AN INTRODUCTION TO LOVE
In the pages that follow you will read several different love stories worthy of TV syndication, peek inside the love life of Jack London, hear from Sonoma Ashram founder Babaji about the foundational meaning of love, explore with Jonah Raskin the concept of love as revolution, visit some lovely places to practice being in love, and be introduced to some wines and chocolates that will smooth the pathway to romance—not necessarily to be confused with love.
And as you read, may you be reminded of Shakespeare’s admonition from The Two Gentlemen of Verona: “Oh, how this spring of love resembleth, The uncertain glory of an April day, Which now shows all beauty of the Sun, And by and by a cloud takes all away.”
Love As Performance Art
Stephan and Libby fall in love transcendenlty.
Their relationship should really be a movie, maybe a musical, or a fairy tale, or a musical fairy tale, because it is so perfectly, impossibly romantic and slightly Disney-esque.
Stephan Stubbins is co-founder, co-executive director and a performing artist for the Transcendence Theatre Company in Glen Ellen and Sonoma.
Libby Servais is Glinda the Good Witch from Wicked, among other personas she has adopted on and off Broadway that include Elle Woods from Legally Blonde and Lysistrata Jones.
They both sing, dance, and act, they’ve both performed on Broadway and they met on a Skype call when Libby was being interviewed for a Transcendence role.
She had taken a break from Wicked in New York and had been referred to Transcendence by her best friend, the singer/actor/songwriter Carrie Manolakos.
On the call were Brad and Amy Miller, along with Stephan. Recalls Libby, “I didn’t know who was who. I knew who Amy was, because she was the only female, and then I knew one of the guys was Brad, one was Stephan. So I was like, ‘I know two of you are married.’ And Brad was like, ‘I’m Amy’s husband, Brad.’ Stephan was like, ‘I’m Stephan, I’m single.’ I was like, ‘I’m single too.’ And there was an awkward, silent moment and then we just kept talking. That was our first introduction to each other, a Skype interview.”
Libby was hired to perform in the 2013 Gala performance, but the two didn’t meet face-to-face until the night of a free, open-mic event called “Skits Under the Stars” at the Muscardini Winery tasting room in Kenwood.
Stephan: “We just happened to be talking, and then both of us stopped talking, we’re just standing with each other, watching something and I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve never stood with a stranger, silent like this, not somebody I just met.’
Libby: “It was just like comfortable immediately. Then we started talking just as friends, and he’s from Ohio, I’m from Ohio, and we thought that was amazing.”
Then, in late August, an underground explosion knocked out power in downtown Sonoma, where Stephan was living, just as he was trying to organize the closing season’s ticket and donation records on his computer.
Stephan: “I happened to be backstage during one of the rehearsals, and I said something like, ‘Well, my power’s out,’ and Libby happens to be standing there and she says, ‘Well, if your power’s out, you can come over to our house. You should come over to our house, we have power.’ And then she’s like, ‘We could play board games.’ And then I was like, ‘I love board games.’”
Cupid was clearly already at work, but the power was restored too quickly for Stephan to accept the invitation. Instead he suggested the two have lunch, but Libby was having a pool party for Transcendence staff at the home of her housing sponsor.
Libby: “When Stephan reached out about getting lunch that day, I said, ‘Well, I would love that, but I have people over at the pool.’”
One of those people was matchmaker Carrie Manolakos
and, “Carrie was like, ‘Oh, you need to spend time with Stephan. You guys need to fall in love.’”
Zing. Another arrow from Cupid’s bow.
Stephan showed up at the pool party, and he and Libby ended up sitting with their feet in the water and having a life-changing conversation.
Libby: “To me, that conversation we had at the pool was crucial to our relationship, because we dove right into deeper questions than I’d had with anybody else. I just knew that like, oh, my gosh, our souls are kind of intertwined right now. But then I had to go back to New York.”
Stephan: “At this point, we’re not dating. We’re two people who’ve talked a couple of times. We kind of texted back and forth every day while she’s been back in New York. Then I reached out to her and said, ‘Hey, if I’m coming through New York, can I see you?’ She was like, ‘Sure,’ and then, ‘Why are you coming to New York?’
Stephan told her it was to see friends, but Libby already knew better.
Libby: “But really, he wants to come see me. And he planned the most epic date.”
Stephan: “I told her to meet me at Central Park near the Met Museum at 2 p.m. And then we went to the Met, and we wandered around there.”
Libby: “We really didn’t look at artwork though, we just talked through the halls. We wrote a song in the hall. It was the best time I’ve ever had in a museum. Then we lay in the Central Park grass and I remember you held my hand, and that’s when I was like, ‘Oh, boy. This is not a friendship anymore.’”
Stephen: “I had already booked a vegan restaurant, and I said, ‘Let’s just walk over here,’ and she’s like, ‘This is amazing.’ Then we had a friend’s epic birthday party at a beer garden in Queens. We went there and we had our first kiss there, and then we left on a subway together.”
For the next two days, until Stephan had to leave New York, they were almost inseparable.
Libby: “And then we had the decision of, what do we do? Do we go into a long-distance relationship? Because that’s crazy. Or what? And I’ve never done a showmance type of thing.”
Stephan: “Showmance is a thing that happens in a lot of [show] companies where it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m on tour for six months, I’m going to have my person that I’m with.’ And then you leave the show and then it’s over. That’s not us. So, we were both like, ‘Let’s try.’”
Libby: “And then we got married.”
OK, it wasn’t quite that quick. There was a lot of long-distance love between the epic New York City date in 2013 and their formal engagement on May 6, 2018.
Stephan: “We got engaged on my 40th birthday on a lake in Ohio, basically, between where we both grew up, kind of in the middle of the state. We got our families together and kind of surprised Libby with it. That was 2018, May 6.
Which means that for six years, Stephan and Libby spent an awful lot of time apart, while Stephan poured himself into building the Transcendence Theatre Company and Libby alternated between New York Shows and touring productions.
Stephan: “A big portion of our relationship has been long distance and talking every night, and being there for each other in a way that is very unique for couples.”
To keep love alive they adopted a strategy borrowed from Amy Miller and Brad Surosky.
Stephan: “Brad said they had a five-week rule. Five weeks is just enough time that it’s like, ‘Oh, man, it’s too long,’ but it’s not too long. Every five weeks, at least, we would see each other. I would have to fly there. She would fly here. I surprised her once too. And we were FaceTiming every night.”
But there’s another essential ingredient in their relationship that made the distance work.
Stephan: “One thing we both identified was that we are both very loyal people. There’s a deep sense of trust for both of us. And if there’s any doubt in that, I don’t think that would have worked like this. But both of us trust each other, and that was the most important foundation beneath all of it. And then communication, like both of us taking the time to talk every day, we talk more intimately.”
Clearly the relationship strategy worked. On August 4, 2019, Stephan and Libby were married in Sonoma by former local minister Tim Boeve, who came up from Mexico to officiate. It was something of a production, with a lot of help from very talented friends, including Broadway veteran Leslie McDonel who sang Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” for the father-daughter dance, and actor/choreographer Molly Alvarez Booth who produced the bride and groom’s dance. There was also an Irving Berlin sing-along (“Always”) and Transcendence co-founder and artistic director Amy Miller delivered what can only be described as an “Amy” speech to seal the deal.
When they’re together in Sonoma they’ve performed together on the Transcendence stage, often a love song with special depth and passion.
Says Libby, “It’s truly the greatest blessing and gift to share this passion with the person I love, that we get to sing together and appreciate it in the same way. And sometimes we sit down and play piano at home. If we get to share that with an audience together, that’s such a gift.”
Adds Stephan: “I think you can only love as much as you can imagine, or as much as you’re willing to both hold the space for it. I think having a life in art and music and community is like, you’ve got so much of a depth of what you know is possible from your heart.”
THE HOUSE OF LOVE
Jack and Suzanne have built a beautiful relationship
When Jack Lundgren was hired to oversee construction of what would become Suzanne Brangham’s new Sonoma restaurant, the General’s Daughter, she had no idea that he would eventually saw, hammer and paint his way into her heart.
And it’s almost certain he had no idea he would become partnered with a formidable moving force in the Valley of the Moon, a woman with so many hats—real and rhetorical—that it’s hard to understand how she wears them all.
She claims she came to Sonoma to retire after a career restoring and selling San Francisco Victorians and writing the bestselling book, Housewise: A Smart Woman’s Guide to Buying and Renovating Real Estate for Profit.
But retirement was clearly an act of self-deception because she promptly bought Bob Cannard’s decaying but historic 19th-century Victorian on West Spain Street in Sonoma to turn it into a restaurant called the “General’s Daughter.” Not satisfied with that, she designed and built Ramekins Culinary School on land she acquired next door, bought the Burris estate on Broadway and turned it into the elegant boutique hotel and spa MacArthur Place, all the while founding Sonoma’s Red and White Ball to benefit the Education Foundation, and the nonprofit Sonoma Plaza Foundation to raise funds to improve the Plaza. She joined the effort to create the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, chaired a trio of “Muse” fundraising events for the Sonoma Community Center, joined the Sonoma Valley Hospital Coalition and has worked with or been on the boards of the Sebastiani Theatre Alliance, the Sonoma Valley Fund, Teen Safe Ride, Sonoma Valley High School’s Senior Project’s Night, has co-chaired fundraisers for the Lyon Ranch Animal Rescue and Therapy Center, Pets Lifeline, the Sonoma International Film Festival, served on the advisory board of the Mentoring Alliance, La Luz, the Arts Guild and the Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Clubs.
It was no surprise, except to her, that in 2014 she was named Sonoma’s honorary Alcaldessa, the highest honor the city can bestow.
Buried in this frenzy of entrepreneurial achievement and civic devotion there is also a delightful love story, best told by the two who birthed it. Suzanne sets the stage.
“I came to Sonoma to retire after buying, renovating, and selling 72 homes in San Francisco. I went to London with my son William to write a book about it because everyone wanted to do home renovation, and I had a publisher who was interested in the book.
“We stayed in London for five years. William completed his high school there, and then we came back. I didn’t want to do anymore purchasing, and renovating, and selling. So I came to Sonoma looking for a second home.”
Suzanne found some land and built a couple of homes in Glen Ellen, but decided she wanted to be in the town of Sonoma.
“I drove by 400 West Spain Street, which was a pink house owned by Bob Cannard, and it had been General Vallejo’s daughter’s home. I thought, why that would make a fabulous restaurant. The land was gorgeous, and totally unkempt with weeds, but it could have beautiful gardens and enough space for parking. I decided to make an offer on it and see if I could get a restaurant permitted in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I went to all the neighbors and they were very open to the idea. So, we got it through the Planning Commission on the first night. The planning Commission is, you know, entertainment for a lot of people, but it’s sort of like a courtroom for most.”
Suzanne had used storied San Francisco contractor Bob Fisher for many of her renovation projects in the City, and his company specializes in adaptive re-use of historic structures, so she contracted with Fisher to redo the Cannard/Vallejo home.
Which leads us to Jack.
Jack Lundgren was born and raised in Chicago, began his career as an apprentice carpenter and worked his way up to project supervision, eventually overseeing the construction of McDonald’s restaurants around the country for a company in Wisconsin. He was managing the firm’s California office when they asked him to come home and run the whole company.”
“I was spoiled with California,” says Jack, “and I said, ‘Thank you, no. Goodbye.’”
Fisher then hired Jack to manage a restaurant project in Sonoma for a woman named Suzanne who, it turned out, was very much hands-on.
“We had one of the best times,” she says. “The redwood timbers in the building went from the floor to the ceiling, unlike anything you could ever see today. The foundation was all redwood. Everything was in redwood. We worked for those eight and-a-half months together. We have to say that that’s where we met.”
Jack’s first impression of Suzanne?
“Well, she was very interesting, let’s put it that way. I didn’t think that much about it in terms of getting together. She had a gentleman friend who I would see her with occasionally. I didn’t know her that well at all, and I assumed that was her boyfriend. Well, I didn’t find out till later that this gentleman wasn’t her boyfriend.”
Explains Suzanne, “He was gay. He was a tall, handsome devil, and he would be on-site sometimes, but he was gay.”
All of that became moot late one night during the finishing touches on the General’s Daughter. Suzanne describes it this way.
“We were painting the offices upstairs. It was night, and it was dark, and we were both painting the walls. It was sort of serendipitous. We were both painting from opposite directions, and we came around a corner and then all of a sudden we ended at the same place, there we were, and I think that was our first kiss.”
That kiss had to last a little while because as soon as the restaurant was finished Jack took off to do another job for Fisher.
“I thought about him a lot because he was talented, and attractive, and sexy, and alone. When he came on the job, he was not a very happy person because he had just been divorced from his second wife, and she got everything—the house, the horses, everything.”
But after every job Jack did, he kept coming back to Sonoma. And before long, Suzanne being Suzanne, and Sonoma being Sonoma, another opportunity emerged next door to the new restaurant.
“There was an empty lot there, we had lost the CIA to Napa—the culinary institute, and Sonoma really wanted one—so we investigated getting that land and building a culinary school here. And that’s when we did our first building together. And that was two commercial ventures I had not anticipated. This was where I came to retire. And then MacArthur Street became available, 11 acres that we down-zoned to six. And I said, three commercial ventures in retirement is just crazy, but I couldn’t resist it once I saw it.”
With Suzanne’s propensity to see creative new possibilities in real estate, and Jack’s ability to build, or manage the construction, of virtually anything, the two make an almost perfect match.
“My design and his talents,” says Suzanne. “I mean, I should have met him 40 years ago. It’s a good team. And I never hear no. I need a table easel, I say I want it to look like this, and he says, just draw me a picture. I draw a picture and the next day it’s here.”
For Jack, with two failed marriages that didn’t end well, being so compatible with Suzanne—for 25 years and counting—remains a revelation. “We’ve always had a good time together, and we still do, obviously, but it was something I wasn’t familiar with in the past. So I think that just how we get along so well together, that’s the big thing, the fact that you could live with somebody for all this time and still be happy, and satisfied ,and still in love.”
Adds Suzanne, “I think it’s also the common denominator in our lives, that we both are interested in the same thing. I mean, for sale signs are like stop signs for us. When we both look at something we both think, boy, that could be a great whatever. That could be a great restaurant, that could be a great house, that could be a great cottage, that could be a great second home.”
There’s another element in their relationship binding them together that they don’t talk about as much—their ongoing contributions to the community they live in.
“Well,” says Suzanne, “I think we both care so much. I mean, how often do people in this town say I love where I live. It is indeed paradise. I think it’s inbred in us that if you love where you live and what you do, then you give back to your community. That’s sort of a very high priority. And we’re heavily involved in a lot of nonprofit organizations, Jack in particular.”
The greatest beneficiary of Jack’s generosity may well be the Sonoma Community Center, which literally might not be standing—or at least open—without Jack’s hands-on help. The 104-year-old building was in sad disrepair when Jack came along and allowed himself to be lured onto the Community Center board. Besides building various wooden objects, he renovated large parts of the inside of the building, including the kitchen, the theater in Andrews Hall, the dance studio, school rooms, the offices housing Valley of the Moon magazine, a $2 million retrofit of the heating and cooling system and the leaky roof, as well as seismic upgrading. All of it done as an unpaid volunteer.
“Jack,” says Suzanne, “was a perfect definition of a board member.”
He was, in fact, one thing else, according to contractor Bob Fisher, as Suzanne explains.
“Bob told me that, when he hired Jack and then realized year and half later that we were living together, ‘I just want you to know Suzanne, I have provided you with a full-service contractor.’”
Crazy In Love With Sonoma
Love Story – Kristen and David
David Gordon and Kristin Piro perform on stage and across the country promoting Sonoma.
Sonoma County has a program to recruit and train “Certified Tourism Ambassadors” who then, through their professional activities in whatever work they do, promote the attractions of all things Sonoma. Well over 500 people are so certified, but two of the most effective ambassadors—a powerhouse pair of professional performers who are just crazy in love with Sonoma—are just doing it on their own.
David Gordon and Kristin Piro are classic Triple Threats—performers who sing, dance, and act, although David says his primary strength is singing —he’s performed in 32 countries—while Kristin is a dancing sensation who recently starred as Cassie in the Transcendence Theatre Company’s production of A Chorus Line.
They discovered Sonoma because each was independently hired to perform with the company, beginning in 2014, and while they are still tethered to New York, they’ve spent enough time in the Valley of the Moon to consider it their second home and to fantasize about making it their first.
Their affection runs so deep that when, after knowing each other for years as friends and fellow professionals, they eventually fell in love and decided to marry, the only place they wanted to tie the knot was Sonoma.
The falling in love with each other came as something of a mutual surprise; falling in love with Sonoma, both agree, was a no-brainer. They had known each other for years as performers, but had both been in other long-term relationships that ended more or less simultaneously. They were at a cast reunion party, both now single, when a mutual friend told them, “You guys are both single now. Why don’t you guys go on a date?”
David’s response, “She’s not going to date me. That’s why we’re not going on a date. I said it joking, and she was kind of blushing. Then the next day I called her, stated I was recently out of a relationship, and said, ‘Ah, I think that, you know…’ She says, ‘Are you asking me on a date? Do you want to go on a date?’ And I said, ‘Wait. Did you just ask me on a date?’ So, before you know it, we’re going on a date.”
Next, David told Kristin, “Hey, I’m doing this show this summer at this theater called ‘Transcendence.’” And then Kristin told David, “I’m doing a show at Transcendence.”
Turns out that Kristin’s best friend is Tony Gonzalez, who directs and choreographs Transcendence shows and has known the company’s co-founder, Amy Miller, since college. Both Kristin and David were hired by serendipitous chance or the hands of fate for the same Transcendence season and the proverbial six degrees of separation grew a degree or two tighter.
“Everybody thinks we met in Sonoma,” says Kristin. “We didn’t, but we definitely fell more in love in Sonoma, and the more we analyze that, the more we realize we are the best version of ourselves out here.
“It’s hard in New York to not be on edge constantly in the business. And the lifestyle in the city is so taxing on you that it’s a struggle sometimes, and you always want to get away. And it’s so nice that our go-to is always, let’s go to Sonoma, because you want to wake up everyday, it’s beautiful every day, the community is so supportive and encouraging in your career and in you. It’s such a different feel. And when we got engaged we both were like, we have to go do it in Sonoma. Everybody is going to travel anyway, we might as well do it where we love to be.”
David agrees Sonoma is a good psychic influence.
“For some reason, here we get up every day, we go to the gym, we get back, we make a nice healthy breakfast. It’s the things that we don’t do in New York City, which is funny because that’s where we’re supposed to really be doing that. I love New York but it’s so much harder there. And here, it’s not only that we thrive to be our best selves, the love is also what thrives here. The love for everything, the love for the gym, the performing. It’s really kind of like the trifecta.”
“And the community,” adds Kristin. “I feel like it’s such a small town that the conversations we have with people on a daily basis, you really invest in people and care about how they are and how they’ve made it through the fires or how was their Thanksgiving. We love the small town feel of the community.”
Wedding plans were already in play when the October 2017 wildfires struck. Following the news from New York, David says, “If we weren’t sure about having our wedding in Sonoma before the fires, we were for sure having them after, because there was no way in hell that after what the community has given to us that we weren’t going to give back to the community by bringing 108 people out to support Sonoma. To us, this is a sacred place.”
Certified or not, David has already become an enthusiastic ambassador for the town. “When people do come out here, I have a whole a cheat sheet that I send. If you have three days in Sonoma, if you have a week in Sonoma, if you have 24 hours, and I literally run down a list of who to call and who to ask for, because this place has given us so much. There’s a certain energy about Sonoma, and we take that energy, a little piece of it, back to New York and hope that it spreads as much as possible. I was at the gym and a guy next to me on the treadmill taps me, and he says, ‘I just want to thank you for what you do for the community.’ And I said, ‘What you guys don’t understand is, we are coming here because of you guys.’”
The wedding, held last May at Cornerstone Gardens, was partly organized by friends in Sonoma while David and Kristin were on tour, together, in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The ceremony was held in the middle of a miracle surrounded by a rainstorm, David explains.
“It rained for every event of the weekend. We were married on a Monday. On Sunday we had two different parties. It rained the entire time, but it stopped for an hour of sun so everyone went out and took these beautiful pictures. Then it rained up until the second party, for the dinnertime. It didn’t rain for an hour so everyone was able to go outside. And then on our wedding day, we woke up and it was the most stunning, gorgeous day in Sonoma I’ve ever seen. And I was like, Oh my God.”
It turns out Sonoma has one other attraction close to David’s heart. You’ll never guess.
A Michigan artist and “superfan” of David’s drew a custom label for the wedding wines, which got a lot of attention and set David’s wine-loving mind in motion. “I started looking around and figured, it’s a good time to buy right now in the bulk wine industry, and because I’ve gotten to know so many of these wonderful people out here, they are helping me. I’m hitting a lot of bumps because it’s a crazy time to try and sell wine. But I basically just want to start a private label of zinfandel. We have a great title for it, we have a great label, and I want to sell it just in New York and California, and see what happens. We would be making about 200 cases. I’m just starting this out,and I’m trying to see if it’s even possible. I’ve got a lot of bigger ideas with it. Especially involving the theater community and things like that.”
So the next time you run into David Gordon and Kristin Piro, by all means thank them for their performing gifts to Sonoma, but don’t forget to ask if you can buy a bottle of their zin. Or better yet, a case.
Story by David Bolling
Babaji on love
Recognizing Oneness – Love Is Realy All There Is.
Babaji is dressed in white, sitting comfortably cross-legged in the peaceful, pastel interior of his residence on the grounds of Sonoma Ashram.
The conversation is close to Christmas and is about love—not romance, but the real thing.
There is an easy silence in the room as he frames his thoughts.
Finally he says, “There are so many levels of love. The highest form is seeing the self in all. That is the highest form of love.”
But clearly, not the most common.
“Then we’ve got this worldly love,” he says. “I love you, you love me; as long as you get what you expect from me, then you love me. And if you don’t, then we go our ways. So that’s almost like a transactional love. We try to fill our emptiness by bringing someone else in our life. And we call it ‘love.’
“The highest love is really understanding, on a deeper level, that I’m not separate from you.”
Babaji suggests a metaphor of the sun reflecting in a large mirror.
“When that big piece of mirror breaks into thousands of smaller pieces, each piece begins to reflect the sun in its fullness. The divine presence is in each individual, and that is the common thread that unites us all.”
It may be the defining challenge of the human condition that most of us are trapped in the experience of our individual selves without the password, the pathway, the patience or the practice of surrendering our solo identities.
“On one level,” says Babaji, “we have our identities, our stories that we call ‘me.’ But on another level we are all the same. So yes, living a human life, we have our stories, and we have our identities, we go on living. But we are very blessed when we stop, take a step back, take a deep breath, and recognize our oneness. And that is love. That’s divine love.”
Hearing this, you may be compelled to respond that all major religions and spiritual teachings have a similar message, and yet we remain so deeply divided, so not connected in that divine union.
Babaji agrees. “All the different traditions, religions—they are based on love. The essence, the teaching of every tradition is that. But we have begun to worship the kettle and forgot drinking the tea. So how do we bring this on a practical level?
“It begins with the self, self-love. It becomes a lot easier to love the other when I’m feeling good, content, and settled within myself.”
But there may be a spiritual and existential Catch 22 here because many of us—perhaps most—will argue, ‘Well and good, but how do I do that? How do I feel better about myself?’
“Mm-hmm,” intones Babaji. “How do I feel good about myself? Well, it’s time for a change of the season, a new year is coming. So, looking at my habits, looking at how I spend my time, what can I do toward the betterment of my health and personal peace? That’s where we begin. When I’m settled within myself I have much more tolerance for others, I’m less judgmental, and I’m able to appreciate diversity. So in my opinion, if we really want to work on love, it has to begin with the self.”
And there’s the rub. Because in Western culture when we want to achieve something, we organize, we create strategies and programs, action plans and political solutions, activities that take us outside ourselves.
To which Babaji responds, “No matter how hard we work outside, unless our foundation is strong enough, we keep changing strategies, and we keep changing programs, and we are just busy being busy. I’m a firm believer in [the precept] that if we want to change the world, we have to change ourselves first—personal responsibility. As we see all over the world, people are fighting in the name of religion, dividing. Mostly, those fighting in the name of religion are so much on the surface. Had they done any self-inquiry, self-reflection, gone a little deeper, they would realize that love is the only way for peace and prosperity and happiness. We have enough that we can share.
“And,” he adds emphatically, “we don’t just talk about it and participate in groups. I think some very tangible actions are very important on each individual level. In this holiday season, this month is really a month of love, when Jesus was born. His whole life was about love. If we are able to forgive someone who may have done some harm to us, that is being proactive toward love. Able to forgive someone, accept someone for who they are, this kind of action not only brings a change in my life, it brings a change in society. Everybody who reads your magazine on love this season, if they took one action of love on the individual level, it could bring about the shift.”
This is, Babaji seems to suggest, not unlike what physics calls a “phase transition,” the kind of process that creates superconductivity.
“You see,” he continues, “every action that we take, a vibration occurs, our body emits that kind of vibration, and that vibration goes and touches many. We get overwhelmed by so much darkness out there, but even one little act of compassion and kindness and forgiveness, dispels that darkness. A room is filled with darkness, you strike a match, instantly the whole room lights up. One individual action may not create news big enough to write about, but it does bring about change on a very subtle level.
“And,” he continues, “this time of year, with the spirit of Christmas, it’s on everybody’s mind, they want to bring some change in their life, so the energy is already there. It just needs to be focused a little bit, and it will work like the wind behind the sail.”
Babaji, known more formally as Baba Harihar Ram, founded Sonoma Ashram in 1991 to demonstrate the principles and teachings of Aghor yoga, a thousand-year-old spiritual tradition from northern India. Part of the Aghor tradition is that the guru, or teacher, is easily accessible to the students, and that tradition is regularly demonstrated at Sonoma Ashram where Babaji is regularly on site and available for visits.
“We are totally committed to bringing peace to each individual,” he says. “To explore on their personal level, through meditations, and we teach meditation classes for free. Anybody can just come and start the New Year.”
The ashram is approved by the county judicial system as one of the places people can perform court-mandated community service.
“We have lots of young people coming here who have done some small [crimes], and after they’ve finished their hours they often say, ‘Can I come back?’ I ask them, ‘Why?’ and they say, ‘Well, the love and respect that you guys show here, I have never experienced that.’ Sometimes even one little instance like that can bring about a shift in a person’s life. And this is what the whole purpose of the ashram is, really, to bring each individual to that kind of work. That love.”
In a world divided politically, geographically, economically, and even spiritually, the simple acts of love Babaji describes emerge as humanity’s best strategic defense. Adversity, he says, triggers a natural response to be reactive.
“Instead of reacting, can we respond? And what will be a proper response? If you attack, the attack will come back 10 times more. So that’s not going to help. And being passive is not going to help. But we have some beautiful traditions of expressing love, like feeding the poor and taking care of the homeless and helping those in need. These are beautiful rituals of love. Whenever we engage in such acts, it always opens up our heart.”
Sonoma Ashram is located at 1087 Craig Avenue, Sonoma. Call 707.996.8915, or go to sonomaashram.org.
Story and photos by David Bolling