Visit to Edith Wharton's Estate, The Mount by Netanel Miles-Yepez

 A view of the house from the courtyard. — N.M-Y. '15

A view of the house from the courtyard. — N.M-Y. '15

Today, my last full day at the Abode, my friend, Alia, took me over to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s estate in nearby Lenox, Massachusetts. A fan of her 1920 novel, The Age of Innocence, and knowing a little something about her life, I was eager to see her home.

 The side gate outside the courtyard of the house. — N.M-Y. '15

The side gate outside the courtyard of the house. — N.M-Y. '15

We explored the house first, and then headed out to the magnificent gardens, trying-out different spots from which to sit and take it all in.

 A view of the house from the gardens. — N.M-Y. '15

A view of the house from the gardens. — N.M-Y. '15

 A picture Alia took of me sitting in the stone wall at the edge of the gardens. — N.M-Y. '15

A picture Alia took of me sitting in the stone wall at the edge of the gardens. — N.M-Y. '15

 Sitting on a bench in the center of the gardens. — N.M-Y. '15

Sitting on a bench in the center of the gardens. — N.M-Y. '15

But, according to Alia, the “most sacred place” on the whole estate was the little pet cemetery on the hill, where Edith Wharton’s dogs were buried.

 Path leading up to the Pet Cemetery. — N.M-Y. '15

Path leading up to the Pet Cemetery. — N.M-Y. '15

Here, we knelt down and said impromptu prayers for Modele, Miza, Toto, and the others, for all the joy these little companions brought her, and to all of us.

 On the far left, the tombstone of Toto, who died November 18th, 1904. — N.M-Y. '15

On the far left, the tombstone of Toto, who died November 18th, 1904. — N.M-Y. '15


Down to the Darrow School by Netanel Miles-Yepez

The retreatants here at the Abode are still on silence until later this afternoon, after which, they’ll have fireworks on the property in the evening for the 4th of July. So, while everything is still quiet, I decided to take a walk down to the Darrow School to see and photograph all the restored Shaker buildings there.

It’s been raining, so I grabbed an umbrella from the bin in the mud room of the Razzaq building, and stepped out into the gravel courtyard and over a puddle. I made my way down the driveway and onto the road, just as a teenage boy and girl in shorts, rain jackets and mud boots, were turning the corner off Chairfactory Road, leading two draft horses onto Darrow. I followed them, stopping to take a picture shortly before they turned down a dirt path into a pasture.

I continued down the road, stopping often to take photos of the old buildings. Some seemed familiar to me, and I wondered if I had seen them in Ken Burns’ excellent documentary, The Shakers, which included footage of many of these communities.

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The Darrow School originally opened in the Fall of 1932 as the Lebanon School for Boys, taking over the preexisting Shaker buildings of Mt. Lebanon. Later, in 1939, it was renamed Darrow School in honor of the local family who had first settled the land and provided support to the Mt. Lebanon Shaker community.

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The Shakers first came to Mt. Lebanon in 1781 and established a self-sufficient religious community there that is especially remembered for its unique approach to living and learning, its beautifully hand-crafted furniture, as well as its seed and medicinal enterprises. There motto was “hands to work, hearts to God.”

On the walk back, I climbed atop one of the mysterious old stone, obelisk-like markers left by the Shakers, looking far out into a wide open field, my arms spread wide, palms up to catch the light rain falling on them.


Almost . . . First Attempt by Netanel Miles-Yepez

 A sign on the way up to Pir Vilayat's Pod. "Almost ..." was right. I never found it. — N.M-Y. 2015

A sign on the way up to Pir Vilayat's Pod. "Almost ..." was right. I never found it. — N.M-Y. 2015

Just before seven, I headed outside in the rain to the Meditation Hall to lead the “Morning Attunement.” I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant in this context, and hadn’t much time to prepare, but figured I couldn’t go wrong giving instruction in and leading the retreatants in the Chishti dhikr. The session went well and I enjoyed it. Afterward, a wonderfully sincere young man came up and told me that was exactly what he had been looking for, the “real Sufism.” I thought about that . . . The basics of our path; that’s what we need to stick to.

 A sign pointing up the road to Pir Vilayat's Pod. Or so it said. — N.M-Y.

A sign pointing up the road to Pir Vilayat's Pod. Or so it said. — N.M-Y.

Shortly before lunch, I made an attempt to go find Pir Vilayat’s Pod, the place where Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan (1916-2004) used to retreat on the mountain. My friend, Atum O’Kane, one of Pir Vilayat’s senior students, told me that I should visit the spot years before. So I headed up the mountain in a lovely but ultimately fruitless attempt to find the pod. I came upon a campground of sorts and a stone foundation of something, but nothing like the pod that had once been described to me.

 The campground on the mountain. — N.M-Y. 2015

The campground on the mountain. — N.M-Y. 2015

In the afternoon teacher’s meeting, Pir Zia asked me to be part of a panel of younger leaders—including himself, Alia Wittman, and Sarah Leila Manolson—during sohbet to discuss issues of paradigm shift in the Sufi Order. It was an interesting conversation and brought up a number of issues for the community.

 Sarah Leila Manolson speaking during the sohbet on paradigm shift in the Sufi Order. Photo by Hilary Benas, 2015.

Sarah Leila Manolson speaking during the sohbet on paradigm shift in the Sufi Order. Photo by Hilary Benas, 2015.

Afterward, I spent the evening hanging out with friends and taking a series of long walks up and down Chairfactory Road, on which I tried to capture pictures of the Moon in puddles.

 Unsuccessful attempt to capture the Moon in a puddle. — N.M-Y. 2015

Unsuccessful attempt to capture the Moon in a puddle. — N.M-Y. 2015

Death, Love, and a Party by Netanel Miles-Yepez

 Deepa Gulrukh Patel and Netanel Miles-Yépez in dialogue. Photo by Hilary Benas, 2015.

Deepa Gulrukh Patel and Netanel Miles-Yépez in dialogue. Photo by Hilary Benas, 2015.

The day started with a dialogue on Love and Death with my dear friend, Deepa Gulrukh Patel, the International Coordinator of the Sufi Order and a brilliant teacher. I opened with a story I learned from Reb Zalman and his wife, Eve Ilsen, called “The Source of Beauty,” which explores the themes of love and death. The dialogue was oriented around the following poem by Hazrat Inayat Khan, beloved by both of us:

I have loved in life, and I have been loved. I have drunk the bowl of poison from the hands of love as nectar, and have been raised above life’s joy and sorrow. My heart, aflame in love, set afire every heart that came in touch with it. My heart has been rent and joined again; my heart has been broken and again made whole; my heart has been wounded and healed again; a thousand deaths my heart has died, and thanks be to love, it lives yet. I went through hell and saw there love’s raging fire, and I entered heaven illumined with the light of love.
— Hazrat Inayat Khan, “Alankaras,” Vadan

 

 Heading down Chairfactory Road to a party. — N.M-Y, 2015

Heading down Chairfactory Road to a party. — N.M-Y, 2015

In the evening, I headed down Chairfactory Road to an informal get together with some of the younger murids at the home of the Abode's director, Alia Wittman.

 New friends, Chris Akbar Miller (clearly assigning blame to somebody else for something), and Tarana Gulzar. — N.M-Y, 2015

New friends, Chris Akbar Miller (clearly assigning blame to somebody else for something), and Tarana Gulzar. — N.M-Y, 2015

It was a great evening, the best of my trip, so far. This is where I want to be—talking informally about Sufism and what matters to people over pizza and dessert! Is there anything better?

 A fun discussion of Sufism with a newcomer and my friend, Jessica Bromby. — N.M-Y, 2015.

A fun discussion of Sufism with a newcomer and my friend, Jessica Bromby. — N.M-Y, 2015.

Meetings with Old and New Friends by Netanel Miles-Yepez

 Netanel Miles-Yépez, Sarah Leila Manolson, and Adam Bucko hanging-out at the Abode of the Message.

Netanel Miles-Yépez, Sarah Leila Manolson, and Adam Bucko hanging-out at the Abode of the Message.

It was an enjoyable day, catching-up with good friends and dialoguing with new ones.

My friend, Adam Bucko, co-founder (with Rory McEntee and I) of the Foundation for New Monasticism, and leader of HAB, an interspiritual new monastic fellowship, came in from the city so we could spend a little time hanging-out between program events.

Afterward, I participated in a great dialogue on the inner life in Sufism with the senior teachers of the Sufi Order—Taj InayatHimayat Inayati and Aziza Scott—facilitated by Gayan Macher

  Gayan Macher, Netanel Miles-Yépez, Himayat Inayati (speaking), and   Taj Inayat during the Dialogue on the Inner Life in the Meditation Hall, Abode of the Message. Photo by Hilary Benas, 2015

Gayan Macher, Netanel Miles-Yépez, Himayat Inayati (speaking), and Taj Inayat during the Dialogue on the Inner Life in the Meditation Hall, Abode of the Message. Photo by Hilary Benas, 2015

Later, Pir Zia asked me to co-lead sohbet with he and his mother, Taj Inayat, in the evening. I facilitated the sohbet session which largely dealt with ecological issues as related to the spiritual path.

  Taj Inayat, Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, and Netanel Miles-Yépez (speaking)   during the  sohbet  session in the Meditation Hall, Abode of the Message. Photo by Hilary Benas, 2015

Taj Inayat, Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, and Netanel Miles-Yépez (speaking) during the sohbet session in the Meditation Hall, Abode of the Message. Photo by Hilary Benas, 2015

After sohbet, I got together with my friend, Deepa Gulrukh Patel, to work on material for our dialogue on death and purification for tomorrow. Taking a creative approach, we began to make a playlist of songs on death to use. Two hours later—playlist, no definite plan!

 Netanel Miles-Yépez and Deepa Gulrukh Patel at the Abode of the Message.

Netanel Miles-Yépez and Deepa Gulrukh Patel at the Abode of the Message.

A Walk Around the Abode by Netanel Miles-Yepez

 Star Was Vans out for a walk. — N.M-Y. '15

Star Was Vans out for a walk. — N.M-Y. '15

After arriving at the Abode of the Message in New Lebanon, New York, early this morning, I decided to take a walk around the property in the afternoon to take pictures of the old Shaker buildings before teaching later at the Season of the Rose Summer School for the Sufi Order.

 The Meditation Hall where every Sunday morning the Abode offers a Universal Worship service honoring all the major religions. — N.M-Y. '15

The Meditation Hall where every Sunday morning the Abode offers a Universal Worship service honoring all the major religions. — N.M-Y. '15

The Abode is a self-sustaining residential community and spiritual center oriented around the teachings of the Indian Sufi master, Hazrat Inayat Khan (1882-1927), dedicated to promoting harmony between all religions.

The Abode is situated on 250 acres originally belonging to the Mt. Lebanon Shaker South Family. Shortly after its establishment in 1975, I’m told, the Abode was visited by three sisters from the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village. The Shakers, they said, had a prophecy that they would die out, but that another group would take over their work of putting “hands to work and hearts to God” on Mt. Lebanon.

 The Razzaq ('provider') building which contains the library, dining hall, and guest rooms. — N.M-Y. '15

The Razzaq ('provider') building which contains the library, dining hall, and guest rooms. — N.M-Y. '15

After looking at the Shaker buildings, I walked down into the Abode gardens just across the street and took pictures of the roses and found little quotes from Hazrat Inayat Khan on handmade wood signs in the beds.

 The Abode of the Message gardens. — N.M-Y. '15

The Abode of the Message gardens. — N.M-Y. '15

 A quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan's Nature Meditations in the garden of the Abode. — N.M-Y. '15

A quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan's Nature Meditations in the garden of the Abode. — N.M-Y. '15

 An appropriate reminder of the Season of the Rose Summer School. — N.M-Y. '15

An appropriate reminder of the Season of the Rose Summer School. — N.M-Y. '15

 A quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan's Philosophy, Psychology, and Mysticism in the garden of the Abode. — N.M-Y. '15

A quote from Hazrat Inayat Khan's Philosophy, Psychology, and Mysticism in the garden of the Abode. — N.M-Y. '15

Coming back up the driveway, I noticed this license plate. Even the cars are Sufi here.

 “Toward the One”. — N.M-Y. '15

“Toward the One”. — N.M-Y. '15

My Abode for the Week by Netanel Miles-Yepez

It’s after 2 o’clock in the morning now, and I’m just getting settled in my room at the Abode of the Message. It’s a nice little Shaker monastic cell, small and narrow, with a simple bed for one under a window at the far end.

I’ve set-up a little area for practice at the other end of the room—laid-out my good black khirqah and tasbihs and placed my meditation bench on the rug. Ready for the week.

Maybe I can get three or fours sleep now before breakfast.