Lash of the sea, Alan Lau, 1992, sumi ink on rice paper. Photo by Chris Eden, Courtesy of Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle.
Lash of the sea, Alan Lau, 1992, sumi ink on rice paper. Photo by Chris Eden, Courtesy of Francine Seders Gallery, Seattle.

Last year, on a whim, I went to fabled Malibu to an afternoon meditation retreat held by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher and monk. I was skeptical, even cynical. I told my friend Jandro, who was driving a Toyota: let me count the number of BMWs and Volvos in the parking lot and I will tell you the composition of the audience.

We were not the first in the dusty parking lot. Predictably, a convoy of pastel colored BMWs, Mazda Miatas, and other automobile imports had preceded us. Couples were walking ahead. They were white mainly, with a few mixed white/Asian couples—average age, thirty-eight. The men were either blonde Nordic types, Jewish lawyers, doctors, or movie professionals: longsleeved white cotton or taupe linen shirts rolled back to the elbows, thin expensive watches, tan slacks, and Birkenstock sandals. The Asian American females—Japanese and Chinese—were lean and toned with shiny black hair cascading over their gauzy Indian tunics and tight body leggings. No obvious makeup over their glowing New Age complexions. The half-dozen African Americans that attended were usually black males with their white female companions.

Jandro and I ran into Pama, a Thai friend of mine. She was carrying a multi-colored triangular Thai floor pillow. The three of us made our way to the grassy knoll and placed down our blankets, pillows, and jackets. Clusters of people around us were already munching on granola bars or swilling bottled water. Many were wearing crystal malas or sandalwood rosaries around their necks along with healing gems of amethyst, rutilated quartz or topaz dangling on black leather cords.

We had entirely forgotten about preparing food although we had bought a large bag of barbecued potato chips, carbonated drinks and hot dogs at a roadside stand. As we opened our paper bags the people around us began to stare out of curiosity or disdain. Others had brought wholesome vegetarian dishes in plastic containers—tofu and grains in assorted forms, cut apples and carrots, and fruit drinks.

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