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Tolerance And Diversity In Crestone

By Malka Haymer


Crestone is a place where many different people of different cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds come together in everyday life. Contrary to what one might think, there is an incredible sense of peace and harmony among residents not only of the town itself but among people from all the different spiritual organizations that call Crestone home. This is probably due, in part, to the general openness of people, and also that people (especially from the spiritual organizations) have come to realize the great truths that their traditions have in common. In particular, everyone recognizes that there is some quality of the land that sets it apart from other locations, that makes it sacred no matter what tradition one ascribes to.

“Almost everybody from every religion views this as a sacred and holy spiritual place. It’s a center of spiritual power on the earth. These spiritual groups or religious individuals that are here, I am not part of a group, but all of us are in harmony on believing that this is just a totally holy place.”

- Joy Kells, Volunteer Firefighter, member of Cottonhood sustainable co-op, interviewed by Anna Jackson

People have come together in Crestone for one overarching reason; they all recognize that it is a sacred site.

Residents have no reservations about intermingling with different traditions and practices:

“I definitely go and hang out with the different traditions. I think it’s very important to dialogue there. Through that we’ve tried to be an example, a seed community for the planet, through sustainability, alternative building, all these different kinds of things. We’re just trying to go, here’s a [different ] option to what’s been going on in the outer world.”

-Debra Floyd, The Village Witch. Interviewed by Caroline and Anna

Spiritual organizations in Crestone recognize the truths of all the different world religions and bring them together in different amalgams of spiritual practice; each spiritual tradition borrows freely from other religions but is essentially based in one particular religion.

“The basics of the teachings are the same, but it’s like opening with more and more tools and more and more knowledge, and more and more practice. The basic of the teaching is love. Love is life. Life is God. So God, love, life. Nature."

-Jayendra, Humanity in Unity, interviewed by Larissa Phillips

“I would describe it as …what’s coming to my mind is a kind of brotherly sisterly thing, and I think that’s good; well, partly because even in families most of us experience that you may be of the same blood, but you’re very different and yet there’s something that binds you because you are part of the same family, and I think there’s something here in Crestone that’s similar to that, where we are bound together...even though our spiritualities are different. Its because that’s the basis of all of our lives whatever our paths may be and so that’s kind of the binding force is that all the value systems are very similar and that keeps us in a kind of communication even when we have differences, different approaches to whatever I mean not even all the groups would consider themselves a deist group, Buddhists are not really deists, Buddhism is not really a religion anyway, but the principles on which we base our lives are so similar; that’s what I think binds us together.”

- Sister Connie, Nada Carmelite Hermitage, interviewed by Nick Chambers

Sister Connie then goes on to make an interesting and important point on people's relationships to each other in Crestone:

“I think that’s also the beauty of this place; that there’s such an openness and sharing among us that there are certain edges that soften.”

People in Crestone have succeeded to a large degree to in concentrating on what they all have in common, as opposed to what is different about their beliefs and pracitices. People accept that every spiritual tradition has gained insight into at least one truth of the universe.

“There are several spiritual truths that you find in all of them.” Says Debra Floyd, of the spiritual traditions in Crestone. She goes on to say:

“This is a seed community for the planet. How this [is] going to play out we’ll see. There any many such communities all doing there part.”

“I am very attracted to the fact that they (the citizens of Crestone) have all these spiritual groups, spiritual involvements and rituals, but they also lead other lives. It’s a combination of doing many things. It is a beautiful balance of culture."

- Julie Quinn, Crestone resident and member of the San Louis Valley Citizen's Alliance. Interviewed by Rachel Johnson

There are lots of lessons that Crestone has to offer the outer world and the global community. One is:

“The theme of the inner: we have to know ourselves. If I consider myself sacred per se, that means I consider you sacred because you are the same within yourself as I am. It would be how we viewed the world, an inner perspective.”

-Darlene Yarborough, Crestone Resident, CSA representative and member of Humanity in Unity. Interviewed by Ashley Mersereau and Addie Schwarz

This message will be important, people feel, for these times that we are now living in; we desperately need to reach out to each other and realize that, fundamentally, we are the same in our beliefs. Crestone can be a leader in harmonizing the conflicts in our world, as a model of how people can live harmoniously.

“Crestone is one of the few centers in the United States, and perhaps in the world where you can live a spiritual-based life amongst a large percentage of people who are doing the same thing.”

“It’s precious; it’s unusual. This is a center of the formation of this kind of human spiritual activity…Crestone is a model of how to live and how to survive, how to avoid the kind of polarized conflict that seems to be running rampant…countless wars, tribal fighting. The weapons have become too powerful. How do people get along?…Crestone is that kind of place, where that kind of [harmonious] activity takes place.”

“The interesting thing about this area, and Western spirituality in general, perhaps, is that there’s a transcending of traditional fundamentalist approaches…everybody is in harmony here together, whether you’re a Christian, a Buddhist, a practitioner of the Japanese spiritual tradition, one of the Carmelites…We all share a container, what Crestone is as a spiritual place. It’s not a merging, where it becomes this mish-mosh. There’s a respect, almost a brotherhood of understanding. So this is also possibly the way that spirituality is going in the 21 st century.”

-Ralph Abrams, White Jewel Mountain Zen Center. Interviewed by Vanessa Richardson.

 “We all are different, but all the reasons make sense. All we need are deep feelings and truth.”


People have an incredible sense not only of respect for others, but of responsibility towards fellow community members; people really care for one another.

“In Crestone you can build a house on a cul de sac and do isolated retreat, put some straw bales in front of your driveway, and a sign that says “solitary retreat, don’t come up” and no one will come. You can leave a container for the UPS guy to drop things off, [people] deliver food to you, and even without a spiritual community you’re all right, people here will just rise to the occasion and help you.”

-Ralph Abrams

“I’ve lived in so many different places and I’ve never seen this much awareness about what would really benefit humanity and the world…there is a lot of care…in this community when something happens to somebody, immediately people get what they need.”

-Naomi Mattis, CSA member and member of Mangala Shri Bhuti. Interviewed by Sarah Oliphant. 

While it is true that people of different faiths and traditions coexist well in Crestone, some feel that there is a cultural divide that has begun to form, between people who are sincere in wanting to make Crestone part of a revolution, and those who want to move to Crestone, and understand very little of what is really going on there:

“I think we have a very divided community, we have a deep chasm between two groups of people. One group of people is the people who work here, live here, try to make a living here and they are trying to build something new and different for the next generation. We are trying to save whatever we can save of the earth for generations to come. Our children and their children and grandchildren. And there is another group here which from what I can tell are rich yuppies from Boulder. They buy land here for investment. They build what we call spec houses, a house built on speculation, they buy a lot, they build a house, they put it up for sale. They slap them up, they are what we call stick-frame houses. There is a whole different set of guiding philosophies and goals behind these two different groups. And I don’t know how this cultural chasm is going to resolve itself.”

-Joy Kells

Indeed, such a gap is hard to reconcile, but, some would argue, this is one of the things that people in Crestone strive to confront. People strive every day to bridge gaps between cultures and values.

Crestone, as a spiritual center, has a lot to offer the world. It provides a place for people to become grounded spiritually, something which they can then take back into the outside world.

“So retreat is that kind of stepping back. But then, as you mature in your practice, you want to bring that practice back into the world. And then practice becomes a negotiation between-you could say-the mind of practice and meditation and the daily mind, and ideally they begin to merge, and they begin to transform each other. And I would say that Crestone is an ideal place for retreat, and I think the city is an ideal place to bring it back. It depends a little bit on where you are with your practice. I really believe places like Crestone have to exist to allow for that retreat. They also need to exist so that practitioners can come from that place of retreat and return into the world so to speak—into the daily life of how our culture functions. So that that culture can be transformed, ideally. So they belong together in a way.”

-Christian Dillo, Director of the Crestone Mountain Zen Center, Chair of the Crestone Spiritual Alliance, Buddhist monk and teacher. Interviewed by Johanna Kasimow and Whitney Conti

“This place demonstrates idealism. All the spiritual centers get along and are harmonious. They practice, ‘This is how I believe, but I honor and accept how you believe too’.”

-Julie Quinn

“This is a non-intentional spiritual community…where people from all walks of life…just decided this is the place they wanted to live.”

“For the most part, you can go up to anyone on the street and ask them about their spiritual practices…everybody understands that here and would respond somewhat in kind. Can you do that walking around New York? In Kansas City? No. It’s really unusual.”

-Ralph Abrams

Acceptance and respect for our fellow human beings is what we need to cultivate and take into the outside world.

“[People] usually come out feeling a lot more compassionate.”

-Naomi Mattis

“It’s not thinking ‘us and them’, it’s you aspiring to become what you are.” She then goes on to describe an important Buddhist prayer: “May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness…[and] not having suffering.” “As you go deeper, there is no separate self at all…we are all one.”

People in Crestone are united in a sense of oneness, of common ideals and ideas, and the recent issue of the potential drilling by Lexam has only served to unite them further.

"It was out of fear, out of the community's perceived threat of the north access road to the new national park, that the Spiritual Alliance was founded, and that was two-and-a-half years ago that that happened. I believe that's really pretty historic. I mean, it's the first time...I think we have forty people representing nineteen different organizations that are formal members of the CSA (Crestone Spiritual Alliance) now. That group operates by consensus...so if one person doesn't agree with a certain decision or a letter that we're gong to weigh in on whatever issue, we don't do it. So, for a group to operate for two-and-a-half years by consensus...that's a testimony to how well those nineteen groups get along with each other."

-Matthew Crowley, member of the CSA and member of the Shumei center. Interviewed by Malka Haymer.

“We make all our decisions on consensus… we have to come to agreement…we never seem to have any problems coming to agreement…we share a lot, though philosophies are different…[we share a ] similar general way of life.”

-Naomi Mattis

People have really banded together for the sake of this huge overarching goal: to keep the wildlife refuge safe and to keep Lexam from destroying the land where Crestone is. For thousands of years, people have recognized the sacredness of the San Louise Valley, and people are very reluctant to have that change, for any reason.

“This land is called The Bloodless Valley for a reason, the land was so beautiful and sacred that no one would fight here. Now there is the biggest war. Just the controversy of the gas drilling is politically disrupting here. Its an environment and lifestyle issue.”

“I am always amazed at how many really brilliant people living right here who are willing to get involved with this issue.”

-Julie Quinn

Some fear that time is short and options are scarce, but others remain confident that something can and will be done.

"Everything is about energy. Like you and I sitting here; one of us is getting more energy and one of us is receiving energy -there is an energy exchange going on here…and with that there is also emotion. Grief is one of the lowest vibrations and…sadness [also] vibrates really low. You and I are very high; joy and happiness are very high. We have a very high energy here and they are going to be bringing in a low energy, [so] who do you think is going to win out? You know, just from an energy standpoint we have a much [more] powerful energy. We may not be a big company like they are, or we may not have the money that they do, but just from an energy standpoint we’re united and that’s very powerful too. We did a big medicine wheel at the start of all this and brought in [Chief] Orval Looking Horse to conduct the ceremony and the Carmelites, the Hindus, the Shumei, the Buddhists, and it was the whole community, so we were calling in all the energy not just from our own lineages…but… from the sun, the moon, the earth, the mountains of Crestone, the animal kingdoms; there is a lot of energy that is pushing up against this material so I don’t think it will happen. Plus there is a plan for this place, the masters are looking out for us, the earth hierarchy, and they got a plan, like Jesus has a plan or evolution of humanity…this is just too important of a place, its like an ascension vortex, you know what I mean, its too important place in the world for them (the masters) to allow it to be destroyed, they wont let it. There may be stuff that goes on like what is happening right now because we learn and grow by coming together and opposing this type of thing, its brought you guys here today, there is an exchange going on so it looks like it might happen but in the end I don’t think it will."

-Michael Firsow, Humanity and Unity ~ Temple of Consciousness Ashram. Interviewed by Jordan Romero

In Crestone there is an incredible sense of optimism for the future. People truly believe that we can work past our differnces, as they have done; not only do we have the ability to live in harmony with one another, but we must, if we wish to transition into the up-comming era. In terms of the drilling issue, people remain hopeful that the drilling will be stopped. People are very informed about the issue and have definitely risen to the occasion in terms of legal battles and such. But perhaps the most amazing thing about the people of Crestone (and the most telling about their pragmatic mentality) is that they recognize that, ultimately this should not be viewed as an 'Us vs. Them' issue. There are merely two different sets of values at work here.