By Ischa Lea
The morning dawned with an air of excitement permeating the Sanctuary grounds. Adults and children alike anxiously awaited the beginning of a family friendly Regenerating Earth and Spirit event that would encompass three different components. And what a day it proved to be!
A brief introduction to highlight the planned activities by Sunburst’s permaculture expert, Sean Fennell, and Shakti Ranch’s Natalie Riggs further fanned the fires of anticipation of what the day might bring. And rare gifts it did. Natalie’s incredible ability to help each person connect with the resident Sunburst horses on a deep inner level of mutual exchange was phenomenal! Even folks who normally experienced trepidation around horses were happily and gratefully moved by Natalie’s ability to gently guide them to connect from their heart centers to the horses and the horses’ ability to “know” just what each person needed. What a transformative experience for all!
If Natalie proved to be an amazing horse whisperer, then Sean Fennell proved to be an equally amazing soil whisperer! His ability to tenderly weave the spiritual and material into a beautiful synchronistic interplay of permaculture principles, ethics and hands-on practices were greatly appreciated by everyone who accompanied him to the gardens to witness firsthand Spirit and Nature working seamlessly together as they helped plant vegetables, put up a small hoop house, and proceed to the orchard to plant apple trees.
Is there anything more fun than a hayride? What a thrill it was to join the kids as we all enjoyed a hayride to and from the compost area where Sean explained the logistics of making fine compost as well as noting the intricacies of Nature’s own way of ensuring that there’s no waste. Her ingenuity in designing natural systems of cohesive cooperation between life forms both above and below the soil is inspiring.
Alfred King’s expertise on grafting was yet another amazing highlight of an incredibly fulfilling day as many of us listened intently to the history and methodologies of certain grafting techniques. More exciting, however, was the opportunity for each of us to perform an actual graft on a tree to take home with us.
It reminded me of a sweet experience as a child of helping to make cupcakes, and the thrill of being surprisingly gifted with quite a few to take home! How proud I was to announce that I had helped make those lovely cupcakes. How equally thrilled each of us adults were, now that we’d done our first grafts!
And the magic moments at Sunburst continued as a few weeks later a new group of adventurous souls embarked upon a Nature hunt on the Sanctuary hills. The event? A Paleontology Workshop headed by Sunburst’s own science teacher, Moksha Badarayan, and Sunburst docent, Craig Hanson, who would lead eager trekkers up the hillsides to hunt for ancient clam shells and shark’s teeth. And boy did we find some beauties! The Earth Mother’s energy seemed so palpable that we adults could not help but morph into the innocence and excitement of childhood once again as we each hunted for the perfect petrified clam.
I had never witnessed such huge clams or imagined they could exist! Two young ladies repurposed a child’s wagon into a clam wagon to haul our large clam shells down the hill, stashed momentarily. Now the youngest trekkers joined the rest of us in the hunt for sharks teeth up Shark Tooth Hill.
Beautiful warm weather, blue skies, adventurous spirits, and loving company graced both events. As rewarding as it can be journeying inwardly to connect with Spirit in the quiet of our souls, thrilled at the prospect of a direct personal encounter with Spirit, it can also be rewarding to journey outwardly with kindred souls, discovering Spirit’s presence, beauty, and myriad gifts in Nature.
by Ischa Beharry
In the silence of my soul, words, sounds, scents, impressions, thoughts and feelings seemed greatly amplified, yet with a gentleness and sweetness almost indescribable. And as I walked slowly and mindfully through the Sanctuary gardens with friends old and new, joy swept over my being in such gentle waves that my only reaction was exactly what our teacher, Sharon Ray, hoped it would be – a taste of what the Silent Retreat should evoke: A journey into the Path of SMILES and a deeper connection to Divine Spirit through silence and mindfulness.
A dedicated practitioner of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn, Sharon has embodied the concept of mindfulness in her daily life and needs not verbally extol its incredible effects on her quality of life, spiritual awareness or demeanor—it expresses itself naturally and gracefully in the truths and virtues that are her life’s guideposts, and in her very demeanor, speech and interaction with others.
Thich Nhat Hahn invites us to train ourselves to walk with reverence. Wherever we walk, whether it’s at the railway station or supermarket, we are walking on the Earth and, therefore, upon a holy ground. To walk with reverence everywhere is to find nourishment and solidity with each step. Each mindful step brings us back to the here and now, reminding us that we are alive on this beautiful planet. It propels us into present moment awareness. Ultimately, all of us are looking for our solid ground, our true home. The Earth, and the Present, is our true home. We can’t be grounded in our body if our mind is elsewhere.
Following the Path of SMILES, we are guided by the meaning of this wonderful acronym:
S is for Smile – uplifting my vibration
M is for Mantra – expressing my heart’s desire
I is for Inhale and exhale – aware of my breath
L is for Letting go – of my name and game
E is for Ears listening, Eyes watching – I come to my senses
S is for Sensing – the Presence of the Divine in and around me
Experience being the greatest teacher, I have to humbly agree that for the two days I practiced mindful walking and the Path of SMILES, the beauty and wonder of the Earth and its creatures around me was greatly amplified. Being in the moment was joy unbounded! There was no room in my mind for anything worrisome; my mind was totally absorbed in the moment, whether I was mindfully eating, looking at the beautiful pond and gardens, walking the labyrinth, listening to the birds, or perusing the roadways looking for tiny pieces of quartz crystals amidst the gravel.
As the Master Hahn himself says:
No one has lived in the past or the future, only the now. The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. While you are walking, smile and be in the here and now, and you will transform that place into paradise.
Yes! I do enjoy the beautiful sanctuary where I happen to live; however, during every Silent Retreat its beauty, peace, tranquility, and divine resonance is, for me, amplified a hundred-fold! Ah, the power of many together!
Thank you, Sharon Ray, for bringing this priceless gift to Sunburst as a prelude to an approaching beautiful spring when the subsiding rains and entrancing green hillsides beckon us into mindful walking. And thank you, Thich Nhat Hanh, for reminding us that the very ground we stand on anywhere and everywhere is still Sacred Earth, and has the power to connect and ground us if we are mindful and receptive!
What a joy to attend the event held at the Sunburst Lodge on Saturday afternoon, March 2. I was there just to find out what this was all about. Turns out, I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was so interesting!
“Fluties” as they call themselves, and other musicians came from so many different places—many from as far away as Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties—just to join with one another and have a good time playing music together.
Some of the musicians performed alone. Others asked for accompaniment which included varying drums, other interesting percussion, keyboard, guitar, and/or other flutes. Every performer contributed something very different from the others. Much of the music was “jamming, making it up as you go.” Yet, it was wonderful. Every performer was so respectful of what each other offered.
Most of the flutes were of wood or bamboo, but there were other kinds, too. Joanne Lazzaro from Pasadena played a variety of very unusual flutes. One of them, made of clay, had three different chambers, and was carved to look like a rattlesnake. Another was a double-chambered flute about five feet long. She also played a “shakalute,” a traditional-looking European silver flute, but with a wooden mouthpiece on the top. It was held pointing downwards, and sounded like a Japanese flute. Then she brought out a Hawaiian nose flute! Yes, it’s blown by the nose. Hawaiians say the nose never lies.
A talented performer who has only been playing the flute for a few years had also brought an “effects” foot pedal. It produces different kinds of accompanying harmonies and sounds. The other musicians were delighted to try playing with this.
With his family, Nash Tavewa came up from Orange County. He displayed some of the wooden and clay flutes he creates. When Nash performed his young son kept time on a large Native American drum. Gill Velasquez and Jadon Smith also offered a wonderful array of their beautiful flutes.
I so enjoyed being there in the Lodge with the pictures of Brother Norm, Paramahansa Yogananda, Jesus, and the Native American art all around, hearing the music that all of these accomplished musicians had traveled so far for the opportunity to share with one another. From the potluck that started off the day with good fellowship, until the last note was played and the last farewell said, it was such a fulfilling experience.
By Ischa Beharry
Sometimes, it just seems like the years and months quickly vanish into oblivion, some being a memory sweet, and others predictably similar or uneventful. This past year, however, seemed different. Despite all that’s been happening around the world, in our own country, and in our personal lives, there are certain things that do not change; for example, the fact that spring always follows winter.
As I think about 2018, the latter part of the year captures my focus. August through December were exceptional at Sunburst Sanctuary: A star-studded cosmic stage on a clear, warm August night found many of us excitedly transfixed on the Heavens, eagerly engaged in a concerted effort not to miss a single shooting star as we camped upon The Wheel of Life Hill. The Perseid Meteor Shower was the night’s highlight, and we were it’s dedicated, entranced audience, ready to explore in our individual imaginings what the evening’s earlier presentation had entailed—a fun, interactive lecture by Sunburst’s own Moksha Badarayan on “Living in Space.”
The euphoria of an incredible evening presentation and observation of the Heavens through powerful telescopes paved the way for even more excitement as we counted upward of 100 beautiful shooting stars between 11:30 P.M.and early dawn! Our star party was indeed a hit!
Mid-September found a group of us enjoying an afternoon of delicacies at the Sunburst Lodge, hosted by Michelle Schaeffer who shared her secret recipes and hidden talent for turning any vegetable or fruit into a dehydrated delight! We excitedly tried our own hands at learning that fascinating process, never mind treating our tummies to a buffet of treats! Emily Wirtz also shared her hidden talent for canning, further whetting our appetites with several culinary creations. But wait, no fun afternoon would’ve been complete without a sumptuous potluck dinner—and that it was!!!
As the cycles of the seasons usher us into their own unique rhythms, so did the end of September find us engaged in a special journey of connection to our soul and the earth through the eyes of a horse! Every participant in the Equine-Guided experience, led by Natalie Riggs, spent an entire day spellbound by the deep and emotionally moving connections they made with the Sunburst horses, and the horses’ abilities to not only help us open our heart centers, but to connect to our souls, the earth, and Spirit, with many participants experiencing amazing emotional and spiritual breakthroughs!
October brought its own special gifts—a Kriya II Meditation Retreat in which one learned the technique of activating the healing power of our chakras. Meditation, periods of silence, and interiorizing of the senses were highlights, paving the way for an even deeper journey within at the Fall Silent Retreat led by Sharon Ray. What an incredible journey of Self-discovery it was! Yoga, guided walking and sitting meditations, visual presentations and enlightening talks by Sharon provided a fitting end to an amazing month of journeying within.
November found us exploring our body’s own sacred geometry at the Celebrate Life Retreat. Craig Hanson led this fascinating workshop of understanding our bodies with the objective of understanding creation. A captive audience expressed its delight at discovering the Divine thumbprint—the sacred geometry that is inherent in every aspect of our bodies, nature, and the cosmos! Our minds and senses fully satisfied, the evening would culminate with Dances of Universal Peace. Two hours of delightful world spiritual dance and song would prove to be the perfect ending to an amazing day!
The journey within that started with the Equine-Guided event in September was reaching a high crescendo as Sunburst celebrated the return of the light at our winter solstice meditation and labyrinth walk. An afternoon of hourly silent meditations proved the perfect prelude to dinner with friends, followed by a warming fire and labyrinth walk with lumineria under the stars. What magic ensued as the beautiful full Moon shed her glorious light beams over the meadow and labyrinth as we gathered around the bonfire enjoying the heightened cosmic energies of a most sacred day.
As I revel in the energy of a New Year and what it might bring, my heart is already uplifted by the blessings of the New Year’s Kriya Yoga Meditation Retreat held on the first week in January. One of the most powerful ones ever, I cannot but marvel at how the incredible energies of the previous six months were in sync with the very rhythm of the seasons they represented. And at how we started our journey inwardly in September just as Nature started her own journey of rest and rejuvenation, in preparation of a vibrant spring that’s sure to follow.
by Ischa Beharry
There they stood, majestic, commanding, glorifying the entire hillside with their immense beauty, three magnificent horses, while a beautiful lone poppy bloomed in full majesty on the Wheel of Life trail silently proclaiming to all, “Welcome!”
It was a late February morning as Sharon Ray led our silent procession to the Wheel of Life, an exercise in Mindful Walking Meditation, styled after the precepts of Thich Nhat Hanh. A cosmic blessing indeed to watch the pretty lone poppy as if proudly declaring, “Here I am – alone, yes, but here to offer joy and bring a smile to the faces of all who enter upon this sacred trail.” And smile we did!
As we stood on the hilltop in reverence of Divine Mother’s Nature, Sharon reminded us of the necessity to slow down, to observe, to feel nature and “listen.” And that we did for on our way down the hill on our way to the sanctuary temple, there stood the three gorgeous horses, looking directly at us and as I “listened” their voices in unison conveyed the message to me, “We bring blessings of the Divine Father to you.”
Weeks later, a large group of us made another procession to the Wheel of Life Seed Ceremony led by Sean Fennell. And what were we sowing? Poppy seeds! Could it be a Divine call from that lone poppy that she needed friends? Could it be Divine Mother’s blessing that she recognized just how much we appreciated her lone poppy child and wanted us to create a glorious poppy community? Whatever it was, it was all wonderful, for as retreat participants made their sacred seed offering at the Wheel of Life – sowing symbolically the seeds for the future flowering of their innermost hopes and desires – we knew with conviction that Spirit had heard our prayers and proclamations.
Having explained the Wheel of Life and its significance spiritually as our inner journey, and physically as our outer journey in the world itself, Sean talked about the spiraling nature of our inner journey and showed amazing physical examples of spirals in nature, some of which (a conch shell and pine cone) powerfully captured the message that all life forms, including us humans as well as the orbiting planets and galaxies themselves, are always moving and expressing their spiraling nature.
Once again, the same three horses stood majestically in the exact location they had for the Mindful Walking event weeks earlier, as we proceeded down the hill toward our lodge area. Inwardly, I felt that Divine Spirit and the Ancient Elders of this sacred Chumash land were showering countless blessings upon us and our sincere efforts through these events to bring back Heaven on Earth, right here, right now.
Nourishing rainfall did not deter the afternoon’s planned outdoor events, for in its place an incredible Permaculture movie was shown that created an atmosphere of great anticipation and excitement as participants later eagerly planted trays of vegetable seedlings. These were to be taken home for infusing their own gardens under the guidance of Sean Fennell.
Little Eli, Sunburst’s most adored resident, was, of course, the most eager of all as he dug into the compost, playing with it, wanting to plant also but too young to do so. So thrilled was Carmen, one of the participants who had brought about twenty friends to the event, that she hugged Sean and said to him, “Thank you so much. This is the best birthday I’ve ever had!”
And as Sean humbly put it, “This is our gift to you for gifting us so greatly with your eagerness to learn, your loving presence, and the joyfulness that you and your friends all brought to us at Sunburst.”
Two months filled with many treasured memories of wonderful people, incredible energy, and great learning, blessed by three stately horses and that glorious lone poppy!
by Ischa Beharry
The month of August was a momentous one at Sunburst. A journey through the cosmos, exploring the cycles of cosmic time in relation to ancient Sanskrit texts was a most unexpected and fascinating highlight of our yearly Star Party.
Sunburst’s own, Moksha Badarayan held spellbound an audience of sixty eager partiers as she explained the direct correlation between the length of the great Yugas (cycles of cosmic time) calculated by the ancient Indian sages, and the Yugas’ duration as validated by present day science. Recent archaeological findings have provided irrefutable evidence that highly sophisticated civilizations existed more than 200,000 years ago!
Jaws dropped as Moksha showed pictures of those findings. Minds raced as each of us tried to understand the vastness of time and place in those spectacular discoveries, and their import. Complicated, advanced mathematics known to pre-Neanderthal races—now how’s that even possible?
A recent article in The Guardian stated that, “Archaeologists unearthed the bones of at least five people at Jebel Irhoud, a former barite mine 100km west of Marrakesh…. They knew the remains were old, but were stunned when dating tests revealed that a tooth and stone tools found with the bones were about 300,000 years old.” Another discovery in San Diego, California posits the claim that humans might have lived in North America 130,000 years ago!
Homemade chai tea, all types of snacks, salads, finger foods and cookies provided an incredible prelude to a small trek up the Wheel of Life hill to view the Perseid meteor shower. What a memorable evening it was as all celebrated the fact that it is science that will continue to debunk what mainstream academia has for far too long deemed: hardly likely, impossible, or simply a myth.
The excitement of this memorable event had hardly waned as yet another fun and exciting happening followed two weeks later—Family Weekend! Oh what a joy to see families having fun together painting sand mandalas, practicing yoga, learning meditation. Kids excitedly andjoyfully helped Sean Fennell plant young starters in Sunburst’s permaculture garden. There was harvesting of all types of yummy vegetables, dancing and playing under the sprinklers and even more fun at a beach party afterwards. A scrumptious dinner was to be only a teasing prelude to yet another amazing evening—a live concert by Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda.
A full day, a fun time, and a restful night were followed the next day bySunday services and a yummy brunch. This marked the grand finale before Labor Day celebrations. We had explored the cosmos, meditated and explored inner space, worked and played in the garden, sang and danced in the temple, and made special connections with each other. Spirit and Nature had joyfully and effortlessly played and danced together for three glorious days.