The following article was originally published in the Spring 2016 print edition of the Ojai Quarterly.
Florence Garrigue, Meditation Mount and the creation of the future
By Jesse Phelps
She’d seen the West and East coasts. She’d seen the Caribbean. She’d seen Italy and England. But, as the story goes, when Florence Garrigue first stood on a rock-strewn hill in Ojai’s East End in 1968, the tiny woman knew she’d finally found the perfect place to carry out her very large vision. Today locals know Meditation Mount as a quiet, fertile oasis where oak, pine and pepper trees share space with a small pond, sage, cacti and lupines. Grassy areas offer places to sit and experience needed quiet. A comfy bench at the end of the walking path ushers in enjoyment at the sounds of finches in the underbrush amid an epic view west into the Ojai Valley.
Scattered among the greenery are boulders bearing simple words. They’ve been there for eons. But it took the directorial will of Florence Garrigue to get them arranged and inscribed with gentle reminders to the followers in her footsteps about why they’ve come to this place.
Garrigue was never going to lead an ordinary life. Born Florence Mixer to American parents living in Victoria, British Columbia, in February 1887, she moved to Berkeley as a child. She eventually graduated from that town’s prestigious University of California campus, then briefly married and taught school for a time.
In the mid-1920s, according to her nephew, Joseph Mixer, she left her marriage and moved in with her aunt, Florence Lowe, in Massachusetts. She took a job helping run the mail-order side of the family’s specialized gift business.
She was discovering life on her own terms and finding happiness. Mixer, now in his 90s, recalls her generous spirit from his boyhood days. “She always sent out a Christmas package to our family from Daniel Lowe and Company,” he says. “And inside were these beautifully packaged presents, in the Daniel Lowe and Company boxes, which she thought we would like and we always did.”
But Garrigue hadn’t yet found her calling. That happened in the early ‘30s when she discovered the work of Alice Bailey. Eight years Garrigue’s senior, Bailey was a prolific esoteric author who wrote her first book in 1919 and would go on to publish 18 more over the next 30 years.
She was a noted visitor to the Krotona Institute in Hollywood before it moved to Ojai in the 1910s. Michael Lindfield, who heads the board for Meditation Mount, describes Bailey’s teachings as being part of the “Trans-Himalayan mystery tradition, which also gave birth to Theosophy.”
Her ideas called to Garrigue, who left the family business in 1943, moving to New York to join the Arcane School, Bailey’s institution for esoteric studies. There Garrigue befriended a fellow student, Roberto Assagioli. Known as the father of Psychosynthesis, a blending of psychology with esoteric thought, Assagioli was a Jewish-Italian therapist, and an associate of Carl Gustav Jung.
Together, the two of them helped form a small, multinational group who met periodically in England, according to Lindfield, to discuss “ways to foster meditation programs to benefit the world.” They distilled Bailey’s ideas down to a few basic principles — among them “Essential Divinity,” “Good Will,” “Group Unanimity” and the laws of “Group Endeavor,” “Right Human Relations” and “Spiritual Approach.” They also developed pamphlets, written mostly by Assagioli with help from a few others, including Garrigue, to distribute by mail every two months, expanding on those principles.
The group, according to Lindfield, essentially split the globe into territories, each taking responsibility for spreading the word in his or her home country. “She was being asked to do something here that was part of sort of a greater project,” he says. “She was the American project manager.”
In the 1950s, Garrigue started the School for Esoteric Studies in New York City and founded the USA’s branch of Meditation Groups, Inc. Then, in 1968, at 80 years of age, she once again headed west, looking for a sacred spot for its headquarters.
FRESH START AT AGE 80
When they arrived in Ojai, Garrigue and her cohort, Frances Moore, initially lived in a two-story house on Grand Avenue, rented from Elmer Friend of Friend’s Ranch. “She was 80 years old at the time and she didn’t have any money,” says Ellen Hall, executive director of Meditation Mount.
That wasn’t going to stop Garrigue. Once she found her rocky hill, she collected funds from private donors, the bulk from Robert Moore, whom Mixer identifies as a “founding member of the Sheraton Hotel chain.” Moore, a Bailey acolyte and board member at Garrigue’s school, provided $1.25 million to purchase the land, and an equal sum for its future maintenance.
Garrigue hired local architect Zelma Wilson to design functional buildings with a vaguely Eastern flavor and landscape architect Grant Castleberg to help transform the grounds. Mixer says with a laugh, “One of the recollections I have of her is one of this very small woman directing these workman to move those boulders around.”
Once the land was cleared, Garrigue threw a party. She invited “spiritual celebrities,” in Hall’s words, to tour the site and enjoy its magnificent view of the Ojai Valley. These included the astrologer of great renown, Dane Rudhyar, New Zealand clairvoyant Geoffry Hodson, noted author and philosopher Manly Hall and Joy and Felix Mills of the Theosophical Society of Ojai.
“It was a very auspicious beginning,” says Ellen Hall.
In all, it took Garrigue’s team roughly three years to complete work on Meditation Mount. The site was dedicated on April 11, 1971.
Lindfield remembers seeing Garrigue at those fateful meetings in England in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. “It was very evident, here was one fiery being that nobody could extinguish,” he recalls. “She had a vision, a burning vision of the future that needed to be created now. Nothing would stop her. She just went and got what she needed. It was as simple as that. It’s like the Blues Brothers, ‘on a mission from God.’ Same thing. Florence was on a mission from God.”
Over Garrigue’s tenure at Meditation Mount, the site bloomed into the tranquil mini-paradise known and cherished by Ojai residents and visitors alike for the past four-plus decades. The pamphlets, which once went out by the thousands, are gone in the age of the Internet but the space remains as beautiful as it must have been in her conception.
“She did it. What it shows for me is that when you’re very clear about a vision that needs to be brought through, when you put your energy into the future, you can actually precipitate it into the now and that’s what she was doing and that is the heart of our creative meditation,” says Lindfield. “She was a very powerful instrument.”
Florence Garrigue continued to run the center until two years before her death in 1985 at 98 years of age. Her legacy lives on, embodied by one of Ojai’s most cherished and beautiful places. Meditation Mount is open until sunset Wednesday through Sunday to individuals. It hosts group meditations most mornings and each full moon, as well as yoga and special events. It survives on a donation-only basis.