Soon after our stay along the coast we moved to a property in the hills just south of Santa Rosa, in fact, not very far from where I had lived in a trailer a couple years earlier. The owner of the property lived in a house tucked up near a ravine at the end of a long dusty driveway. It was a spacious home with an enormous woodshop where he worked. There were a few other outbuildings on the property: a small cottage that he rented out and some storage sheds. The rest of the property was covered with large, beautiful oak trees which provided almost continuous cover from one end of the property to the other, while the other side of the dirt driveway had been cleared and cultivated into a beautiful vegetable garden.
Each of us found a place under the oaks and set up our tents. I found a pleasant, quiet little place at the edge of the property, looking out upon a grassy hillside, just under the dripline of a towering oak. S. also found a comfortable place not far from my tent while K. and her boyfriend M. who had recently joined us and moved in with her, were just downhill under the trees. MD had the grandest of tents which he had made himself, which was to be both his personal quarters and also function as our temple. It was a beautiful, high and arching, light structure made of sturdy white canvas. At its base it was rectangular and roughly 16 feet wide by 32 feet long. Along its ridge it stood about 12 feet high and its form was a graceful arc. Every 4 feet or so a sheath had been sewn into the tent walls which allowed a 2″ diameter PVC pipe to be slid in from one side of the tent and pushed up and over and down to the other side; these were the structural ribs that gave the tent its beautiful form and its support which held it sturdily in place during strong winds and storms. Both ends of the tent had a white canvas panel that was attached with large white zippers to the ends of the tent walls, and the center of these panels could be opened using another strong zipper that had been fashioned up the middle of each panel; these were the entrances to the tent, one entering the meeting area, and the other entering MD’s personal quarters. The inside was divided exactly in half by another panel, similar to the two at the ends, which was also attached along its perimeter to the tent walls, and had a zippered opening up its middle which could be opened to connect the public and private spaces. The floor was also made of white canvas and over the top were placed layers of white sheets and pillows. When the tent was fully set up and the entire enclosure glowed in golden white light from the sun, it was truly a serene and sublime place to enjoy.
When I think back to this time, in the community, and how to describe it, I feel as though I will have to settle with writing about only the smallest fraction, and in a most superficial manner, because there was so very much detail and nuance and subtlety that I can hardly hope to be able to provide the proper context for so much of what occurred. Even as I sort through the papers, writings, teachings and other materials that I kept from my four years I can hardly hope to put all of it into a clear and understandable narrative as there are thousands of pages of material to sort through, and I find that so many would require pages and pages of background to set the proper scene for them. Nevertheless, I am encouraged to set in writing at least some of the basics that can give at least a partial overview, from my perspective. Perhaps someone else will someday write a more exhaustive and informative narrative and that would be of great interest I think.
While living on this property we began our first public outreach through the publication of a short introductory brochure which briefly described the teaching of MD, the spiritual life of his followers, the perspective of our group, and an invitation to come and learn, along with a weekly schedule of events that we hosted in the temple tent. The brochure was entitled, Awakening the Light of Peace: Spiritual Initiations, and it was published and presented by The Brothers for “The Light of Peace” which was our name. These we distributed throughout the surrounding cities, in bookstores and cafes. And from this distribution many people came to learn more and to study with MD. The call that it issued, appealed on an intellectual and on an emotional level, as well as of course, spiritual. It was written in both an informative style but also poetic. I’ll share just a few excerpts here:
“You who travel the road of life, who reach up to find the Love of God.
I say desist with such delusion. It distracts you from the place that
God is found, that place that is the altar of your Soul, that cup that God
would fill to overflowing, the manger that The Christ was birthed within-
the scepter of The Heart….”
“Such an awakening is initiated by the remembering of what you have
lost – the quality of Innocence that exists within the Spiritual Self be-
yond the body of flesh. True Innocence is born in one who is a Child
of God. Such a life expresses itself with a purity of thought and deed
that brings change to all about them….”
“By your choice you make yourself anew. Therefore your decisions
moment by moment are of the greatest import. The Child of God ever
takes the path of service. Here by kind word and thoughtful deed they
create both within them and about them a life of Divine Sweetness.
They have made of themselves the bread of Gentleness and Tender Love
and cast themselves forth to serve a wounded humanity. Those who
freely sow such Love upon the suffering of their brothers and sisters
without thought of return shall never know poverty of heart.”
(From “Child of God” by MD)
We all assisted with visitors and spiritual seekers who came to meet with MD but we also had a division of labor for the many other aspects to keeping the community running smoothly. I continued to work at my job as a waiter in a nearby Italian restaurant to help with income, K. worked closely with MD as an assistant with typing and other administrative tasks. M. had contributed a lot of personal assets to the functioning of the community in these early stages but also continued with his employment, and S. took care of a multitude of various tasks and errands. In addition to my work in the world I was given the responsibility for overseeing the community finances, bill paying and grocery shopping.
By the end of July 1993 we began to prepare for a move north to the Mt Shasta area which we made in August. Our final month on this property was spent predominantly in the large woodshop, where together we all built a series of large tables and benches that would be used for years to come as our kitchen and dining furniture. I don’t think any of us had much, if any experience with carpentry, however MD had experience and taught us the proper use of the table saws, planers, routers, nail guns, and other tools and equipment needed for the construction of our furniture. He also assigned us each particular tasks so that our work was efficient and streamlined. Over the course of the next couple weeks we went from unskilled newcomers to fairly skilled workers. There was a lot of satisfaction in working together as a team, learning new skills, and eventually turning out a lot of functional and attractive furniture.
Each piece of furniture was large and very sturdy and covered with multiple coats of spar varnish as they were made to be used outdoors full-time. And they were made to come apart into more manageable pieces for transport since we would be moving regularly over the coming years. We built several dining tables, each about 8 feet long with two benches each and several more tables of the same size to be used for storage, food preparation and dishwashing when we set up our kitchen at our more permanent locations. Additionally, we made several other smaller tables for various functions, and two 4×4 wood panels with a 12″x12″ square hole cut in the center and a removable hatch, which would be used to cover latrine pits. We also built a smaller set of tables and shelves which we installed in the bed of my old Toyota pickup and into this we installed outdoor grills and propane tanks so that this became our mobile kitchen when we were on the move.
When we moved to Shasta we had five members. Many others had expressed interest in joining us, and several had camped with us on the land south of Santa Rosa for various periods of time, but in the end none joined us. We did have one additional member however, A. but she was unable to come with us at this particular time, but would join us several months later.
Our next home was in a clearing in the pine forest located not far from the banks of the Sacramento River, about a mile west of where it empties into Lake Siskiyou. Taking our rental van with our supplies down the rutted dirt trail just off Highway 26 was a bumpy journey; the first of many future off-road excursions of which this was to be very tame and pedestrian by comparison.
We had a few neighbors scattered here and there in various small encampments further up river but essentially we had the forest to ourselves. Our encampment included about an acre of land in this forest with our large kitchen set up in the clearing in the midst of a meadow of wildflowers and grasses. Around the perimeter of the clearing we set up several tents: at the entrance and westernmost end we placed two large green canvas tents in which we kept tools and other supplies, at the far eastern end I set up my tent, while M. and S. established their camping places along this same perimeter but about a hundred feet or so to either side of me. MD‘s tent and our temple were placed farther north in a separate smaller clearing against the trees, while K. had her tent in a private location just the other side of a copse of trees adjacent to the kitchen and dining area. Just off this area we set up our solar showers amidst a dense forested area for privacy, but would heat their bladders in the full sun; and farther off to the west we dug the pits for our toilets; and even the setting for these was pleasant.
(to be continued)