Greetings from Los Angeles – the land of swimming pools and movie stars! LA is a place of tremendous energy, speed, and creativity. It’s a place where the temperatures are sunny and pleasant, yet within the Hollywood community (where I work) the personalities which are celebrated often are not. It’s a place where even the most experienced practitioner can easily fall into outsized aggression (you sit through the mind-numbing traffic on the 405), and where in certain parts of the city the dream of finally being “discovered” is the subtle subtext to almost every line at the Coffee Bean. When visiting Shastri Ethan Nichtern recently gave a talk on the Westside of LA, he titled it appropriately, “Seeing Clearly in a City of Illusion”.
Yet, as is always true, with a bit of slowing down and a sense of space, you can begin to see the reality of the ground here. LA is full of amazing and wonderful people and we have a warm, tight-knit, and generous Shambhala community, many of whom work within the very entertainment industry that gives the city both its prevalence and speed. We have actors, writers, producers, musicians, film and media technicians of all kinds in our sangha, and for them the challenge can often be how to see basic goodness in an industry (and city) so often focused on power, celebrity and money. Yet within that dynamic there lies tremendous energy which can be ridden, and which I believe, helps fuel a tremendously active communications mandala here which is just bubbling with ideas.
One large aspect of the communication mandala for LA is outreach (the other being publicity) which is headed up by Kate Summers. Outreach has a whole lineup of programs it is attempting to roll out over the next few years – some simple, some outrageous – but one program in particular that Kate spearheaded last year stands out.
In October, SMCLA (Shambhala Meditation Center of Los Angeles) was a participant in CareNowLA, a free Medical and Dental clinic for under-served communities. Over 4 days, roughly 4500 people lacking health insurance showed up at the LA Sports Arena to see doctors, dentists, optometrists and other specialists, all of whom offered their services for free. As part of that, SMCLA was invited to have a booth where we could offer meditation instruction on the spot. So we did.
Over the course of the 4 days, a number of members from our sangha came down to staff the booth, and we estimate we gave meditation instruction to 250-300 people, most of whom had never received instruction before! For all who staffed the booth, it was a tremendously opening experience, a direct and raw connection with generosity and compassion, not only from us but in the energy and feedback we received from the people who came to our booth. Attendees were warm and wonderful and as we explained the programs our Center offered, many said they wanted to explore it further.
On Sunday evening, after we had wrapped up our booth at CareNowLA, a young man in his twenties showed up at our Westside Center for evening nyinthun. During a group discussion, he said he and his mother had no health insurance, had gone to CareNowLA for treatment, and had come by our booth for meditation instruction. As he explained further after the nyinthun, he had always wanted to learn to meditate and for the first time found a path he resonated with. His experience at CareNowLA had inspired him to come by our Sunday Sit, and he and his girlfriend were planning on starting to regularly attend our Young Adult Meditation Group.
Our entire sangha was moved by how taking a leap had such immediate and direct impact in the world. And our communications mandala, which saw how we could actually move into the world, continues to be inspired by the Sakyong’s tremendous Vision for Enlightened Society, especially as manifested in the Kalapa Acharya’s view that “Sitting is not enough.”
So please remember that amongst the flashing strobes and gossip driven celebrity worship, there are some in LA, just off camera, who understand the very same energy which drives the spectacle also fuels tremendous generosity and compassion. And that Basic Goodness exists, even (perhaps) on TMZ.