TSA vice-president Tim Boyd, my husband David, and I arrived at Krotona in early May just in time to gather a few food supplies and begin our Friday evening session, the first of eight in a series of workshops based on the little book Trust Yourself to Life by Clara Codd. Tim’s and my experimental team teaching turned out to be a huge success, taking unexpected turns every day but somehow coming together into a pleasing whole. We got lovely feedback for these interactive sessions during the process and found that we enjoyed the experience tremendously. While there we made good use of every moment in order to have the time to connect with our many Ojai friends.
No sooner had we returned than we packed our bags again for a trip to Iowa for a special audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Although Tim and I had been expecting this auspicious event, we were not given an indication of exactly when or where until just a week before, while we were still at Krotona. Tim and I, accompanied by our spouses, Lily and David, were also fortunate to travel with Rinchen Dharlo of the New York Tibet Fund office. Rinchen flew in and out of Chicago and joined the four of us in the van for the five-hour road trip to Cedar Falls, the home of University of Northern Iowa (UNI), venue of His Holiness’ visit. We were treated to excellent seats at the several events there and were able to meet the Tibetan students who were at UNI under special scholarship arrangements.
We had been told that we would have only ten minutes with His Holiness but, through his gracious interest, our visit extended to thirty minutes. One of the first things he said was how well disposed he was to the Theosophical Society and how it had influenced his thinking as early as 1956, when he was invited to a Buddhist conference in India. As a serious young practicing monk, his contacts with Theosophists during that meeting opened his eyes to “the fact the Buddhism was not the only true religion.” Theosophy broadened his horizons at a critical time as he started along his path toward becoming a world leader in the area of interreligious communications and understanding. When approached concerning TSA’s possible sponsorship of an event in Chicago, he paused for only a moment before replying, “Yes, I will give you two days next year.” Needless to say, we were ecstatic! Tim and I are now anxiously awaiting information about the dates and will keep you informed, although I must warn you that “next year” seems to have meant the next year in planning, and that the event will most likely occur in 2012.
Coming back down to earth (way down) almost immediately, we had to deal with drainage issues around the footings of the library, for which David had negotiated a reasonable contract. Mark Roemmich dubbed it the “big dig” and a big dig it ended up being. As soon as the new drain tiles and waterproofing were applied at the base of the footings, and dirt backfilled, Nicor Gas Company needed to dig up the same area for repair of a gas leak. Then after a few heavy rains, one of the window wells settled and pulled away from the wall, necessitating a partial third reworking of the original dig. At last the issues seem resolved, and the landscape has been recontoured and reseeded.
David and I were happy to discover that the pair of great horned owls nesting in our yard successfully launched one baby. The city environment is not conducive to their survival, so every year we anxiously watch for them. This year they didn’t make as many hoots as usual, and we only discovered them just before the baby was ready to fly. When the couple decides that the fledgling is ready to leave, they completely demolish the nest. There is no option for the returning home of adult children in the owl kingdom!
The earlier than usual summer Board meetings challenged staff to get reports ready, but we managed. The big news is the two large bequests received: one from Cleda Nicholson, which funded an upgrade to our kitchen and dining area, and the other from Louis Kinney, a Theosophist from Montana. The Kinney bequest made it possible for us to meet and exceed our initial Program Endowment fund goal to provide ongoing financial support for our educational programs. Bequests such as this are of great importance in supporting our expanding services to members and the public, especially as we work to increase the visibility and influence of the much-needed Theosophical worldview in today’s society.
Immediately following Board meetings, the Summer National Gathering (SNG) went into full swing with stellar speakers including Scott Olsen, Maria Parisen, Kathy Gann, Jonathan Zimmer, Uma Krishnamurthy, Ralph Hannon, and Amit Goswami. Following the theme of “Theosophy: Gateway to Nature’s Treasure,” topics covered a broad spectrum ranging from scientific measurements of the Golden Section to consciousness, the experience of beauty, and psychological yoga. Dan Noga of the Membership Department captivated the audience with his talk titled “Why I Am a Theosophist” as members recalled their own reasons and commitment to Theosophy. The presentations and discussions were interspersed with the richness of the stunning music of violinist Cármelo de los Santos and the dramatic reading of The Theory of Everything, featuring librettist Nancy Rhodes and the Olcott Drama Troupe. Fun Night, with a variety of skits, a magic act, and classical Indian dance by Uma Krishnamurthy, rounded out what several participants termed the best SNG yet.
Just a few days after SNG 2010, David and I traveled to Paris to attend the French Theosophical Section’s Summer Convention, where I presented a talk on “The Truth.” They were a good audience and very receptive to a non-French speaker. We enjoyed staying a few extra days at the stunningly beautiful French headquarters to experience Paris (in the summer heat) and visit with a few friends.
At the 2010 World Congress in Rome, Italy, we enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere of over 500 Theosophists from many countries, meeting, dining, touring, and sharing a wireless internet site together. The theme of “Brotherhood as a Road to Awareness” was thoroughly addressed by a number of speakers, punctuated by delightful evening entertainment. For my part, I invited Tim Boyd to share the platform with me for two afternoon workshops on “Two Key Elements in Brotherhood: Forgiveness and Interconnectedness.” Even with a large and diverse audience, participants seemed to get a lot out of the sessions and particularly enjoyed the opportunity to share with each other.
Although located away from the city center, our venue was a convenient meeting spot. providing a central location for overnight accommodations and all other activities. In fact, David and I didn’t really venture off campus except for specific planned tours to such sites as the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Basilica.
While there, I did have an opportunity to meet with TS international president Radha Burnier. Although frail, she was amazingly strong in demeanor. Our meeting was cordial, but she has apparently been affected by some of the malefic accusations that have flown around the Internet against the American Section in general and me in particular. Be that as it may, we had good conversation and parted in peace.
Following the World Congress, David and I participated in a joint tour of sites in Italy with Australians, Americans, and New Zealanders. The heat was only a mild inconvenience for our intrepid treks, which took us from the picturesque southern Amalfi coastline to the artifacts of Pompeii; the ethereal beauty of art by Leonardo de Vinci, Michelangelo, and others in Florence; and the waterways and the ubiquitous but beautiful Murano glass objects of Venice. All these travels were laced with the experience of stunning scenery and the inspiring magnificence of cathedrals and basilicas.
Finally back home at Olcott, we are looking forward to a quiet August—except that the Co-Masons will take advantage of our available facilities by holding a long weekend of activities here. Although we generally have a full schedule of Theosophical programs, we have found it to be most useful to fill in the brief voids by renting space to compatible groups. In fact, during the past year, rentals and fees added almost $10,000 to support the upkeep of our buildings. We also find that the more we invite people to experience our lovely center, the more we make long-time friends for Theosophy. Perhaps a visit to Olcott to attend a program, for library study, or personal retreat is in your future. We love to welcome our members, but do check for availability, because Olcott is a very busy place.
The big news of July was our 118th Annual Meeting and Summer School with Martin Liederman teaching a series of lessons on The Secret Doctrine. "Chaos, Order, and the Divine Plan" was a most appropriate theme, since the gathering was characterized by creative chaos. Just a few weeks before the big event, our audio/video specialist Steve Schweizer made a breakthrough in working out how to achieve live broadcasting over the Internet at an affordable rate. Supported by the Internet Services/Information Technology Department headed by Ruben Cabigting, and the advances our staff and equipment have made over the last few years, we were able to make webcasts of all our scheduled programs—and some unscheduled ones.
Part of the chaos was due to a last-minute scramble to get the word out to as many of our members as possible. But, last-minute or not, many tuned in from all over the country and around the world. In fact, we had responses from Brazil and England, as well as New Zealand. The atmosphere of this historic event was pervaded by a deep sense of our universal connections with fellow Theosophists around the world. Members who were unable to attend in person could sit in their own homes, view the proceedings, and send in their comments and questions via e-mail, to which the speaker could respond ediately.
An elderly member wrote to tell us how much it meant to her to feel a part of things again. Another who has not lived near a lodge or study group said that the program had inspired her to study Theosophy with new zeal. And the greetings and warm wishes poured in to enhance the expanded sense of brotherhood for all. A selected number of the programs are still available on our Web site, http://www.theosophicalinstitute.org/medialibrary/medialibrary.php . If you log on, you may catch some of the enthusiasm of the moment.
One special event that was broadcast and still resides on our Web site was a readers’ theater production based on the first volume of The Letters of H. P. Blavatsky, entitled "HPB Live!" . The Theosophical Publishing House staff, especially Nicole Krier, publicist, and Sharron Dorr, managing editor, became entranced by the multifaceted character of HPB revealed in the letters. They decided that a good way to promote the book was to dramatize some of the events. It provided grand entertainment and a fascinating glimpse into the private side of our enigmatic founder. Check it out for yourself on our Web site.
Entertainment included world-class musicians Carmelo de los Santos (violin) and Regina Yeh (piano), as well as Martin Pazdioch (tenor). It was amazing to sit among friends in our lovely national library as we listened to outstanding performances. Our last evening’s fun night showcased many of our talented members.
As soon as everyone had left, I was on my way to participate in the fiftieth anniversary program of Far Horizons Theosophical camp in the High Sierra Mountains of California. During the several nights in which we viewed old slides of the building process and all the people who made the camp possible, I was struck by its rich history of dedicated Theosophists and workers over the past fifty years. They committed many summers and even some winters to transform that beautiful wilderness into a welcoming retreat center. I discovered that not only were they hard working, but they were fun loving, as we danced the Virginia reel and other folk dances.
Although August is generally considered our slow month, with no programs, it was not so this year. Olcott was privileged to host a touring display of Buddhist relics in the Tibetan tradition on August 21 and 22. Between 500 and 600 people came through our doors to see the explanatory video, receive a blessing, circumambulate, and meditate in the presence of the beautiful relics purported to be from Gautama Buddha and other highly venerated holy men. The exhibit brought many new faces to our door and generated additional interest in the Society.
At the end of this far from dull month, my husband, David, and I traveled to the northwest, where I gave several presentations in Tacoma and Seattle, followed by a workshop at Indralaya Theosophical camp on Orcas Island. This was the first workshop that David and I have led together, and we felt it was very successful. Together we planned a way to empower members to commit to a Theosophically related service project tailored to where they live and supported by a buddy system to help them see the task through to completion. We were excited by the results of this model, which has the potential to energize our members with a "can do" attitude, and we look forward to the promised six-month progress reports from all participants.
The big news is Quest magazine’s new look! We hope you like it. Our long-time friend and designer
Thanks to a creative staff and an updated facility, the
We also had an initial ribbon cutting for the first opening of Nicholson Hall in order to share the marvelous transformation of a formerly dark basement area into a versatile and welcoming space—all thanks to the bequest of Cleda Nicholson, Shirley Nicholson’s sister-in-law. The formal ribbon cutting will be held at the Summer National Gathering, when Carol Ward, Shirley’s daughter, will be here to do the honors.
February Board meetings survived winter’s bitter nips with only a few flight cancellations. Board actions were posted in the most recent Messenger, including a proposal for bylaw changes and, unfortunately, the process of beginning closure of the Orlando Lodge.
At the end of February we had a farewell lunch for Ruthann Fowler and Jeffrey Forth. Many of our staff have taken on added duties, as we have redistributed the workload. Marina Maestas is managing the Program Committee as well as the Library under a department called Educational Services and Outreach. Paula Finnegan has added program coordinator to her duties as managing editor of Quest magazine, and Pat Griebeler and Angel Hillard have additional responsibilities in handling customer services for the Theosophical Publishing House.
Staff members Dan Noga of Member Services and Chris Bolger, supervisor of the Technology department, received special recognition as promising young business people in Wheaton at the Chamber of Commerce Gammon Awards Banquet. Although it was a bitter snowy night, a number of our staff attended the banquet, adding to the growing visibility of the Society in the local community.
Of course everyone was saddened by Adele Algeo’s passing in mid-March. In recent months staff meditations always included both Adele and John as her health declined. Adele was such a special part of our community that her loss was deeply felt.
Coincidentally, considering that the Algeos were living in
On March 31, DeLacy Sarantos, Juli Cesano, and Paula Finnegan represented the Theosophical Society at a Transformative Fair of Spiritual Resources in
Unfortunately, in mid-April we experienced a break-in at our main building. The thieves split the screen in a ground-floor office and entered through an unlocked window. They encountered a guest early in their pilfering and left abruptly—which was fortunate; otherwise we could have lost much more. Our main losses were two crucial laptops: mine and Jeff Gresko’s. Since this was my only computer, you can well imagine the difficulties. Most of the information has been recovered through a very good backup system, but the setback in my work has been most difficult. We have just installed extra locking devices on all ground floor windows and are investigating additional security lighting and cameras.
David and I hosted a small dialog group at the national center for a few days in late April. Several of the group are TS members, but not all. The group of interreligious leaders with social and environmental concerns included the well-known theologian Walter Wink; Jim Forbes, former minister of Riverside Church in New York City; Glen Smith, a political communications consultant; and Julio Medina, founder and director of Exodus, a New York–based agency that helps prisoners prepare for a productive life outside institutional walls. Those who were newly introduced to the Society were greatly impressed and took a number of our informational brochures.
Our April conference, “Healing Our Religious Wounds,” did not attract the turnout that we had been hoping for, so we decided to shorten the event from three days to one and canceled a number of presentations. Nonetheless, our headline speaker, John Shelby Spong, former bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Newark, New Jersey, and best-selling author of such books as Here I Stand, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, and A New Christianity for a New World, was received with much enthusiasm. In the conference evaluations, one participant wrote, “Bishop Spong is the most courageous man of the cloth in
Not all of the staff was able to attend the conference, as some were participating in World Tai Chi–Qigong Day, which was also held on April 24. For the third consecutive year, the TS was a host site for this event. Joining groups in over sixty-five countries, our sixty participants added their energy to a global wave of healing that wrapped around our precious planet.
Just because we’ve earned our Earth Flag doesn’t mean we don’t have more to do. Recent activities emphasizing our commitment to the environment included an Earth Day staff grounds cleanup and a tree planting on Arbor Day (April 30). Mark Roemmich, David Bruce, Dan Noga, John Cianciosi, and Dan Smolla planted twelve trees this year, thanks to member donations. When you visit Olcott, look for the tags that acknowledge the donors and identify the species of tree. Joy Mills has a red oak with her name on it.
The Fall Open House at Olcott brought about 300 people to explore our grounds and facilities, and to become acquainted with the Theosophical Society and its resources. In spite of the attractions of the lovely weather and enticing book sales, guests filled the auditorium to hear the talk, “Facing the Twenty-First Century with Confidence,” given by David Bruce, our new Department of Education Director. Held on the first Sunday after Labor Day, the open house always wins new friends for Theosophy and initiates our regular programming season with renewed enthusiasm.
Following closely on the heels of the open house, members converged at Olcott in later September for the Olcott Experience. This opportunity to recruit newer members as potential workers for the Society, acquaint them with our resources, and provide the environment for them to network with others from all over the nation is an invaluable boost for local group work. Without support from the Kern Foundation and major commitment on the part of staff, this intensive weekend would not be possible. Of course, in addition to its proven value, it is fun!
Vonda Urban at 87 years old is still going strong. She was a researcher for Boris de Zirkoff, the grandnephew of HPB and editor of her Collected Writings. Her tireless energy, carefully crafted charts, and stimulating Theosophical teachings about “What Death Really is” added a special treat among our fall programs.
Although there is not space to mention all of the fine fall programs, the spotlight also shone on Dick Brooks, who spoke about “A Path According to Lao Tzu” for a National Lodge program. With a specially decorated cake as the refreshment, we celebrated Dick’s December crossing into the honored group of members who joined the Society more than 50 years ago. Elsewhere in this issue of Quest you can find a listing of all our members who are so distinguished.
Work exchange provides the chance for a member to live and work at Olcott as a volunteer. Taking advantage of several available months, Eileen Seto, Canadian by birth, came to us as a result of her experiences at Far Horizons Theosophical Camp. Although her academic background is in physics and biophysics, her considerable experience in electronics has proven to be an invaluable assistance to Steve Schweizer, Olcott’s audio/video wizard.
Therapeutic Touch (TT), a healing modality developed by Dora Kunz and Delores Krieger, drew nice attendance for the Intermediate TT weekend workshop, taught by Sue Wright at the end of September. Between the workshop and TT Demonstrations at Open House, Sue Wright’s biweekly classes have had an influx of new members, thus carrying on the tradition of TT classes at Olcott that was begun in Dora’s time as president.
As you may be able to tell from the photos, the Olcott School of Theosophy program, “The Classical Sources of Theosophy” with Stephan Hoeller and Tony Lysy, was a resounding success. Stephan, a world-renowned scholar and practitioner in Gnosticism, combines knowledge, impertinence, wit, and inspiration in his talks. Those traits, juxtaposed with Tony’s wide-ranging exploration of Neo-Platonist writings and Rene Ryan’s Ch’i Kung, created a winning experience for the more than thirty participants.
Fall is always the time to review and plan grants, in preparation for setting next year’s programs and exploring possible granting levels to support them. The first meeting, a brainstorming session that lets the creative juices flow, was electric. Ideas flew for E-learning curriculum, regional conferences, web page improvements, cooperative efforts with publishing and programming, and ways to promote Theosophy in general. In the coming weeks these ideas will find form and budget through the hard work of staff.
Plastic bats flew over the jack-o-lanterns and candle-lit tables for our staff Halloween party. The celebration also served as a going-away party for Laura Lamberta, who is leaving TPH staff to move to New England. All wished her a fond farewell.
People keep asking me, “Are you and David settled yet?” So I will share that we have made good progress in the Endless House Moving Project. The Young Theosophists came to the house in late September and, with their dauntless energy, made major strides in helping us to sort and unpack boxes. Although it was a lot of work, we all had such a good time that we plan to have regular gatherings at “The Cottage” as a part of revitalizing that important group. This kind of activity and already a few guest meals (John and Adele Algeo being the very first) reveal that the long hours at work and still incomplete remodeling are incapable of suppressing our gregarious natures. The welcome mat is out.