As published in Ojai Valley Visitors Guide, Winter 2011.
If you are at all skeptical about spirituality or meditation, watch a sunset from Meditation Mount; that will surely turn you into a believer. Soaring above the valley floor is a Shangri-La Frank Capra likely never saw when he captured that magnificent view from Dennison Grade for his 1937 film Lost Horizons. Tucked away and high up at the end of Reeves Road in Ojai’s east end, Meditation Mount’s 32-acre site commands an even more breathtaking view at 1,400 feet.
The Mount, as it has come to be known, was established in 1968 to foster meditation to benefit the world. Today, visitors are asked to honor a series of universal spiritual principles, which are taught in their on-site learning center and emphasized during the daily morning meditations. Nowhere, though, are the Mount’s philosophies more apparent than in the gardens surrounding their facility.
The Peace Portal, the Mount’s most iconic feature, serves as the gateway to the International Garden of Peace, where native and drought-tolerant plants such as lavender, bottle brush and Matilija poppies flourish under the watchful eye of the Mount’s land steward, Tim Hall. The portal’s Asian-inspired arch was built in 2009 using 1,200-year-old Douglas fir reclaimed from the Ventura-Ojai rail line. Said to represent new possibilities and a threshold between one world and another, one can’t help feeling some measure of spiritual renewal when walking through the arch.
Winding through the garden’s path, rocks carved with the spiritual principles encourage contemplation. One reads, “UNANIMITY,” which recognizes “one humanity” and the importance of each individual as a unique expression of the “One Life.”
Hall says the landscaping, an international mix of plants best suited for our climate from South Africa, the Mediterranean, Australia and here, “emphasizes the beauty and grandeur of the Mount.”
The path continues on, meandering past benches and more plants, including roses, Mexican sage, Kangaroo Paw, hibiscus, aloe and birds of paradise, to the View Point and an expansive grassy area.
“The lawn is a luxury in our environment, but it is so fitting at the Mount,” says Hall. The gardens attract more than just human visitors, too.
“Deer and rabbits love the grass,” he says, and he is more than happy to let them graze. As a true steward of the land, he says his role is all about “caring for something you don’t own. It’s not a personal possession. It’s something you love and take care of for future generations.”
Putting in 40 hours a week, this is a full-time job for Hall, but he sees it as a sort of calling. "I enjoy getting up in the morning and going to work, and am grateful for the intrinsic rewards of working in such an environment."
He feels fortunate, too, to have a full team of volunteers helping to keep the gardens maintained. Together, they prune, mow, mulch, weed and water, but are always mindful of their intention.
“We like to keep the balance.” Hall says the deer and rabbits were here first, along with many other animals and birds, and he wants them all to thrive. “We even keep the lights off at night so the owls and coyotes can hunt.” Roadrunners, Hall adds, do their part to keep snails and snakes in check. And hummingbirds are attracted to the blooms – plants flower year-round here – which helps with pollination and sustains the vibrancy and proliferation of the garden.
Hall says his favorite part of the property is the Buddha Garden. “The combination of the plants and the colors and the contrast of the rocks is an import factor of the garden.”
Other activities at the Mount include cultural events, concerts, poetry readings and, of course, meditation. The Mount regards meditation as more far reaching than an individual practice, which many who meditate use to calm the mind and build inner strength. Meditation at the Mount focuses beyond the self as a service to humanity, a blessing and compassion for the world, and for all to have a better life.
A monthly meditation class is offered to help demystify the practice. Daily 30-minute meditations begin at 8:30 a.m. And every month, as they have done for 41 years, a full moon meditation is offered in the evening.
Though this is a very spiritual place, it is not religious; it does not imposing a teaching. There is an energy here, which Hall describes best when he talks about the “feeling” people get when they walk the grounds. “Visitors invariably look around to try and see what it is, as they murmur ‘You can feel it.’”
Meditation Mount is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday until sunset. For a full schedule of classes and public events, visit their Web site at www.meditationmount.org.