Sunday, May 23rd, 2004
I left the Living Lighthouse in Santa Monica this morning and drove north on highway 5 to the San Francisco Bay Area. I arrived in San Francisco at sunset. I found the Noe Valley Ministry at 1021 Sanchez Street, and called Ramon Sender, their business manager and my generous host. He gave me the direction to his house, which was only a few blocks away. He instructed me to try to find a parking space that was not going to get street swept the next day. I cruised around the neighborhood and could only find a space that would be swept the next morning, but it was only a block from his house. I figured I would get up in time and move the van after rush hour and before street sweeping. Ramon and Judy, his wife, were putting me up so I brought in my suitcase and laptop, and left the camera bag outside in the van as simply too much to carry.
Monday, May 24th, 2004
I got up before dawn and meditated for a few hours then I got to work on email and listserv management, then 15 minutes before street sweeping I walked the half-block to move the van. There were by then plenty of places to park since so many had gone off to work. When I walked to where I had parked the van I found only an empty space. I checked the time and found I was still a little early, but I assumed that my watch must have been off and the city towed my van. I walked back to Ramon’s and used their phone to call the police to find out where I could retrieve the van.
The police dispatcher said, “We don’t tow for street sweeping, we just ticket, so your van is probably stolen.”
I could not imagine that anyone would steel my 18 year old and rolled once van. But, I gave the woman the information on the van and she sent out a police officer to take a report.
Fifteen minutes after hanging up with the police dispatcher there was a female police officer knocking at the door. I let her in and she took the information again on the van.
As she was leaving she said, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your vehicle back. Someone just probably took it for a joy ride. In a couple of days it will show up.”
Ramon apologized profusely for the misbehavior of one of his neighbors. He offered me the use of his car to drive around the neighborhood to see if I could find the van. I refused to have any anxiety over the loss of the van, but I accepted his kind offer and drove around Noe Valley, then I worked my way down to the Warf and the factory district, where I thought it would be likely to be abandoned. In the factory district along the Warf I saw quite a few old vans, busses and RVs that people were living in. The area looked very post-apocalyptic with abandoned and stripped vehicles burned out and abandoned buildings everywhere.
After a few hours of driving around I did not find the van. Still not wanting to entertain any anxiety I just got back to work on the business of building a western vehicle of Buddhism and providing support for ecstatic contemplatives.
At 5:30 PM Ramon, Judy and I walked over to the Noe Valley Pizza Restaurant, at 24th Street and Sanchez, for a pizza supper. The restaurant was only one block away from the Ministry, so it was convenient for a casual pre-lecture gathering.
About 6 people came for the pizza dinner and we had a pleasant conversation. At 7:00 PM we all walked up the hill a block to the Noe Valley Ministry, where the lecture on Ecstatic Buddhism was to be held. About 25 people came to the lecture and I talked for about 1 1/2 hours and answered questions afterwards. At the lecture I met Elliott Isenberg, a Noe Valley neighborhood psychologist, and a practitioner of Vipassana Meditation.
Tuesday, May 25th, 2004
I again borrowed Ramon’s car and drove around some more to see if I could find the van, but without success. Ramon had arranged some interviews for me, so I returned at noon for them. Later Elliott Isenberg called and asked if he could come by Ramon’s that evening for us to talk.
Elliott came by Ramon’s after dinner. He, Ramon and I talked for a number of hours about meditation and the attainments. In the course of conversation Ramon reported that he had been experimenting with meditation gadgets, so I asked him to get them out for us to see them. Elliott became our model for demonstrating them. As Elliott was leaving he invited me to go to a lecture by Adiashante that was going to be held in the southern peninsula the next evening. Adiashante is a neoAdvaitan, and Elliott wanted my opinion of his teaching.
I said, “I have already sat in on one of his lectures in Tucson, but I would be happy to join you and listen to another of his dhamma talks.”
Wednesday, May 26th, 2004
There was still no report on the van, and I had given up on driving all over the city looking for it. I found I was still free of anxiety over the loss. I had more interviews from contemplatives and I otherwise occupied myself with GWV work for the day. Ramon sent out a plea for help to the web to help me purchase another vehicle, if the old one did not show up.
Elliott came by around 5 PM and picked me up. We drove south not far from Palo Alto, where we saw Adiashante give a lecture at a small church. About 50 people came to his event. Adiashante claims to have been a Zen practitioner for a few years before becoming “enlightened.” I was a bit surprised to find his lecture did not reflect any understanding of Buddhism at all. He mostly spoke from a neoAdvaitan perspective of “just stop thinking and become enlightened.”
I thought his point of view was rather naïve, but at least he supported the practice of meditation, which is unusual for the neoAdvaitans, who dismiss meditation practice outright on the grounds that it is “striving” and thus fundamentally ego building. While I agree that people most certainly build massive ego structures around their religious beliefs, but to just say “no” to thinking is like Nancy Regan telling the 100s of thousands of drug addicts of this nation to “Just say, ‘No’” to their addictions all the while her husband is financing his central American wars by covertly smuggling cocaine, which was exposed in the Iran-Contra controversy.
Thursday, May 27th, 2004
I received a call from the police at 10 AM telling me they had located the van. They gave me the address where to find it and Ramon drove me there. It turned out the van was literally no more than a few blocks away, but it was tucked away on a cul-de-sac that even Ramon, who had lived in that neighborhood for decades, did not even know existed.
We found the van parked at the end of the street with its contents pulled out onto the hillside. There was a police officer there, who took my ID and allowed me to reorganize the van and drive it back to Ramon’s house. In the reorganizing of the van I found the only thing missing was the black camera bag with a Nikon 8008 and two lenses and misc. photographic equipment in it.
With the return of the van I made plans to leave Friday morning with my daughter to go camping in the Inyo National forest. Since we would not be leaving for 2 days, Ramon found a neighbor, Margaret, to kindly put me up in a spare room in her basement for a few days.
That evening Elliot invited me to meditate at his office. I walked the 2 blocks to his office after his last client for the day had left. We sat in his office and meditated for about an hour. One of the “tricks” for jhana is learning to sit in meditation for over an hour. While Elliot had sat a number of long retreats in Asia, he had not kept up his practice, so his meditation “muscles” had grown flaccid. He wanted my company to inspire him to sit longer and to even find some ecstatic contemplation (jhana).
Friday, May 28th, 2004
I spent the day finishing up on web work in preparation for camping. Elliot invited me to meditate with him once again this evening.
"What Is Ecstatic Buddhism?" a free public lecture Monday, May 24th at:
Noe Valley Ministry
1021 Sanchez Street
San Francisco, CA
Ramon Sender, firstname.lastname@example.org
A no-host pizza supper with Jeff at Noe Valley Pizza Restaurant, NE corner of Sanchez at 24 Street.
Jhanasamyutta (SN 9.53)
"Bhikkhus, just as the River Ganges slants, slopes and inclines toward the East, so too a bhikkhu who develops and cultivates the four absorptions (jhanas) slants, slopes, and inclines toward nibbana." (Samyutta Nikaya trans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)