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JAUNTS : Short Trip for Personal Peace, and Perhaps World Harmony : Tranquil sanctuary overlooking the Ojai Valley is devoted to using meditation for the greater good.


Feeling frazzled? Drive the winding road past orange and avocado orchards to Meditation Mount, a peaceful sanctuary atop a mountain overlooking the Ojai Valley.

If the drive alone doesn't calm you down, simply being there, soaking up the tranquillity, will clear the clutter from your mind. After all, this is the home of Meditation Groups Inc., which promotes meditation as a way of building a better world, one that thrives on peace, harmony and goodwill.

Outside the group's sprawling Tibetan-style complex, a signpost in eight languages reads: "May peace prevail on Earth." Another sign invites visitors to sound a gong for peace.

The air is still, except for the sound of birds. The sweet scent of rockrose hangs in the air. No one talks too loudly.

The spiritual hub of the place is the meditation room. Doors hand-carved with the 12 signs of the zodiac open to a cool, dark sanctuary where 17 chairs encircle a rug with a sunburst design. Wood beams rise to a central skylight overhead. On the walls are astrological tapestries.

Once a month, public meditation meetings are held in a larger auditorium, glassed-in on three sides with a panoramic mountain view. During the day, visitors can wander in and pick up literature about the organization and its meditation goals.

But you don't have to warm up your mantra to come here. The complex and grounds are open to the public from 10 a.m. to sunset, and many people simply drive up for the spectacular views and the peace.

A path bordered by pink oleander bushes and wildflowers leads to an overlook where visitors can rest on benches set out "for thoughtful reflection and meditation," the center's literature states.

"It brings people for just the beauty and serenity," said Jack Hart, one of the staff members. "They meditate without calling it meditation."

Finished 25 years ago, Meditation Mount was the inspiration of Florence Garrigue, who was part of a worldwide meditation group drawn together in the 1950s.

Garrigue settled in Ojai in 1968 and began searching for a mountaintop where she could center her meditation work. After the complex was built, she lived there until her death in 1985 at the age of 98.

Today the organization, under the name "Meditation Group for the New Age," distributes literature about its mission. For the more conscientious, it provides a three-year correspondence course in meditation as a tool to serve humanity.

About 4,000 people are enrolled in the study program, which is supported by donations, Hart said. Last year 450 graduated. If they choose, they can go into deeper studies.

At Meditation Mount, the staff lives in three residences. No one is in charge, and that's the way they like it. It fits in with their philosophy of working as a group toward a greater good rather than personal achievement.

And, if one person meditating is good, then a whole roomful is even better, they believe. When the moon is full--an especially powerful time to meditate--the auditorium fills with 50 or 60 people during the monthly public meetings.

"Most of the time there are people we've never seen before," said Alverna Taylor, another staff member. The meetings include recorded music, a talk and meditation of 10 to 15 minutes. Then everyone steps onto the terrace where a "blessing for the world" is issued.

"Some come here because they heard about it in Europe," said Frances Moore, another staffer who has lived at the sanctuary since it opened. Some days more than a hundred visitors will walk the grounds, step into the meditation room, or sit on the benches scattered over the 33-acre site. Other days, nobody comes.

If it's a haven for people, animals must feel some sense of peace, too. When a hummingbird built a thimble-sized nest in a vine outside staffer Barbara Allen's residence, she used a roundabout way to enter the house to avoid disturbing the baby birds. And visitors might wonder about the row of little mirrors hanging from strings in front of the complex.

"The birds were hitting the windows," Hart explained.


* WHAT: Meditation Mount.

* WHEN: Open daily, 10 a.m. to sunset.

* WHERE: End of Reeves Road at east end of Ojai.

* HOW MUCH: Free.

* FYI: Next community meditation meeting is July 11 at 8 p.m.

* CALL: 646-5508.

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