Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Lake Shrine

Hollywood is not exactly the place people go to in search of inner peace. Hollywood is the place people go to in search of fame and fortune. Hollywood is the place where the outer self rules and the inner self withers. Where outer beauty is prized and inner beauty ignored. Where peace has a pricetag and serenity a service charge. Hollywood is the embodiment of the ego-driven, materialistic, shallow, fleeting, soulless culture of greed and stupidity.

And yet, everywhere you look, there are all sorts of people trying to find some kind of spiritual peace. They may follow gurus or rabbis, join cults or take yoga classes, practice kabbalah or eat raw foods. They may go to church or stay home and meditate. They may take workshops or they make take vows. They may try to encourage others to join them or they may keep their beliefs private. In fact, for a town so seemingly devoid of spirituality, there sure are a lot of people trying to find some.

Maybe it is because of the pervading sense of emptiness here that so many people look for something to fill an inner need. And, while it's true that most of the paths available offer about as much inner truth as the latest romantic comedy/horror movie/reality show/pop star to hit the market, there are bound to be some true believers tossed into the mix. Even in Hollywood.

There is a place out near the end of Sunset Boulevard called the Lake Shrine that I must have passed a dozen times and took for another kooky California cult that somehow bilked its gullible members into building a glorious "temple" overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Probably only the select inner circle (i.e., movie stars and mega-donors) ever get the privilege of actually going inside. A couple of times I actually drove up to the gates to see if I could get a closer look, but they were always locked, of course.

But then my friend Cordell told me about this amazing place where he went with his Mom -- a beautiful garden surrounding a lake with colorful fish and white swans. There was a windmill and a waterfall and hundreds and hundreds of beautiful flowers. There was a lovely path around the lake with secluded spots to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. And up a flight of stairs was this crazy temple that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. And it's free to the public.

He showed me their site on the internet and sure enough it was the Lake Shrine. Well, I had to see this for myself. When my sister Cindy came out for a visit I took her out there. We drove up to the gates, but they were locked! What kind of crap is this anyway. Cindy suggested I call the phone number from the web page. I reached a very serene sounding woman who insisted that the gates were open. But I'm looking right at the gates and they're closed! She said "which gates?" What do you mean which gates? Her whole serenity act was really starting to bug me now. I was feeling anything but peaceful. "You must be at the upper gates." You mean there are other gates? Apparently there are.

After a few minutes of losing my cool and trying to make an illegal U-turn on a very winding section of Sunset Boulevard, we finally made it to the Lake Shrine. And it was beautiful. Serene. Tranquil. We wandered around for about an hour, taking pictures, feeding the swans, sitting under the trees. I was almost beginning to feel... peaceful. But it was getting kind of cold and we had to be somewhere so we left that oasis of oneness and headed back out onto the streets of Los Angeles.

Last week I got the chance to return to the Lake Shrine. This time I was with a woman whom I haven't seen in six years. Her name is Laura and she is the sister of my friend Ivana. The last time she was here, I got to spend about a week with her and it was one of the best weeks I can remember. But then she went home to Rome -- and I didn't even have a picture of her. I thought about going to Rome to visit her, but for some reason I never got around to it. I tend to put things off thinking there will always be time later -- but the next thing you know six years have gone by.

Well, this time I wanted to make sure that whatever time we spent together was very special. Even if we could only spend one day together, I wanted that day to be perfect. I thought Laura might appreciate the Lake Shrine. There is something about her that goes beyond words. We never have had any long conversations, since I speak about six words of Italian and she knows only so much English. But we seem to be able to communicate very well. I would let the Lake Shrine do most of the talking.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and bright with a cool breeze. Laura wore her Year of the Buzzard T-shirt. We strolled along the path, took pictures of the fish, sat on the bench and listened to the breeze blow through the trees. Laura is a photographer and she took about a hundred pictures. I brought my camera too. I could have taken a hundred pictures of her.

We went inside the Windmill Chapel and sat for a while. Perfectly still. Silent. I listened to the waterfall outside the window. The birds. The leaves in the wind. I felt happy. Peaceful.

I don't know how the Lake Shrine came into existence or how it sustains itself. I throw a couple of bucks into the donation box when I go there. I don't know if I will ever have a day like that again. I know that it wasn't just the Lake Shrine that made me feel that way. I didn't come to Hollywood to find inner peace. I may never find it again. But for one day, for a few moments, life was perfect.

I have plenty pictures to remember that day at the Lake Shrine. Pictures of flowers and swans and the Windmill Chapel. And a lot of pictures of Laura. But I have something better than pictures. I have the memory of a beautiful day with a beautiful woman -- and not just beautiful to look at. But truly beautiful, like a moment of shared silence on a perfect day in Paradise.



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