by Alex Wilson
Perched atop a mountain promontory on the eastern edge of the Ojai Valley, commanding nearly unbelievable views, Meditation Mount welcomes people of all faiths seeking peace, personal growth and healing.
Since its founding in 1971, Meditation Mount has served as a nonprofit Meditation Center of Planetary Service, based on ideas such as compassion, peace and goodwill.
While providing opportunities for spiritual growth and creative inspiration to visitors from across the globe, it also holds a special place in the hearts of Ventura County residents (including me) who appreciate its unique vibrations and connection to nature.
But the last few years have posed daunting challenges. The December 2017 Thomas Fire destroyed landscaping, parts of the infrastructure and a caretaker residence called Tree House. The fire burned more than half the plants lining the International Garden of Peace, one of Meditation Mount’s highlights, leading to inspiring vistas across the Ojai Valley and surrounding mountains.
After extensive renewal efforts, Meditation Mount reopened in early 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic forced a second closure. Visitation to the grounds is available once again with coronavirus precautions in place and timed reservations, although buildings remain closed until people can safely gather inside together.
Meditation Mount became part of my life in the 1980s, when my mother made holiday visits a family tradition. We enjoyed a festive Christmas or Easter meal at the Ojai Valley Inn, followed by quiet and reflective family time on Meditation Mount.
I still have fond childhood memories of sitting silently in a Tibetan-inspired meditation room, and walking through the tranquil garden to what felt like the edge of the world.
In later years I visited alone to escape stresses of the outside world, and to deepen my own meditation practice. And whenever I’ve taken visitors to Ojai for the first time, I include a pilgrimage here that never fails to disappoint, since it’s a scenic and spiritual highlight, with deep meaning to me.
During the long restoration process following the fire, I sometimes felt sad when visiting Ojai for a hike and it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn’t stop by. Therefore I was happy to recently visit for the first time since the fire, and experienced the recovery and reconstruction first hand.
I toured the landscape with Board President Michael Lindfield, who explained the mount’s mission to promote an enlightened and compassionate world through creative meditation, and build the foundation for a new civilization. He said the type of meditation the organization promotes helps people deepen their connection with life in their own personal ways including art, religion, music, philosophy or other endeavors.
“What we do is use creative meditation as a process of spiritual architecture, of creating a preferred future through our thoughts, our collective imagination. And then we take that, like a blueprint, and we condense these into seed thoughts,” said Lindfield. “And these we broadcast into the ethers. That’s how you take the seeds of the future and bring them into the present.”
Lindfield showed me newly restored paths surrounding the property, offering 360 degree views, including the scenic red and white stripes of the majestic Topa Topa Mountains looming overhead. He said the magic of Meditation Mount emanates from the combination of the majestic setting, combined with the thoughts and feelings of visitors.
“It does have a particular energetic field to it. There is an energy charge here that is very fiery, very powerful. And because for the past 50 years we’ve been intentionally meditating and anchoring the work here, that has also charged the ethers, charged the ground, charged everything,” said Lindfield. “It is a sacred space, a place of deep stillness, where people can come and deepen their relationship with their own self, with life.”
Lindfield told me about the philosophy behind the message he and others involved with the mount hope people take from their experience there.
“We have three principals of essential divinity which honors all life being sacred. And each person, and being, has inside of them a spark of the creator. However you want to name the creator,” said Lindfield.
“The second principal is goodwill, which is love in action. It means that love is the lifeblood and currency of all relationships,” he continued. “The third principal is unanimity. And that affirms that there is this one web of life. That we are interdependent, inseparable, and that separation is a temporary illusion.”
Meditation Mount is also a place of healing for many who travel here in times of stress, despair and even terminal illness. Lindfield says it helps them put their lives in perspective.
“Our job is to create a space where people can have a lived experience of their own divinity. And understand their own connectedness with nature,” said Lindfield. “It’s a place of healing because all of you can be present. This place welcomes the whole of you. And healing is a state of wholeness.”
I also met Operations Manager Karina Arcia, who shared her own story of healing after serving in the military around 2007.
“With my own personal journey, I have PTSD from deploying to Iraq. I spent a good two years in my own home, paranoid, not really able to come into contact with people,” said Arcia.
She took mindful meditation classes through Veterans Affairs, which led to volunteering at Meditation Mount to help her slowly integrate back into society.
“I wasn’t trying to hide that I had PTSD. I was open about it,” said Arcia. “So that was very important to me, that the space offered peace and healing and safety.”
She’s served as operations manager since 2019, and greeting people who visit is among her responsibilities. Another part of her healing process involved learning to play Tibetan singing bowls. She’s performed outdoor meditative sonic experiences to promote healing and spiritual growth.
“I play with the intention to hold a space. For peace, or love, or whatever that person needs to go within themselves and find that within them. So I hold the intention energetically for peace and love to emerge. Whatever happens with the person, I trust that it’s divinely guided,” said Arcia.
When the Thomas Fire broke out I was working as a radio news reporter and watched in horror as it consumed homes in my own Ventura neighborhood and elsewhere. It made me sad to hear that the fire also tore across Meditation Mount, and I initially feared the worst.
Later on I was somewhat relieved to hear that unique Tibetan-style structures used for meditation were only slightly damaged. Two stewards heroically deployed a 100-foot-long fire hose to battle the flames, which ended up charring 28 of the property’s 32 acres.
When I drove up the long, winding driveway for the first time since the fire on my recent visit, I was happy to feel the same magic I remembered.
In harmony with nature
Some charred benches were left in place as a reminder of nature’s power, but it was also amazing to see plants and wildlife thriving once again.
Executive Director Brian Ziegler told me that cleaning up the fire damage was a massive job. They received help from a grant-funded program providing jobs for people who have been unemployed for extended periods of time, including many who were only recently released from prison. They helped haul away burned vegetation and build new pathways around the property.
Ziegler was grateful for the help, and said the workers also felt the sacred and peaceful nature of Meditation Mount. “What was particularly touching for me was that some of these people had spent half of their life in prison, opened up, and they said, ‘This is the first time I’ve felt safe in my life,’ ” said Ziegler.
He added that the fire reinforced lessons about the interdependence of people and the environment. “To work in harmony with nature is profound. Nature has its own cycles. The wildfire is part of nature’s cycle,” said Ziegler.
A commitment was made to restore the International Garden of Peace to make it better connected to the surrounding environment. They followed a Japanese philosophy called shakkei, which means borrowed scenery, to enhance sight-lines of the surrounding mountains.
Regularly scheduled events at Meditation Mount include a Full Moon Meditation each month — shared on Zoom and social media until people can be inside safely again. The grounds have also been reopened for self-guided meditation on a timed, reservation basis, with a $10 donation. More information on how to visit, plus videos and spiritual teachings, are available on the website. It also provides opportunities to financially support Meditation Mount, which is funded through donations. Those of us who love Meditation Mount are looking forward to the full restoration of programs and the positive forces unleashed by meditation in a group setting.
After moving through the difficulties of recent years, Lindfield said he and others are looking forward to a brighter future and the work ahead to promote peace, service and personal spiritual growth.
“Meditation Mount is a place where you can deepen your relationship with your own essential nature, and be inspired to be a force for good in the world,” said Lindfield.