love." And "once you get one fragment, it’s like bait on a hook to catch more fragments."
More concretely, another student asks Lynch to go back to his time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (which draws a "Whoa" from Lynch) and consider whether he'd make all the same decisions again. "I was very lucky," he says of avoiding the drugs in vogue at the time because of the warnings of his friends. "They were all taking them, but for some reason they warned me against it. So I guess I dodged a bullet." But he does admit to, after his daily meditation practice, never failing to imbibe one consciousness-altering substance: coffee. And when an aspiring filmmaker asks for the "one thing that you learned on one of your film sets that then became a life lesson," Lynch reveals something perhaps even more important to him than always getting his coffee: "Always have final cut."
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.