Walking down a narrow, graffiti decorated passage way between two buildings to the metered parking lot that serves the newly named York Park district in East Los (the east side of Los Angeles), I had one of those—‘I know you’ encounters. A man wearing a pork-pie hat with a young child poised on his shoulders approached. Simultaneously we both acknowledged each other (that is a rarity itself in 21st LA) with a smile of recognition even though we had never formally met. Synapses working like a twenty year, I said, “Hey Noah. We haven’t met. My name is RW.” He said, “Yes, I’ve seen you many times at Santa Monica.” We continued with friendly banter about Buddhist practice for a few minutes and went on our respective ways. Noah Levine is the founding teacher of Against the Stream, a meditation center with locations in Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Oakland. Mind you, this was doubly mind-blowing since I rarely venture this far east in the traffic jam called LA.
A close friend from San Diego County was visiting for a couple days and wanted to see the hippest neighborhood now in the megalopolis of LA. The obvious choice is York Blvd. For decades working-class Mexican-Americans dominated the Highland Park neighborhood. Close to DTLA (downtown Los Angeles), with relatively low real estate prices, recently it was discovered by a hipster cohort priced out of Silverlake, Echo Park, and Eagle Rock. Venice and Santa Monica? Forget it! Flooded with high-tech Silicon Beach money, mostly only decades long residents like me can afford it.
York now offers several art and design galleries, interspersed with the old-school salon de bellezza (beauty parlor) and the party goods/ pinata store, and a funky pool hall. A super-hip micro-brewery just opened next door the very avant-garde gallery—Bughouse, whose proprietor (full disclosure my brother) also plays machine noise music during the monthly York Blvd Art Walk. A green cross cannabis dispensary recently opened on the five block strip, while an indie coffee shop/ hang space (Café de Leche) pioneered the street years ago. Some observers have sounded alarms about the clash-of-cultures and gentrification, but it seems like the opposition consists of the dispossessed artist/ crafts element and entrenched generations-old street gangs such as Avenues and Hombres Guapos 65. These days walking down the street one encounters a tasty and friendly mix of the long-time resident Mexican-Americans and the newly arrived 20s-40s hipsters like Noah Levine, the meditation teacher at Against the Stream. Although, retro-grade elements flash their odd cry (see above photo).
Forty-something with tats covering his hands, arms and up his neck like a multi-colored serpent, even with a three-year riding on his shoulders on York Blvd, Noah was more inconspicuous than me (being sixty-something with a long pony tail). He fits right in and said he had lived the area for several years, way before the recent gentrification that has exchanged taco counters for beer gardens and cafes with white table cloths for auto mechanics. A half-hour later he visited my brother’s new art gallery, Bughouse (they’re in the vanguard of this cultural shift in my unbiased opinion). I introduced Levine to everyone making a mental note to go to Against the Stream, soon. Being the reflective sort, I thought ‘What did that encounter mean?’.
A long time student of synchronicity, the next morning after the ‘coincidental’ encounter with Noah Levine on York Blvd, while soaking in my hot tub I pondered the Sunday ahead. ‘Go to Agape?’ ‘Visit Lakeshrine Self-Realization Fellowship?’ ‘Check the Unitarians?’ ‘Try InsightLA?’ ‘Kick back at Venice Beach?’ The previous day’s sidewalk meeting came to mind. I took it as a ‘sign’ to go to InsightLA, since they practice the same form of Buddhism as Against the Stream. InsightLA was founded by Trudy Goodman about fifteen years ago in Santa Monica and offers a full program of classes and meetings in the tradition of American Buddhism initiated by Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Afterward Goodman and I chatted for a bit—glad I went.
I have pursued a wide-range of spiritual paths for many years and eventually settled on a few practices that really worked for me. I mix and match; I Ching, Tarot, Buddhism, Jung, Advaita, among others. At this point spiritual for me has no labels or need of an edifice, although I do appreciate and miss the fellowship of a formal venue. But ‘church’ moments hit me in the most unexpected moments. Like this summer in Topanga Canyon at the annual Reggae on the Mountain festival. Walking up the hill to the concert being held on Topanga’s Little League field, the ‘maybes’ that often swirl in my head took a break, and feeling energetic after a nap and a speedy ride up the canyon in my Porsche, I was savoring the moment. A guy scurried up to the road from the scrub brush with a couple balls in his hands. I smiled at him and said, “Good catch.” He responded with a joke of his own. Then he offered to get me into the concert for free. Sure. Why not? And just like that I saved $50. That unexpected gift felt like a thumbs up from the universe. Life may be filled with ‘suffering’ as the Buddhists say,but sometimes it can flow with connectivity.
Call it what you will, ‘coincidence’ or synchronicity, breaks from the analytic mind opens me to go with the flow until a sign or an eddy hits like it did on York Blvd.