Posts Tagged ‘Frank Lloyd Wright’

Victoria Jennings, Ex. Dir., Joshua Tree Retreat Center, CA

It is no secret that the Joshua Tree Retreat Center is a special place. I have blogged about it often. Most people that I talk to do not realize that the center is open for personal retreats. I thought I would re-post an article from the Executive Director, Victoria Jennings in which she describes her personal experiences and some of the history of the 400 acre center.

Victoria was gracious enough to sit down with me and re-live the article. The sound-bite below is from that interview.

The article follows:

“The moment that I stepped onto the grounds of the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, I could feel a shift. It wasn’t an earthquake, but rather, a shift in energy. It was if if the physical landscape became some kind of portal to the inner landscape of my higher mind. Coming from the hubbub of the city, the silence was so deep that it awakened me. I felt an impulse to search my soul and experience the world as it truly is, uncluttered by clamor of urban life.

As I walked the land, I was captivated. Nestled among meditation pathways and canopied by trees and flowering oleander were labyrinths, ponds, open spaces and magical hidden nooks. The surrounding mountains gave way to clear blue skies, and I had an incredible sense of wide-open space. All kinds of creatures—rabbits, squirrels, owls and other rare birds—roamed or flew about, oblivious to my presence.

It’s no wonder Edwin J. Dingle chose this magical site to establish his 420-acre spiritual center back in 1948. He’d recently returned from Tibet, and the high desert of Joshua Tree offered the kind of peace and spiritual connection to the land that he had experienced there. Equally important, it was close to his growing community in Los Angeles.

Dingle had traveled to China to become editor of the influential Straight Times of Singapore. As a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of England, he was contacted during the Boxer Rebellion of the early 1900s to do a mapping expedition across China, producing works that would be used in WWII and beyond.

As Dingle and his mapping caravan crossed China, he fell seriously ill and nearly died. Nonetheless, he continued onto Tibet, and when he finally arrived, he as greeted at the monastery gates with a question: “What took you so long?” Somehow, they’d been expecting him.

Upon his return to the West, the seeker began sharing the teachings he had learned from the monks. The maps he’d drawn of China had made him a wealthy man, so he decided to build a spiritual retreat and share want he’d learned. “I wanted to create a sacred space where great leaders would come,” Dingle said.

In 1941, dingle was driving down a lone desert road in search of a suitable site, when he suddenly felt compelled to pull over to the side of a barren road. In that moment, a burst of light came down from the heavens. As its rays poured over the landscape, he heard a voice say, “The desert will bloom like a rose … someday there shall be cities built around the land. Great highways shall lead here as a place of respite.” Dingle soon brought this vision to reality—building began on the site in 1948.

Lights on Hwy 62 East of JTRC at Dawn

From its beginnings, this land has been an energy vortex immersed in a protective aura. Ding Le Mei, as Dingle became known, taught a mixture of meditation, pranayama >(breath work), affirmations and other spiritual practices that lead to balance of body, mind and spirit. His philosophy of MentalPhysics is based on the way the mind creates the physical world and it would eventually make its way to over 220,000 students worldwide.

The great leaders Ding Le Mei had envisioned came to him as well. Yogananda walked the grounds in earlier times. Shirley MacLaine was here at the beginning of her spiritual quest. JZ Knight (Ramtha) held retreats here before building her facility in Oregon. The founder of Astara was a student of MentalPhysics. And that’s just the beginning. Jack Kornfield has been leading groups here for 25 years, Alberto Villoldo for more than 10. Many more have been drawn to this sacred land, including Byron Katie, Jean Houston, Ram Dass, Lama Surya Das, Stanislav Grof, Joe Dispenza, Dan Millman, Swamiji Vethathiri Maharishi, Lynn Andrews, Ken Page, Stephen Levine, Terry Cole-Whittaker, Moshe Feldenkrais, Joseph Heller, Gabrielle Roth, Kalu Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe, Geshe Gyeltsen, Zong Rinpoche, Swami Vishwananda, and Sun Bear. Hundreds of thousands from around the world have embarked on journeys of power and mystery to absorb the wisdom of these great teachers, as well as that of the ancient rocks and trees.

The property has changed substantially since Dingle was first guided here. For starters, there are several beautiful buildings reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin. Dingle had a relationship with Wright, albeit a rocky one. Perhaps their biggest obstacle was philosophical perspective. For Dingle, the layout of the buildings on leylines (lines of energy within the earth) furthered a connection to the land and the Buddhist designs he admired. But the Vastu (a building philosophy similar to Feng Shui) Dingle had learned was foreign to the architect at that time. Wright ultimately passed the job on to his son, Lloyd Wright, a less-recognized master in his own right.

Frank Lloyd Wright's "Caravansaries" at JTRC

The synergy of their efforts is one of the first things that impressed me. The roof of one dining hall actually emerges from the ground, sloping up from the landscape to a 70-foot crescendo. With concrete roofs, embedded stone from the land’s own rock quarry and walls of glass, the design embraces both ancient Tibet and 20th Century Art Nouveau.

There is something quite special in the vastness of the high desert—the dichotomy of the landscape and the explosion of color. Deep purples and bright oranges appear in stark contrast to the languishing blues in the sky.

JTRC at Dawn

The nights are filled with so many stars that sometimes I think I must be in another dimension—a direct connection with the Divine. The air is clear, delicate and unpolluted and the energy is strong, with 16 vortexes to delight ones spirit. The land is filled with such peace that it immediately calms and centers me each time I return. Some of the magic of the land may be attributed to the fact that it lies on an aquifer (an underground river), discharging an intriguing magnetic effect on those who enter this ancient landscape. I can’t help but wonder if Ding Le Mei somehow knew of the abundant underground water, or of the fault lines on either end of the property that allow the land between them to lie still when the surrounding area shakes with earthquake tremors.

People from all over the world have returned to this well-known energy vortex just to scribe their circle in the sand or recharge their personal stones. The grounds’ Healing Pond, filled by its own well, is a replica of the Chalice Well in England. Healing stones and crystals from all over the world are buried in sacred patterns beneath its base.

Whatever the explanation, Joshua Tree Retreat Center has grown to become the oldest and largest spiritual retreat center in the western United States, a non-profit organization whose mission is to nurture and support the infinite human potential. We’d be honored to share the magic of this land with you.”

JTRC Looking West to Mt. San Gorgonio

Architect Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, who continued the work of his father here, had this to say:

“In the mountains of California, above the Mojave lies a plateau overlooking the desert, sloping to the East,facing the morning sun, into the West where San Gorgonio’s snow-capped peak reflects the glow of the setting sun. Here, The Ding Lei Mei Institute is located. Moved by a sense of the tranquil nobility and eternal beauty of the desert, I have planned, not a city of asphalt, paving and steel, or the tight mechanical grid and congested living barracks but a city of the Desert, spacious, free-sweeping; its broad floor carpeted by myriads of desert blossoms; its residents dwelling at peace, and sharing with the soil, sky and trees, their joy of living, its centuries-old Joshua trees standing like sentinels above its homes.”


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Joshua Tree, California
Fall, 2011

There was never a reason not  to visit the Joshua Tree Retreat Center (JTRC).  And the architecture by Lloyd Wright, the quiet of the Mojave Desert, the self-realization nature of the curricula and more make a bouquet of reasons to visit this special place located on Hwy 62 in the California Desert.  Now they’ve discovered hot springs!  Although yet to be developed, this post describes what is available now.

For those of us who gravitate to the lake or sea, we might be thinking that we would miss the water — but no more!  Since I have been visiting here, it has become more lush.  So with a couple of days on my own, I decided to take a photographic inventory of the water features at JTRC.

The Chalice Pond (1)
It’s 7am on a crisp late October morning. I get up and in my quest for coffee at the Dining Hall;  I pass the Chalice Pond. Constructed in 2009, this was the first of a  major undertaking of the new water projects conceived by the Director here, Victoria GeVoian. The sun is behind the fountain to the East, and is just beginning to hit the upper jet. The Chalice Pond is located between the Apartments and Studios and the Ridge-line Cottages (See map near the end of this post).

The Chalice Pond at JTRC

The Dining Hall Fountain (2)
I continue on my quest to the dining hall. There is nobody up-and-around yet, and I pass the “grandmother” of JTRC fountains, located just north of the dining hall. In the distance to the East are the Caravancias (dormitories) and the new swimming pool. I have taken still pictures here before for groups that have attended the Center, including a “fotobomb” shot.  My son introduced me to the concept of the fotobomb – something that appears in the picture that is definitely and most absurdly out-of-place.  In my youth, we would have asked, “what’s wrong with this picture?” (I have omitted the picture here to protect the faces of the innocent — and the guilty!)

The image that I am thinking about was done for a school that holds classes here.  I arranged some of the staff and students around this triangular-shaped fountain.  It was a magical moment.  Everyone took my direction, and continued to interact as they had before I had guided them into position — so the moment was “real.”  I had a Quantum Q flash ready to fill-in the shadows of the strong desert sun and was ready to release the shutter.  Suddenly, a passer-by ran into frame claiming, “hey, what are you guys doing here taking this picture? — pictures should not be posed, posed pictures not real!”  (My dear mentor, the late Monte Zucker is smiling now). I clicked the shutter, and she was the only thing in the shot that appeared out-of-place.  She was later “Shopped” from the image.  The actual image made was picked-up be the school catalog.

There are coy in this pond, and it is a meeting place for the people who attend events here.  It’s a great place to sit and not be too far from the coffee!

The Dining Hall Fountain at JTRC

Doing an about-face will give you this view of the dining facilities.  The facilities are really quite special — designed with a high, peaked ceiling and picture windows.

Dining Hall Fountain at JTRC from the East

And when you are inside the dining room in the daytime looking back to the North, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the fountain as well:

The Dining Hall Fountain from Indoors

The Caravansary Fountain (3)
The Caravansary rooms have a special spot in my heart. Maybe because it was where I stayed during my first visit here over five years ago. Or, maybe it’s because it is where I met several close friends like Jim Dewell and where I first saw Brooke Medicine Eagle. There was no fountain at the Caravansary then; perhaps the Director, Victoria had it in-the-works. But at that time it was just desert. The Caravansary Fountain may not be as active as the Chalice Pond, or as serene as the Dining Hall Fountain, but I think this one is my favorites. I think this is partially because it reflects the shape of Lloyd Wright’s architectural details on the roof-line of the Caravansary just beyond.

The Caravansary Fountain at JTRC

The Pool and Spa (4)
Directly behind this location, adjacent to Friendship Hall, are the new pool and spa.  I am told that there are still some landscaping plans in-the-works, but the pool and spa are heated operational.  At the time that I made this image, there as a German photographer doing laps at about 9 in the morning.  He was being observed or accompanied by the mysterious, hatted figure seen in the shadows of the foreground.

The JTRC Pool and Spa

The Friendship Hall Fountain (5)

I thought that I had finished the inventory of water features and fountains when I remembered a large pot by the Friendship Hall.  I drove (yes, I know, a purist would have walked) over to the area adjacent to the caravancias and grabbed this quick image of the Friendship Hall Fountain.

The Friendship Hall Fountain

The Gift Shop Fountain (6)
If you check in at the Office, you’ll pass through the Center’s great gift store — but not before you pass this sight on the left:

The JTRC Gift Shop Fountain

The Sanctuary Fountain and Detail (7)

Of course, by now I should have known that there would be a fountain at the Sanctuary. The sound from this one echoes off of the stone walls of the Sanctuary building onto the quadrangle.

The Sanctuary Fountain (detail)

I am informed that the proper Fung Shui for this fountain is just right where it is: on the “dragon-side” of the building.

The JTRC Sanctuary Fountain

The Meditation Building Fountain (8)
Quiet, secluded and peaceful, the Meditation Building is directly behind (to the West) the Sanctuary. Here, a quiet fountain is watched-over by a goddess (at the time of this writing, I believe it is one of the Taras). Silence is encouraged here.

The Fountain at the JTRC Meditation Building

If you ask about the figures in silhouette in the image above, I am afraid that I just couldn’t say, other than to mention that my assistants often wear hats.

The Ding Le Mei House Pool (9)

I have photographed the house of the founder of the Institute of Mental Physics (yes, it is a name that can be an ice-breaker) before. For background on the center and the founder, I invite the reader to visit the Institute of Mental Physics website. I walked (this time) over to the Ding Le Mei House to scout the pool.  The next day, I returned to make this image with the help of Regina, my daughter-in-law.

The Ding Le Mei House Pool at JTRC

On the Grounds Map
Here are the map locations of the water features that I have mentioned in this article:

The JTRC Grounds Map

Oh, did I mention the gift shop itself?  One of the best-stocked New Age gift shops that I have seen is here. I just couldn’t help picking up a rattle made from nut shells!

In this image, the pendulae in the center are moved by the breeze coming in from the front door — or are they?

The JTRC Gift Shop

Photographers always encourage each other to have personal projects. I made use of some personal time in the desert to do this one — for myself, and for my friends at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center. I hope you like it.

Post Script
After reviewing this blog post, Victoria informed me that I had missed one. I said, “you mean that one that is in pieces next to Noble Hall?” “No! The one on the exercise pad next to Noble Hall.” “So, I missed two!” I include these for the sake of completeness.

First, the lonely fountain south of Noble Hall:

Noble Hall Fountain 1 (incomplete)

And the one with miles of potential:

Noble Hall Fountain 2

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