Go ahead, roll your eyes or call it what you (or my very East Coast parents) will — new age-y, mumbo jumbo, California beach brain — but I firmly subscribe to the notion that there are no coincidences, only universally intended synchronicities. Sure, their underlying significance may be elusive, but when they happen, I can’t help but take notice.
So, cut to a sunny afternoon in Santa Monica at my beloved Café Bolivar, where the nourishing food is as delicious as the rich coffee, the staff as warm as the sunlight drenching the bright orange chairs, and the music as global as the Manu Chao station on Pandora.com.
After savoring the last bite of a steaming hot arepa (Venezuelan corn bread with a dose of magic) stuffed with mango and avocado, I flipped open my MacBook Pro and began typing. In between paragraphs, I smiled hello to a man settling in to the table next to me, with a folder in hand. We had never met, but recognized each other as Bolivar regulars.
After affably introducing himself, Marty — who reminded me of my father, only five inches taller and considerably more mellow — asked what I was writing. Tickled to talk to anyone who might be interested in hearing about my blog, I enthusiastically explained the concept behind The Local Gypsy, and began rattling off the adventures upon which I had already embarked.
As I navigated to http://www.thelocalgypsy.com and pointed the screen his way to give him a glimpse, Marty asked what my next activity would be. Before the words “Lake Shrine” fully escaped my lips, he slapped the wooden table in exclamation.
Lake Shrine's "Wall-less" Temple
Umm, was it something I said?
My confusion was extinguished a moment later, however, when he extracted from his folder a black and white photo of Paramahansa Yogananda.
Paramahansa Yogananda — Indian guru, author of Autobiography of a Yogi, and founder of the worldwide spiritual organization, Self-Realization Fellowship — established Lake Shrine Temple in 1950. A ten-acre gem located just east of the Pacific Ocean on Sunset Boulevard in the Pacific Palisades, Lake Shrine is home to astounding natural beauty: a spring-fed lake and waterfalls, countless species of trees, dazzling flowers and abundant animals, including swans, koi, turtles and dragonflies. The lush grounds also feature the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial (where some of the famed leader’s ashes are consecrated in a 1,000-year-old Chinese sarcophagus), a “wall-less” temple, a Dutch windmill, Court of Religions, a houseboat — and, since 1996, a hilltop temple in which large group meditations and services are regularly held. (See here for the event calendar.)
Paradise on Sunset Boulevard
Lake Shrine also happens to be nestled directly across Sunset Boulevard from Paseo Miramar, a winding road that leads to a Topanga State Park hiking trail that I frequent. I must have laid eyes on Lake Shrine’s welcome sign close to fifty times, yet I had never turned into its parking lot.
And now, a fellow Café Bolivar lover, whom I too had seen on many occasions but had only just met, turned out to be a Lake Shrine volunteer and Yogananda devotee, offering to take me on a personal tour.
And so we arranged to visit Lake Shrine together on a Thursday, in order to catch the weekly 12:00-12:30 p.m. monk-guided meditation. As Monday turned into Tuesday, and Tuesday into Wednesday, I began to sense that, although it had taken me five years to get there, the time was ripe.
Indeed it was.
The preceding week had been extraordinarily frenetic. My birthday, a houseguest, friends’ parties, and the final days of the World Cup kept my social calendar buzzing and liver working overtime; the penetrating and unrelenting June Gloom prevented the sun from offering calming respite and recharge. And bubbling excitement over a new project was energetically challenged by physical exhaustion and the scratchy-throat threat of a cold. Let’s just say that I needed to chill — badly.
And that’s exactly what happened when I stepped past the “Welcome to these Meditation Gardens” sign and into the tranquil vortex that is Lake Shrine.
It was as if I had walked through an invisible doorway that sifted out all my stress and tension, and then, weightlessly, I entered another dimension full of light and color — sort of like Dorothy must have felt when she and Toto were deposited in the Land of Oz.
Turtle and Dragonfly Haven
Perhaps the most striking realization I had while gazing out on the landscape before me was that this place is actually real, and not a psychedelically inspired scene from a film. The sights, sounds and scents were truly intoxicating.
The Court of Religions Honors the World's Principal Five: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam
And I could not have been more grateful for Marty. As we meandered down the path surrounding the lake, he enlightened me on historical points of interest; the site, for example, had been a movie set in the early days of Hollywood. We discussed the lotus flower motif in the wall-less temples’ pinnacles and the dedication of Gandhi’s memorial. Marty also described how he, ten years earlier, had found the Self-Realization Fellowship, and touched on Yogananda’s teachings and the ancient practice of Kriya Yoga.
Dutch Windmill Meditation Chapel
Upon reaching the Dutch windmill that had been converted into an airy chapel, we took seats and adjusted our postures in preparation for meditation. Save for my occasional dry cough that at times frustrated my concentration and which, for a moment and the sake of others, led me to consider walking outside, the thirty minutes seemed to fly by — a bold statement, mind you, for someone as antsy as I.
Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial
Following the meditation exercises, Marty graciously introduced me to the gentle monk who had guided them, and then led me up a set of stairs to the stunning hilltop temple. Unlike many of the synagogues and churches I’ve visited, this edifice was flooded with light, and seemed to glow from within. I made a mental note to check my schedule and return soon for a Friday night group meditation.
After delighting in the colorful koi congregating near the houseboat, talk of the Krishna sculpture reminded me that, through two separate groups of friends, I knew a man in LA named Krishna, who had grown up in and met his girlfriend through the Self-Realization Fellowship tradition.
When I mentioned this to Marty, his expression shifted. I went further, stating Krishna’s last name; Marty’s eyes widened, and, before he finished saying, “He lives with my daughter,” I blurted, “Your daughter’s Samantha?!”
This simply can’t be reduced to mere coincidence.
But why these synchronicities?
I can’t say for sure. Perhaps someday it will be abundantly clear.
In the meantime, I’m going to crack open my brand new copy of Autobiography of a Yogi.
With Marty in The Court of Religions