Holy Sidewalks

Is This Hole an Illusion? Or an Allusion?

Today being Thursday, I rode the Metro downtown, went to the Central Library, and attended the weekly half-hour mindful meditation session held there. Group leader John Kneedler quoted the following poem by Portia Nelson:

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

I know this poem is all over the Internet, but it’s the first time I encountered it; and I love the way it summarizes so many people. Including myself.

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.

 

Itchy Eyelids of Death

It’s A Horrible Feeling!

It’s A Horrible Feeling!

Every once in a while, I get this allergic condition where my eyelids get inflamed and itch like the devil. The temptation is to rub them. That’s works for a few nanoseconds, but the itching and tearing come back with redoubled force. The only thing that seems to work is a prescription drug called Pred-Forte, which is a steroid that my ophthalmologist is reluctant to prescribe to me because … because … well I practically live on steroids.

I have no pituitary gland (I’ll tell you more about that some day), and therefore I must take all my hormones—which are normally controlled by the pituitary—externally. And, well, taking too many steroids long term has numerous baleful effects, some of which I’ve already experienced: osteoarthritis leading to a hip replacement, cataracts, and thinning of the skin—to name just a few.

Today, I went to the free weekly Mindful Meditation session at the Los Angeles Central Library. What I concentrated on was my eyelids. That worked for a while, then on the way back from downtown, in a moment of forgetfulness, I rubbed my eyes. Damn!

During these sieges, I wake up with my eyelids stuck together; and I have to pry them open with the help of my fingers.

This condition has a lot to do with the frequent atmospheric changes caused by the series of rainstorms we have had over the past few months. It won’t last forever, but while it lasts it will be a major annoyance.

 

The Avila Adobe

In the Middle of Olvera Street, L.A.’s Oldest Still-Existing House

In the Middle of Olvera Street, L.A.’s Oldest Still-Existing House

In my semi-retirement, I’ve taken to going downtown at least once a week and doing some exploring. Today, I started out at the Central Library reading Claude Izner’s In the Shadows of Paris, set in the City of Lights back in the 1890s.

I picked out a volume of Charles Bukowski’s letters in the literature section and checked it out, making my way to Meeting Room A at 12:30 for something completely different: A guided session on meditation by Giselle Jones. It was super-relaxing. I will look out for other meditation events at the Library.

Then it was on to Dash Bus B to Olvera Street. I had a hankering for some more of Cielito Lindo’s taquitos and chile rellenos. Yum! They were even better than last time.

Finally, I paid a visit to the oldest surviving house in Los Angeles: The Avila Adobe. Although L.A. was first settled in 1781, all the houses were destroyed by the ravages of time, except for the Avila Adobe, which was built in 1818 by Francisco Avila, one of the city’s earliest alcaldes (mayors). The house was an oasis of calm amid the frantic crowds looking to buy souvenirs.

From there, it was a short walk to the bus stop for the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus #R10 to return home.

Serendipity: I Am Flying Home

Flower at the Lake Shrine

Flower at the Lake Shrine

I did some work this morning, but I had the afternoon free. So Martine and I went to the Lake Shrine of the Self Realization Fellowship in Pacific Palisades. It was balm for my troubled mind, which was still frazzled with this morning’s tax problems. While there, I bought a copy of Metaphysical Meditations by the SRF founder and sage, Paramahansa Yogananda. There, I found this quote on page 44, which decided me to buy the book:

Good-bye blue house of heaven. Farewell, stars and celestial celebrities and your dramas on the screen of space. Good-bye, flowers with your traps of beauty and fragrance. You can hold me no longer. I am flying Home.

Adieu to the warm embrace of sunshine. Farewell, cool, soothing, comforting breeze. Good-bye, entertaining music of man.

I stayed long, reveling with all of you, dancing with my variously costumed thoughts, drinking the wine of my feelings and my mundane will. I have now forsaken the intoxications of delusion.

Good-bye, muscles, bones, and bodily motions. Farewell, breath. I cast thee away from my breast. Adieu, heartthrobs, emotions, thoughts, and memories. I am flying Home in a plane of silence. I go to feel my heartthrob in Him.

I soar in the plane of consciousness above, beneath, on the left, on the right, within and without, everywhere, to find that in every nook of my space-home I have always been in the sacred presence of my Father.