"You say you want a revolution," John Lennon sang, "Well you know, you better free your mind," as a revolution happens one mind at a time. And revolutionizing hearts and minds is what the PeaceWeavers on Thunder Mountain are all about.
It happened to Buffalo businessman Eric Fox.
Driving up Thunder Mountain, you know you're heading to a special place, one that some would even consider sacred. "What is it that changes a space?" asks philosopher and painter William Segal in "Vezelay," a film made by Ken Burns, who spoke on Sacred Spaces this summer at Chautauqua Institution. Segal answers his own question: It is "the overlaying of human experience. Where we begin to re-realize a necessity of a shared relationship."
For some, it takes leaving that changed space, site of a "shared relationship," to realize they have happened upon a revolution, as was the case for Fox. After agreeing to take his wife, Leigh, and their children to the mountain to set up camp, Fox found himself spending the day. Heading home, he further surprised himself, calling Leigh en route, telling her upon completing his immediate business agenda that he was returning to the mountain to begin addressing even more important matters.
Such is the effect of this revolutionary retreat sanctuary. Four miles from the main road, 2,000 feet above sea level and near the village of Bath, the Thunder Mountain PeaceWeavers have created "the land," a place to get away from it all.
Growing out of opposition to the run-up to 1991's Gulf War, which included marches on Washington, a group of like-minded people began meeting in a roundhouse in Lambertville, N.J. A prewar peace gathering was held there instead of a traditional New Year's celebration as 1990 turned into 1991. The group eventually took its peace message and mission on the road, leading several cross-country caravans, frequently stopping at Native American reservations.
From the caravans arose the ambition to create an intentional community, one where that "shared relationship" could evolve into a common purpose to be well and to serve others. With this as their mission, the PeaceWeavers ultimately found their home on Thunder Mountain in 1995.
Taking over a 250-acre farm and turning it into a garden, the PeaceWeavers offer healing programs to promote peace. There is food, fasting and music, attracting people from across the country. Led by co-founder Greg Lynn Weaver, a native of Rochester, Mich., who grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and honeymooned with his wife, Stefanie, in Rochester, Vt., Weaver serves as CEO, teacher and master of ceremonies. The staff creates a warm, welcoming environment as the intentional community germinating on top of the mountain has expanded to Bath and beyond.
The PeaceWeavers hold peace weekends and cleansing retreats throughout the year. Silent retreats are also held, as are annual Garden and Harvest Weekends.
They operate a farm under the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) banner. Certified organic in 2003, 15 acres are dedicated to growing buckwheat for Birkett Mills, while three acres yield vegetables for approximately 100 area families. The garden grows about half of the food at PeaceWeavers' programs. (PeaceWeavers adhere to a vegan diet.)
Accommodations for most weekend events are of the dormitory variety, while camping is the choice for most during longer events. And with the back-to-earth movement part of their overall mission, Weaver led a group through the buckwheat fields to a new structure, designed after a Japanese Shinto temple. The building, located literally in the middle of nowhere, is constructed out of local, natural and earthen materials, and is an ideal setting for a silent retreat. The main house features a community room for meals and music, while yoga, meditation and talks are held upstairs. And out the main house door is an earthen oven for baking bread, cookies or pizza.
>Respect, support, love
Central to a PeaceWeaver gathering is the Talking Stick Circle, a custom Weaver says is traditional among indigenous people. The person holding the stick is the only one allowed to talk in the circle; as it is passed around, people are encouraged to speak their true feelings, while the others enhance their listening skills in this critical, often overlooked area.
During the summer, circles are held under the huge arbor. When Kevin Connors of Amherst first held the stick, he said, he spoke "to 75 people, most of whom were strangers. After a talking stick circle, I had 75 friends." Connors said, "There's a certain kind of energy here, and you just want to bottle it, and take it with you." Lisa Mell of Philadelphia said: "Being here is about not paying attention to the boundaries that divide us. Instead, we focus on the common threads of respect, support and love that unite us."
While many PeaceWeavers return to Thunder Mountain three or four times a year to maintain that energy, Eric Fox says he took it home, revolutionizing both his business and personal life. In business, he said, he has become more of an activist, working with Re-Tree WNY, converting Fox Tire's recycling to green recycling, and installing a green roof at his facility. He says the experience impacted the wellness of his family and improved his relationship with his children. Fox says his 11-year-old daughter, Maya, "can't imagine not having the PeaceWeavers in her life," as the PeaceWeavers hold a Kids Peace Camp, stage children's theater programs, provide entertainers like Garbanzo, The Human Bean, and have a beautiful, five-acre spring-fed lake that no kid can resist plunging into.
Impromptu drumming, guitar playing and singing are a frequent part of the PeaceWeaver experience, for both the young and the young at heart. The Summer Peace Gathering has hosted such artists as Winter, Woodstock veteran Melanie, 10,000 Maniacs and the late Odetta.
Thunder Mountain has also received visits by Arun Gandhi, bringing his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi's wisdom with him. He said, "The PeaceWeavers community here at Thunder Mountain is the closest thing I've ever seen in the West to grandfather's ashrams." Gandhi said of living with his grandfather, how "one of the first things I had to learn was how to use a spinning wheel. This was my hour with him," with grandfather Mahatma telling stories as they spun, producing cotton with which to make their own clothes, allowing them and their fellow Indians to boycott British produced clothing.
Arun Gandhi said his grandfather urged people to adopt "commitment to finding a solution." On Thunder Mountain, there are people committed to doing just that, and giving peace a chance.
Several events open to the public are being held at the retreat in the coming weeks:
Oct. 22-24: Fasting weekend
Nov. 5-7: Peace weekend
Nov. 10-14: Fasting Cleanse
Dec. 10-12: Fasting weekend
Dec. 29-Jan. 1: Visioning retreat
The PeaceWeavers also offer programs for schools, colleges, churches and community organizations. For additional information on all Peaceweavers' programs call, (607) 776-4060, or visit www.peaceweavers.com.
If you go:
To get to the retreat from the Buffalo area, take Route 400 south; exit at Route 20A/Route 78, turn left and take Route 20A into Mount Morris; turn right onto Mount Morris Road/Route 36; merge onto I-390S, which becomes I-86E/Route 17; exit at Route 53, head toward Kanona/Prattsburg; turn right onto Route 53; take the second left onto Main Street; turn left on Route 415; left on Spaulding Drive; left on Harrisburg Hollow Road; right on Robbins Road and left on Crouse Road. The retreat is at 8125 Crouse Road.