Om mani padme hum. Om mani padme hum.
I have no idea if they are into mantras at the Self-Realization Fellowship, an organization founded in 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda to “make available the universal teachings of Kriya Yoga, a sacred spiritual science originating millenniums ago in India,” but “om manie padme hum” seemed like an appropriate way to lead off a blog post about the gardens at the Encinitas Hermitage, Retreat & Gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship.
(That’s Encinitas California, which is between Carlsbad, California, the beaches of which I wrote about a couple of posts ago, and La Jolla, California. The relevance of La Jolla will become apparent in my next post. Encinitas is closer to Carlsbad than to La Jolla.)
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I did not attend a meditation retreat, or any other kind of retreat, at the center. I’m a naturally nervous person. Meditation doesn’t work for me. To quote a line from a Woody Allen movie (Annie Hall), “I don’t respond well to mellow. If I get too mellow I ripen and rot.”
In fact, I was a little nervous about visiting at all. I’m convinced that there are a great many problematic aspects of my life that I don’t even realize exist. I suspect they would be even more troubling to me than the myriad negative facets of my life that I do realize exist, hard though that may be to believe. Hence, self-realization is the last thing I’m after.
Fortunately, the gardens attached to the hermitage and retreat is free and open to the public during the day. And the Fellowship doesn’t demand self-realization as a price of entry. So, on the advice of a friend, I paid the gardens a visit.
The gardens are calming. You can stroll among lush vegetation surrounding a series of small koi ponds, linked with a babbling brook.
The koi are huge. Two people could make a nice meal of one of them, but I suspect the Self-Realization Fellowship would frown on that.
From the gardens, there’s a view of the Pacific Ocean from the top of a cliff that will take your breath away. Hopefully you’ll get your breath back within a few minutes because the alternative would be more deadly than relaxing. Despite my morbid fear of unenclosed heights, I was able to get close enough to the cliff to appreciate the vista, as you can see from the pictures.
OK. I didn’t get that close, but close enough for me.
There were a couple of people meditating in the gardens while I was there. One young woman was sitting immobile on a bench by a koi pond. At first, I thought she was a mannequin. Her face was serene and I didn’t see her move a muscle when I occasionally glanced at her during the couple of minutes I relaxed by the koi pond.
I then moved on, walked around the gardens for five or ten minutes, came back to the same koi pond, and the meditator was still there. As far as I could tell, her position hadn’t changed one iota. How do people do that? I get fidgety after about a second and a half, if that.
I wandered around a little while longer and then swung back by the same koi pond. She was gone. That’s the only reason I’m almost certain she wasn’t a mannequin. Then again, maybe the staff place and remove mannequins while visitors aren’t looking as a practical joke. You never know.
The other meditator I saw was a man sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean. A woman, whom I assume was his wife, sat beside him. She wasn’t meditating. Like the first meditator, he had a perfectly serene visage. His wife (or whomever she was), on the other hand, had a look on her face that seemed to say, “OK, are you done yet? I’m ready to get the hell out of here.”
Quietude. Or not.
The only thing that spoiled the serenity of the gardens was noise. There was construction going on in a lot across the street from the Self-Realization Fellowship property and trains frequently whistled along a track not far away.
Nonetheless, the gardens provided extremely peaceful surroundings. Despite my naturally nervous nature, I almost achieved a relaxed state for an instant. Not quite, but I was that close (he said, holding his thumb and forefinger a hair’s breadth apart).
The only thing missing, beyond quietness, that would have made it perfect was Wi-Fi.