PARIS JOURNAL - Part 1
by Stuart Goodnick
A long day. We flew from San Francisco to Paris this morning. Arrived at ten. Mr. Lee [note: Lee Lozowick, founder and director of HOHM Community, Prescott, AZ] and a student of his, Michele, met us at the airport. All timing was perfect. He had arranged accommodations for us in an extra bedroom at the third floor apartment of the mother of a friend of his school. My first impressions of Paris began with tubes and tunnels. After we got off the plane, we went along a variety of escalators in the Charles de Gaulle Airport that featured humps and curves and fed through glass and plastic tubes.
After we met up with Mr. Lee and Michele, we hopped in a elevator, popped out into a parking garage, crammed into a motor car, and drove into the day. Sky sun clouds cars green wet buildings trees movement direction confusion signs cars cars. But every now and again a site comes into view. And then as we get closer to the center of town more and more fantastic structures come into view. We see Sacre Coeur, a bright white set of missile shaped cathedrals stationed on a distant hill, and glimpses of the Eiffel Tower tease me as freeway gives way to Rue.
Mr. Lee is driving. He is the center of so much to so many seekers. A modern day spiritual master for whom the sacred and the ordinary blend into one. All moments are about being. Today he is driving his friends around Paris. We have a day to kill before our rooms become available at 7pm. So where to start? We begin by looking for parking. We decide to stroll the park beneath the Eiffel Tower. But before we can do that we must park our car. We drive onto the Etoille and around LArc de Triumph. As I gawked at the arch, three vehicles nearly slammed into our side. Mr. Lee just chuckled lightly and calmly confers with Michele, back seated, who knows the city. Driving in the city of Paris is maddening: aggressive drivers, thin streets, no lanes, etc. Mr. Lee likened the French driving to the attitude, "Im here, so fuckin deal with it."
I was surprised that I never saw an accident, or a stop light for that matter, though I was assured that they are around. What impressed me most was Mr. Lees ability to drive, to carry on a conversation with Robert [note: Robert Daniel Ennis, founder and director of Tayu Meditation Center] in the front seat, and to catch soft spoken bits of directions from Michele sitting and watching in the back seat. Never once did he get upset, although once he did exclaim slightly as a large truck almost crushed us against a line of moving cars. But the insanity was all very relaxing. Robert, Rob [note: Rob Schmidt from Tayu Meditation Center], and I were all jet lagged so we certainly provided the requisite levels of stress. New impressions all around. There simply wasnt much time left over for inner considering.
We attempted to find parking a couple of times before settling on a "payant" street spot. We landed in the Trocadero near the Musee de lHomme. We walked out onto a large concrete and stone tiled promenade lined with statues of various classical figures. Peppering the promenade were vendors selling trinkets: little Eiffel Towers, busts of Napoleon, necklaces, wind-up flying plastic birds. The vendors seemed to represent ethnicities of all the major former French colonies. Most striking of all, of course, was the Eiffel Tower looming in the immediate distance. I recall once arguing with a school mate in the 4th grade about the reality of flying saucers. I was certain at the time that they did exist while my school mate was quite positive they did not. He argued along the lines that seeing was believing. I argued back that he had never seen the Eiffel Tower but he believed that it existed, etc. etc. We never resolved our argument , but the Eiffel Tower became for me a symbol of faith, knowledge, verification, and trust.
Here it was. Large, imposing, a lot of steel. We wound our way down to its base and I stood under it at the geometric middle to look up and see the vast mass supported above me. Mr. Lee noted that the first time he visited the Tower, he walked all the way up to the top. I longed to perform a similar feat of bravado, but the propriety of the moment precluded it. That urge did find refinement and resonance with inner considerings about whether I was being held back in my Work because of my current life situation. Fortunately I was able to let the bubble go and allow it to float away on the breeze carrying a wave a pigeons skyward.
Later in the day we made our way to the Cafe de le Paix where Gurdjieff liked to hang out. It sits across the street from the old Paris Opera House (Nationale Institute de Musique), and it has been in operation since 1850. We took a table on the street although we discussed that Gurdjieff would probably have taken a table inside which would be more conducive for intimate discussion. Our waiter was a stout, bald, French man wearing the pride of his culture, a black vest, and a white apron. I had a double espresso, Robert a tea, Mr. Lee a decaf espresso, Michelle a cappuccino, and Rob a mocha supreme. Gurdjieff sat here. Was it as stylized then. The place seemed a little gaudy for our tastes. Certainly expensive. Traffic whizzed by. We sat.
Mr. Lee comments on how he enjoys watching the flow. Our conversation turns to spiritual teachers and groups. We (primarily Mr. Lee and Robert) discuss Andrew Cohen, Arnaud Desjardin, students, relationships to the school, and the French spiritual student. The French are not as "New Age" jaded as the Americans. They still retain an innocent enthusiasm that many Americans have exchanged for a sort of "been there, done that" attitude. As we sat and watched the world expand and contract around us, I was reminded of a parable I had once written about a student talking to Mr. G. in a Paris cafe. My own observations from that afternoon may not have amounted to more than the scraps of paper the student held in the story, but my impressions from that moment still persist.
We discussed trying to get reseated inside to bring us closer to the Gurdjieff experience. The waiter would have none of it. He explained in animated French that there is a different bar tender inside, and that waiters cannot be expected to work in conditions where people are always moving between seats, etc. etc. etc. By this time in the day, our jet lag was acute, my nose was flowing freely from airline allergies, and we were becoming hungry. I suddenly realized what Work my ordinary self was enduring, and yet I felt acutely awake. I realized that this is Work. Exhausting the machine so that all that is left is being. Loud cars, honking and fuming, stuffy waiters, people crowding past each other like hive animals, sun, clouds, spring rain, and sitting. Sitting at two little round tables watching the world and my inner state go by.
Sitting with spiritual teachers at the Cafe de le Paix is the ultimate reminding factor. Being with my own teacher is practice enough because we know each other so well, but spending time with Mr. Lee is particularly stressful for my little self. When I am clear, I can simply be with him and that is that. If I consider, then I have started to feel like I need some sort of feedback from him to tell me how wonderful I am. And if I do not get this feedback, then my little self has started to worry what he thinks of me. I have wanted to be on my best behavior so he will think well of me, and yet he is one who doesnt think of me at all. No act I do will change who I am at this time. And it will certainly not change Mr. Lees impression. He does what is necessary in the moment. Telling me how wonderful I am is the wrong thing to do because that is food for the little self.
A teacher is very much like space itself. A teacher sees and permits all manifestations without judgment or comment. One simply exists in his or her presence. If the teacher is your teacher then they can interact with you in such a way that the little self will get upset and you have the opportunity to observe that. And what you observe is not the outer shell of response, the Android part, but the hiding, contracting, essential part. The part of me that wants to be told how wonderful I am obviously is masking my inner shyness cramp that thinks the world cannot like me. So I got to practice just being and not worrying about it. Sitting at the Café then was an exercise in being.
Robert and Mr. Lee talked more about teachers, students, our visit tomorrow to see a Sufi teacher. I talked a little, but I was mostly silent. I was silent sort of like one gets silent after smoking dope. Everything was accentuated, everything intense. I had little to say. The only voices that wanted out were ones that just had things to prove.
We eventually made our way to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. The food was good and they had hot peppers on the table. Over dinner we talked more about getting students and people at talks to hold on to the openings that they allow to be created. I related how at talks and workshops, people get opened up and it is as if a hole gets ripped into space and a cross-dimensional opening persists for a while. What people do not realize is that this rip becomes smaller with time and eventually disappears. You have to jump through while the gateway is open.
After dinner we made our way to our apartment for the night. We are in the study of a third floor apartment near the arch. Sleep was easy this first night.