Every Thursday at lunchtime at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, several dozen people turn off their cellphones and take seats in the bright pink chairs of the Billy Wilder Theater.
They come to spend half an hour with Diana Winston, a former Buddhist nun and one of the nation's best-known teachers of mindfulness meditation. The lights go down, and Winston takes a seat in an office chair and speaks quietly into a microphone.
Occasionally she is accompanied by Michael Perricone playing about 20 Tibetan bells, the haunting, wave-like sounds enhancing her voice, which is so soothing it's as if she were born to the work.
She starts by asking people to notice their breathing as they work toward "paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity and a willingness to be with what is."
It is the past and the future that harbor stress, she says. "Learn to come back to the present moment to a place of ease and well being," intones Winston, the director of mindfulness education at UCLA's Mindful Awareness Research Center, not far from the Hammer (www.marc.ucla.edu).
The museum group, free and open to anyone, has been meeting for three years. Hammer staff members come frequently. It's one of several mindfulness drop-in sessions offered in various locations around Los Angeles.
Another mindfulness training group, InsightLA, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Among those it teaches are the caregivers of terminally ill patients at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
Trudy Goodman, InsightLA's founder, described mindfulness as "paying attention with acceptance. It's not resignation or passivity. It means that quality of understanding with compassion."
Winston has been practicing mindfulness meditation for more than 20 years, and when she began it was fairly unknown in this country. But today secular mindfulness meditation is taught to executives, war veterans and schoolchildren; it is used in prisons and hospitals, and is written about in women's magazines.
Given the pace of the world and the torrent of information we face each day, the need for meditation is no surprise. As people practice it and begin to incorporate it into their lives, their reactions to the world around them change, she says.
As an example, Winston points to herself. The mother of a 3-year-old, her practice has made her more patient. "And I really show up for her. I'm a working mother, but when I am there, my whole mind and body are with her."