Photos courtesy of Travis Ott.
Long Beach Meditation sits in a brick building painted stoney-beige, hidden in plain sight among a few leafy plants and sturdy palm trees. The exterior has the stern appearance of a ‘70s-era doctor’s or dentist’s office, with the exception of the words “Peace Builders” emblazoned on the outside, and the images of people holding up a puzzle of a globe.
Anchored within its four walls, visitors routinely use the space to venture to a place that is not grounded in the physical. In fact, the practices of the Long Beach Meditation Center seek to turn the focus of visitors inward, in a way that helps them deal with everyday challenges.
Visitors and practitioners of the mindfulness studied by the center swear by the routine of meditation as a way to become more in-tune with one’s thoughts and live a better life, regardless of religious affiliation or background.
“It really is about having a wholesome life,” Travis Ott, a yoga instructor and manager of the center for the past two years told the Post. “I think some people have this idea that meditation will space you out and take you away. But it actually makes you face reality.”
It was helping people cope with external realities that spurred the informal creation of Long Beach Meditation in 1992, at the behest of Dr. Victor Byrd, the center’s “Guiding Teacher” and resident psychotherapist, with a doctorate in clinical psychology and years of experience as a marriage and family therapist.
Byrd’s led a varied life, discovering Hatha Yoga and the intricacies of Buddhist thought, as well as an admiration for the approaches of Carl Jung to therapy and self-discovery after moving to New York City to work for a Broadway theatre workshop. His years of experience made the center’s foundational focus singular: meditating and focusing the mind on a single thought or object. What began as a handful of people learning and meditating in Byrd's living room has grown to include a community of people who travel from Orange County and the entire LA metropolitan area to exchange ideas and practice, making Long Beach Meditation one of the "oldest meditation centers in Southern California," according to its personnel.
The evolution and growth of the organization, which became a formal nonprofit, resulted in its housing on Atlantic Boulevard and an infusion of new ideas, like "mindfulness yoga."
“For a long time, were were just focused on mindfulness,” said Ott. “Now, we’re combining [meditation] with yoga.”
But doesn’t that seem like a logical union? Not necessarily, according to Ott.
“People think it would be a perfect fit, but it’s never been done before,” he said. “Mindfulness has a different aspect to it. You’re not necessarily married to an object. In yoga, the thinking is, ‘let go and come back to a blank mind through breath.’ In mindfulness, you can let distraction become [more than] a temporary object. You’re able to move the focus from one thing to another thing.”
Perhaps the mind is able to wander, but participants are placed in stationary positions, either lying down or sitting, on black mats in semicircular rows within the space.
Essentially, instead of relaxing into a “blank mind” mental state, one enters a new thought pattern with intensity and precision of the mind, something Ott says has helped him in interesting ways very recently, even though he practiced yoga frequently. He said meditating regularly helped him more efficiently support his family and approach life in a new way.
Through his practice, meditation, Ott has become more aware of any inner turmoil, which has translated into direct changes in his life, be it thought or behavioral patterns. He said he appreciates that mindful meditation makes him more aware of his actions, versus “monastic,” meditation, something many religious leaders have experimented with.
“You realize the reality of where you’re at in any given situation,” said Ott.
That's another thing: though the center is grounded in Buddhist teachings, Ott (and the website) seek to push religion aside. Ott emphasized meditation’s applications to any religion—"exploring without any 'faith-based'" connotations, as Ott says. The teachings of focus, intention and meditation are universal, according to Ott.
“There’s this delusion that we are separate and out for ourselves,” said Ott. “And everyone has an inbuilt nature. It’s about letting go of anger and greed. If it rains, it rains, if it’s sunny, it’s sunny.”
The center conducted an open house a few weeks ago at its current location—where it has sat for two years—to introduce more people to its purpose, especially for those curious but perhaps too intimidated to boldly enroll in a meditation course. The center just began its current Beginner’s Course on February 6, which will run through March 12. A new course will begin later, but in the meantime, numerous standalone classes, such as “Mindful Yoga” and “Sunday Sit” meet on a weekly or semi-weekly basis at the center.
The next event on Long Beach Meditation’s agenda is an all-day retreat, set for Saturday, March 19. Click here for details.
Long Beach Meditation is located at 741 Atlantic Avenue.