January 1, 2008
The Palos Verdes Peninsula is a rocky outcropping that marks the southwestern edge the Los Angeles basin. Rising from this urban plain, the peninsula pushes into the Santa Monica Bay. Twenty-six miles to the west is Santa Catalina Island, one of several that comprise the Channel Islands chain. Every winter 20,000 California gray whales make their annual voyage from the frigid waters of the Gulf of Alaska down the west coast of North America to the warm lagoons of Baja California in Mexico. The pregnant females will give birth and nurse their calves until they are big enough to accompany the adults back to Alaska by the end of May. The route these great animals will take passes between the peninsula and the Channel Islands. Captains of whale watching boats make a good living escorting scores of people into the bay to seek out and snap pictures of the mothers and their young.
Near the lighthouse at Point Vicente, there is an interpretive center providing a natural history of the peninsula and the sealife that dwells in bay. After driving by the center many times, a couple of days ago I decided to stop to take a look for myself.
After I exploring the center’s exhibits, I went out on the observation deck. Four people were on the deck, each sitting in high-standing deck chairs which they had brought along. Being December, it was very cold and windy and these four were bundled up in parkas and gloves. Each held high-powered binoculars. They were silent, each scanning the sea with their glasses. They were definitely prepared and looked as if they had done this many times before.
“Excuse me. Do you see any whales?” I asked.
One of the four, a woman, put her glasses down and said. “Not yet. But they’re out there. They’re out there.”
She fell silent again. She put her binoculars in her lap and just stared at the sea.
It struck me that they seem as if they were in some sort of meditative state. And why not? They were in a sunny place, staring at a scene of unparalleled beauty, listening to only the sound of the surf on the rocks below the bluff. I could not imagine a place more tranquil.
They did not seem fazed that they could see no whales. In fact, if they saw none today, I don’t think they would be disappointed. Just sitting, as if waiting for some royal personage to make an appearance, was enough. If they did see a whale, it would be as if they touched the face of the Divine. If not, still, they would not go home empty.
They were in a chapel built of sky, wind and sea. And like the whales, the Divine was out there, waiting to be experienced.
Text and Images: Lori G. © 2007
This is the Korean Friendship Bell, a 7-ton cast bronze bell, given to the US by the Republic of Korea at the time of the U.S. Bicentennial, to honor Korean War Veterans and the friendship between our two countries. (You can read about the details of the structure’s design and construction here. ).
The structure is beautifully situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This place is another one of those little gems (which we all have in our respective communities) that both calms and invigorates me whenever I am there. The day I took these pictures was cold and extraordinarily clear, and the structure sparkled under a blinding white sun. The only sounds were the flapping of pigeon’s wings and the distant sound of children playing. It was like stepping out of time to a place of absolute stillness.
The park is adjacent to a military installation, and, in fact, if you look down the bluff, you will see the ruins of WWII battlements. It is quite ironic, actually. But it is a physical reminder to me that one CAN find peace and tranquility, even when surrounded by signs of conflict and war. Amazing, really.
Let me just end this by showing you some more images. May you find peace and tranquility as you meditate on these images.
Lori G. (c) 2007
I was listening to the radio about 4 a.m. this morning ,and I caught the tail end of a discussion with Stephan Schwartz, who studies changes in social consciousness. He outlined eight characteristics held in common by individuals and groups who have successfully brought about positive change in their communities or countries. I am merely paraphrasing these principles, and I hope that in spite of my sleep-fogged brain I correctly noted them. The examples and commentary following each principle are mine based on my understanding of what he said.
1. Individuals working together for change must share a common goal. In other words, everyone in the group must be on the same page with no personal agenda.
2. Individuals working together towards a goal should not be invested in a specific way those goals are achieved. For example, the goal may be to stop global warming, but the members of the group should not insist that this be accomplish in one prescribed way. The workers need to be flexible and able to work with the circumstances as they play out.
3. Individuals working for change need to accept the fact that the goal may not be achieved in their lifetimes. Westerners have a particularly hard time being patient in this way.
4. Individuals working for change need to accept the fact that they may never be acknowledged for their accomplishments. There is no room for big egos.
5. Even though there must be a functional heirarchy and a distribution of tasks according to talent in order to work towards a goal, everyone must share an equality within that group. Not only is it hypocritical to work for social justice when there is racism and gender inequality within the group, it also destroys morale and workers do not put forward their best effort in the cause.
6. Individuals working for change must foresake violence in “word, act, and thought.” It defeats your purpose of making a positive change if you use a club to achieve it.
7. The personal lives of workers must be consistent with their public lives. How many politicians can you name who have disrupted their work and their legacy because of personal behavior? As much as we may think that it should not matter, it in fact does matter.
8. Individuals working for change must have the fundamental understanding that all life is interconnected. When a person suffers, the whole world suffers. If one small change is made, bigger changes result.
As I said, I didn’t hear the whole interview and I may not have gotten these down exactly as presented, but I do think I got the gist of the principles. I think they can serve as workable guidelines for all of us in our attempt to do good in this world. Well, at least I’ll give it a shot.
I’ve always considered myself to be a gregarious, affable person who is not afraid of expressing herself. However, I was surprised to discover just how reluctant I have become in initiating conversations with strangers.
Yesterday, while running errands, I dashed into a local Chinese fast food franchise to grab a bite of lunch. While I munched on my kung pao chicken and read a magazine, a woman approached and took a seat at the table next to me. Although I was not annoyed with her, I did think it was odd that out of a dozen or more empty seats, she chose the one right next to me. (Okay, I guess I was a little annoyed that she was coming too close to the boundaries of my personal space.) I resumed eating and reading, and she in turn began eating and reading a novel.
A few minutes later I heard her say, “This is too much food. I should have gotten a To-Go container like you. (Her food was on a paper-plate). I responded by explaining that I had, in fact, told the counter-clerk that I was eating in but they had given me styro-foam To-Go container nonetheless. I told her that I avoid using styro-foam whenever possible. This led us into the discussion about the necessity of insisting that establishments like this adhere to environment-friendly practices, recycling styro-foam, other issues of sustainability, high rents in the neighborhood, and decluttering our apartments.
After about twenty minutes, I had finished my meal, and she had packed the rest of her lunch to go. We thanked each other for a delightful conversation and each went our separate ways.
It took no time for me to recognize how reluctant I had become to strike up a conversation with strangers. I am not typically a shy person and am quite talkative. In fact, more than one person has said that I talk too much and I need to shut up once in a while. Maybe the reason for this reluctance is the admonition of not talking to strangers given to me as a child by my mother had resurfaced from deep within. Or, perhaps I have become too influenced by others around me who are even less reluctant to engage with strangers. Maybe it’s because there really are bad people out there and I want to avoid them. Whatever the reason, I realized that I am starting a precarious inclination towards isolationism and that an attitude adjustment is required on my part.
It should be a no-brainer that we need to engage with the strangers in our neighborhoods. We need to get over the “I need my personal space” attitude. The more we engage with our neighbors, the more our neighborhoods benefit. The application of this thinking to a global situation should be obvious.
So the next time a stranger sits next to you, don’t be afraid to be the first to say “Please pass me the soy sauce.”
Lori G. © 2007