Posts Tagged With: buddhism

There’s Still Love-In the Park

Just loving in the park fifty years ago, even ‘The Man’ had fun

Rummaging in my souvenir clothes, next to the glitter cowboy shirt and the Moroccan jelaba, I found my 1967 paisley shirt and multiple-patched bell-bottoms. Somehow without popping the buttons, I squeezed into the shirt with only my belly exposed (After all it’s been fifty years.) Properly outfitted, I gathered a friend who dressed the part too with a flower crown and ripped jeans and my brother, the cameraman and experimental musician, and journeyed back to the merry-go-round in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

Over the decades the Sixties has achieved a kind of mythic reputation for its music, drugs, free love, and protests, but at the core of it was something more organic, more timeless, and more ephemeral—Community. That deeper impulse of the movement has often been forgotten in last year’s 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, 1967. What brought it all together was the almost pied-piper like call and mass response by the youth of the day. No social media to provide an ersatz sense of connection, a gathering could only be physical; the only virtual experience was on TV or in some kind of psychedelic haze.

We young people wanted to be with our tribe, whether at an anti-war march, a concert, or a love-in. In the late Sixties and early Seventies in LA’s vast Griffith Park, around the merry-go-round, hosted a weekly Sunday love-in. At the love-in (as long as you were cool without bad vibes) you could get a free meal provided by Cleo Knight and his Green Power, play bongos and guitar, share a joint (no bogarting allowed), and essentially just hang-out without supervision. Going from my suburban home to the love-in meant leaving a world of tract houses, shopping malls, and stifling conformity, and entering a place where friendliness, love, individuality, and kindness ruled.

Love-in Griffith Park, 2017 by RW

Connection with like-minded individuals fuels many gatherings, but our zeitgeist called for personal expression and freedom as well. I recall snide comments by college professors (who mostly wore white shirts and ties) back then that we hippie youth were conformists. Nothing could be farther from my experience. In fact, within certain parameters (long-hair, jeans, beads) we created our own styles. Like the bell-bottom jeans I had patched or the military jackets that I confiscated from my father. Almost anything old, different, or colorful could qualify as hip. Special clothing stores popped up that catered to the new styles. Expressing a rebellious streak, for a season or two, the American flag inspired shirts and accessories. Anything that pushed boundaries of ‘normal’ was OK.

photos love in

Photos from LA Free Press, 1967

 

In August, 2017, dressed in my authentic hippie clothes, I attended the fiftieth anniversary of the first LA love-in hosted by Georgianne Steele-Waller. I expected to see a few dozen old hippies nostalgically rewriting history, but the majority of the 150 attendees weren’t even born until the 80s. I met a twenty-something young woman from Australia who called herself Serenity, a serious young Latino man from Garden Grove who came to make a political statement, a thoughtful thirty-something man, Alejandro, and an assortment of millennial generation vendors selling Indian trinkets and incense and organic ‘wonder’ potions.

Most of the young people didn’t even know there had been love-ins fifty years ago. By way of introduction, I shared the front page of the LA Free Press from those days to one circle of young people; one would’ve thought it was precious artifact from a lost civilization: Passing it around, someone asked if it was real. “Not only that,” I explained “20,000 showed up on that Easter morning, 1967.”

A spontaneous eruption, the original love-in went off without a hitch to the surprise of the mainstream media of the day. A simple announcement in the Free Press, LA’s underground weekly, got the word out. From sunrise to sunset a variety of rock bands played, people danced, and loving community prevailed. Even the few LA PD officers went along with the vibe and accepted flowers from the hippies. Good vibes wafted in the air, like the patchouli incense and marijuana smoke.

Young people want to congregate and party in any era, but in those days teenagers were just discovering the freedom to hang out and the opportunities were rare. Not like now, when an outdoor concert such as the Twilight Concerts on the Pier in Santa Monica, attracts 10,000 partiers and the police worry about security to the extreme.  In 2017, Santa Monica Police marked lanes in the sand to be able to make quick incursions into the crowd for ‘emergencies.’  Too much of a good thing, the Santa Monica City Council has terminated the annual pier concerts.

Front page announcing Love-inLA’s original love-in followed the previous year’s police riot on the Sunset Strip. Heads were banged and many youths arrested, while protesting the demolition of a popular teen hang-out (Pandora’s Box). Immortalized in Steven Stills’ For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield, the song announced a new, assertive attitude from teenagers. Rather than turning up the pressure, the police took a different tack at the Easter love-in a year later, very few arrests were made and even the Los Angeles Times gave a neutral, if muted report.

San Francisco paved the way with its’ Human Be-in. (The suffix –in came from the civil rights movement where protesters would stage a sit-in at a segregated café and then in the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley which held teach-ins). At the January 1967 Be-in a line-up of notable speakers that included Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, and others heralded a new era of the various counterculture ‘tribes’ of liberal San Francisco coming together. In keeping with ideals of freedom and community, the Diggers (one of whom would later become a well-known actor under his assumed name Peter Coyote) distributed free food, clothes, and sometimes crash pads (place to sleep). SF planted the seed with the Be-in, but LA’s version kept up the tradition for many years.

RW & Richard Easton from the Hollywood Hemp Museum

And now, fifty years later some of the originals returned. Mercy from the GTOs (Girls Outrageously Together, a Frank Zappa group) shared some of her memories and her friend, Corby reported how she used to hitchhike from her home in the Valley until the Hells Angels began to disrupt the scene.  Johnny Echols from the seminal LA interracial progressive rock band, Love, expressed his concern that the goodwill and racial unity of that time has regressed, but he remains hopeful for a renewal.  A wild guy dressed in cannabis inspired clothes and hat promoted the marijuana museum on Hollywood Blvd.  One slightly drunk/ stoned fellow claimed to have attended when he was a kid and his aunt brought him.  Everyone had a big smile.

 

For that one day in August 2017 the ideals and dreams of the hippie movement lived again. Cross-generational, inter-racial, and un-commercial, people of many backgrounds came out and fanned the embers of a long ago time, when anything was possible together. Not a mirage or a myth, the Love-in expressed the yearning that dwells in many; not a brand, not a programmed show, and not a celebrity showcase, just the authentic yearning of people for community, expression, and freedom.

YouTube and social media may entertain, but the desire for live human connection still exists. The human spirit wants community. Events like the Griffith Park Love-in peep into that part of us that yearns to reach out of boxes and labels of generation, nationality, race, and class. And come together in love and harmony.

love in poster by Cleo Knight

Ad from the LA Free Press for the Love-in hosted by Cleo Knight

Inner Journey:

Where did you find community in high school or college?  If you were around in the Sixties, where did you connect with like-minded young people?

Action Steps:

How do you find community these days?  Is it commercial or organic?  Step out and try a new activity with the only goal of enjoying yourself.

FOR VIDEOS FROM THE 2017 LOVE-IN, PLEASE CHECK OUR FACEBOOK PAGE

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Categories: Community, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Reading the Signs with York Blvd Hipsters (synchronicity)

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Odd anti-gentrification graffitti

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.

bughouse

Jeff Bughouse prepares for machine noise performance

 

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?’.

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noah levine

 

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.

Categories: Synchronicity/ Intution | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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