09/25/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Stark Contrasts In Denver On Eve Of DNC

The extremes of fear and hope unveiled themselves in Denver today on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

Passing through downtown Denver this evening, I saw on foot patrol squads of dark-clad police in riot gear. Wearing brand new dark blue uniforms the squads walked in tight groups of six. From their gun belts hung bundles of plastic handcuffs beside their visored helmets. From their hands extended long black clubs, perhaps three feet in length, swinging at their sides as they walked.

Parked on a side street sat an oversized SUV with wide black running boards in each side. More police officers in riot gear stood on these running boards. They looked ready for action. Their eyes scanned the passing cars.

Later I heard on the radio news that sections of downtown were shut down twice today after discoveries of "suspicious packages." The items turned out to be harmless but the news reports felt chilling.

As we passed the strong police presence around the Denver Convention Center, where many of the ancillary DNC events will be held, I realized that my quiet home town now looks like the police state scenes in the most terrifying cyberpunk videos.

Soon afterward, however, I arrived at the site of Meditate 08, located on the Platte River a quarter mile west of the Pepsi Center, the main home of the DNC.

Intended as a retreat space for DNC delegates and protesters alike, Meditate 08 was holding its opening ceremony at 5:30. Due to light rain, the outdoor event had been moved indoors to the auditorium of Denver Ocean Journey, the city aquarium.

The room was packed to overflowing. Perhaps 300 people sat in rows of chairs or else on the floor at the sides of the room. Many more stood along the walls. For the next hour, I participated in a series of chants, songs, prayers, and meditations that slowly dispelled from my mind the fearful scenes downtown.

After the ceremony I joined my video crew from KGNU to record interviews outside with Meditate 08 organizer Don Moreale, EarthNest Institute director Nicole Langley, and Denver Zen Center's Roshi Danan Henry.

They each spoke about the value of having a place of peace and quite beside the river in the midst of all the expected craziness of the convention. They spoke about the need to bring spiritual values into the political process. They spoke about the benefits of from letting go of hate and fear within the self as a way of transforming society.

I also interviewed the "honored guest" at the Meditate O8 opening ceremony. Actor-director Giancarlo Esposito is best known as a star of numerous Spike Lee movies and TV's Law and Order series. He's an active member of Hollywood's Creative Coalition, and he's an experienced meditation teacher.

Eyes sparkling as he spoke, Esposito talked about how the shift from acting to directing has helped him slip out of his narcissism to focusing on his art without his ego getting in the way. He said this change emerged directly from his spiritual practice. If more political leaders would let go of ego and genuinely focus on public service, he suggested, our entire nation and world could be uplifted.

Following the ceremony, I stuck around for the Dances of Universal Peace under the clearing sky as the sun set over the mountains in the west. City lights sparkled in the tall buildings downtown which to the north seemed like jewels in the deepening twilight. I felt gentle and loving as I danced in graceful circles with perhaps fifty others. My noisy mind chatter ceased as I flowed joyfully with the music.

Once back home, I reflected on the contrasts I'd seen and experienced today.

Into my head came the famous lines from Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."

And, as I write this blog so as to post it before going to bed late on Saturday night, I wonder which way life in Denver will go tomorrow when the city streets fill with protesters as the Democratic National Convention begins.