Adventures in the Here and Now

Los Angeles Central Library

As I have written in another post, I usually travel downtown on Thursdays to visit the Central Library on 5th Street between Hope and Flower. I like to show up at opening time (10 am) and reading for about two hours. Then I scan the stacks for books I want to read, check them out, and go to Conference Room A for the weekly Mindful Meditation session guided by John Kneedler, an instructor for the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).

The whole point of mindful meditation is to learn how to live in the here and now. Most of the time, one’s thoughts are all over the place. Take this classic example from Aldous Huxley’s Those Barren Leaves, in which Miss Thriplow tries to concentrate on the nature of God:

God is a spirit, she said to herself, a spirit, a spirit. She tried to picture something huge and empty, but alive. A huge flat expanse of sand, for example, and over it a huge blank dome of sky; and above the sand everything should be tremulous and shimmering with heat—an emptiness that was yet alive. A spirit, an all-pervading spirit. God is a spirit. Three camels appeared on the horizon of the sandy plain and went lolloping along in an absurd ungainly fashion from left to right. Miss Thriplow made an effort and dismissed them. God is a spirit, she said aloud. But of all animals camels are really almost the queerest; when one thinks of their frightfully supercilious faces, with their protruding under lips like the last Hapsburg kings of Spain… No, no; God is a spirit, all-pervading, everywhere. All the universes are made one in him. Layer upon layer… A Neapolitan ice floated up out of the darkness. She had never liked Neapolitan ices since that time, at the Franco-British exhibition, when she had eaten one and then taken a ride on Sir Hiram Maxim’s Captive Flying Machines. Round and round and round. Lord, how she had been sick, afterwards, in the Blue Grotto of Capri! ‘Sixpence each, ladies and gentlemen, only sixpence each for a trip to the celebrated Blue Grotto of Capri, the celebrated Blue Grotto, ladies and gentlemen….’ How sick! It must have been most awkward for the grown-ups…. But God is a spirit. All the universes are one in the spirit. Mind and matter in all their manifestations–all one in the spirit. All one—she and the stars and the mountains and the trees and the animals and the blank spaces between the stars and… and the fish, the fish in the Aquarium at Monaco…. And what fish! What extravagant fantasies! But no more extravagant or fantastic, really, than the painted and jewelled old women outside. It might make a very good episode in a book—a couple of those old women looking through the glass at the fishes. Very beautifully and discreetly described; and the fundamental similarity between the creatures on either side of the glass would just be delicately implied—not stated, oh, not stated; that would be too coarse, that would spoil everything, but just implied, by the description, so that the intelligent reader could take the hint. And then in the Casino… Miss Thriplow brusquely interrupted herself. God is a spirit. Yes. Where was she? All things are one, ah yes, yes. All, all, all, she repeated. But to arrive at the realization of their oneness one must climb up into the spirit. The body separates, the spirit unites. One must give up the body, the self; one must lose one’s life to gain it. Lose one’s life, empty oneself of the separating Me. She clasped her hands tightly together, tighter, tighter, as though she were squeezing out her individual life between them. If she could squeeze it all out, make herself quite empty, then the other life would come rushing in to take its place.

Many people avoid trying to concentrate their minds because they are too harsh with themselves. The mind resists being in the here and now: During today’s session, I thought of where I would eat lunch, what book I would read next, whether Martine would stage another departure. I kept coming back to the simple inhalation and exhalation of my breath. So I am nowhere near perfect. But I keep trying.

 

“This Must Be Thursday”

The Richard Riordan Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles

The entire quote is from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” And that’s the way I felt when I was working full time in an accounting office. I never did get along very well with my boss (nobody could), so when he cut me back to two days a week, I saw that as an opportunity. I said, “Okay, I’ll work on Tuesdays and Fridays.” Those were days when our late tax manager worked, so my boss couldn’t use me as a highly unqualified tax manager, which he was not above doing.

One Thursday in June 2016, I took the Expo Line downtown and hung out at the Central Library on Fifth Street. Just by chance, I noticed that there was a regular Mindful Meditation session conducted by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC), and I attended.  And I’ve been attending ever since. I read for a couple of hours in the Literature and Fiction Department on the top floor, and usually check out a couple of books. Then I go to Meeting Room A on the ground floor where the sessions are held.

In more ways than one, the Central Library has become a part of my life. I feel energized by these meditation sessions. Afterwards, I go for lunch either to the Grand Central Market on Hill Street, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, or Olvera Street. Then I take the Big Blue Bus R10 freeway flier back home.

So now I can say I get the hang of Thursdays. It’s one of my favorite days of the week. That leaves Mondays and Wednesdays for doctors’ appointments and miscellaneous explorations of this gigantic city of which I am becoming more of a part as time passes.

 

On the Mean Streets of DTLA

The Dash B Bus to Chinatown

The Dash B Bus to Chinatown

Today, as usual, I took the Expo Line train to downtown L.A. (or DTLA), as it is being called colloquially. It was a strange ride: During the last half hour of the trip, a black passenger was loudly swearing at and berating the woman he was with, and cursing at everything and everyone else along the way. The other passengers just became ever more absorbed in their reading or their smart phones. They did not want to draw any irate loony-bird attention to themselves.

When we pulled into the 7th Street Metro terminal, I made a beeline for the Central Library. I returned all the books I had checked out and took the elevator to the third floor Literature and Fiction section, where I spent a couple hours reading James Ellroy’s Blood on the Moon, the first volume of an early trilogy featuring Detective Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins of LAPD Homicide.

Just before 12:30, I made my way to Conference Room A for my weekly Mindful Meditation class, taught by Giselle Jones of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. I have become dependent on these weekly sessions to help keep my feet on the ground. Also, they give me a feeling of tranquillity which lasts for hours.

After the session, I grabbed the Dash B bus to 1st Street, where I was planning to transfer to the Dash A bus to Little Tokyo. Opposite me on the sideways bench seating was a slim young barefoot black woman who was stunningly beautiful. She seemed to be looking straight at me and talking, but I never could understand what she was trying to say; and she got off after a couple of stops.

In Little Tokyo, I made my way to Weller Court, where there were a number of Japanese restaurants. I had a bowl of spicy chashu ramen at the Hot Pot Galaxy and walked over to the Kinokuniya Bookstore, where I bought a book by the Dalai Lama.

From Little Tokyo, I made my way to the Santa Monica Rapid 10 bus stop opposite Union Station and waited the usual maximum time for the next bus to appear. I was dropped off at Bundy and Idaho, from where I walked back to my apartment.

 

 

DTLA

Los Angeles’s Central Library on 5th Street & Hope

Los Angeles’s Central Library on 5th & Flower

On Thursdays, I find myself taking the Expo Line Train into downtown Los Angeles, or as the locals call it, DTLA. Before the free mindful meditation classes at 12:30 (taught by UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center—or MARC), I spend a couple hours reading in the literature and fiction center on the third floor. Then I make my way to lunch at one of several locations: Chinatown, Olvera Street, Little Tokyo, or the Grand Central Market on Broadway. Sometimes I stop at the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring. When the afternoons are hot, as it was today, I return by the air-conditioned Santa Monica Bus Line Rapid 10 Freeway Flyer, which lets me off a block from home.

Since I started exploring the downtown area, I have gotten a better, more favorable feel for the city in which I live. LADT is nowhere near as white bread as the outlying areas, and there are interesting ethnic enclaves scattered about.

When it gets a little cooler, I hope to wander farther afield, perhaps taking in bits of Koreatown and Filipinotown.