For months, I've been hiking a lot more, and a lot longer, than I did before. It all started when I became unemployed, and suddenly had more time to enjoy the great outdoors. I used the time on the trail to practice a simple meditation. I kept asking myself the same question, over and over: "Am I here?" It is a gentle way to snap myself out of obsession with what is on my mind, and be more fully present and aware of the beauty that surrounds me. Am I here, really here? Not lost in thought about what I'm going to do next, or what I want to do next, or where I next want to be. Am I here, fully aware that my feet are on the dirt and my gaze is on the mountains and trees?
This week, my five-month period of unemployment came to an abrupt end. I started on Monday as the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. Instead of taking long walks in the woods of Marin County in between using the computer and telephone to search for a job, I'm living and working in the heart of America's biggest city. Each day I ride a bus to the Metro, take the subway to Macarthur Park station, and from there hop on another bus to USC. So far, on that bus, I'm the only white person aboard.
I love my job. My boss, Varun Soni, is also new to his job as Dean of Religious Life. He's a very bright young Hindu lawyer who is getting his PhD in religion with a thesis on the spirituality of Bob Marley's music. Needless to say, he and I have hit it off very well and are having a great time scheming and dreaming together. Sherry and Tim, the support staff in our office, are wonderful people, and we're already off to a great start as a new team. Together, we create and coordinate interfaith events and programs for a campus community of 33,500 undergraduate and graduate students. We're scrambling to assemble our plans for the rapidly-approaching school year. My wife, Roberta, is up north in Marin County settling our affairs so we can get our own place here in LA, while I stay with my stepdaughter and her family in Hollywood. It's an intense time for us.
The traumatic part of it, for me, is that I've moved from Marin County, which abounds with gorgeous open space, to Los Angeles, which lacks it. So each evening, after some time playing with our 2-year-old granddaughter, Rumi, I seek out what there is to find. I take a sunset hike up Beachwood Canyon, a densely-populated street that ends at a dirt road leading into the 5-square-mile Griffith Park. It's an island of natural landscape surrounded by the vast metropolis. I hike up the dirt road to a turn that affords a panorama of the top of the park's ridgeline. I stand there for a while and listen to the coyotes yipping across the canyon. And I thank God for them! Because I know that their crazy howling can bring sanity to a new city-slicker like myself, whose head is abuzz with all that comes with a new job.
The coyotes are yelping the human equivalent of the words "I am here!" "I am here!" They remind me to ask again: am I here? Am I paying attention? When I am on the bus, am I here? When I am working in my office, am I here? When I am on the dirt trail gazing at the chaparral in Griffith Park, am I here?
I praise the Lord for the coyotes of Hollywood. "Ow oooooh! Yip yip yip!" They let me know they are here. I'm working on being here, too -- body and soul.
PS: Thanks to so many of you, dear "Musings" readers, who have been so supportive and helpful in my job search!! I am really grateful to you .... and hope I can "pay forward" to others who are between jobs.