Well, today started off like any other day.  I woke up and had to figure out what I was going to do for my personal challenge.  I went to the Pasadena Weekly website and found my activities for the day.  Yep, that is plural.  I decided to end 2012 (a rather difficult year) with two new adventures.

The first adventure brought me to one of my favorite places in Los Angeles, The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.  January 2013 will mark the second anniversary of my membership at the Huntington, my sanctuary.  You can never get sick of a place like the Huntington because there is always something new going on.  Right now, there is a “Viewing Stones” exhibit that is only open for a limited time (the last day is January 2nd).  There are viewing stones that are always on exhibit up by the Japanese Garden but the Viewing Stones show that is presented by the California Aiseki Kai is by limited engagement.  This is the 23rd annual show featuring numerous examples of Suiseki (landscape stones) and other viewing stones, an Asian “found” art that dates back for centuries.

The exhibit is at the Friends’ Hall, right next to the ticket booth at the entrance to The Huntington.  When you first walk in, there are a few examples of viewing stones and poster boards telling the story of what makes a viewing stone.  Viewing stones are considered “found art,” untouched and “inspire their audience to think and question.”  The stone could evoke a feeling or emotion and is often used in meditation practices.  (aka Zen Rock Gardens).  The Suiseki stones on display are meant to look like landscapes or landscape scenes.  There were rocks that looked like distant mountains, some with a waterfall cascading down the middle.  Others had markings that looked like a field of flowers and one of my favorites looked like the celestial heavens seen in the night sky.  There were even stones that looked like an animal, usually a bear or a dragon.  They definitely spark the imagination, reminding me of my times as a kid (and as an adult) when my mother and I would look for shapes or scenes in the clouds.

If viewing stones peak your interest, it turns out that there are groups of people who go out together, hunting for viewing stones.  The exhibit at the Huntington is presented by one such organization, the California Aiseki Kai.  They go out to the rivers, deserts and mountain areas looking for special rocks that spark their imagination.  They may not all travel together but they do have meetings where they can gather and share their findings.  I think I might just have to go to one of their meetings and learn more.  I loved searching for Petoskey stones in the Great Lakes so what an adventure it would be to find “viewing stones” in the many different terrains that make up the great state of California.

Ironically, the Viewing Stones wound up tying in with my next New Year’s Eve adventure, “Silence and Celebration: A New Year’s Eve Retreat (and party)” at the Shambhala Meditation Center of Los Angeles.  I have read about the different meditations and classes offered through the center but never had the chance to go.  This seemed like the perfect introduction and the perfect way to start off the New Year.

When I arrived, I was greeted and presented a one-on-one tutorial of the Shambhala Meditation practices.  They walked me through the techniques and explained how their meditation sessions work.  Once I was ready, they led me into the shrine room where I was able to begin my meditation session with the rest of the participants, ranging from experts to first-timers like me.  During the hour-long meditation session, they broke up the time with sitting meditations and walking meditations.  It was very different from the Sahaja Meditation session that I had tried back in September.  There was no instructor talking you through every part of the session.  There was no music playing.  You didn’t even close your eyes.  You sat there, looking down about 2 to 3 feet in front of you and focused on your breathing.  You weren’t trying to move the negative energy out of your body, you were just learning how to “focus.”  I did notice that my mind stopped racing the more I focused on my breathing until eventually the only thoughts in my head were “Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.”  I wasn’t thinking about my to-do lists or hurt feelings or even the loneliness.  I was just thinking about my breathing until the gong sounded and we were told to move onto walking meditation.  Again, just like the sitting meditation, I found myself only thinking about the task at hand.  “Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot.”  I was pretty proud of myself for getting away from my “oh look, a chicken” moments and staying focused.

After the end of the first meditation session, they played “Creating Enlightened Society,” a DVD of a talk given by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  Sakyong Mipham Rinopoche is the current leader of Shambhala and is introducing the Shambhala teachings of basic goodness and self-reflecting to help create an enlightened society.

I am the kind of person who looks to the Dalai Lama as my Yoda and I love listening to his talks.  I didn’t think I would ever enjoy listening to any other Lama but this DVD changed my mind.  I loved listening to Sakyong Mipham and couldn’t wait to hear or read more of his thoughts.  While watching “Creating Enlightened Society,” I instantly thought, I want the podcast of this talk so I can listen to it over and over again.  I even started to think of friends and family who could benefit from his wisdom and ideas.  Oh, I have found my Obi Wan Kenobi.  (Sorry, I am a Star Wars geek).  I have already started downloading podcasts on itunes.

After the DVD, we went into the second session of meditation.  I was doing really well at the beginning but towards the end, I was losing my focus.  My foot was falling asleep, there was a spider on the wall, I had to pee, and other thoughts interrupted my meditation.  I am still a beginner so I am proud that I made it through the first 45 minutes of the second meditation.  But there was no way I would last through the final two-hour session after the second screening of “Creating Enlightened Society.”  I left at the beginning of the dinner but took plenty of information.  I definitely plan on going back, perhaps this Thursday for the Intro session.  Yep, I have definitely found my Jedi Academy.

But overall, I think this was a good way to end 2012.  Even though I am alone and not out partying the night away, I am content.  I am so ready for 2012 to end.  I am beyond ready for a new beginning and since 13 is my lucky number, I think 2013 is going to be an amazing year!!!

Happy New Year!!!!