By Rick Barker
Special to the Town Crier
The idyllic wilderness we call Idyllwild has long been a magnet for healers, whether of body, mind or soul. Several Native American tribes considered our mountaintop a place of healing, and even a sacred space. Our town’s first building, built in 1901, was a sanatorium. Seeking a home base for his Trailfinders, in 1941 Harry James chose our mountaintop, at what is now the James Reserve. The “Father of Holistic Medicine,” Dr. Evarts Loomis, was adamant that the first holistic hospital be built “in the shadow of Tahquitz Peak” (1952).
These four examples are but the tip of the iceberg, and today Idyllwild is recognized as one of the premier hubs for holistic healing. Joining this venerable lineage is a donation-funded nonprofit named Present and Positive whose website describes as being dedicated to self-awareness, personal development and positive change in the world.
Present and Positive is the brainchild of Colin Parker and Janel Ruehl. They bought a house on Double View in late 2013, and after completing several projects, including a 30-foot diameter yurt, they held a grand opening on Oct. 18, 2014. Since then, the yurt has been a favorite gathering place for locals, and today they offer a full schedule of classes, workshops and artistic events.
Trine Bietz moved her yoga classes from Town Hall to the yurt. Every morning from 7 to 8:30 a.m., the yurt is reserved for open meditation. Other regular events include a drum circle, Tai Chi, Shaolin Qi Gong, Jin Shin Jyutsu, Ecstatic dance, “gentle” yoga and an open-mic night for sharing poetry, songwriting, storytelling, dance, etc. The latest addition is “Meditation for Children and Teens,” which Dr. Susan Foster will facilitate every Tuesday.
Present and Positive also regularly hosts a wide variety of concerts, film screenings and other artistic events. To celebrate Martin Luther King Day, four local musical acts performed. The yurt is equipped with a first-class film projector and screen; the debut film in the series was “The Highest Pass,” after which the director Adam Schomer answered questions from the audience.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Colin (Janel recently enrolled in a holistic healing program at the Institute of Psycho-Structural Balancing in San Diego but still is heavily involved in the administration of the project). When asked about the vision underlying Present and Positive, he replied, “We don’t have a particular ideology or process. Our approach is more about service and listening. We’re not trying to force something that we believe in on the community. We’re listening to the community, we’re experiencing the community, we’re trying to understand what is most needed here, and we’ll put our resources toward that. It’s a very receptive approach. We believe in creating space — with the house, the yurt and the 40 acres in Garner Valley — for the beautiful energy here in Idyllwild. We’re just facilitators for what already exists here.”
This inclusive attitude has been well-received by the community, and they are already expanding operations. They recently joined forces with Maryna Allan, whose White Feather Retreat (five minutes north of Pine Cove) provides a nice symmetry (the Double View house and yurt are at the southernmost end of Idyllwild). They are currently looking to rent another house near Double View, and their long-term vision for the Garner Valley property includes permaculture, community gardens, organic farming, low-cost overnight guest facilities and artistic venues.
One thing that particularly impressed this reporter is their ability to emphasize connectedness and unity in tandem with individual expression in a way that doesn’t seem contradictory: “We recognize the power of connection, but we also believe strongly in free expression and equality. Present and Positive is absolutely horizontal in every aspect. The original vision came from Janel and I, but now no one person has the final say. We trust each other and we have different strengths, and we believe all people have something to offer. We believe in achieving balance through simultaneous self-reliance and interdependence.”
In closing, I would like to quote a passage from their mission statement: “We believe that all people intuitively know what they need to thrive. When free of distractions and surrounded by nature and a supportive community, most people will naturally gravitate towards greater happiness, harmony and peace.” Since our mountain offers all the necessary ingredients in such abundance, it is easy to see why it continues to attract spiritual visionaries.
Whether you are seeking holistic healing, connection or just looking to raise your spirits and have fun, check out their schedule of events at presentandpositive.com.