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Water and Light

Published June 24th, 2019 in Community Perspectives

by Shoki

I have lived the majority of my life within 100 miles of Breitenbush. Growing up in Corvallis I heard many stories of this place, but had never visited until my interview.  I inevitably compare/contrast Breitenbush to the last community I was a member of: Great Vow Zen Monastery, near Clatskanie, Oregon. Many years ago Suzuki Roshi, abbot of Tassajara, told the story of a wire-mesh box they submerged in a stream running through the grounds, and how when filled with potatoes they would bump up against each other, knocking off the imperfections.  He said monastic training is similar: students bump against each other and over time we soften. I attended a week-long silent retreat at Great Vow every month for a year before I entered full-time residency. I had the idea that full-time residency would be very similar to being in retreat. Ha. Even so, I had this same idea again when I came to work here: “I will reside in imperturbable enforested bliss for the full duration of my chosen period of employment.”  Uh huh.

Until now my longest period of employment was three years as a Flash failure analysis engineer with Intel.  I’ve struggled to find a job which had the right mix of mental and physical exertion. Working as an engineer was not physical enough, and I felt slothful and depressed.  Working as a general contractor was too physical, and I felt exhausted and anxious. Currently I am installing/developing hardware/software related to our telemetry and control systems, which is an ideal (for me) mix of thinking and doing.   

Having been on the Systems (infrastructure maintenance) Team for the majority of my four years here, I am quite familiar with our plumbing, power and control systems.  My favorite aspect to ponder is: we turn running water into electricity. During my graduate degree in electrical engineering, specializing in optical characterization of thin-film phosphors, I investigated the question of, “What is light?” from a very different perspective.  Here, now, the tiny gap within the generator mounted above our 100 year-old turbine, where a permanent magnet spun by the river passes near a coil of copper wire creating electrical current, still seems magical to me. Water + Gravity = Light. Neato.

I have also investigated the relationship between water and light as a firefighter with our volunteer fire department.  I was blessed and honored to be one of those who remained on land during our evacuation a couple of summers ago. Last night I hiked Triangulation Peak for the first time since the fire and saw the backside of Devil’s Peak, and the trees whose simultaneous deaths illuminated thick smoke shrouding the Peak… night after night during the evacuation.  Tears, as another form of water, seem an insufficient response, but, what else can be offered, now? This is a natural process, and grief is inevitable.

As a devout introvert, I am continually challenged by community life.  We have many community gatherings here, yet I rarely attend. And, I have never felt that my non-participation has made me less of a “viable community member.”  A few times a year we close our campus to guests and are able to experience being on land without needing to work. These times are meant to allow us to relax and renew and connect with the community.  For my first two years here, I left land during every single one of these periods, because I didn’t feel remaining on land would allow me to “renew.” For the last two years, I have stayed on land and connected with community, and I consider my ability to do so as evidence of gradual improvement in my social anxiety.  I am grateful for whatever aspects of “Breitenbush” have facilitated this shift.

For thousands of years humans have lived and worked together within small communities, and I feel a resonance with my ancestors when I live in community.  It is easy to blame universal/existential issues on local politics and personality conflicts, but I do not believe it has ever been easy or simple for such intelligent beings to work and play together.  In many ways living/working here is the easiest gig I’ve ever been a part of, and still it challenges me to my core, daily. Yet, with each passing year I feel more at home here, which has not been my experience anywhere else on the planet.

Holistic Wellness: Links between China and Breitenbush

Published June 18th, 2019 in Community Perspectives

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Invent It

By: Peter Moore

Word in the West re: China, our neighbor in the East, is bad! China poses multiple challenges to USA dominance: economically, culturally, militarily. One Belt One Road is changing the worldwide geopolitical landscape. They’re ripping off intellectual property by studying models developed in the West and perfecting them in the East!

There is truth in the above, but something quite distinct from these conventional claims is also emergent in that vast country. I visited China during the month of November, 2018, and my takeaway was progressive. I was invited to Beijing to participate in a 5-day conference titled “Holistic Wellness International Forum”. There I gave a speech titled “Universities of the Soul in a Network of Light”. Corollary to that flowery title was a more focused subtitle, “How Holistic Centers Proliferate Across Our World”. The reason I was invited to give that speech was in part because of my role at Breitenbush, but more directly because I am board president of an international non-profit, the Holistic Centers Network (HCN). HCN concerns itself with formalizing the network of existing holistic centers the world over, and assisting new centers to come into being. Legacy centers, including Esalen Institute, Omega Institute, Findhorn Foundation, New York Open Center, and dozens of others are members of HCN, and for this reason, HCN was asked to be the co-host of this international forum in China.

The Forum was huge by Breitenbush standards. Held in a great hall with seating for 800, there were booms with television cameras moving above the heads of the audience, bright stage lighting and sound, etc. Over the five days an array of presenters, both Chinese and from around the world, representing a diversity of academic and institutional backgrounds, spoke on subjects related to holistic wellness, human potential and the metrics of happiness. Real-time Mandarin/English translation services were provided with headphones issued to all audience members (à la the UN), and breakout sessions allowed everyone to comingle in small discussion groups. Communication metrics showed that some quarter of a million Chinese people listened in on the speeches as they were presented over the days of the event.

The development of holistic educational centers and how they arise around the world is a passionate interest. I came to Breitenbush in spring, 1978, and have been working with its core values ever since. About Breitenbush, we say it is a place to bring life into balance. In my view, that balance is achieved through the nurture of nature, as well as incorporation of approaches and practices that raise consciousness and manifest our human potential as individuals. And beyond individual personal growth there is the corollary potential (speculative though it may be) of conscious evolution of our species; by which I mean, although it must begin within each individual, there is, theoretically, the possibility that humanity as a whole is evolving—psychologically and emotionally, as well as physiologically. Which is to say, I am hopeful about our species, and I am patient. Give us another, say, 50,000 years and we may evolve into a much more collaborative, less competitive/combative group of hominids on the planet. Stated differently, the next step in bringing life into balance will be broadly socio-cultural, and it is at this level that I see the development and proliferation of holistic centers across our world as serving an emergent global ‘movement’.

Holistic centers require no loyalty to political or religious institutions, and I suspect that is why China’s central authority supports them. The entire curriculum can be understood as supporting personal liberation, i.e. everything taught or gained at such educational institutions contributes to the greater emotional intelligence, well-being and happiness of the individual. Bene Wellness, our Chinese co-host organization, states that, in China, the spiritual void is being felt by an increasingly affluent population, and the thirst and quest for personal and spiritual growth is becoming the trend there. Their mission, “to establish a connection and find balance between the popular culture of modern day China and the spiritual values and practices that make up the core curriculum of holistic centers”, openly addresses what they characterize as “the new consciousness emerging worldwide”. They see holistic centers emerging throughout the world, and they want to support the development of such centers in China. In establishing the first annual Holistic Wellness International Forum, Bene Wellness’s purpose was “to build and provide a quality platform where leaders of worldwide holistic centers, wellness scholars and practitioners alike can exchange their learning, experience and viewpoints”.

As I took the stage in the late morning of November 11, 2018, amidst thunderous fanfare and applause, and escorted by a beautiful young woman in traditional Chinese attire, I found it highly symbolic the timing of my presentation. I opened by noting that, at precisely this same moment 100 years ago—at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918—the guns ceased, ending “The War To End All Wars” in Europe. I further noted that, contrary to ending all war, the 20th Century marked the most obscene barbarity as a succession of subsequent wars followed, making it a century of ceaseless war. But here we were, precisely 100 years later, at a new 11thhour, having an international forum exploring holistic wellness and the metrics of happiness in global terms. If hope is a discipline (and I think it is) then our meeting today represented a glimmer of hope for us all. I went on to note another more personal symbolic anniversary, the birth of my daughter exactly 40 years ago to the day, on November 11, 1978. I described her birth by candlelight in a little cabin in the forest near the Breitenbush River; no electricity, no running water or flush toilet, no attending physician or midwife, only wood heat and a little book describing how to deliver a baby. I went on to describe Breitenbush at that time, a ghost village of about 100 buildings with rotting foundations and caved-in roofs, broken windows, abandoned vehicles, etc. The group of us living there on the day my daughter was born was small, just 8 or 9 people, but we had a vision to form an intentional community and create a service-based holistic center dedicated to a set of principles. Our founding document, the Breitenbush Credo, would be our roadmap. During the 40 years that have elapsed since Jazz Minh was born, that vision of establishing a holistic educational center at Breitenbush has continued to be realized. And now we see that, far from being a tiny isolated local initiative in Oregon, it was, and continues to be, part of an emergent world culture. Breitenbush is a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm of developing holistic centers around the world.

Holistic centers act as culture change agents, in addition to the positive effects they bring forth in individual lives. The fact that such centers are proliferating indifferently in diverse societies and situations—urban/rural, first world/third world, capitalist/communist, northern hemisphere/southern hemisphere—is testament to their universal relevance. Holistic centers come into being and are supported by people who understand there is something else possible—beyond the necessities of survival; beyond the conventions and expectations mediated by social conditioning. People all over the world are waking up to the fact that we are ONE people inhabiting this planet, and that our species must implement the necessary measures of sustainability if we want to continue to thrive into the future. Those measures, taken together, form the essential curriculums of holistic centers the world over. Put differently, each center is a local expression of a universal, evolutionary impulse. There is a dawning realization that a ‘movement’ is in motion, from latency to wakefulness.

Our Breitenbush Credo ends with the following:

It is our hope that the thriving community which we create will be an inspiration to others in their exploration of lifestyle and community.  We also extend ourselves to the greater society in which we live, the world community, and commit ourselves to being socially, spiritually, politically, and environmentally responsible. (emphasis added)

That “world community” exists in a way we never imagined when we wrote those words 40 years ago. And though the politicians and propagandists and policy wonks hiss about the dangers posed by the foreigners in the Far East, the more interesting and factual truth is that there is an inevitability unfolding; the vast majority of people are coming together. It is an evolutionary imperative.

In my speech, I told my audience the best way to predict the future is to invent it. That is what we’re up to here at Breitenbush. What my audience told me is, we’re in good company, they’re on board to invent a sustainable future too!

Those dominance-threatening Chinese are at it again! Paying attention to a model we’ve been working on in the West, then going us one better in manifesting it in the East! Is this ripping off intellectual property? No, this is riffing off good ideas. It is cultural evolution, not cultural appropriation.

Ultimately let’s hope those clever Chinese out-compete us in this realm too. The world has a lot of people in it and we need more holistic centers serving to support the conscious evolution of the species. Maybe we can beat that 50,000 year evolution projection of mine in time to avert the ecological and other catastrophes that inevitably await unless we, as a species, get it together to co-create sustainable ways of life on this planet of ours.

It is time for a world-wide Green New Deal.

Peter Moore is Business Director of Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat & Conference Center. He can be reached at: bd@breitenbush.com.

Holistic Centers Network (HCN) is an Oregon not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. You can visit their website at:  www.centersnetwork.org. Donations are appreciated and tax deductible.