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. It was this magical place that inspired the album, “Return to Joshua Tree,” which remains one of the most popular of the thirty-five or so projects that I have completed.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”