Jaci Stephen: 'As I set off to the book store, I was optimistic about finding Buddhism'

Way Out West
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The Independent Online

It's a thin line between Buddhism and being a serial killer: that's what I've so far learned in my quest for the spiritual enlightenment that everyone is seeking here.

As someone who believes everything she reads and instantly puts into practice, I was optimistic about my chances of success as I set off for my local Borders bookstore, in search of a calmer life.

After all, I bought Alan Carr's Easy Way to Stop Drinking, and stopped drinking. I bought Blake Snyder's screenwriting book Save the Cat! and came to Hollywood to put it into practice. I don't do things by halves, so try to avoid sections of bookstores with titles like Bonsai for Beginners, as I really don't want to spend the next 10 years fiddling about with small trees in my kitchen sink.

But I'd always rather fancied being a Buddhist. Any religion that had you sitting down with your eyes closed for most of the time had to be better than singing "Bread of Heaven" in a Welsh chapel.

Although I drank my "Calming" Yogi tea in advance, it stressed me out a bit, because no sooner had I started walking than I needed a toilet. I had also taken my calming Kava Kava pills, which have replaced two bottles of wine as a means of soothing my nerves, and despite feeling them regurgitating in my chest, I kept thinking about the good they were doing me and just breathed deeply: calm, calm.

Then I arrived at the store and wanted to knock the head off the small child who was screaming for sweets in the restroom. But calm, calm, I said, as I headed towards the spiritual/new age religion section. I chose about 20 books that were to be the foundation of the new me, and was already feeling very smug in my new skin.

Two hours later, I took them to the cash register, deposited them and asked the assistant to keep an eye on them while I went to the restroom again (note to self: drink less tea). He assured me he would and that I could pay on my return.

So, ablutions once again completed, I returned to discover that my two hours' worth of research was all back on the shelves. "Where are my books?" I squealed. No, if I'm honest, I screamed. Louder than the child. "Oh for goodness sake you turn your back for one minute and your life's ruined and if I wanted this kind of incompetency I'd have stayed in Britain and whatever happened to customer service and look at the time . . ." Calm, calm.

Two hours more again, I had pretty much recouped my selection and re-grouped emotionally. I returned home, sweaty, with, I am sure, high blood pressure, and set about reading Buddhism for Dummies.

The little I knew about Buddhism, I liked, although, with my new 7 stone 5 lb frame (yes, more loss – and please stop asking whether I have anorexia; no, I don't), thought the weight thing might be an issue. You know: did I have to turn into an overweight, squat bloke in order to meditate?

But I instantly took to my new philosophical path and was on the floor, crossing my legs, before you could sing Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon.

By lunchtime, I had Buddhism sorted. Off I went to the bank, the calmest I had been in weeks.

Now, despite the efficient service almost everywhere in LA, the one thing my bank has difficulty with is the transfer of money to Europe. Had I asked my guy to pilot the next space shuttle, he could not have looked more terrified, nor been slower at working out the logistics. I wasn't so much tapping my fingers as running them through my pockets in search of a handy weapon that might speed things along.

One fundamental of Buddhism is that pain and suffering are caused through our attachment to permanence, and that when we stop pursuing it, we will be happier. Try explaining that to a bank clerk when his finger is permanently stuck on the conversion key on his computer.

No longer able to stand it, I did what any self-respecting citizen would do and put into action what I had learned from watching US telly. By now, I am sure the LAPD will have got there in time to untie everyone in time for the weekend. Me, I'll be reading The Krays' biography.

To read Jaci Stephen's blog LA Not So Confidential, go to: lanotsoconfidential.blogspot.com