Opera on a Saturday Morning

The Zen center of Los Angeles on a warm Saturday morning June of 1975.

I’d come down to ZCLA from my home in Highland Park to practice Zazen with the Sangha. Every available window was open to catch any air that might be stirring. This meant that any stray sound or smell was free to wander in as well; and they did.I was sitting close to a window that faces across a narrow driveway to an apartment building perhaps fifteen feet away. Directly across from me was a bedroom window, also open for the air.In that bedroom was a couple I have never met, and to this day I don’t know who they are or would I recognize them if I saw them. They were making love. By the sounds I heard, I’m guessing they were young, strong, healthy and in love. And opera singers by the uninhibited volume. He’s a baritone, she a contralto. Their duet is in that middle range where the human voice carries so clearly at full force. They had my full attention.In the cartoons I watched in the fifties, if one of the characters was eavesdropping, you would see their ear become a long trumpet shape to pick up any sound. Mine was like that. An auditory vacuum sucking any erotic crumb into my imagination. I didn’t feel any physical sensation, I was sitting still as a stone. What I experienced was the emotion I have felt having that physical experience. Totally absorbed, I think I was as close as I have ever come to complete samadhi. The sitting ended and we filed out to the back lawn for lunch. I was taught that desire absorbs my attention, and that desire comes in five main forms : food, sex, sleep, status and wealth. At lunch I turned to my friends around me and assuming they would know what I was referring to said “wasn’t that amazing?” Several rolled their eyes and without referring to the sounds agreed. But a couple who had also been close by said “yes all I could think of was how delicious the pizza smelled.”

I couldn’t think of anything else all morning. Doesn’t it taste great?” They were the food people….

by Larry Heliker

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