A day filled with surprises in Ojai, California. Happening upon an open air bookstore. Finding the perfect vegan Reuben at Hip Vegan thanks to Yelp (one of the few things I miss as a vegetarian – a good Reuben sandwich).
And of course the reason for my journey to Ojai – a surprise visit with old friends, artists Joyce and Gerry Stanek, who are recent transplants to Ojai and even more recent owners of Frameworks of Ojai. (Shameless plug – no one has the ability to turn vision into reality like these guys. I send my most precious framing jobs to them via FedX. Seriously.)
I had read a bit about Ojai, first just to figure out how to get there from my weeklong retreat in Santa Barbara, and then to figure out what I might do after visiting with Gerry and Joyce. At the top of the non-golf attractions listed at TripAdvisor was Meditation Mount, the 32 acre spiritual site that describes itself as “an educational center offering spiritual programs that enhance the awakening of the human soul in all aspects of social endeavor.”
The photos at their site looked pretty enough. And while I’d like to say I couldn’t wait to get there, in reality there was nothing in the online images and text that called to this student of zen. It was only when Joyce mentioned in passing that it was their favorite scenic place to unwind that I figured I might as well drive up, take a look around, perhaps shoot some photos, and then head back to Santa Barbara where I had already found my reverie.
I should back up to say that the drive from the freeway into Ojai is idyllic – rolling hills, grasslands, orchards, vineyards. And the drive up to Meditation Mount was more of the same. While the drought had everyone apologizing about how much prettier it is when there is water, there was nothing but beauty all around for this first-timer. (Ah the joys of beginner’s mind!)
I arrived at the top, and even with my limited expectations, I was disappointed at not being pleasantly surprised. I felt nothing. A parking lot, some buildings. “At least the drive up was worth the trip,” I thought to myself. I knew from the website, though, that there were gardens to be seen, so I got out of my car.
And I instantly heard it. Faintly at first, getting louder as I approached the main building. A choir singing.
“Is this music piped into the parking lot to entice and calm the soul?” I wondered.
I was swept away. There I was, atop a mountain, surrounded by the quiet beauty of this earth, accompanied by a soundtrack of human voices rising in exultation at the wonder of it all.
I tried to record them practicing, but the acoustics in my point-and-shoot camera couldn’t do justice to the joyful noise in that perfect place. Instead I stood outside their open doors, faced the mountain scene around me, and breathed as if I had never really breathed before.
Days later, I was telling an artist in Santa Barbara about the serendipity of coming upon this fully sensory scene. “It’s not so unusual,” he told me. “They do a lot of music festivals. People are often practicing and making music up there.”
I realized at that moment the power of beginner’s mind to create serendipity. An occurrence that might be expected by someone in the know (and might be a disappointment were it NOT there) was, for this novice, a joyful discovery. I had no idea what to expect. Under those circumstances, anything I found would be serendipity!
And so, dear readers, I wanted to share a bit of an unusual Rock-Out with you this Monday.
No, the choir in this video is not the one I encountered on a Saturday afternoon atop a mountain surrounded by the green glory of this planet – practicing in jeans and shorts, laughing together as they tried slowing down or speeding up a particular verse.
Still, as you listen, I urge you to close your eyes. Picture the most beautiful place you have ever been. Imagine your own voice rising in gratitude for the scene before you, marveling that we live in a world filled with such beauty and surprise every day… “Since love is lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”
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