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Ralph Abrams

White Jewel Mountain Dharma Center

Interview Conducted by: Vanessa Richardson


Ralph Abrams is the Executive Director of the White Jewel Mountain Dharma Center. He has been living in Crestone since 1998. Interview conducted by Vanessa Richardson on Feb. 26, 2008.

On the Crestone community:

“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.”

“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.”

“We call ourselves a community of hermits sometimes, because many people came here like I did—they like the isolated and pristine environment in which to engage in their practices.”

“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.”

On spiritual practices:

“We talk about the sacredness of the land here, the sacredness of the environment. Crestone as an area is a place where you can practice in a very powerful fashion. We talk about the mountains here being sacred, as a container of a very rounded energy. The aquifer, which lies under us—the water element kind of rounds the energy here. The wind coming from across the valley picks up the water element, hits the mountains and comes back and circles back down.”

“The pristine air quality that allows us to…one of our practices is to gaze into space, see the blue sky, the pristine blue sky. Let’s say the gas comes, one of the things they do is pollute the air quality, so you won’t be able to achieve clarity.”

“We utilize the elements, [we] look at the sky to recognize and envision space…to help us realize the oneness of the spatial container, the roundedness of the Earth. We have a practice where we go out into the mountains and sink into the Earth itself.”

“The five elements are an intrinsic part of our practice. If you have gas or exploratory drilling come in here, or gas production, if affects the subtle vibrations of all of this kind of energy here.”

“The idea that this is a sacred valley, and special, isn’t just a myth because the American Indians were here for thousands of years, which is also important, but here today, this valley and this area is used every day by spiritual practitioners who come here to engage these mountains, and this has been going on since the 1950’s. So there’s a history of place here, there’s a history of recognition of the special power…that occurs in spiritual practice here, and it would be a shame if that’s lost.”

“If you talk to the Rinpoches…who wax eloquently about this particular area, [they will say] there’s nowhere else on the planet where these properties exist in a free country.”

“There’s a power here, there’s a harshness. There’s a powerful force that’s apparent here and you can resonate with it, if this is your practice, or sometimes people just come and stay a couple days and relax…there’s a magnetism here. So no, I don’t think it’s that easy to find.”

“So I go off and go up the creek a ways, and then find a meditative spot, and then spend hours just gazing at the surface water of the creek as it goes by and saying particular mantras associated with the water element. Slowly your consciousness begins to merge with the water element consciousness, and then different things can happen. You can have visionary experiences, be transported to…subtle realms of different realities or a different manifestation of what’s going on here. You can see through the water to a water kingdom, or everything becomes more liquid, not so solid, and the mountains take on a different texture…It’s nothing mysterious, in a way, because it’s an organic transcendence of your normal perspective…This kind of water practice or element practice is very auspicious. But I need to caveat that, because the idea isn’t to leave this territory, or not to show up as a human…To engage is to recognize that there are other perspectives, other points of view, and come back here and carry that with you.”

Abrams speaking on how he first heard of/came to Crestone: “It was a magazine called Tricycle. It’s a Buddhist magazine…They had an article [on] stupas…so I was interested in checking them out…there are three stupas here…As I was driving through here I noticed there was something going on with the real estate. There were all these real estate signs. Since I’m into real estate and construction, I came back up here to check it out, noticed there were all these lots for sale. I heard more about the community, about the spiritual centers that were here.”

On the future of spirituality:

“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.”

“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.”

On Crestone as a center for alternative energy:

“This valley has also been targeted as one of the prime sources of solar energy…This valley also has incredible potential for hydro-thermal energy resources…It’s also known as the alternative building capital of the world, because there’s no building code in Sawatch County [so there are] experimentations in building style. So there’s this idea of Crestone and the surrounding area being cutting edge in terms of sustainability…and alternative building techniques. There is a strong movement to establish ourselves in that domain.”

“It’s not only the ‘not in my backyard’, but somewhere else. We’re moving as a world, as a culture, away from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources…Crestone is one of those places where a stand is being made for that universal, world level of activity. Lexam comes along, and has been a catalyst for a grassroots effort for people throughout this area to rise up as a populous to say ‘No, we don’t want this.’ Not only because we don’t want it in our backyard, but because it’s an arcane, old-fashioned way of doing things.”

Abrams on potential effects of drilling: “My hope is that there’s little damage to the environment and the wildlife, to the precious aquifer, and they’ll find nothing. They’ll go away. The other possibility is that they will find some gas in the area and they’ll bring in production equipment. They’ll ruin our night skies and our air quality. The noise and the vibrations of the equipment will disturb the wildlife and destroy the quietude, which is much better to practice in. In other words, they’ll destroy the whole economic and social basis of this community.”

“It’s funny because we all drive our cars. We can’t survive out here without a car. No, I don’t think we’re saying that…we’re not going back to the horse and buggy days…but there are other energy resources that are available right now.”