Director and auteur David Lynch is known for his iconic films and television shows such as Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks. Imagine my surprise when a wonderful friend of mine gifted me with a book written by him. Catching the Big Fish is a collection of thoughts and extended musings about Lynch’s personal philosophies that guide his life. The book’s subtitle “Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity” pretty much sums up the cornerstones of these writings, but the picture he lays out is much broader.
Broken up into small one to two-page sections, the book maps out a primer on how to live a life that includes an expansive awareness of self and the world and an attunement toward persistent ideation. Lynch wants his readers to think about how meditation can be a gateway into a landscape of creative ideas, and he makes a compelling, albeit gently conveyed, case for this. He does so by using his own life as an example from his early days as a painter in the fine arts and through experiences developing ideas for films like Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and others.
For filmmakers like myself, gaining insight into his creative life is one of the best parts of this book. His body of work stands tall among the best in the business. For everyone else looking to nurture a contemplative life rich with artistic fulfillment, Lynch offers plenty to ponder.
Here are the polka dot pros:
Easy to read. The short sections of this book make it much more accessible in terms of digesting Lynch’s ideas in smaller chunks. Even at a length of 180 pages, I could easily imagine finishing this in one long and luxurious sitting. Nonetheless, this book is best enjoyed without the pressure of rushing through it. I took my time over three days, and I’m glad I did. I was able to let his ideas sink in as I read along.
Gentle writing style. There is a casual ease to the tone of this book. You won’t find any moral grandstanding or ultimatums here. Reading this felt like a conversation a person would have while sitting around at a pond and fishing. It is idyllic and sweet.
Insightful about Lynch’s work. If you are attracted to this book because you are a fan of Lynch’s films, this book does not disappoint. While it is far from an exhaustive exposé on his creative output, the kernels of what he does provide are quirky and amusing, and he links everything to how his meditation practice plays a foundational role in all of it.
Perhaps this book would be more interesting to people who have seen Lynch’s movies, but as a case study of the effects of meditation on creative work, this book hits that mark easily.
It is also such a delightful and thoughtfully conceived little book and is certainly worth the leisurely time it takes to read it.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have half a mile of driveway that snakes through the woods toward where our mailbox sits just off a country road here in middle Tennessee. The long driveway serves as my private walking path that is completely surrounded by steep hills, trees, and a creek on one side. For at least six days a week, I go on an hour-long walk by myself.
I have reaped a few benefits from these solitary sojourns.
I get quiet time by myself.
Being a true introvert at heart, I often crave alone time. My walks happen early in the morning these days, and no other humans are hankering for my attention. This energizes me in ways that most anything else cannot.
I enjoy silence.
Being out in the woods, long stretches of silence are accented by birds singing or wind brushing through the trees. Those are comforting sounds, but mostly, there is the silence. Gone is the stalwart tone of a reporter on NPR delivering more bad news on my car radio. There is no music and no ebb and flow of a movie’s dialogue going on in another room. There is immense richness in silence.
I feel more calm inside my head.
Perhaps because we live in an age of digital sensory overload, my mind can travel far too fast among numerous thoughts, distractions, reactions, and emotions. My. mind slows down when I walk alone. This deceleration is an entryway into a calming space. All that happens in my walk is me taking one step in front of the other. I breathe. I blink my eyes. I see the path ahead. I simply exist in the moment.
I get exercise.
This is easily one of the best benefits I derive from walking. I get to move my body instead of being inert and sedentary. My blood flows more freely along with the limbs of my body. What’s more, walking is also a low-impact form of exercise, and as such, my bones and joints do not get stressed unnecessarily. Walking leads my body toward a healthier state of being.
I feed my creativity.
There have been countless times when I have either come up with new ideas for projects or found solutions to problems in my long solitary walks. The combination of walking without distraction in a calm and free manner is conducive to creative ideation and problem-solving. I will not pretend to know the science behind this. I can only tell from experience that these walks have lead me toward tremendous breakthroughs in my creative work. Go figure.
There are, of course, some things I do to maximize the experience and enjoyment of my walks.
Drink plenty of water and fluids.
It is important to stay hydrated when walking (particularly in hot weather). I usually bring a thermos full of water or my morning coffee to sip on along the way.
Listen to nothing.
For a while, I tried listening to podcasts as I walked, but I found that I enjoyed letting my mind wander freely instead. The voices and demands of other humans should exist in other parts of your life. A walk by yourself is yours alone.
If you need to listen to music, choose calming and enjoyable varieties.
If there is music out there that makes you feel good and relaxed, choose that. It will be the soundtrack to your journey. Choose wisely.
Wear comfortable clothing.
If you are the type who sweats a lot, a light t-shirt and shorts might be perfect. I like using fabric that feels smooth and cool on my skin. Whatever your preference, give yourself permission to be comfortable.
Wear appropriate shoes.
I strongly recommend wearing sneakers made for walking, running, and hiking. Take the time to find shoes that are comfortable and that will absorb the shocks of movement in your feet and legs.
It is important to acknowledge, dear reader, that not everyone lives in an area in the woods that facilitates a blissful meandering walk. Wherever you live, whether you have sidewalks that wind around your neighborhood or a greenway in your city, it is worthwhile to find places where you can walk safely by yourself. It is the simplest activity that any able-bodied person can do independently, and it reaps numerous benefits.
It matters less how often you go for a walk and matters more that you at least do it with some regularity. Every other day, three days a week, or every night after dinner—see if you can do it consistently and in a way that fits comfortably within your normal routines. Walk for twenty minutes, an hour, or however long is easiest for you. Generally, I say the more and longer the better, but we all have different needs and schedules that we must accommodate. Simply do it joyfully whenever and wherever you are able.
Walking is the simplest, low-stress gift you can give to yourself, and it gives back tremendous value.
In the natural world of forest and ocean ecosystems, there is a well-documented phenomenon called keystone species. This term refers to specific animals whose existence and practices have an enormous and enriching effect upon the environments in which they live.
The beaver had previously been hunted for its furs and considered a nuisance due to the flooding it creates from the damns it builds. Both of these considerations primarily grow out of the selfish and less wholesome needs of human beings.
As far as the rest of nature and the earth goes, the beaver is an absolute godsend. Those dams that we complain about support numerous salmon and fish populations. They help to purify water by trapping sediment. and perhaps the biggest impact is that they create wetlands. Wetlands, in turn, can store carbon pollution for hundreds of years, provide buffer zones for storms and wind, facilitate flood control, furnish fertile farmland for rice and various crops, and mitigate sea level rise. Because of their unique locations bordering salt and freshwater ecosystems, they serve as a sanctuary for hundreds of different species, both endangered and otherwise.
I hope that you get the point. If you remove the beaver from this equation, you threaten the stability and longevity of vast stretches of coastal lands and ecosystems. That is a reality I cannot even imagine.
African elephants, wolves, and grizzly bears, among other animals, all share the noble distinction of being keystone species.
All of this has gotten me thinking about the concept of a keystone in my own life. What is a habit or action whose short and long term effects are far-reaching? What daily act is exponentially greater than the sum of its parts? What are the simple things I can do that basically improve everything else in my life?
There are five practices that I have established as keystone habits. I have determined that the pursuit of all of these disciplines every day vastly improves everything else.
Bullet points please . . .
Yes, water. I drink lots of it these days. Of course, you can drink any variety of fluids that could work just fine, but I always go back to water. Other than low-key being the universal solvent, it has that uncanny characteristic of having no calories, sugars, caffeine, or carbs. They say 8 glasses a day is a good start, but I just keep a cup of water nearby at all times while chugging away as much as possible.
This means my skin stays smooth and hydrated. I have more energy throughout the day. Water helps with digestion and regularity by keeping everything flowing. It can satiate hunger without adding fat and calories. It clears toxins from the body, thereby strengthening your immunity. Throughout the day, it regulates your body temperature. Improved breathing, better heart and kidney health, and physical performance boosts are among the other benefits of regularly drinking this simple fluid. (Getting up to pee often can be annoying, but the added physical activity this forces is a good thing.)
With an average lifespan of 15 years (numerous breeds can live well over twenty), they say that cats have nine lives. Sure, I can agree with that, but is it purely a coincidence that they sleep upwards of 16 hours per day? The benefits of sleep have been well documented.
For myself, a good night’s sleep, and various naps throughout the day, help me stay energetic and alert. Sleep affords a mental and physiological break for my brain against the onslaught of multi-sensory information coming in from all directions. Sleep gives my body a chance to rest so that it can do everything else better. I try to get at least seven hours of sleep at night, and I take brief naps during the day whenever I feel tired.
Incidentally, I have questioned the inclusion of sleep on this list because it is already a biological function of the body. I decided to keep it on this list by regarding it as a priority practice, as opposed to treating it nonchalantly as we do with “pooping” or “sneezing”. Being more intentional and aggressive about when and how one sleeps reaps dividends.
There is so much about mental health that is intangible. Because it is experienced in fluctuating waves of feelings and emotions, it is often hard to quantify what is actually worth alleviating. For years now, I have engaged in a daily practice of expressing gratitude. This involves saying what I an thankful for out loud and saying the words “Thank You” as often as I possibly can to anyone everywhere.
I am still grasping the effects of this daily practice, but I have found that I am more resilient when faced with setbacks. I linger longer on the pros and the positives of most scenarios. I smile more often. I value and deeply appreciate what I have. Overall, I am a more pleasant person who other people like to be around (as opposed to a miserable lump of flesh that complains about everything and feels constantly victimized). Daily gratitude has vastly improved my mental health. Exponentially, it has upgraded how I feel about my life.
Pursue Sacred Mindfulness
This is the newest keystone habit I have pursued. The concept came to me from this blog post by Leo Babauta. This means that EVERYTHING I do involves single-minded focus, reverence, and presence of mind. Imagine the most precious object in your life. You handle it with the greatest care. You are methodical with every movement because it holds immense value and is sacred to your entire existence.
Now, imagine applying that to EVERYTHING that you do all day long. Your brain will be firing on fewer cylinders. You will have a stronger awareness of how you feel. Your day will flow more calmly, and as I have continued to discover, you will actually get more done.
Sacred mindfulness is a form of meditation. You simply focus on the actual thing that you are doing right in front of you and nothing else. You give that act the respect and care it needs. I have been more calm and productive in all aspects of my life because of this daily meditative practice. Try it. You’ll see.
I play piano. (AKA Engage in a creative flow.)
This keystone habit is specific to my life, but it can be adapted to other scenarios. I have been playing piano for years, and when I do so, this is the place where I can mentally block everything out and easily find my own creative flow. I literally just let go of everything, and my music sings, unencumbered and full. If you can create a space in your life in which there is some kind of creative flow, it will deepen any other work that you do. For some people, this takes the form of dance or drawing. Other people paint or knit. Some people garden while others sing songs or write.
The art that you happen to create is actually not the point entirely. The goal is the synergy that happens between what your brain is thinking, what your hands are doing, and the emotions that you are experiencing. Active creative expression will make you feel alive and joyful. I play piano as often as I can (as well as a couple of other instruments). The creative flow that my body feels and projects as a result is both mysterious and thrilling.
If you haven’t found a creative outlet yet, please know that the formative time of learning the craft will feel difficult and challenging at first, but keep at it every day. With patience and persistence, you will start to feel the flow in time.
Life without any of these keystone practices would be much more difficult than it needs to be. Life with them feels more rich, calm, and fulfilling.
Maybe your keystone practices are different from mine. That’s okay. The point is that you pursue them. One keystone is a master key that opens many doors.