I had allowed myself 45 minutes to drive 5 miles, park, and walk to the location of the class I was attending on a Wednesday night. It probably took closer to 50 or 55 minutes, and I was none-too-pleased. Traffic had been abysmally snarled the whole way, and parking was even worse. Every few feet there were different parking signs, usually two or three stacked up. I had already parked and gotten out of my car once, only to realize that I was on a permit-only residential street. Getting back into my car, I began to hit the height of frustration, doubting that I’d find anything within that same 5-mile radius back to my home.
God damn it, I’m going to have to walk in late to a freaking meditation class.
The class in question, though, was less of an instructional class, and more of a meeting/get together/ongoing practice at a place called the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society. Labeled as a Meditation and Dharma Talk on the organization’s calendar, I knew only that the first half hour would consist of mindfulness meditation, and the remaining time would consist of some discussion relating to dharma. What that meant, or what dharma actually is, I had no idea. But instead of looking this information up before arriving, I decided to spend a good 20 minutes choosing which socks to wear, since I did know it would be a shoeless kind of space. Priorities, yo.
I finally found a street several blocks away with a seemingly empty space, and I stared at the parking signs long enough I could no longer tell what I was reading. Screw it. I’ve got to get going.
Walking fast and furious down several dark blocks, another woman caught up with me at a crosswalk. Glancing at her – attractive, thin, casual yet neat and refined – there was an immediate hope in my spirit that she just might be heading my way. We walked about another half block to my final destination, and before I had the chance to determine which entrance I was supposed to use, the woman’s hand reached out and opened the exact door I needed. I was too relieved to start getting all philosophical about it.
Praise Jeebus! I won’t be walking in late to a silent room all by myself.
Inside the building there was a tiny entryway filled with tiny cubicles, filled with regular-sized shoes. I purposely took an enormously long time to remove my easy-off elastic footwear so that I could follow behind the other woman when we entered. She looked like she knew what she was doing.
Naturally, the room was packed. Possibly 40 or 50 people were there. Those up front were sitting on floor cushions, while those in the back had actual chairs. We both kept walking all the way to the end of the room, where there was still some space in what looked like a reading/bookstore/library area. For lack of a better place to sit, I flopped myself down on the floor in an inconspicuous place, while the woman I walked in with disappeared somewhere toward the front. A few seconds later she returned to hand me a large floor cushion. I guess it was pretty obvious I had no idea what I was doing, and I was immensely thankful for the gesture.
Sitting cross-legged, I closed my eyes and took a moment to try to calm myself down from all the traffic-induced drama currently ransacking my attention. The man who was leading the guided meditation was speaking about letting go of anger and frustration, all while the honking sounds of road-rage-filled Los Angelenos could be heard from outside. I sincerely hoped that I wasn’t the only person who found that funny.
I also couldn’t help but see the irony in my own current state of mind. Still angry about being late (Most of the time, I tend to arrive everywhere too early), I realized that had I just stayed home and avoided traffic, I wouldn’t have needed to sit quietly and meditate to recover. It’s an apt description to what it feels like to live in this city.
A gong was rung to signal the end of the session, as people began shifting their bodies awake and preparing for the discussion portion of the evening. There was a small table with tall bar-stool-like chairs close to where I was sitting, and several of the latecomers moved from the floor to be able to see the presenter better. A young man, noticing I couldn’t see anything from my vantage point, pretty much insisted I take one of the chairs instead of taking it himself.
Damn you Buddhists, stop being so nice. You’re starting to freak me out a little.
To my left I noticed a metal shelving unit housing t-shirts and some hats presumably for sale. I could clearly read the phrase “Atheist Buddhist” on a few of them. I think I’ve come to the right place.
The discussion itself consisted of general questions about practicing meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhism in general. A guest author led part of the discourse, and I immediately liked how he approached Buddhism in a primarily secular manner. So much so I that saved his book to my Amazon Wish List. Which, I suppose, if you saw how long my list is, may or may not actually mean anything.
Overall, it was a reasonably pleasant evening. The room was filled with what seemed like an abnormally high amount of attractive, youngish people; many of whom had either tattoos or colored hair. Despite no longer being young or brightly-hair-colored myself, I did feel like these are people I wouldn’t mind spending time with. At least in my usual moderation.
I don’t know yet whether or not I’ll return for another event, as I don’t particularly need a community of people to sit and do nothing with. And unlike many people – difficulty with sitting quietly, by myself, exploring all of my terrible thoughts – isn’t my particular area of dysfunction. But I can say I liked the energy, and I liked what I heard of the message, and I wouldn’t be averse to exploring this brand of meditation further. And traffic aside, there are definitely worse ways to spend an evening.