The Vision and Mission of the Easton Mountain Community
Easton Mountain is a community that is rich in diversity, wisdom and creativity; it is a challenge to briefly capture the essential vision that animates and guides it. The statement above was written in 2007 by a committee of the Board of Easton Mountain in conversation with the Founding Director, John Stasio. It attempts to express the ideals that inspired Stasio and his early collaborators to undertake the extraordinary adventure of imagining, planning, and developing a fully functioning retreat center that is itself at the heart of a much wider community. It also attempts to incorporate the hopes and values of the hundreds of men who have given their love, dedication, hard-work, and passion towards realizing and nurturing this dream of a spiritual home for men who love men. This Vision Statement, therefore, is more of a poem than a prescription. Its words and phrases act as touchstones for the community of Easton Mountain, inspiring and guiding us as we continue the work of embodying our dream. This statement must be seen as living document; as a helpful yet imperfect expression of the deep desires and hopes that draw us into community and bind us together in mission. Origins and Early Development of Easton Mountain In many ways the vision of Easton Mountain draws from the counterculture and liberation movements of the 1960s-1980s. This period saw the development of diverse social movements such as hippie subcultures; intentional communities that lived close to nature; civil rights campaigns, and gay liberation; personal growth, and New Age spiritual movements; and body awareness movements that incorporated massage, breath-work and erotic healing. In their many different ways, and with all their insights and limitations, these movements sought to give expression to a deep longing for new ways to live with depth, authenticity, connection, and spiritual awareness. John Stasio and his early collaborators were influenced by the spirit of these various movements, but they also drew from more ancient traditions that had shaped spiritual communities such as religious orders, monasteries, and ashrams; and they consciously sought to reclaim and re-imagine the wisdom and practices of these communities. They also were inspired by radical social justice movements, such as the Catholic Worker movement, which both assists marginalized people and works for political and social change. At the heart of the emerging vision of Easton Mountain, however, were the struggles of LGBT people for equality, dignity, and justice in both society and religious institutions. As lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people faced the reality of how they had been wounded by the dominant civil and religious structures, they heard the call to draw from their own spiritual wells, to create their own contexts for deep healing, to form communities where their gifts and wisdom could be honored and nurtured, and to model for future generations of queer people a lifestyle and a spirit that expressed the goodness and grace of their hearts and souls. This call had been heard by earlier gay visionaries, such as Harry Hay, who founded the Radical Faeries; Joseph Kramer, who founded the Body Electric School; and by the many activists, scholars, spiritual leaders, writers, and artists who devoted themselves to challenging and re-imaging religious and spiritual traditions, and to creating new forms of gay consciousness and queer creativity. Such pioneers as these, and the groups that gathered around them, inspired countless LGBT people around the world. However, as the richness of queer spirit began to emerge from centuries of repression, the need for more sustained and sustaining spiritual communities became even clearer. This need was made even more urgent by the unfolding tragedy of the AIDS epidemic. The generation of men who shaped Easton Mountain were themselves shaped, in many profound ways, by the challenges, anguish, and grace that the epidemic called forth. Over many years these gay men had to face up to the deep inner work, the practical care for loved ones, the political struggles for funding research and health care, and the search for spiritual wisdom that such unique times demanded. These were men who wanted something deeper than what either the gay subculture or the mainstream society offered them. They wanted authentic spiritual community that was grounded in the holiness of the body and sexuality, that was committed to justice and inclusion, creative and playful, reverent towards the earth and nature, and that, most of all, saw spirituality as a force for personal and communal liberation and integration.
A Vision of Community
First and foremost, Easton Mountain had to be an authentic community. The gay men who worked to build this dream had known what it was like to grow up in a society where their inner journeys towards sexual and spiritual maturity had to be made alone, and often in hostile environments. They had also known how essential it was to band together in times of trauma and challenge. Easton Mountain, then, was to be a true home; a genuine community; a place of welcome and nourishment; a haven for the soul, the heart, the mind, and the body. It was also to offer a consistent context in which gay men could share their resources- both material and spiritual and lovingly call one another to grow, heal, play, share their gifts, claim their place in the world, and work together to transform societies, cultures, and religious traditions. Easton Mountain, therefore, was founded as an interfaith community in which every person's spiritual path would be welcomed, and spirituality itself would be re-imagined and re-embodied; infused and informed by queer wisdom, reformed and transformed in radical and surprising ways as gay people nurtured their souls and shared their inner wisdom, insight, and experiences in ways that had rarely, if ever, been done in any religious tradition. It was always intended that at the heart of Easton Mountain there would be a core group of residents on-site. These gay men would come from many different spiritual traditions and lifestyles, and they would find their common bond in its vision and mission. Together they would hold the land and the space as sacred, tend to the hearth of the communal vision, welcome and care for the members of the wider Easton Mountain community, and offer a living witness of the grace that gay spiritual brotherhood can offer the world. Beyond this core residential community, the spiritual fraternity of Easton Mountain would come to reach out into many cities and many countries, forming layer upon layer of community. Hundreds of gay men and, in time, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people would come to share in the vision of Easton Mountain, and commit themselves, in various ways and in diverse situations, to living out the core values they share and to spreading the spirit of openness, authenticity, inclusion, soulfulness, and embodied justice that Easton Mountain seeks to manifest.
A Place of Retreat
From its earliest origins, Easton Mountain was intended to be a place of retreat. Even in our secularized, consumerist culture, people recognize the need to take time away, reconnect with nature, and renew their spirits. Easton Mountain, however, was never intended to be simply a spa, a country inn, or a rustic bed-and-breakfast. Rather, its founders sought to model it on the ancient spiritual traditions of retreat or pilgrimage in which people would deliberately and mindfully step aside from the pressures of the public square and seek out the deserts and the wild places, or travel to sacred sites and holy shrines. There, living simply and reflectively, they would allow space for their souls to breathe, and their hearts to heal from the bustle and the bruises of life. Alone, or together with other pilgrims and spiritual seekers, they would seek the Divine in gentle, intimate, and creative ways that would open themselves to the possibility of transformation. Easton Mountain seeks to be just such a place. Life here is comfortable, the food is healthy, the air is fresh, there are ways to nurture and care for our bodies, and there is a gentle honoring of our sexuality. Life here is also simple- without luxury or excess, and without the endless and automatic distractions that batter and seduce us in mainstream society. There is space for silence, and a gentle encouragement for each person to find the solitude they need. We honor the spiritual path of each person, and seek to offer an environment that fosters deep attentiveness to the soul. At the same time, as befits rural environment, life here is earthy and unpretentious, and people are accepted and welcomed as they are. There is a spirit of good humor, quiet respect, and practical love. We welcome people of all genders, orientations, and spiritual paths, and we ask that everyone who visits, and every group that wishes to share our facilities, agrees to do the same. Easton Mountain offers space for personal retreats, as well as for groups. We offer our own structured programs throughout the year, and we host many groups who wish to use our facilities for their own workshops and retreats. A wide variety of individuals and spiritual communities find this an ideal setting to reflect, create, heal and drink deeply from the wonder of nature and the mystery of spirit. This is not only because of the beauty of the land and the comfort of our accommodations, but also because of the spirit of the Easton Mountain community that supports deep work for the body and soul, celebrates sexuality and diversity, and holds caring space for both the wounds and the wonder of the human experience.
Easton Mountain, then, is a sanctuary. The word itself comes from the Latin: sanctus or sanctum , and traditionally it refers to a holy place; a site where the numinous or the Divine may be encountered; a space of holy ground set apart for silence, prayer, meditation, and ritual. In some cultures, a place of sanctuary was a refuge where people being attacked or persecuted could find safety and protection; therefore everyone who entered a sanctuary had to first lay down all weapons and agree to embrace a spirit of peace and reconciliation. Easton Mountain is a place of refuge, safety, and healing for all people and especially for LGBT people. Here we have a holy space where we can lay aside the defenses that so many of us have had to develop in order to survive in a hostile world. Here we can also lay aside the brittle facades, cynical humor, and petty rivalries that have too often characterized some gay subcultures. Here we can allow our souls to breathe, embrace the depth of our spiritual yearning; play and dream and create ritual and learn to pray again through the sacredness of our bodies and the beauty of our gay selves. Entering fully and vulnerably into such a sanctuary can be both wondrous and painful, and we need to support and be patient with each other as we learn to relax into being beloved brothers and sisters, and not settling for the roles that others have cast for us- as rivals or rebels, sinners or outcasts. At Easton Mountain we believe it is truly holy work to help people to recover their sense of inner integrity, discover their potential for wholeness, and uncover the goodness of their essential nature. We welcome those who may need a place of refuge at vulnerable moments in their lives, and we seek to offer them the gift of being received and seen as deeply whole, even when they may feel broken and battered by life. We also invite guests to discover the healing that arisies from being of service to others, and so we encourage those who come here to share in and contribute to our work of caring for this sanctuary and those who come here. One of the modern uses of the ancient term sanctuary is refers to lands set aside as natural reserves, where forests and plants and all living beings are protected and treated with reverence. Here at Easton Mountain we seek to care for the earth, respect the many creatures who share this land with us, and promote ecologically sound practices both locally and globally. We view this as a sacred duty and as one of the great spiritual and moral challenges of our times. We also seek to honor and learn from the First Nations who were custodians of this land. Like them, we commit ourselves to seeing nature as sacred, and truly manifesting the Divine, and so we celebrate the seasons, seek to live lightly on the earth, and nurture a spirituality that sees our fundamental connection with the earth and the cosmos as our primal communion with the Great Mystery. To return to the ancient meaning of sanctuary, Easton Mountain is a place where one might deeply encounter the Holy. As you enter this place, you find that your whole being is welcome â€“ in all your queerness and in all your spiritual richness- and on this holy ground you can step fully and vulnerably into the presence of the Divine, in awe, in simplicity, in nature, in sexuality, in other people, and in yourself.
A Gift to the World
Easton Mountain seeks to be a gentle haven and a peaceful sanctuary, yet we are keenly aware that we live in a world which, for all its goodness and beauty, is filled with injustice, violence, and inequality. Authentic spirituality, we believe, must never lead us to ignore or insulate ourselves from the travails of the world and the ongoing struggle for justice. Rather, it should teach us to live with compassion and equanimity, while also deepening our commitment to work for the transformation of societies, religions, and cultures so that all people and all creatures might live in dignity, peace, and justice. At Easton Mountain, this might mean welcoming marginalized people; leading programs for homeless queer youth; supporting and encouraging activist;, hosting workshops and retreats that focus on social change; and constantly nurturing a spirituality among our extended community that is awake, aware, and engaged with the radical challenges of our times. As queer people of spirit, we believe we have both the grace and the duty to draw from our own struggles and our hard-earned wisdom, so that together we might be agents of spiritual, political, and social change. The Easton Mountain community is now more than a decade old. It is a concrete, visible, human reality, and as such it is both gifted and flawed. Together we have faced many challenges and learned many lessons as we have shaped this unique community and shared this extraordinary adventure. Here, the many profound and transforming ideals of contemporary spiritual movements, such as queer spirituality, earth-based spirituality, interfaith and interspiritual dialogue, personal growth work, and erotic healing are manifested in ongoing, day-to-day, practical contexts in which people love and work, struggle and laugh, play and pray together. Our community is very much a work in progress; however, it is in our shared commitment to authentic human living and loving that we find the inspiration to call Easton Mountain our spiritual home. Easton Mountain offers the world many gifts. Among them its unique retreat center where deep, radical, personal, and communal inner work is supported and encouraged. At its heart, however, the gift that Easton Mountain offers to the LGBTQ community, to all religious and spiritual traditions, and to the world, is the living witness of gay men building true spiritual community together, claiming and nurturing their own inner gifts and offering them, with both love and dignity, to one another and to the world.