If you weren’t here, you should have been! Our Annual Meeting and Summer School brought members together from all over the country and from India, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and New Zealand. Radha Burnier, our International President, was in her element, as various iterations of the conference theme built a harmonious and spiritually deepening atmosphere.
The theme of “When You Are One with Every Heart that Beats . . .” honored N. Sri Ram, 30 years after his passing and 50 years after he was first elected International President of the Theosophical Society. Summer School began with a ritual of sorts: attendees selected from the red chalice in the Meditation Room a card with a thought-provoking quote from N. Sri Ram’s writings. These quotes were intended for contemplation and sharing throughout the week. Meanwhile we had a video and an archival display of old photographs of N. Sri Ram.
In her talk, “The Gentle Strength of Wisdom,” Joy Mills walked us down memory lane with fascinating recollections of N. Sri Ram, his character, and his teachings. The theme continued with Radha’s thoughtful retrospective about the man and his message. Radha’s morning talks throughout the week revealed the inspiring and practical qualities of his teachings.
The afternoon sessions featured a stellar cast of speakers exploring the classic spiritual handbooks as “Guideposts for Living.” Ed Abdill spoke on The Voice of the Silence; Joy Mills, the Bhagavad-Gita; Robert Ellwood, Light on the Path, and John Algeo on At the Feet of the Master. Discussion groups gave participants the chance to ask questions, explore ideas from these topics, and get to know each other better.
The late afternoon series, “Exploring the Meditative Path,” provided the opportunity to receive instruction in several different approaches to meditation by experienced teachers. From bhajans to Zen, participants appreciated the chance to explore different ways to approach their own practice. This series also added to the contemplative quality of our meetings.
Our evening entertainment showcased several outstanding musicians. Carmelo de los Santos riveted the audience with his sparkling violin performance, and later in the week performed some duets with Adi Cabigting on the cello. Kirsten Helgeland not only entertained us with her beautifully executed piano music, but also gave us some insights into the stories behind the compositions. And we were treated to a lovely and relaxed program by Martin Pazdioch, a tenor with a booming, resonant voice. All of these extremely capable musicians are members of the Society and happily share their talents with us.
Rounding out our week’s activities were a field trip to The Art Institute of Chicago for an exhibit of religious iconography from the Himalayas; a program by Anu Pradhan, a lovely young local woman demonstrating Kathak, classical North Indian dance, and a Talent Night.
We also experimented with a tent offering activities for our younger attendees. This was lightly attended, but next year we want to try it again with more publicity. It is so important to provide our upcoming generations with a sense of connection to our National Center and with fellow Theosophists.
Whether it was the nature of N. Sri Ram’s writings, Radha’s presence, or just plain good synergy, the atmosphere was unusually smooth and conducive to introspection. Many of our participants commented on the program’s effectiveness for their own spiritual journeys. Most left with a sense of renewal and deeper commitment.
Next year’s Summer School dates have been set for July 23-30, 2004. Watch for announcements as our plans unfold, and do plan to attend. It is a wonderful opportunity to come together and connect with our virtual community of Theosophists, national and worldwide.
After participants returned home, Olcott went into a mini-pralaya, a time of rest and catching up. August is traditionally a very quiet month at Olcott with many of the staff taking their vacations during the lull. I used this time to sell our Pennsylvania house, pack up all our belongings (with some much-needed help from the professionals), and have our household goods trucked to Wheaton. The house renovations are almost finished, but for the time being everything is safely deposited in basement and garage. David and I very much look forward to actually moving in and rediscovering our necessities and our treasures which have been hiding away in those mountains of boxes for almost a month.
On August 22nd, several staff members, including myself, made the trek to Chicago to hear Thich Nhat Hanh speak on “Building a Century of Peace.” We had pretty good seats for an audience of 5,000. Our secret weapon was Glenda Gingras, Archivist, who recently had hip surgery and used a wheel chair for strenuous events. Thich Nhat Hanh expounded on mindful living with compassion and joy as a way to work toward world peace. That is something each of us can practice, as we hope and pray for an end to the violence at home and abroad.
Now we are putting final plans in place for our Open House at Olcott, which is the traditional kick-off for the fall season’s programs. The summer has flown by and we look forward to the beginning of a new cycle.
Photos by Jeff Gresko
click to enlarge