Baby, I’m AMAZED

Years ago, I read a famous book on spirituality. The person in the book went to a metaphysical bookstore in LA and while she was browsing, a book jumped off the shelf and into her hands. Without a creative impulse, I decided that because I was reading this, I too needed to get to the same bookstore so magic could land in my hands.

I was a copycat trying to lighten my darkness of depression, unemployment and feeling victimized by the world.

After an obstacle course in getting there, I arrive at the book store. A woman approaches me in the self-help aisle. She asks me for money. I tell her that I don’t have anything for her. I leave incensed. This was not what I came here for. I feel like I took a wrong turn. Then another. I wasn’t looking to help. I was looking to BE helped. Gawd!

As I return home and park, a homeless woman approaches me and screams how she has lost her car, her family and her job and that I NEED to help her. She is scary. But I am scarier at this point. I scream back that I don’t have anything for her and I huff away. Another wrong turn towards…well not towards what I want. Double Gawd!

Stoopid book on spirituality. Nothing magical happened. ONCE AGAIN, I am overlooked! No empathy coming my way *pout pout pout*

A few years later, a co-worker of mine (I was working at this point, but I wasn’t much happier), and I went up to the Mt. Washington home of guru Paramahansa Yogananda. It was lovely.

I had been raised around new agey-ness and meditation, but I was never really good at the sitting still with my thoughts. So although I could get on-board with the teachings and the philosophies, I couldn’t put meditation into practice effectively. Still, the location was serene and quiet.

I no longer carry that darkness with me. I know how to be happy, live in gratitude and be more empathetic towards those who are suffering. I have even learned how to meditate to a point where I can almost feel my body exude light.

That doesn’t mean I don’t succumb to negative energy. I do. But I can usually change course as it’s happening.

This past week, however, I found that I was working double-time to get back on the feel-good-train. It was exhausting. I came home Friday night and told Shaka about it. He said, “Maybe you’re not supposed to fight it so much. Employ the downstream thinking you usually practice.” He was right. But I didn’t hear him finish his sentence since I was stuffing my face with chocolate covered pretzels and then I fell dead asleep like some tired, weird, cartoon bear.

The next day, after watching a documentary on Paramahansa Yogananda, I exclaim to Shaka, (with the same desperate fervor that prompted me to go to the metaphysical bookstore many years ago), “I must take you to do the labyrinth at the Mt. Washington location. It’s beautiful and serene but there is this labyrinth that you HAVE to do! it’s really cool!”

“A maze?”

“A labyrinth. Not a maze. There are no walls or anything. I used to do this with my co-worker. We went a few times.”

“Cool!” (he’s so easygoing)

So I call the place and find out they will be open Sunday. I ask about the labyrinth.

The woman on the phone doesn’t recall there being one. I hang up, knowing there IS one, but we will have to find it on our own when we go.

After the past week of exhaustion and frustration,  I was slowly turning my weekend around 180 degrees. Life was good!

So after voting for our friend and his slate (United Progressives) as delegates for  of AD 46 (which was exciting to be a part of – and he won!),

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we got a text from Mads that there was a soft opening for Groundworks Coffee in North Hollywood.

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It’s in an old train station, right by the Metro. We loved it!

Time was running tighter than I wanted. We had reservations for an early dinner at Lucques (a generous Christmas gift from Shaka’s sister), so I was getting nervous that there wouldn’t be time to go to the labyrinth. Shaka, the zen master he is, assures me that downstream thinking is our friend and we will make it on time to do it all.

The twisty-turny roads towards the SRF on Mt. Washington are more windy than I remember. Shaka is questioning whether I have actually ever been here.

“It’s been awhile,” I tell him. Which it has, but the terrain is not familiar. My co-worker drove us there before so who knows how much I was paying attention (a little not at all).

We arrive! It’s breathtaking! The sky was a clean, just-rained kind of clear that you see in movies.

We find parking pretty quickly. Then, we look for the labyrinth.

The grounds are gorgeous, but I am not seeing what I remember in my head. We come upon the sundial. “This is where it was!” I screech.

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“This is beautiful. Does it matter if we find the maze?”

“It’s a labyrinth! And it was here! Where did it go? Come on! Let’s see if it got moved.”

We walk to an open space of green, surrounded by palm trees and foliage whose look and smell lies deep in my childhood memories of Pasadena.

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We sit on a bench. My gaze darts around the open space like I am looking for a late uber driver. Shaka sits quietly.

“I am feeling something here I haven’t felt in a long time.”

“Yeah, it’s peaceful,” I say unpeacefully.

“Let’s just sit quietly. Listen to the sounds you normally wouldn’t be able to hear.”

He is in meditation with his eyes open and is quite still. I frantically look at my phone to search labyrinth, mt. washington, self-realization fellowship, where-the-f-is-it?

After a few moments, I look at Shaka. “Want to walk around?”

“I want to stay here a little longer.”

“OK.” I close my eyes and try and feel what he is sensing. But I can’t. I am chasing a memory that doesn’t exist and I am frustrated. This was not what I came here for.

At the same time, we look at each other and he agrees to walk to the Visitor Center with me.

Shaka, still in a calm state, looks around the store and is breathing in the incense as two women who work there are talking. They turn to help us. I ask about the labyrinth. I tell them I came around 12 years ago and I walked it. The one woman snarkily says, “Well, if there was one, it must have been before I was here and I have been here 41 years.”

I bristle. We thank them and walk out.

Shaka asks if I am okay.

“How did you know I was not okay with her answer?”

“I know you.”

We wander around the main house and find a path that leads to a beautiful fountain and a view of the other side of the mountain.

I sit. And all of a sudden, a wave of energy hits me.

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I tell Shaka that I am now feeling something and that I would like to sit here for a bit.

And then apparently (according to Shaka), I took a selfie.

But then….I meditated.

Like a flash, I felt the words come into my brain.

The labyrinth isn’t here (echos of Westworld ring in my head, but I digress).

And then the location of where it is, comes to me.

EUREKA!

I come out of my stillness quickly and say, “The maze isn’t here!” I grab my phone and look it up.

“I thought it was a labyrinth.”

“It is! The maz  labyrinth is at Forest Lawn. I went there with my co-worker too! Now, it’s all coming back.”

Shaka, is laughing and shaking his head at me. “You almost missed this entire experience looking for something that wasn’t here. And I am still not sure you have actually been HERE!”

I am reminded at how I was waiting for a book to jump off a shelf and missed the message that was ready to bite me, so long ago. The message that others were worse off. The message that my life was pretty good. The message of being in the moment. That message had evaded me then.

I was doing the same thing now. But why? Wasn’t I better now?

Hadn’t I improved?

Well, yeah, I mean, I guess, now I was able to laugh about it as Shaka gently makes fun of me. Fun of me for thinking that lady was dumb and mean (though I still stand by the fact, her snarky response was NOT necessary), fun of me for not recognizing the gift of finding something unexpectedly great in place of what I was seeking, fun of me for being so anti-zen even though my mission was to get my zen on in this spiritual place.

Driving to our dinner reservations, we were both still laughing about it.

I was just happy that my memory hadn’t failed me entirely.

There was a labyrinth, or rather there is one. Somewhere else.

And I can’t wait to show Shaka some time. We can go there and meditate.

Because, you know it’s just so hard to find the right place to do that if you are already in a maze where you are waiting for books to fall off shelves.

But then I remember, it’s not a maze. It’s a labyrinth.

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The Challengers

On the walls of the day
In the shade of the sun
We wrote down
Another vision of us
We were the challengers of
The unknown     (lyrics from “The Challengers”)

I have been on vacation for two weeks.  Though it’s not the first time I have taken such an extended time off (people asked at work, “What are you?  French???” If only! Mais oui!), It feels like it might as well be since the change in me is profound.

The first week was spent with my sister visiting from Europe along with her kids and husband.  We rented a beach house near Ventura and Shaka and my dad joined as well.  Normally family vacations though well-intended can feel like a pressure-cooker of past grievances.  But it was such an enjoyable time (aside from my sister almost choking on rice and me panic-stricken in the ocean way past my depth trying to rescue my nephew, but I digress) and I even worked on my video projects.  First one is soon to come!  It was awesome to see dolphins and sea lions every day, as we surfed and chatted and fell down and laughed.  The sunsets seemed more vibrant while not having a rush-hour steering wheel clenched in my fists.

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As if time with the family wasn’t enough of an identity reminder, the next week, as Shaka went back to work, my dad went back home and my sis and fam headed back across the pond, I found myself in a staycation of the best sort.  I converted my old audio cassettes to mp3s and I got another shot in the arm of my past (I also realized how annoying I was in these old recordings – but bygones : )

And it comes out to this… I like where I came from (I never thought I would say that).  I like where I am today even more.  I feel more empowered by excavating my memories and putting them in appropriate mental files (as well as actual Windows files – ha).

So with all this blissed-out, love-fest, vacation-girl time, I wondered why I still felt a sense of panic.  A feeling that the other shoe was going to drop.  The internal dialogue sometimes sounded like an external dialogue of theatrical proportions as I was driving around town, working out my worries.

I decided I was going to put old fears in a suitcase that gets lost in a transatlantic flight.  And then dropped in a fire pit.  And doused with forget-me-nots…uh, I wanted it gone.

Progress was underway.  I was driving around, not realizing how hot it was getting and how exhausted I was.  That night, Shaka came home and noticed I seemed listless.  I had a headache and neck ache and felt like I had lost all strength.  Then, right after dinner (with black rice – sooo healthy – sooo hard to find), I threw up.  Shaka looked up signs of a female heart attack – I had most of them.  I scoffed.  It was just hot.  It was just a tiring day.  But I promised him that the next day, I would call the doctor.

I awoke very refreshed but keeping my promise, I called.  The on call nurse wanted me to come into the ER.  WHAT?

Now I was nervous and started to imagine that I was having a heart attack right THEN.

6 hours later, EKGs, Xrays, all kinds of lab work and consultations and a Dr. Oz episode with a segment of women under 55 who have heart attacks (naturally I assumed this was a sign that I was never leaving that hospital bed) – it turns out, I had just experienced a vacation-induced Panic Attack.  Drama much?  If my old cassettes had proven anything, I hadn’t changed all that much.

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A clean slate feels pretty good (see happy face above – No Pain)

This weekend, Shaka and I headed to our friends’ place in Corona to celebrate birthdays, anniversary, last days of summer (tell that to the weather) and to ground ourselves with a meditation.

Plus there was wine and lots of it.; yummy food, good friends and pool time.  We all felt a bit like we had been tumble-dried this summer with life events.  Many of us had been awakened by physical problems to shift our thinking.  It was very comforting to know that we were not alone with some of what we had been experiencing.  I mean, just turn on the news or sports and you’ll know – the world is crazy lately!

What a balm, a salve, a healing, a …you get it.  It was good.

I made a mixed cd for the hostess.  One of the songs was an older one from the New Pornographers called, The Challengers.

I love the tune. But there is something even more powerful about the lyrics – like we are cutting a swath through this strange plain of existence.

In the end, all these details, all these emotions don’t really matter.  We only have to exist from cradle to grave and experience it all – for good or bad.  But I am grateful for my family, for my relationship, for my friends, for the adventures of the past two weeks.  Grateful for the challenges of what it means to be human and for all these emotions and all these details because they are what make us unique in our common experience.  To be challenged is natural.  How we handle it, is how we learn.

“Until I see you around
Until we clear the accounts
Leave it there
Leave it to us
We are the challengers of
The unknown”