BY LESLIE BRIDGER
Each has his own personal tale to tell of how he came to Avatar Meher Baba or in truth how Meher Baba came to him. Mine is simple. In 2002, on browsing through the small ads in Caduceus, a British metaphysical journal, I came across a somewhat familiar face.
The ad was placed by the U.K. Meher Baba Association and the face was Meher Baba’s. The quote beneath said more to me than all the literature that I had read to date on a 10-year spiritual quest.
This was an answer to my inner searching that spoke directly to the heart. What it said is long forgotten but what it contained embedded in me a spark that changed my life beyond recognition.
It was as if I were inverted, held aloft by my ankles and shaken vigorously from a life that although once secure, held no meaning. Ill health had triggered my search and desperation had cracked my shell to the point of being ready to surrender my all to the Avatar.
The way forward continues to this day as the latest leap of faith, under the Master’s guidance, has opened the doors for my family to leave behind our heritage and to embark on our own personal new life.
Our U.S. adventure that would link our destiny to Meher Mount began with a California road trip in August 2009. Our intent was to find a suitable place in which to relocate and set up home.
U.K. born and bred, this island no longer held our soul’s ambition. With karmic constraints addressed, our thirsty roots craved the fertile soil of pastures new. We had made this decision one year earlier on an intuitive directive to emigrate with an intention of finding and creating “a space of love” in which to grow and serve.
On Sunday the 23rd of August, we took a welcome break from our quest and headed to Meher Mount as day pilgrims and picnickers. A sweltering summer was taking its toll on the Southern California foothills with parched tinder dry land laid bare to the scorching 100-degree, mid-day sun.
As we ascended Sulphur Mountain and drove through Meher Mount’s open gateway to an empty car park, we felt at last we could let down the guard that had protected us from the deluded impression that we were an alien species in an alien land.
Here was somewhere that we knew instantly was very special: an oasis rising above the chaotic turmoil of twenty-first first century America, a sacred space that spoke in silence those immortal words, “welcome home.” This was Baba’s turf and this familiarity was heaven sent. On foot, we continued through the second gateway with yet more reassurance, individual and personal to each.
For my wife Samantha, it was the smell of roses at the Samadhi [Meher Baba’s Tom Shrine in India] after morning arti. For me, it was Meherabad Hill’s essence [where Meher Baba’s Samadhi is located] beyond expression. For our daughters, Rebecca and Georgina, this was a great spot to picnic and catch some sun.
We met Ray Johnston, the current manager/caretaker. He was comfortable and casual in his meet-and-greet role with seven years karma yoga experience on the mountain. To us, a question: “So what brought you to America?” From me an instant heartfelt reply: “Meher Mount!” This was news to me, but as so often is the case, the mind is oblivious to that which the heart has acted upon.
Ray directed us towards Baba’s Tree as the ideal spot to picnic, a commanding and ancient Coast Live Oak under which Meher Baba had sat on a bed of leaves and consecrated this sacred land on his visit on August 2, 1956.
Meher Baba had remarked “This land is very old, I have been here before.” For us, the shaded branches of its majestic canopy were most welcome and a pilgrim’s feast prepared at Jersey Mike’s Subs in Ojai was enjoyed.
After taking in the heat-hazed vistas and exploring as much as the body was willing to allow, we retreated to the cooling fans of the Meher Mount Visitor’s Center full of Meher Baba memorabilia, books, mission statements, and a 3-D slide projector that worked somewhat sporadically.
We browsed respectfully while waiting for Ray to reemerge before departing. When he did, we thanked him for allowing us access and asked if we could return on the last day of our vacation, with guitar, and play a devotional song or two under the tree. This would be fine, but Ray would be absent.
The following Wednesday, we phoned Meher Mount and put in our request, speaking briefly to a lady who was covering for Ray. Her name was Margaret Magnus and having asked if we had been before, she said that we were most welcome.
We made the now familiar ascent on Sulphur Mountain Road followed all the way by a large white sedan. It stuck to our tail like glue and if there had been a suitable place to pull in and allow it to pass I would have willingly conceded.
On entering Meher Mount the sedan followed, and on parking our vehicle it pulled alongside. A window came down and we were greeted by a smiling, rather familiar face with a warm expression which appeared to be of expectation.
Unknown to us, it was Sam Ervin, chairman of the board and Margaret’s husband. He welcomed us and directed us to the center.
Once in, we spoke of our journey, our connection to Meher Baba, and our intention now to relocate to Ojai, a sanctuary nestled securely in the motherland that seemed to align with all of our new life’s needs.
Then, in conversation, as if orchestrated by the unseen hand of destiny, Sam mentioned that Ray would be standing down as caretaker in June 2010 and that they were just about to start the process of recruiting a suitable replacement.
With Margaret focused on preparing the recruitment notice and Sam cheerfully engaging us in conversation, I acted: “I’ll do it!” Sam stepped back and his face dropped. ”No” was his reply. “We’re looking for a couple.”
I quickly glanced towards Samantha’s somewhat stunned face and declared “We’ll do it!”
Following Baba’s guidance, we had experienced two weeks of busy roads, forest fires and fruitless searches only to be presented on the last day with this – a chance to truly serve in His name.
Sam gave us an impromptu tour of Meher Mount which became an interview of sorts, and returned to the center to tell a somewhat skeptical Margaret that they may have found the right couple.
We returned to Baba’s Tree and played some rather excitable devotional songs and laid our fears at His feet.
The process had begun and many initiations followed, but finally and with His Grace, we are here. For me, the caretaker/manager’s role for Meher Mount is one of guardianship, surrendering to Meher Baba’s will in service, and to spare no effort to hold secure this sacred site in His divine name.
The solid foundation laid by Agnes Baron’s legacy of nearly fifty years of devoted work and service are to be built upon by each successive caretaker with great care and respect for all that has gone before.
When Agnes met Baba in 1952 at Myrtle Beach, Baba said: “I want Agni to know that only Agni, God and Baba know what she has gone through in these six years to hold Meher Mount for me.”
Situated atop of Sulphur Mountain at 2,600-foot level, Meher Mount is 172 acres overlooking the beautiful Ojai Valley on the north. To the southwest is the Pacific Ocean and the Channel Islands. Topa Topa Mountain in the Los Padres National Forest is to the northeast.
Who wouldn’t be humbled by the opportunity to visit such a sight, long held sacred by the early Chumash inhabitants, and walk in the footsteps of the Ancient One?
Today, nature’s divine beauty that pervades Meher Mount is offered to day pilgrims. The veil is thin here and one can replenish a soul’s thirst from its sacred well.
On His visit, Baba gave no discourse but told His followers they should laugh, feel relaxed, and be happy here. He bade them: “Now go out and see the view and try to love Baba through nature. This is all due to my love. This whole creation, this nature, all the beauty you see, all came out of me.”
With a new era unfolding under Meher Baba’s advent, responsibilities and opportunities for all who choose to serve are immense. With the Meher Mount master plan in place, exciting times lay ahead. We are eager to play our roles in achieving its fruition.
My background in engineering, forestry and spiritual healing will hopefully give me many of the necessary tools to accomplish the mission (duty) that Meher Baba has laid before me.
The contemplative, quiet times will provide me with the opportunity to pursue my passion as a writer of poetry and song. Samantha’s experience in complementary therapies and her innate ability to assess and respond to the needs of others will, no doubt, assist her in the role that she has taken on.
Our own awakening process has been intimate and profound. As we commit to God, we commit to each other, and as we commit to each other, we commit to Meher Mount. To echo the words of Meher Baba: “I love Meher Mount very much and feel happy here.”
“A Calling Answered,” by Leslie Bridger is reprinted with permission from Love Street Breezes, Premier Issue, May 2011, pp. 14-15.