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Twin Peaks, Meditation, & the modern push-back to Mindfulness

After years of light (read: constant) suggesting, I’ve finally gotten my girlfriend to watch Twin Peaks. It is one of, if not my actual, favorite shows of all time and this will be my fourth time through the main series and second watch of The Return. Much to my relief she is really enjoying it and has allowed me to not feel completely like the annoying film boyfriend who won’t stop lecturing his partner about movies (I very much am, but I’m working to improve everyday). There’s so much to love in those original seasons: small town drama, over the top drama and characterization, supernatural mysteries that are just the right amount of dark and ominous. I knew she’d love Dale Cooper, the charismatic oddball and lead protagonist, but I didn’t guess the reason why. As a writer, she covers topics related to modern mindfulness and mindset and Dale Cooper is the embodiment of being present. He is always in the moment, paying attention to the shifts in nature and is constantly curious and interrogative of his surroundings. Dale’s personal practices had me reflecting back on mine and how his meditative practices are interpreted today.

Mindfulness and meditation are very much modern buzzwords and for good reason. The act of grounding yourself and centering your mind back on the present has widely benefited people. It’s easy to get lost in your brain, constantly reflecting back on past mistakes or worrying about the future. As someone with lifelong anxiety, finding meditation helped me tremendously. Learning to identify when I have negative recurring thoughts has allowed me to identify triggers and create ways to help manage them. My anxiety also manifests in the creation of long to-do lists or minute weekly schedules; taking even ten minutes to breathe and let my mind wander helps me dismantle these rigid checklists before I let them spin me out.

It’s these types of benefits that has people evangelizing mindfulness, but a lot of talk about it is overly prescriptive. The way meditation is often described sounds much more like a magic cure all, a way to remove or erase those negative side effects related to mental disorders. There’s been a push-back to this narrow definition and in some instances has made people feel worse for not being able to tap into the “amazing” positive benefits it’s supposed to yield. There is more than enough outside stimulus and mental health side effects that prevent individuals from being able to tap into this practice. The best discussions of mindfulness discuss it as a tool to be incorporated into your mental health toolbelt (and to toot my partner’s horn, something she does quite well in her writing). On my best days, meditation can help calm my anxiety and leave me feeling centered. On even my mediocre days, it can be an exhausting experience and leave me discouraged that I wasn’t able to fully ground my mind. Meditation is very important to me, but being realistic with its benefits is what truly allows me to keep my practice. I will always have anxiety and it will not solve my mental health problems, but it has allowed me to process my trauma. This does not mean that meditation and mindfulness is right for everyone though.

Twin Peaks Sheriff Department

Agent Cooper embodies the ideals of a mindfulness practice not only in his present focused mindset but in how he communicates it to other people. He is interrogative and curious about everything. His famous lines about food and coffee come from his well of presence. He notices the mundane and celebrates it because he’s present in those moments. He notices the trees and wants to know more about them. He notices peoples habits and body language, the sign of a great investigator but also the sign of someone who is in the moment. It’s a perfect example of the touted positive effects of mindfulness, being ever present.

Dale’s practice is deeply personal and it informs how he interrogates and investigates the world. He’s inquisitive and has learned to trust his intuition even if it’s a bit off kilter. The rock throwing scene from the third episode demonstrates this; the investigation is at an impasse so he uses his intuition to guide their next step. Each rock thrown represents a different person that could be involved with the case. A missed rock means they’re not involved, skimming the bottle means connected but not the person Laura wrote about, and the eventual bottle break means Cooper is dead on. The process is semi-spiritual as a discussion of the Dalai Lama precludes it, but it’s more about tapping into a gut instinct. Without any further physical evidence to go on, Cooper moves to a more grounded practice to inform the next step. The rock throwing is a guide into where to step next not a guilty verdict. He uses his practice to take a step back and tab into his unconscious.

David Lynch Twin Peaks

It makes a lot of sense that David Lynch has stated that Cooper is essentially a stand in for himself. As Lynch said “He says a lot of the things I say.” You can really notice as well when David Lynch left Twin Peaks in season 2; the sage wisdom tips and curious nature slowly drops away. When you read interviews with David Lynch or watch his new daily weather report, you can see a lot of the same mannerisms. David Lynch is a lifelong evangelist, saying it completely changed his mindset and creative process. It shows in his works, pieces of slow-moving, dark, interrogative pieces of film. The minutiae of life, everything from electrical sounds to blinking light fixtures, factor into the story and mood of his films. You can easily draw the parallels between his work and his dedicated transcendental meditation (TM) practice. 

In fact, he really pushes TM through his David Lynch Foundation. Their stated goal is to provide TM for any child that wants to practice it. The website and PR around his foundation has lots of incredible claims around the positive benefits of the practice and how it allows people to access a deep well of creativity and happiness. It’s unfortunately a really good example of what really pushes people away from mindfulness in the first place. Incredible claims around happiness and positive life benefits tie into that aforementioned image of the cure all. It implies that without the practice you won’t be able to access this deep well that the foundation alludes to. What if someone is unable to practice mindfulness? What about the outside factors that contribute negatively or prevent someone from having 20 minutes a day to set aside? It makes it all seem very out of touch and only accessible to the most comfortable of us (rich white Americans) especially when the social proof is from powerful white celebrities like Martin Scorcese and Hugh Jackman.

Which is a shame because it grinds against the depiction of Dale Cooper. He never glosses over the dark details; beneath his grin is someone with deep inner turmoil. His practice allows him to weigh both the good and the bad and presents a vehicle in which to process it. Mindfulness might have changed his life, but he doesn’t present it that way to people. When he offers advice, it’s practical in a way that’s accessible to others. And we can all learn to follow some of his best tips.

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