My friend Ben flew into Los Angeles for a few days so I picked him up in Summer at nine am and handed him a thick and powerful joint, as is our custom. This is the best California weed I’ve ever had, and I work at a pot collective. He tells me I roll the best joints, and with that endorsement we proceed to park near our chosen coffee shop and get stoned. I notice the parking meter still has some time left on it, I can tell from my car by the flashing green light. This is gonna be a good day, I think. We put out the roach, opt for juice instead of coffee and take a leisurely stroll in the park. We speak philosophically about the states of our lives and our dreams, as often happens when you are mildly stoned. We wax poetic as we settle down under a shady table to relax and enjoy ourselves. He talks about a concept he’s working on for a show about a group of folks who meditate and I talk about sun-gazing. I was going to do four minutes and thirty seconds today but I forgot my phone was on silent when I set the timer. After what seemed like an eternity I finally checked and, surely, the time had long since run out. I’m gonna say I gazed for over five minutes, but I can’t be sure. Now, here in the park just a few hours later, Ben and I decide to meditate for twenty minutes. Okay, I guess. So I set my cell phone timer, hunker down under a large tree a few feet from Ben and mediate.
I feel excited to do this. This is my first serious meditation since the sun-gazing began. I start by concentrating on my breathing. But there is a stick in my back. I adjust the branch and now as I lean tight against the tree it’s almost as if this branch is hugging me, and comforting me. As I try to become calm I notice for the first time this nest of butterflies in my stomach. Nothing particular, just a dull baseline of anxiety that I can feel now that I’m relaxed. I wonder how long that’s been there? Do I live with this all time? How do I fix it? Fix. Fix. Fix. I stop myself, I don’t want to get lost in thought, I think to myself, I want to meditate. So I decide to chant a mantra to myself focusing on something I want. The human mind learns from repetition, they say. So I begin to silently repeat “I’m peaceful, I’m prosperous, I’m powerful.” I do this with fervor and zeal but there is no noticeable change in the butterflies. So I take a different approach. I slow it all down. I try with each repetition to actually inhabit peacefulness, to imagine what I would feel like if I was prosperous in the ways I dream of, and to experience the sensations of power, the confidence, the certainty. This passes the time nicely and the butterflies seem to have moved on as well. It’s working, I begin to think excitedly, thus breaking the meditative spell I had conjured. So I do this process again, from the beginning. I am peaceful, I am prosperous, I am powerful.
This time an eternity goes by. I’ve got the hang of this now, I tell myself, so I can “experience the mantra” and still feel the butterflies do their tango too if I want to, I’ve become a master at multi-tasking. God, it has to have been twenty minutes by now, right? At just the point I’m starting to get antsy I remember that I forgot to fill the meter when we parked the car. The green light had lulled me in, and I forgot to feed the beast. She could run out at any moment. The meter could be expired already! I was tempted to get up and go see if there was a ticket, I even visualized myself getting up to go check. But I stayed. I’m chanting about peacefulness and I’m going to leave that in a hurried and panicked state to go see if I have a parking ticket. Nonsense, wait it out. This is a test. But then I remember that I have two outstanding parking tickets already, both within the last two weeks because I pay them right away generally. Well, now I have a really good reason to get up and go check, don’t I? This could be my third strike! But still some deeper part of me is holding me to that tree. The branch that had been snuggling me before was now restraining me, it seemed. I wanted to go rescue Summer (my convertible) from an over-worked and under-paid parking “enforcer” who’s only option left is take their shitty life out on me! I am speaking in generalities here, if you are a parking enforcer of any kind, you are the one exception to this infallible rule of thumb: meter maids suck. You don’t, this is not about you because you have three children and take your job seriously yadda yadda. So where was I? Oh yeah, I wanted to get the hell up from this meditation that had deteriorated into a jumbled stream of panic-stricken thoughts and sarcasm. Wait, but what was that whispering from the ground to my skin, from the birds to my ears and from the soul of the tree to my soul: “I am peaceful, I am prosperous, I am powerful.” Suddenly I let go, parking ticket be damned, I was going to sit here and experience peace if it killed me. And I did.
Another century went by, which I’m guessing was about six more minutes when the timer rang and Ben and I finally compared notes. “It was a constructive experience” were Ben’s first words. I couldn’t have agreed more. Then I noticed there was an empty table a few feet away with a weathered old book on it, open to a particular page. Feeling a bit stoned and spiritual now I decided I’d find some great meaning on that page. Ben agreed because I “had a feeling” about it. It turned out to be about some kid who’s mom worked at Alcatraz while he was growing up, called “Growing Up, Al Capone Did My Sheets” or something like that. I guess meaning will emerge when I’m not so high. We moseyed back toward the car slowly in vibrant but casual discussion recounting our meditation experiences to each other. A few minutes later I’m describing my parking ticket panic when suddenly a shiver of foreboding smacks me right in the face! I might be getting a ticket as we speak! I was free to panic now, right? The meditation is over. I could chase some parking attendant down with my computer bag and make things right. I could go run ahead and save the day, and give myself some peace, I reasoned. But I noticed this shiver of panic before it turned into a full blown wave and consciously said to myself “no.” And just like that there was peace again. You don’t have to go chasing after peace, it turns out.
Ben and I strolled back to the car, jolly and serene and when there turned out to be no parking ticket I started to feel an odd combination of pride and relief. Pride because I was so sure there would be no ticket that I was able to let myself forget about it; and relief, because, you know, you’re not really sure until you’re sure you don’t owe $63 more bucks. This mixture of emotions is what faith must feel like; I consider this while pawing around on the center console for the roach we had been smoking earlier.
We drove away, parked under a tree a few blocks over and I blazed it up. “That’s brazen” Ben informs me.
“Oh, shit, really? I do this all the time,” I exhale as I confess. I felt a twinge of that anxiety again, then saw it and dismissed it in a measurement of time I don’t know the word for, like a millionth of a second. You know how your thoughts can come lightening fast but you can still think the whole thing, and a million more before you even exhale. It was that fast. Ben probably had no idea I got nervous at all. Wow meditation really works, I notice. So I took another hit. Ben and I began reflecting on the idea of why people make the same bad decisions over and over again in life. How come some people evolve and some just stay in a rut. I described my love affair with junk food. He describes his own merciless patterns. We tell each other encouraging things about how we are the type who evolve, but we think about ourselves that we are the types who get stuck. We take more hits. Big honking rips. As we sit there, the panorama around us becomes our movie screen and we are at the drive-in! And, we are getting really really stoned. Ben comments that this is nice, sitting under a tree in the shade, smoking pot, listening to the Eagles and watching that homeless man pushing his cart down the middle of the road. Silence lingers for a moment, then almost simultaneously Ben and I say “let’s offer him a hit.” We do. The homeless man readily agrees and suddenly we are just three dudes smoking together. Two in a car and one with a cart. But it’s chill. After the homeless guy asks where he can score some coke or hash and we decline, we all say our good-byes and he is on his merry way.
Ben and I each take another big toke, relishing in the unique moment of time that we took part in weaving into the fabric of our existential reality, man. “That guy is tweaked outta his skull,” Ben reflects. I look over my shoulder to see him talking to himself and think, I just shared a joint with him, I hope he’s clean. Well, duh, he’s not.
This latest stream of panic is broken by the homeless man raving a rave review “this is strong shit,” he hollers from down the block. The interruption freed me from my thought stream about the cleanliness of his mouth as Ben and I chuckled…and toked some more.
Ben breaks the next silence, “Funny how we’re sitting here talking about making the same bad choices over and over again, and we bump into a guy obviously making some bad choices over and over again,” he shruggs. We both look back to see him, filthy, happy and high as a kite, gabbing to himself as he pushes his shopping cart into the distance. We puff away as a mother pushing a stroller down the middle of the street approaches us.
Right on beat with the momentum of our high Ben jests “do you wanna offer her a hit?”
I chuckle. “Yeah sure, but you have to be the one to do it.”
“I’m not doing that,” he sincerely refuses. Then, in a micro panic he can’t quite contain he emphasizes “NO WAY!”
We crack up laughing at ourselves and our paranoia, a cloud of smoke rising from my convertible as the mother passes by I take a long inhale, then exhale as we pull away from the curb. We are only a few blocks from his house; as he finishes the joint and tosses it out the window I comment on how these purple trees remind me of when I was a kid and used to paint purple trees. I would insist that trees could be purple, not just green. Was that young version of me somehow always aware that I would end up here in LA? Was this evidence of destiny? Is it possible there are plans mapped out for each of us to follow, actually guided by a force called Fate, or God, or the Universe or whatever? Was I channeling the future all those years ago? Ben looks at me and says flatly “I think you were just being defiant.” Well fine.
I drop him off and as I pull away I notice a head ache coming on. Could this be from the joint I just wolfed down with my friend? Probably not, because then I’d have to consider whether to make that choice again. This must have been because my phone was on silent and I gazed for too long today. Yeah that’s it. That’s what it is for sure. This is not defiant, by the way, this is just the facts of the situation. And that’s all there is to it.
SIDE EFFECTS: I’m saying the sun gave me a headache because the timer went on too long and I had a slight overdose. Nothing too serious. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
BENEFITS: You can cite sun-gazing as the cause of your headaches if you don’t want to look at the other choices you might be making that bring headaches on in the first place, like for example, smoking a gigantic joint in the space of an hour, while being slightly dehydrated.