Day 54: 8/18/13: Everyone Should Read This (and I don’t mean that as arrogantly as it sounds)

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Beatles and their c...

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Beatles and their companions posed on a dais, image by Paul Saltzman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thom Knoles is a funny, grounded and warm meditation teacher who studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 1960s, I think he may have overlapped with the Beatles’ tenure in Rishikesh. I felt like too much of a Beatles nerd to ask when I learned Vedic meditation from him last year.

Learning to meditate  was one of the greatest decisions I ever made.

Thom opened the lecture with this anecdote about speaking at the G8 summit. “I was the only one there wearing beads,” he laughed.  “Everyone here is suffering from chronic brain failure,” he said to the assembled leaders of the world. “Nothing’s going to come of this summit. Any questions?”

I don’t know how the G8 leaders reacted to that, but the crowd at the Santa Monica Marriott really dug it.

In a metaphor I remembered from the meditation class, Thom compared the human brain to an overloaded iphone that can barely process any new information. Decisions made using 2% of the stressed out overtaxed human brain are never going to solve terrorism, global warming, etc.

That’s where meditation comes in. And dharma. And karma.

Dharma is our personal role in the evolution of the universe. When we are living in dharma, doing what we’re meant to be doing at any particular moment, living is effortless and expansive.

To understand what we need to do, to know our dharma, Thom says we must learn to recognize and be receptive “in our least excited state”(meditative) to what “charms us” and to recognize what we have an aversion to.

Karma, on the other hand, is not the word plastered on tip jars in coffee shops. Karma is, according to Thom, “an action that binds.”

“The universe is not angry with us,” he explained. “It’s not punitive. It’s just hoping we figure things out.”

Unlike dharma, karma is restrictive. It is what we experience when we base our decisions purely on intellect and inaccurate assumptions. For example, “If I just keep doing this work (that I don’t really love) it will become something I love.” Or “I will repeat  the familiar even though the familiar makes me unhappy.” Karma is that corrective suffering that happens when we refuse to take risks, when we cling to the known world, when we are not courageous.

And like Thom’s brief address at the G8 summit, today’s talk at the Marriott was ultimately about courage:

“Find out what you should be doing. Embrace potential. Is it enough for you to continue eating, sleeping, pooping, taking up space on the earth? We must make our existence relevant. Urgently examine what you’re capable of giving to the world. Be courageous.”

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Day 54: 8/18/13: Weird Karma

I find myself cursing L.A.’s traffic and skin-killing sun until a day like today happens—full of sublime weirdness that could have happened nowhere else and I feel grateful I’m still knocking around this whacky place.

After attending Thom Knoles’ invigorating lecture on the true meaning of karma, I witnessed a scary fist fight in the middle of Santa Monica’s swanky Montana Avenue between a furious pedestrian and a guy in a Mercedes. The driver apparently nearly hit the pedestrian’s family when they rushed into the street. The men kicked, punched, swung at each other and generally behaved like idiots. The wife fueled the drama by nearly rushing into the street while her poor little children clutched her hands, wailing and utterly terrified. Onlookers dialed 911 and one kind gray-bearded man cautiously tried to intervene in the madness  “C’mon you guys, there are children here…”

Harrison Ford at the Pacific Design Center in ...

Harrison Ford at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)g

When the guy in the Mercedes started to drive off,  the apoplectic pedestrian jumped on the hood like a deranged stunt man, tumbling to the street when the driver stopped short, no doubt rehearsing for a later lawsuit.

My friend Brandy and I felt disoriented—this abrupt immersion in human melodrama, after such a transcendent meditation talk made us both queasy. We  found a delicious Indian food restaurant a few blocks north that was empty except for us and Harrison Ford who, as Brandy said, “looks fantastic for his age.”

Later I picked up beach trash for two hours while watching a woman walk a black rabbit on a leash and chatting with a French man who had very interesting teeth. When I told him of my major star sighting (the first in a long while), the tourist looked puzzled and said that he thought that Harrison Ford was already dead. While I untangled the shriveled navels of abandoned balloons from clumps of kelp, the wayward traveler spoke about the wisdom of weather, how lucky I was to live in the land of sunshine, (despite today’s rare overcast skies) and how he’d seen dolphins while paddleboarding near the pier “that was my reward for being daring” (true), and how happy he felt when he realized that the merry fins surrounding the surfboard did not belong to sharks. He then asked me to confirm a rumor he’d heard that it is impossible to sleep in Las Vegas because of the relentless nocturnal campaigns of its hookers.