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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Meditating in Crestone

September 26th, 2014 · 2 Comments

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I went to Crestone solely to meditate. But the beauty I found there prompted me to take some photos too.

The opportunity to have six days of silent meditation drew me back to Crestone for the second straight year. Offered by the Insight Meditation Community of Colorado and led by David Chernikoff (who also usually leads my Tuesday evening sangha), this was a special kind of retreat. We were a small group of 11 yogis, and except for opening and closing ceremonies ​,​ we meditated in our own individual hermitages when we ​weren’t doing walking meditation.

We were guests of Nada Hermitage, the Colorado branch of the Spiritual Life Institute, a community of men and women living a communal life according to the primitive Carmelite ideal. One priest and two lay women live the contemplative life there and share that life with others, whatever their faith. The Spiritual Life Institute is a Roman Catholic ecumenical community with roots in the Carmelite tradition.

In Crestone it’s not unusual for a Buddhist retreat to take place in a Roman Catholic hermitage. Crestone is the largest intentional interfaith community in North America and perhaps the world. At least 22 spiritual centers and networks are now located here.

The spiritual community that has grown up just south of Crestone owes more to one couple than to everyone else. Maurice Strong is an environmentally conscious Canadian businessman specializing in oil and mineral resources and a former diplomat representing Canada as under-secretary general of the United Nations. In 1978 Strong came to ​ have​ the controlling interest the Arizona-Colorado Land and Cattle Company, which owned a large portion of the original Luis Maria Baca Grant No. 4, a square some 12.5 miles on each side. The company created the Baca Grande, a subdivision originally platted for about 10,000 lots on 200,000 acres of land. Happily, ​sales lagged and ​it failed. But then Strong and his Danish-born wife Hanne visited the development and fell in love with it.

In 1978 ​”​a stranger appeared at my door and introduced himself as Glenn Anderson,” Hanne Strong recalled in 2008. “I did not know that many people throughout the Valley knew of Glen [sic] as the local mystic and prophet. The first words he uttered were ​’​I have been waiting for you to arrive.​’”​ He told her that he had predicted in the 1960 ​’​​​ ​​s that a foreigner would come here and build an international religious center. ​”​This is what you’ve come to Crestone to do.​”​

And that ​’​s precisely what she did after hearing his prophesy. Hanne and Maurice Strong began granting parcels of land to spiritual groups. The Nada Hermitage was one of the first three benefactors of a grant of land from the Strongs.

The hermitage sits at 8,000 feet directly below some of the highest peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.

A Bridge Connects the Chapel and the Agape Library of the Nada Hermitage

A Bridge Connects the Chapel and the Agape Library of the Nada Hermitage

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Finding ​out ​who designed this beautiful hermitage was surprisingly difficult. The architect, I finally learned, was Michael Bertin. He designed many of the sacred buildings in Crestone and is the principal architect of Architectural Harmonics, which not surprisingly is headquartered in Boulder.

The Chapel of the Nada Hermitage in the Last Light of Day

The Chapel of the Nada Hermitage in the Last Light of Day

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In my search for photographs to do the Nada Hermitage justice, the lighting was exceptional for about 20 minutes when the sun broke through the clouds on the western horizon. The light on Nada was exceptional, while the Sangre de Cristo mountains were still dark. Then for about 5 or 10 minutes they too lit up for the first time all day. How glorious!

​A Bridge Leads from the Chapel to the Agape Library

A Bridge Leads from the Chapel to the Agape Library

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When we got together as a group, it was in the Agape Library building, which includes a kitchen. We started the retreat with a meal that we shared before we went into noble silence. After dinner we sat for a brief meditation. Just we settled into the silence the coyotes howled. What timing!

​I Could Be Alone in My Hermitage

I Could Be Alone in My Hermitage

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After dinner alone in my hermitage one night, I saw that the sun just might break through the clouds for a couple of minutes. That was enough to get me to pick up my camera and walk down to the very edge of the hermitage’s land to get a shot of my little home in the desert. The sun broke through for all of two minutes, but I got the shot I wanted.

My individual hermitage ​wa​s called Day, named for the Catholic social activist Dorothy Day. It is completely isolated from any other hermitage in the far southwest area of Nada’s 125 acres of unscarred desert (including 35 in the mountains). No one walks or drives by ​this​ hermitage, and I looked out at essentially nothing but undeveloped desert.

My easy chair and my meditation bench faced south through three large floor-to-ceiling windows measuring in total about 12 feet long by 8 feet high. Three smaller windows to the east g ​a​ve me an unobstructed view of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and two more windows to the west g​a​ve me a view of the San Juan range to the east of the San Luis Valley.

My small hermitage was just what I needed. Nothing is in excess and nothing is lacking. I ha​d​ the kitchen essentials, including electricity, a hot plate, small fridge, microwave, hot and cold running water, as well as indoor plumbing and heat. All in a cabin about 18 feet by 21 feet.

​The View from My Hermitage

The View from My Hermitage

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This was the scene early on a sunny morning and is the only shot that I took other than in the golden hour before sunset at about 7:45 p.m.

​​My Favorite Meditation Tree

My Favorite Meditation Tree

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This tree, which I think is a Colorado Pinon Pine, was near my individual hermitage and was where I sat most often when I left my hermitage. First in a camp chair and then sitting on the ground with my back to the trunk of the tree, these sits got me more directly in touch with the land.

I went to this retreat in Crestone with the intention of getting as much out of it as I could. So I spent little time taking pictures. Nevertheless, I got every shot I wanted — with one exception. After our only group dinner we had a glorious sunset, but I didn’t have my camera with me. Fortunately, Sally did.

​Sunset on the San Juan Mountains from Nada (Photo by Sally Blaser ​:​ Used by Permission)

Sunset on the San Juan Mountains from Nada (Photo by Sally Blaser : Used by Permission)

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Meditating in these surroundings was a joy. But I made sure to take a little time to document the experience.


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Posted in: Photography

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gail E // Sep 30, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    David, what an awe inspiring, peaceful place you have had the honor of connecting with. Your photographs show a part of our world where peace and tranquility reign supreme, I am sure. I know you will never forget the experience.
    I live in a busy city (Auckland New Zealand) and would give my eye teeth to experience this amazing place. I have had Type 1 for 57 years and have lately felt the need to escape – Crestone would be perfect!
    Kind regards Gail

  • 2 David Mendosa // Sep 30, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Dear Gail,

    Yes, that is a wonderful place. But I’ve been to your country too and know that New Zealand is beautiful. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find a great place to retreat to that is close to home.

    With metta,