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Self-Realization Fellowship: Sanctuary For a Bustling Holiday

The Self-Realization Fellowship offers the author sanctuary when the college students come to town.

Christmas is over.  Out-of-town family members have gone home.  Work has resumed.  Now, the out-of-town college roommates, housemates, friends, acquaintances, didn’t-I-pass-you-in-the-hall-last-semester semi-strangers are arriving in droves.

Really, who could blame them?  We’re having typically perfect SoCal January weather.   You can take the Gold Line Downtown and ice skate in shorts.  You can go to the beach in a top-down convertible.  You can hike Seaview Lane or Angeles Crest in Converse sneakers instead of with ice-gripping crampons.

There is always the elusive prospect of seeing celebrities. Even if they act blasé, college students really want to go back to their wintry campuses and mention in a weary tone that they saw Ashton Kutcher and he was/wasn’t as good-looking in person as he is on television.

Then, of course, there is the appeal of those spare beds and couches with clean sheets, the bathrooms with their collections of fluffy towels and fancy hotel mini-shampoos and the pantries stocked with provisions beyond Top Ramen, Cocoa Puffs and Ranch-flavored Doritos.

There are also, of course, the invitations to dinner; the vacationing visitors arrive with regularity at 6:00 p.m. to drop off/pick up keys/cameras and/or cars.  We’re always happy to have the college kids join us for a meal even though young adult appetites require us to perform food wizardry that rivals the conjured-up feasts at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

Let’s just say that buttered toast is our mealtime friend.

With all of the hustle and bustle, the to-ing and fro-ing and the intense planning sessions about whether to go roller-skating in Venice before or after the La Brea tar pits, it seemed the perfect time for me to visit the for a little solitude and sanctuary.

The stroll up the Hill is a meditation in and of itself.  It’s interesting to see who is taking down their Christmas lights and who is waiting until the Epiphany--which commemorates the arrival of the Three Wise Guys, as my little goddaughter used to call them--at the manger.

I enviously note the branches full of lemons up and down the block; my own little backyard lime tree is as barren as Charlie Brown’s Christmas fir. Or was it a spruce? 

I have a couple of favorite contemplative spots along the Mount Washington Drive guardrail.  One spot offers the iconic view of Downtown skyscrapers; the perfect juxtaposition of urban and Hill.  The second looks south toward Los Angeles County Hospital, which glows pink in the late afternoon light.

I love these reminders that Mount Washington is separate from, but still part of, the greater Los Angeles metropolis.

Once in the Self-Realization Fellowship gate I stop at the little Visitor Center, which is bright and fragrant with the smell of incense.  The lovely lady at the Center gives me a map of the grounds, although the site of the former Mount Washington Hotel--where Paramahansa Yogananda lived and worked for more than twenty years--isn’t really big enough to get lost.

The lawn where goblins and gremlins and their parents gather at the Self-Realization Fellowship's annual Halloween festival is green and empty, its perimeter dotted with benches.  Across from the lawn, a tree that I can’t identify is swathed in a white, plastic tent next to the wishing well, which is housed in a little gazebo with blue tiles.  Nuns stroll along the road in pairs.

Paths lead to the waterfall and to the Temple of Leaves--benches surrounding a beautiful, old pepper tree where, according to a Visitor Center pamphlet, Paramahansa Yogananda often gave classes.  One of my favorite spots is a Flintstone-esque table with high-backed stone chairs under the evergreens.  It looks like trolls would gather there for their afternoon monster tea.

It’s all very far away from nightclubs and cell phones and college student chatter.

I sit and breathe deeply and listen to the waterfall and then wander back along the former tennis court to check out the sundial and the view beyond it, which is a higher view of my favorite Downtown vista, now bisected by a silver streak of cloud.  It looks like a pink and gold and gray version of the Emerald City as it rises up over the slope beyond.

I’m glad the college students are seeing the city I love at its best.

Even though I have to squint at the sundial because of the bright sun, I know what time it is.

It's time to go home and make toast for dinner when the college students come to call.

Connie Rohman January 06, 2012 at 06:57 PM
We are so lucky to have the Self Realization Fellowship as neighbors up on the hill. It's a beautiful contemplative spot.
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson January 06, 2012 at 08:02 PM
I agree, Connie. Thank you to all the members of the Self-Realization Fellowship.
Jennifer Lavoro January 06, 2012 at 09:37 PM
I enjoyed reading this! I pass by the Self-Realization Fellowship often while hiking around the area. Once I ventured into the Visitor Center gazebo and picked up some information out of curiosity, but I didn't realize you could wander around on the grounds. I will definitely explore next time I'm up there...thanks for sharing your story!
Kim Axelrod Ohanneson January 06, 2012 at 11:17 PM
What a treat you have ahead of you, Jennifer! The members of the Self-Realization Fellowship have preserved a wonderful oasis on top of Mount Washington. It's hard to believe it's in the middle of the city. Thanks for reading!

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