Peace Walk

Traditions rarely develop without some political or religious impulse. This originating impulse, if lost in the mists of time, is sometimes replaced with a new idealogy: the gravitas of the past appropriated by the shallow presumptions of the present.

Originally a fall feast tradition of the Wompanoag - gatecrashed by the Pilgrims in 1621 - the Thanksgiving Holiday had fallen into disuse until Sarah Josepha Hale (author of the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb) suggested to Lincoln that this hi-jacked Native American festival might become a celebration of national unity. The President subsequently issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1863. Similarly, if less beningly, leaders of the National Socialist German Workers Party appropriated mystical traditions, symbols and pageantry from ancient aryan traditions. The conflation of Christian celebrations with pre-existing pagan observances is well known.

At the Walk of Peace, a celebration of the UN International Day of Peace, a joint production of Meditation Mount and the Ojai Foundation the organizers elaborated the send-off rally, and its celebratory ending, with a variety of purloined traditions. In between, the walk was held in silence save for the occasional striking of a Buddhist meditation awakening bell. In another nod to the Buddhist tradition, saffron scarves were tied to branches along the way.

The UN General Assembly, in resolution 55/282, of 7 September 2001, decided that, beginning in 2002, the International Day of Peace should be observed on 21 September each year. This was a reaffirmation of an early resolution in 1988 that established the opening day of the The General Assembly in New York as Peace Day. The change to a fixed date echoes FDR’s jiggering with the Thanksgiving date - Lincoln established Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November but outraged shopkeepers concerned at the shrinking Christmas sales season when that Thursday fell on the last day of the month in 1939 persuaded Roosevelt to declare that the Day be the third Thursday of the month. After that date was widely reviled as ‘Franksgiving’ it was settled that the holiday be observed on the fourth Thursday of the month.

The UN Day of Peace is observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day. The International Peace Garden at Meditation Mount is dedicated to strengthening the capacity of its visitors to lead more peaceful, purposeful and compassionate lives that are a real force for good in the world; as such it is the perfect venue for mobilizing a Peace March.

The secondary agenda of the event was to establish a physical link between the Mount and the Ojai Foundation by inaugrating a trail that connects the two. Thirdly it was about establishing a nexus between two nodes in Ojai, the Peace Garden promontory overlooking the Ojai valley to the west and and a knoll that rises above the Foundation which sits on Annie Besant’s Happy Valley both of which are considered places of particular earth energy - known as power spots or vortices. A connection between the two would therefore qualify as a ley-line (Stoned) although these are traditionally straight and our route through precipitous avocado fields, the meandering creek bottom and the switchback climb up the north eastern flank of of a diminishing Black Mountain, was anything but.

We walked between places of similar mystique and elevation - the so called ‘Power Point’ set in reasonably undisturbed chaparral above the Foundation buildings is about 200 feet higher and it was there we gathered in the gloaming for a circle around a fire-pit into which were thrown the sprigs of white sage that we had been given upon our departure. In the billowing herbal smoke, the occasional flash of a camera, the steady beating of a small conga drum and the drone of a didgerdoo we achieved the apotheosis of borrowed tradition, conflated spiritual practices and the miscegenation of folk instruments from different hemispheres. My deepest regret is that I could not accompany this witches brew with my wobble board (a home-made skiffle instrument popularized by the Australian musician Rolf Harris). The chant-along was concluded with a collective ommmm.

The event was held two days before today’s full moon and in the normal course of events our evening walk would have ended under the light of the rising moon. As it was, the marine layer drifted in half an hour after we started and we finally clambered down to our car at the Ojai Foundation in full darkness. The opening ceremony had been held in bright sunshine in the Peace Garden at the Mount and here was initiated the macedoine of ancient rituals - but heavy on the Native American.

Laura Whitney of the Ojai Foundation shared with us her vision for the connection between the two Ojai institutions which by ley line, are less than a mile apart. She mentioned that there are over a hundred miles of trails in Ojai and her ultimate dream is for these to be linked together. Most of the trails in Ojai, other than those in the Sespe, are profoundly discontinuous and linkage, when possible, is achieved through privately held land. Our short Peace March was dependent on the good graces of the owner of High Winds Ranch. Upper Ojai, as I outlined in Things Fall Apart is mostly a mess of privately held ranches, oil properties and institutional holdings.

Eric Baumgartner provided an opening prayer - a generic Plains Indian paen to the four cardinal directions given on what we were told was Chumash sacred land. Each obeisance to a cardinal direction culminated in affirmation by the crowd by way of the call, ‘aho’ originally a Lakhota expression of agreement, but borrowed into many other North American languages as a result of inter-tribal pow-wows in the 20th century.

Even within the Plains Indian tradition of directions and the colors associated with them, there are many variations. This cosmology was sculpturally expressed in the medicine wheel - earth art used for various spiritual, ritual and healing purposes. Most medicine wheels have a basic pattern - a central stone cairn with spokes radiating to an outer ring of stone - surviving examples have been dated back at least 5,000 years on the Great Plains of the United States and southern Canada.

On a Native American discussion forum, there were dark warnings of mixing traditions: “You never know what the outcome may be, and someone could get hurt, have a problem with their health, their family, or their home”. What I wonder, might be the result of of declaiming the prayers of the buffalo hunters on Chumash sacred ground? I demurred from shouting ‘aho’, and perhaps I wil be spared misfortune.

As a small act of compassion on our return to Meditation Mount, I slowed the car to pass someone walking down the dirt track from the Foundation out to highway 150, and Lorrie enquired if he would like a lift. He got in and we drove him almost to the end of Mc Nell, a good 5 miles, which apparently he had been willing to walk on-top-of his Walk of Peace.

I reflected that I had been surrounded on the walk by such good and resolute souls: believers in peace, lovers of nature, trusting in the power of community (and mostly convinced that there are telluric currents that energize all of life). I was with them, one of them: but next time perhaps, the organizers will hold the faux Native American spirituality - it diminishes us and the traditions we filch.