Laura Brickman and Leonard Cohen, 2015.
Leonard Cohen was a hero to me before I met him, a chance encounter. I think of it as one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I was walking down the street in Los Angeles, I think one of his songs was even echoing in my head. Suddenly there he was, like some kind of divine messenger, drinking a coffee from a paper cup and dressed in a three-piece suit.
For no particular reason, he asked me to join him. We talked for hours. He spoke about God and beauty and sadness and poetry and faith. He told me that his body was hurting but that his mind was free, that he'd found freedom through the deepest acceptance. He seemed like a saint, whose message we deeply need at this moment.
Like many people, I became interested in Leonard Cohen’s music during a period of deep spiritual seeking, and connected with the nearly mystical suffering his songs allude to. The narrative of his life, in which he parlayed suffering into great art, gave me hope. I believed I too, could apply his discipline and faith to transcend the mundane.
I met Cohen in the summer of 2015, when I was working at the David Lynch Foundation, where a group of slightly spaced out, bright-eyed caffeine renunciates taught Transcendental Meditation to students and veterans. I’d often leave the office for circuitous coffee runs, and wandered into a Starbucks on Wilshire Boulevard. When I saw him sitting at a table with a younger man, I approached and tried to express to Cohen what his work meant to me. He was as kind as could be, introduced me to the man he was with, his son, who then offered to take a picture of the two of us.
Only a few days later I saw him again, this time outside of a Coffee Bean down the block. He was still wearing a suit and this time he was alone. “Hi Leonard,” I said. He greeted me with a warm smile and asked if I would like to join him.
He asked me questions with sincere interest, mostly about relationships and love. He asked me what was most important to me, and I said meaning.
“Having children is the greatest and most meaningful challenge in life,” he told me.
If another person had said that, I’m sure my modern sensibilities would have been put off. But then, so much of him seemed to come from another time.
Cohen told me stories about his time at Mt. Baldy, where Zen is practiced in the austere, controlled way of the tradition. He told me his spiritual striving had led to a simple conclusion: once we understand the Self to be a fluid concept, the “I,” whose emotions we take so seriously, begins to give way to a more expansive identity.
“I don’t feel emotional pain now, it’s only my body that suffers,” he told me.
Free from the body now too, I believe he must be at peace.
Laura Brickman is a freelance journalist in New York City. Contact her at email@example.com