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Breitenbush Hot Springs logo

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.