Eventbrite sent me a message last night offering me last minute entrance tickets to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Meditation Gardens, located in the West Adams District in the heart of Los Angeles. Intrigued by what this place is about, I decided to clear my schedule for a one-hour visit this afternoon.
A gentleman welcomed me to the religious headquarters of Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA) and the Peace Theological Seminary. After a little chit chat about how I learned about the headquarters, he proceeded to tell me what the organization was about: Soul Transcendence (becoming self-aware as a soul being and as one with Hu [God]. MSIA teachings draw primarily on the ministry of Christianity, while also including aspects of Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism and Sant Mat traditions. The goal of MSIA is to introduce its visitors to the members’ goals of inner peace and appreciation of every moment of life, staying grounded amidst whatever personal troubles we carry with us, “because ultimately we are soul beings.”
“Here’s an iPod containing meditation songs and short teachings of John-Roger [founder of MSIA] that you can use while you experience your meditation practice after your House Tour.”
A female docent soon met me outdoors wherein she led me into the former Villa of local winemaker Secundo Guasti, an Italian Renaissance Beaux Arts style mansion built in the early 1900s. Did you know that at one time, beginning in the 1850s, more than 35,000 acres of vineyards stretched throughout the east-west Cucamonga Valley (Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario and environs in Southern California) where more than five-dozen wineries thrived? That is why the interior of the former dining room of the Villa, now used as a meeting place for MSIA leaders, was ornately decorated in a way even Greek god Dionysus would find mesmerizing: the crown moulding and fireplace mantle wood carved in what seemed like abundant fall harvests and/or grape vines; wall murals depicting a woman carrying a basket full of fruit; two angels surrounded by scenes of nature and hints of foliage, etc. Elegant prosperity as conveyed in the style of Italian Renaissance is what I can describe as the theme of this beautiful dining room.
Miriam, my docent/tour guide, proceeded to tell me about the subsequent owners of the Villa, and their various remodeling and/or additions to the home changed over the years. Hollywood movie director and music choreographer, Busby Berkeley, who purchased the property in the 1930s, converted the bottom floor of the Villa into a dance studio and added more Art Deco elements to the interior of the main room (pendant lamps) and Marble carvings to the outdoors (white marble slabs carved with cherubs). After a change of ownership in the Fifties, wherein residence halls were added to the property, MSIA became the owners in 1974. The property is now used as MSIA’s headquarters and learning center. The former Guasti Villa was declared a Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument in 1990.
Looking back at my photos, I realized I was so drawn by what Miriam told me about the history of the Gausti Villa, that I took absolutely no photos of the Villa’s interior. Apologies, readers, for not doing so. If you’re curious about how the interior looks, please visit the Villa yourself by contacting MSIA directly, or conduct a quick online search to find photos of the Gausti Villa interior. I, myself, found Untold LA’s wonderful write up of homes located in the West Adams District and a photo that fully represents the glamour and upkeep of the Villa’s interior:
“Are you staying for lunch?” asked Miriam.
“We often invite visitors to our headquarters to the staff and student mid-day meal so that the visitor can fully take in the lifestyle of the followers of MSIA.” Unfortunately, it was already 12:40, and we haven’t even begun to tour the outdoor gardens. I also had to be back in Santa Monica by 1:30, so I declined her invitation to join her and the rest of the staff for an organic vegetarian lunch.
“Everyone is in such a hurry, and this rush contributes to the day-to-day challenges. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“I’m sorry, I had no idea the grounds were so expansive and there was so much to see and learn about Peace Awareness.” In retrospect, one hour was not enough to fully explore and experience this “Spiritual Oasis in the City.” Miriam indicated that it would take at least a good three-to-four hours to appreciate what the grounds had to offer.
“And you haven’t even seen the Labyrinth and Meditation Gardens yet!”
In 2002 the Labyrinth and Meditation Gardens were added to MSIA’s headquarters and the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens became open to the public. Modeled after the same pattern design as the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth in France (1214), the MSIA’s Labyrinth is made of hand-cut and hand-laid travertine marble. At almost 40 feet across, the Labyrinth path stretches to about one third of a mile.
More information on how to walk the Labyrinth path can be found here. Miriam told me that many of the visitors feel transformed after they “walk the walk.” There is something to this in that walking the Labyrinth path definitely takes a lot of concentration and dedication in being in the Now, being mindful of every step you take so as to not cross the dark gray borders, all while taking in what crosses your mind or feelings of your heart during your walk. Sometimes people come here finding confirmation to answers they already know. Others come here to quiet their minds. Most come here to experience the quiet solitude, so as to become one with “Hu” (Sanskrit for “God).
As it was already approaching 12:50, Miriam began her closing of my tour of the property by leading me to the Meditation Garden, also known as the Spring Gardens.
The Meditation Garden comprises of three terrace-styled levels of organic foliage and shrubbery, the corners of which have quiet seating areas for people to pause and reflect whenever they feel the need to do so. Various water features — a Zen-like waterfall, a bubbling brook, a few water fountains and a Koi pond — add to the sensory experience of the Meditation Garden, both in visual beauty and auditory pleasure.
We began our goodbyes by talking about general life goals and our personal experiences in “finding ourselves.” Our conversation reminded me that nothing is ever permanent, that who I was four years ago is not who I am today, and that once I realize that the only constant in our lives is change itself, I may be able to truly grasp what I am truly in search of. Miriam was kind enough to share her own personal experiences about her many reiterations of her professional careers, ending by the reasons why she volunteers as a docent tour guide, all while holding a full-time job as a Career Coach. The MSIA helped her see that her outlook on life required inner peace. She also hoped that by coming to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens today, I may one day find peace and serenity as I walk my own path in the Real World.
“Why don’t you enjoy one of the three levels of the Meditation Garden? Or at least walk the Labyrinth for a minute to experience its healing powers?”
After she bid her farewell, I quickly strolled through the Meditation Garden’s figure 8 path on the bottom terrace. It was then that I remembered the iPod that Juan, the gentleman who first welcomed me to the grounds, lent me. I played the first meditation MP3 on the unit, John-Roger’s sermon on Forgiveness and began my walk. I noticed the convergence of the paths, a crossroads of sorts, when the recorded words on the sermon, something about hurtful words having no meaning until one personalizes them as attacks and give them meaning, that really resonated with me.
Boo, I quickly realize that 1:00 is fast approaching, so I had to end my listen to the words of John-Roger so that I can devote some time walking through the Labyrinth Path before I hop onto the 10 Freeway to reach Santa Monica by 1:30.
Oh, but first I need to take these steps to return to the upper garden levels.
Just like the Real World, it isn’t always easy to get to your destination.
Just go with the flow.
Finally, I reach the Labyrinth Garden and experienced the Labyrinth Walk for a short while:
The takeaway from my interaction with MSIA and the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens is that sometimes it takes personal quiet time and reflection to recharge one’s self. To quiet the mind and to find peace in the here and now will help me avoid reacting to the day-to-day, often feeling overburdened and stressed by the day’s end.
Once I was reminded that everything always change, I know that I can only do the best I can to the best of my ability. I calmly repeated that to myself as I drove from West Adams District to Santa Monica. Guess what? I surprisingly took a 25 minute drive in 15 minutes and safely arrived at my destination on time.
Thank you, Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens, for grounding me, even for a short while. You have reminded me that being kind to myself can be as simple as having five-to-ten minutes of quiet solitude.
Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens
3500 West Adams Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90018
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