The Mount has a team of two to maintain her 31.2 acres of land, 5 buildings and the International Garden of Peace. Although Tim Hall and Miguel Contreras are sometimes viewed as superhuman in all that they accomplish, the devastating scene after December 2017 was absolutely daunting, even for them.
Walking the grounds was not only dangerous, but emotionally crushing. Years of work bringing the International Garden of Peace to full bloom were swept away in a night. The residence lovingly called “Tree House” was gone, only stone rubble, exposed pipes and blackened trees remaining. The flames had come so close to the other buildings that the rubber in the sliding glass doors melted. The Peace pole became a pile of ash. Every inch of the property was touched by the fire and either had to be hauled away or cleaned. Each day began with four hands.
Many have spoken of the deep “gifts” of the Thomas Fire. Truly it has unearthed treasures of awareness, gratitude and a new respect for Mother Nature, but cleaning up 31 acres was not a gift these guys would want to receive again any time soon. In May of this year we were approached by a group called CET, The Center for Employment Training (CETweb.org.) They brought not only the tangible gift of 20 more helping hands, but the connection of those hands to 10 inspiring hearts.
CET Managers Alex Moreno and Josh Miramontez came up to the Mount to tell us about a new grant. They explained that the Department of Labor National Emergency Fund had provided $1.5 million in funding to partner the EDD (Employment Development Department) and the La Cooperative Campensina de California, and provide assistance for properties suffering from wildfire damages. The program welcomes workers from the unemployment program and places them on sites affected by the 2018 fires and floods in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Diego Counties. The grant pays each crew-member and provides their supplies, including safety helmets, glasses, shovels, and wheel barrels. The worksite, in this case Meditation Mount, does not pay the salaries. We are just responsible for water, shade, and supervision of the work. This gift of a free labor force was truly beyond Tim and Miguel’s wildest dreams. Little did they know it would also be wrapped up in humor, love and awe inspiring courage.
Over the past 3 months the Crew has grown to 10 men, ranging from 25 to 50 years of age. None of them had ever been to the Mount before and most of them had no idea of the grueling labor that awaited them. Over time we learned that each of these gentlemen were facing challenges in their personal lives; courageously focusing on addiction recovery programs, finishing up a parole sentence, struggling with new parenthood or conquering health issues. Their appearance might mislead you and bring up every assumption and deeply harbored bias about tattoos, skin color, language and love. Love was the biggest gift. We were not prepared for the love that emerged.
Tim Hall is a father of three, former schoolteacher, military officer, gang counselor and arborist. So, nothing really fazes him. Miguel is also a father, a long time Ojai Valley citrus specialist, and “plant whisperer”. The two share a fierce drive and stamina that would challenge many 30 years their junior. The CET crew all took to the pair like glue, accepting them as father figures, role models and mentors.
The Mount also has had some gifts to share with these gentlemen. Her physical beauty is astounding; even in the charred state she was in when they arrived. Her quiet rhythm lures you into matching the earth’s steady pulse, illuminating all that is out of balance in your life. Her steep canyon contours invite you to explore the strength of your body and the depth of your soul purpose. She is relentless as she whispers into your soul, teaching you to listen, filtering the chatter, mining for the essence of the Divine Love-Wisdom within you. She is the greatest teacher and example of the Principles upon which the Mount is founded; Essential Divinity, Unanimity and Goodwill.
The team works Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Each Thursday the staff and CET Crew gather for lunch and a council circle. The Crew quickly took to the process of passing the talking stick, speaking and listening from the heart and sharing their week’s gift from the Mount. Over the weeks, the bravado faded, the “street cred” became unimportant and a newly discovered, raw love emerged as their primary power source. They shared their personal challenges, how the Mount was inspiring them and their new goals and dreams.
We, the staff, who thought we would be the teachers, quickly realized, we were becoming the students, too. We were the ones in awe of the strength and courage it took to allow the layers of tattoos and armor to fade into the background. We were the ones with tears of joy, honor and pride as we witnessed these men blossom in their own process of self-discovery. They were living the Laws and Principles which we seek to embody and convey. They were bringing a Spiritual Approach to their lives, treating everyone with equal respect and honor. Every day they were exploring what Right Human Relations means, with their families, with the land, and with the rattlesnakes and tarantulas they relocated. These guys in every way were embodying the ideals of Group Endeavor.
The CET contract was extended to March of 2019 and we had grand hopes of their help in building a new outdoor meditation amphitheater where our residence “Tree House” once stood. We had become family and had visions of integrating the guys more into their “home on the hill.” But last month another fire devastated our neighboring cities to the south. The Woolsey Fire brought all the horror back up for each of us. So when we heard the Crew would be re-located by mid-December to go help those in more immediate need, we were crushed but understood.
Our sadness quickly converted to pride as we realized this was actually a graduation. These ten men are ready to go and lead others. They witnessed through the Mount the depth of the emotional damage and physical destruction. They know there is hope on the horizon. They will be able to see the barren hillsides and envision the green re-emerging. They know the satisfaction of blazing a new trail, both through the dirt and through their own challenges.
They will be able to encourage others, to organize a crew, to keep their team safe and teach others about their inner strength. They may even be willing to come back to the Mount to teach others about truly living the Mount’s Principles and Pathways.
Thank you Raul, Mark, Kevin, Saul, Michael, Troy, Alex, Ignacio, Gary, Jose, and Branden. The gift of your presence will last way beyond the stacks of woodpiles and tons of mulch. Your courage truly inspires us!
~by Judy Gabriel, Project Manager