Sunday, December 28, 2014

Harbin Hot Springs and the Heart Consciousness Church

Heart Consciousness Church ceremony at Harbin Hot Springs.

Most communal-religious groups start with a vision. Then they organize as a formal group. And finally, they sanctify a piece of land as their spiritual home.

The Heart Consciousness Church took exactly the opposite path. It emerged, first as an organized sect and then as a coherent spiritual vision, directly from the lands and waters of what are now known as Harbin Hot Springs.

Located 70 miles north of San Francisco, Harbin Hot Springs is a 5000-acre retreat and conference center, nestled in a narrow, brushy mountain canyon. At its heart are its hot springs: two volcanically-heated springs that pump 800 gallons of 113-degree water every hour into a series of hot and warm soaking pools. Several cold springs from an aquifer on nearby Boggs Mountain also provide water for a cold-plunge pool, as well as for drinking.

To the Miwok Indians, Harbin was ‘eetawyomi – the sacred “hot place” that welcomed all tribes, and whose warm mineral waters healed all manner of bathers’ complaints.  Near the springs, indigenous peoples gathered for shamanic rituals and seasonal celebrations at the creek-side “Grandmother’s Circle”, giving tribute to the land that produced the magic waters.

When the Miwoks retreated and faded in the face of the Spanish conquest, the springs were largely forgotten. The canyon that held them was part of a land grant passed around between different Spanish and Mexican owners far more interested in ranching than in soaking. Eventually the land grant was taken over in the 1850s by an American, Archibald Ritchie, who “discovered” the springs just before his death in 1856.

In Ritchie’s wake, James “Mat” Harbin acquired the land. A colorful character who claimed to have bought Central America’s Mosquito Kingdom for use as a Mormon refuge, Harbin was a successful frontier capitalist who later in life, inexplicably dropped out of California society to be a hermit in Mexico. Although he gave his name to the springs, as well as to several geographic features in the area, he never did much with the land, and in 1865 passed his claim on to two Welsh immigrants, Richard Williams and Hugh Hughes.

Williams and Hughes saw great potential in the springs, and in 1867 began to develop the land as a resort. They walled and pooled the springs’ flow, planted extensive gardens around them, and built a hotel on the property that could accommodate 100 guests. “Taking the waters” for health had become fashionable in Victorian America and Europe, and the two men advertised Harbin as Northern California’s answer to such famed spas as Marienbad or Saratoga Springs, and claimed that its mineral waters could cure everything from rheumatism to alcoholism.

Bathers at Harbin went through a day-long ritual that foreshadowed both modern spa treatment, and the New Age healing practices of today. First, they spent two hours soaking in the pools, alternating between hot and cold plunges. Then they received a massage, followed by various ablutions and perhaps a coiffure. A nap was next on the agenda, and then a relaxing stroll through the spa grounds. Finally came a hearty dinner made from locally-raised vegetables and livestock.

The Harbin Hot Springs resort, circa 1915.

Oddly enough, the “health resort” offered not only home-cooked locavore meals, but also a fully-stocked bar, as well as cigars and pipe tobacco for gentleman guests. When Lake County went “dry” and banned alcoholic beverages in 1912, Harbin continued to serve booze on the sly – a practice that it allegedly continued all the way through Federal Prohibition from 1919 to 1933. The hotel also sported illegal – but fully functional, and heavily-used – “decorative” slot machines through the late 1940s.

Legendary boxer Jim Jeffries was one of many athletes who trained at Harbin Hot Springs in the early 20th Century.

In 1894, disaster struck Harbin when a fire burned down most of the resort. Undaunted, the owners rebuilt the facilities, adding larger pools and other improvements. One of the new features was a gym, which quickly became a popular training arena for such boxers of the era as Jim Jeffries and Bob Fitzsimmons. Resident pugilists swore that the clean air, hot weather and relatively high altitude of Harbin gave them harder and healthier workouts than their city-bound rivals.

The celebrity athletes helped publicize Harbin, and it continued to expand and renovate through the early 1900s, especially when the coming of automobiles greatly eased access to the resort. Although a rival spa, the Stuparich Resort, opened just north of Harbin, it didn’t provide competition for long; after rumors circulated among Lake County’s Ku Klux Klansmen that its Jewish owner planned to sell it to an African-American social club, it mysteriously burned to the ground in 1928.

A 1935 postcard depicts Harbin's main plunge.

With the poverty of the Great Depression, and the gas rationing of World War II, Harbin’s visitors and revenue plummeted. The resort burned once again in 1943; when it was rebuilt three years later, the owners soft-pedaled its health aspects in favor of a new image as a relaxing weekend getaway for stressed-out Northern Californians. Along with the pools, postwar visitors could now enjoy live entertainment, music, dancing, and even (gender-segregated) nude sunbathing on the grounds.

Despite the new attractions, Harbin hit economic hard times in the 1950s. When the County Sheriff attached the property over unpaid back-taxes in October 1960, the hotel burned down just days later. Just who exactly owed the taxes, and owned Harbin, was unclear; throughout the early 1960s various claimants fought court battles for possession of the disputed title. Somehow, Harbin continued to operate as a resort until around 1966, when it closed to the public.

Harbin’s titular owners, and the locals in nearby Middletown, were wholly unprepared for what came next. In August 1968, one Donald James Hamrick arrived at the resort, and announced his plans to convert it into a combined research-center, spiritual-retreat and commune.

Donald James Hamrick - physicist, minister, and nascent counterculture guru

Hamrick was an independently-wealthy nuclear physicist and inventor, as well as a former Church of Christ minister who’d been lauded for turning teenagers off drugs and onto meditation. He claimed that during a near-death-experience in 1966, entities he described variously as angels or extraterrestrials had given him a mission to save the world.

Towards that end, in 1967 the 32 year-old Californian founded the Frontiers of Science Fellowship in San Rafael. The Fellowship aimed to bring together the worlds of science and religion, as well as the various academic disciplines, so as to “[e]xtend the frontiers of knowledge through research and to disseminate knowledge and guidance in the preparation of humanity for a distinguished civilization…” as well as “[t]o promote the synthesis of the physical, life and social sciences.…[and to] actively influence the personal, social and economic development of the World Community.” Hamrick lectured on these topics at both the College of Marin and San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church, and soon became one of the Bay Area counterculture’s resident gurus, claiming a following of over 11,000 seekers.

One of Hamrich's visionary graphics, which combined hard-science concepts with Utopian spiritual ideals.

When the Fellowship ran afoul of its neighbors in San Rafael, it relocated to Harbin in August 1968. Hamrick wanted to rename the resort “Harbinger,” and turn it into a retreat for technological, social and spiritual visionaries to create new modes of working and living. One of his main projects was to develop inventions like the “Zendyne Zapper”: a six-foot long, copper-wired metal bar that would allegedly increase the IQ of anyone on its business end. Hamrick also envisioned a “Harbinger University” on the grounds, where he and other counterculture figures could teach classes and seminars like “Codification of Consciousness” and “Physiology of Higher Bodies” in a nontraditional learning environment.

Harbin from the air, around the time Harbinger University occupied the grounds.

At first, the isolated resort seemed ideal for the Fellowship’s purposes, and the neighboring town of Middletown welcomed Hamrick and his followers (the local paper speculated that with their presence at Harbin, “the average IQ of Middletown people will shoot up by about 50 points.”) But the Fellowship and Harbinger University also promoted Harbin as a place to expand consciousness – a concept that, in late-Sixties California, was synonymous with psychedelic drug use.

Even though Hamrick claimed he abstained from LSD and didn’t advocate its use, he and the University produced Harbinger: a 24-page tabloid that blatantly pandered to psychedelic sensibilities. Modeled on the legendary San Francisco Oracle underground paper, Harbinger was a hallucinogenic hash of multicolored text, mandalas, and illustrations that featured articles by drug-culture luminaries like Timothy Leary and Alan Watts, reprinted accounts of LSD-fueled visions, and solicited readers’ contributions about their personal “projections along the perennial trip.”

An open-air class at Harbinger University

Not surprisingly, Harbin soon became a hippie haven, where academic and technological doings took a back seat to sex, drugs, and quasi-Eastern spirituality among its increasingly younger and more bohemian visitors. San Francisco hippies, fleeing the now-dangerous and heroin-plagued Haight-Ashbury district, flocked to the resort, and continued the endless party there during the latter half of 1968. At any given time, hundreds of colorfully-clad (or unclad) young people could be found at Harbin strumming guitars under the sycamore trees, sunbathing on the lawns, cooking vegetable soup in the kitchen, or soaking in the hot pools. To them, it was the Summer of Love redux, albeit in a sylvan, private setting where one could smoke weed, frolic in the nude, and generally Freak Freely without incurring the wrath of urban squares or cops.

Casual nudity, drug use, and even public sex soon became common at Harbin.

Drugs were plentiful. One former resident remembered that in the afternoons, a tray piled high with marijuana joints, lumps of hashish, tabs of LSD, and fistfuls of various pills, was passed around the lawns and porches, with nary a charge for the goodies. Rock bands jammed around the clock in the hotel rooms, many of which had their walls knocked down to accommodate acoustics and dancers. And there were frequent all-night orgies in the hot pools, where gangs of wet, naked hippies copulated openly in the waters.

Harbinger, the community's underground newspaper

The ordered community that Hamrick envisioned soon degenerated into anarchy. There were no requirements for residency; generally, if a visitor demonstrated “hip” appearance, speech and demeanor, s/he was accepted into “the Family” and could live there for months without contributing a nickel of funds or a lick of work. Bills went unpaid and buildings and pools went unmaintained while Hamrick flew around the country in a private plane, lecturing on his visions of a new world. In his stead, various organizers tried to grab the reins of power and impose order, but they seldom lasted more than a week or two, their ever-changing and contradictory edicts going unheeded by Harbin’s dope-addled denizens.

At one point, Harbin even sported a homegrown monarchy: two young hippies who styled themselves “King” and “Queen” of the retreat, and surveyed their domain from eight-foot tall thrones. Like the rest of the aspiring administrators, their pronouncements were ignored, and they were soon supplanted by other would-be leaders.

The Harbinger project quickly wore out its welcome in Middletown as well. For over a century, townies had welcomed resort visitors so long as they spent money at the local businesses, and didn’t bother the residents. Harbin’s penniless, flamboyant hippies, on the other hand, saw the entire region as their personal playground, and created chaotic scenes in the little burg with increasing frequency.

The local Establishment fought back. The Sheriff’s department began to visit Harbin regularly, ostensibly looking for underage runaways, but always with County and State narcotics agents in tow. Then in January 1969, the Lake County Health Department staged a surprise inspection of the facilities, found numerous violations of health and building codes, and quarantined Harbin, setting up roadblocks and forbidding anyone from entering or leaving the property. Although the quarantine lasted only six days, scores of residents departed in its wake, leaving fewer than 50 people living on the grounds. The remaining residents, unable or unwilling to address the Health Department’s countless concerns, faced eviction.

Perhaps sensing that the end was near, Donald Hamrick and followers staged what was to be Harbin’s most outrageous and extreme event – the Frontiers of Science Celestial Synapse. This was a combined conference/concert/ritual/party that was a last-ditch effort to unite Hamrick’s technological, educational and spiritual visions, as well as forestall a seismic apocalypse. Said a Rolling Stone article of the time:

…[it had] to do with the crystal in the center of the living Earth, which is affected by human vibrations and which may either change shape (a creative change) or change size (a destructive change, since it would cause earthquakes). The idea [was] to send down good vibrations to change the shape of the crystal, and the Celestial Synapse may very well have done that.

Collage of materials about Harbinger's 1969 "Celestial Synapse" Fillmore concert, featuring the Grateful Dead 

At the very least, the Celestial Synapse’s “good vibrations” blew minds across the Bay Area. On February 19, 1969, onstage at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West music hall, Hamrick blessed the assembled Synapse crowd of over 3,000 hippies, entreating that from the event, “something new may emerge. Let the barriers fall. Let there be a merging.” Then San Francisco’s own Grateful Dead played a four-hour set of their distinctive psychedelic-rock jams, while the acid-soaked audience members danced, chanted “OM” en masse, stripped naked, climbed onto the stage, greeted and hugged total strangers, and passed out hits of acid and joints. Bill Graham oversaw the joyful anarchy from the stage, shooing security guards away from the naked dancers and hanging out with LSD guru Timothy Leary behind the Dead’s speakers. When the show ended in the wee hours, the blissed-out revelers spilled onto Market Street and got the word: “After-party up at Harbin – enjoy it now, before the pigs close down the place!”

Soon, a great caravan of colorfully-painted microbuses and battered sedans converged on the Lake County resort for the event that would sound Harbinger University’s death knell. As The Golden Toad, a band in the Grateful Dead “family” scene, jammed in the hotel, hundreds of hippies thronged the resort, dancing all over the grounds and splashing through the pools. Virtually everyone was tripping; acid chemists had donated thousands of doses to the event, and LSD-spiked punch was ladled out like lemonade to the naked, ecstatic celebrants.

Nobody was particularly surprised, or even bothered, when the Sheriff arrived. According to one account, the lawmen “found six or seven hundred naked freaks, dancing and swilling acid punch, setting up a soaring cry which set the leaves on the trees to spinning.” Bewildered by the butt-naked bacchanalia, the deputies quickly busted about a dozen people on drug charges, and then hastily departed, leaving the rest of the freaks to party until dawn. (One account claims that a thirsty deputy innocently drank a cup of the spiked punch, promptly freaked out, and spent the rest of the night curled up in a fetal ball, and surrounded by a knot of nude hippies talking him down from the bad trip.)

By March, the party was well and truly over. A final raid that month cleared out the remaining members of the community, and closed Harbin to human occupancy until further notice. Hamrick, who’d lost a fortune investing in Harbinger University, as well as an infant son who’d arrived stillborn the night of the Celestial Synapse, moved on to the United Kingdom, where he treated Beatle John Lennon for his nicotine addiction and helped organize the first Glastonbury Festival. Eventually Hamrick changed his name to Zee Charnoe and continued to lecture and research on the frontiers of science and consciousness.

For the next three years, Harbin’s decrepit buildings and stagnant pools lay dormant. Its only visitors were local teens, who snuck onto the grounds late at night to drink beer and use the buildings for target practice. The Lake County D.A. vowed that nobody would occupy the resort until all the buildings were restored, and the facilities were compliant with the Health Code. Harbin seemed fated to become yet another one of the abandoned health-resorts whose hulking ruins dotted the American West like little ghost towns.

Visionary financier Robert Hartley, later known as Ishvara.

By 1972, the relatively few people that knew of Harbin would never have guessed that it was not only about to be reopened, but would soon birth its own religious sect, and would enjoy its greatest fame and influence over the next forty years. That spring Robert Hartley, a wealthy 39 year-old investor and Berkeley resident, was in the market for a spiritual retreat. A devotee of Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy, Hartley wanted to form a commune that replaced the traditional therapist/patient model with a community of coequals who applied interpersonal Gestalt techniques as a daily discipline. Believing the relatively remote, yet developed and accessible property was ideal for his purposes, Hartley purchased Harbin for $180,000 in May 1972, then placed a mobile home by the property entrance, and moved himself and his family into the dwelling. From there he controlled access to the land, and planned to rebuild and refurbish the retreat, and make it habitable again.

Hartley staffed the project with ads in the local alternative press that read:

Hot Springs in the country. Very rustic and unfurnished. $30 per month rent, or work exchange, 1 to 1 ½ hours per day.

Relatively few people answered the call. The party-hearty days of Harbinger University were long past; potential community members were promised not “consciousness expansion” on someone else’s dime, but long hours of hard work to make to make the abandoned buildings, lawns and pools habitable and usable. Many of the people who did commit to live and work there were more interested in laid-back rural living on the cheap, than in building a conscious community. And when Hartley left for a six-month stretch, restoration work ground to a near-halt. Obviously, the place needed both his constant oversight, and a strong organizational structure, if it was going to function as a retreat.

In the fall of 1974, Hartley met with a small group of Harbin residents to work out a common vision for the retreat. They decided they shared a commitment to three elements – universal spirituality, the Human Potential movement, and holistic practices – and that Harbin would be a place where all could be expressed and practiced as part of daily life. The retreat would honor the fundamental truths in all religions, sponsor humanistic psychology and personal-growth disciplines, and promote healthy practices to heal and sustain human and nonhuman life on the land. The common thread of all these activities was love – for oneself, for one’s brother and sister humans, and for the Earth and all its creatures. This loving vision was called Heart Consciousness, and the group “identif[ied] itself so completely with this new point of view that we call it religion, and ourselves a Church.”

In February 1975, the Heart Consciousness Church incorporated in the State of California as a non-profit religious organization, organized “to teach spiritual life and how it can be realized by individuals, manifested to others and made learnable by example, without this process requiring group conformity or adherence to a single teacher, method or creed.” The corporation then purchased Harbin from Robert Hartley for ten dollars, and became the legal owner of the 5,000-acre retreat.

The new organization soon faced serious difficulties. In 1976 a group of Harbin residents decided that the Church’s corporate structure, which vested power in a Board of Directors elected by designated “voting members,” was elitist and undemocratic. In protest, they created their own Board, and refused to pay the $50 a month dues then required of all residents. When talks between the two factions broke down, things got ugly, and the rent-strikers began to vandalize Harbin’s work sites, disrupt its workshops, and bring in squatters to live on the land.

Kerista founder Jud Presmont (center) with followers.

With Church loyalists outmaneuvered by the protestors, and the Sheriff unresponsive to his complaints about them, Hartley brought in support from an outside source: the Kerista Consciousness Church – a “polyfidelity”-based commune led by eccentric WWII veteran John “Jud” Presmont. At the time, the Keristans called themselves “The Utopians”, and jumped at the chance to promote their communal lifestyle at the bucolic retreat, as well as use their interpersonal techniques to mediate between its warring factions. Eventually, however, they lost the community’s trust: Church Board members believed the Keristans were dogmatic ideologues who were trying to co-opt Harbin, while the rebels saw them as strike-breaking scabs imported by Hartley. It didn’t help that in the Kerista’s Spring 1977 newsletter, Utopian Eye, the sect misrepresented Harbin as exclusive Kerista turf – “our first permanent rural base.”

Tiring of the struggles with both Keristans and rent-strikers, Hartley sought refuge in a new spiritual discipline: Kundalini Yoga. Accepting Natural Yoga leader Yogeshwar Muni (aka Robert Berner) as his guru, Hartley renounced his old identity, took on the spiritual name Ishvara, and spent the next ten years performing “surrender meditation”, sometimes up to twelve or more hours a day. Although some Harbinites feared he was planning to turn the retreat into a Yoga ashram, the Heart Consciousness Church remained firmly in control of the land, and eventually expelled the rent-strikers after a court ruled in its favor. With their departure, the Church’s loose alliance with the Keristans faded as well.

Things were looking up for Harbin and Ishvara. In 1978, macrobiotics practitioner Roger Windsor arrived at Harbin, became its General Manager, and took over most of the administrative work, freeing up Ishvara for full-time meditation marathons. Windsor streamlined HCC’s organization, started a five-year building project, and set up a system where paid guests could use the facilities. Visitors would pay a small annual dues charge, which made them members of the Church, and bound them to some basic rules: respect the land and the permanent residents; be quiet in and around the pools; leave your dogs at home; don’t smoke or leave trash; and similar strictures that would have been unheard of during the freewheeling Harbinger University days.

Accommodations at Harbin during that time were Spartan. Guest rooms were furnished with foam mattresses, and nothing else. Meals were exclusively vegetarian, and neither alcohol nor coffee was served. Still, a steadily-increasing stream of visitors found their way to the pools, providing the HCC with much-needed income.

Human Awareness Institute founder Stan Dale.

Many of the visitors were followers of relationship guru Stan Dale, and his Human Awareness Institute (HAI). Dale’s “Loving Relationship” weekend seminars, which promoted greater communication between individuals through body-freedom and erotic touch, were among Harbin’s most popular activities.  HAI, which required seminarians to strip naked en masse during one of its seminar exercises, was right at home in “clothing-optional” Harbin, where warm summer weekends would find scores of nude men and women soaking in the restored pools, sunbathing on the new redwood decks, and strolling the now-tended grounds.

New Age author and would-be Harbin settler Ken Keyes. Middletown locals feared he would become another Jim Jones.

Less successful was Ken Keyes’ attempt to found another spiritual community within Harbin. The author of the bestselling Handbook to Higher Consciousness, Keyes planned to lease 32 acres from the HCC, and establish the “Living Love Center” there – a model “eco-village” of circular huts and buildings where he would teach the principles of his book to both visitors and a resident community of followers. Unfortunately for Keyes, his proposal came before the county Planning Commission just weeks after the 1978 Jonestown massacre, and the local citizens, some of whom remembered Jim Jones’ antics in neighboring Redwood Valley and had lost family members in his Guyana Gotterdammerung, rejected the idea of another Personality Cult befouling the region. Eventually Keyes gave up trying to win over the locals, and established a center in Oregon.

Around this time, another more clandestine community on Harbin’s land got the heave-ho from both the HCC and the authorities. Rumors had circulated for years that a major marijuana-growing operation was hiding in the brushy, undeveloped back acreage, but nothing came of them until the morning of October 7, 1978, when Sheriff’s deputies got permission from Ishvara to search the property for illegal plants. When a non-Church squatter in Harbin’s so-called “upper property” spotted the lawmen approaching, he fired a warning shot into the air, and people scattered into the bushes as fifteen patrol cars roared up the dirt road to the back acreage. The officers seized 413 cannabis plants, and busted two young women who hadn’t fled the scene fast enough.

The local paper identified the marijuana plantation as belonging to the Heart Consciousness Church. Seeking to avert a potential public-relations disaster, Harbin’s Board responded that none of the growers were Church members, and that the HCC did not advocate or support any form of drug use or illegal activity. Eventually the paper printed a retraction, but the bust stoked memories of the Harbinger era’s druggy excesses, and chilled the Church’s relations with the townies.

Those relations began to thaw in the early 1980s, when the burgeoning New Age spiritual movement brought a new kind of visitor to Harbin. Gone (for the most part) were the shiftless hippies and dope-growers of years past; in their place came young professionals and well-heeled “bourgeois bohemians” seeking health and spiritual enhancement at the retreat’s ever-expanding variety of workshops and intensive classes. Unlike their penniless predecessors, the new Harbinites spent freely and lavishly at Middletown’s stores and restaurants; locals welcomed the new arrivals and their money, and began to think that perhaps the naked-weirdo cult down the road wasn’t such a bad neighbor after all.

The HCC upgraded Harbin to meet the new visitors’ needs. A permanent, in-house building and maintenance crew was formed to carry out all expansion and improvement projects, and to keep the building and pool infrastructures running smoothly.  A gatehouse was constructed at the entrance to collect fees, and keep crashers and troublemakers off the property.

The formerly-rugged accommodations improved radically. Guest rooms now featured not only real beds, but linens and pillows. A cafĂ© opened in 1982; eventually, it would supplement its vegetarian fare with offerings of fish and fowl, and even wine and beer. As it had a century earlier, paid massage-therapy now often accompanied hot-water soakings. Some wondered if Heart Consciousness Church was nothing more than the corporate landlord of a weekend spa – albeit one that hosted naked workshops.

They had a point. At one level, the Church was a legal convenience that allowed Ishvara and his close cohorts to hold a 5000-acre, developed property free of the tax bills that had bedeviled earlier owners. Too, the fact that casual visitors signed up as “Church members” to use the facilities shark-proofed the leadership from legal liabilities that might have bankrupted them in a lawsuit.

But Harbin’s spiritual significance had since broadened and deepened far beyond the HCC’s quasi-Universalist corporate mission statement. In 1985, the New Age Church of Being emerged from Harbin as the more explicitly religious wing of Heart Consciousness. Its statement of purpose read:

The Purpose of the New Age Church of Being is to bring into being the New Age of Peace, Harmony, Truth and Love on the whole of Planet Earth.
The New Age Church of Being teaches a state of Pure Being, or union with Ultimate Reality…New persons are baptized into the Now as they enter the beingness of the New Age Church of Being, as though their slate is wiped clean as they start fresh as new-birthed souls and personalities.
Ultimate Reality is the essence of subtle energies known only to those gifted at birth or who have worked to purify awareness….

The New Age Church of Being trained Harbinites in a six-month ministerial program, grooming their spiritual, physical and intellectual abilities, and training others to do the same. Resident ministers performed regular Theosophical full-moon rituals, Hindu kirtan chants, Native American sweat-lodges and pipe ceremonies, and celebrated holidays drawn from the European Pagan calendar, as well as the occasional marriage or funeral. Eventually the NACOB took over Harbin’s sister resort: Sierra Hot Springs, a health retreat near Lake Tahoe that boasted both a Victorian-era hotel on its grounds, and a decidedly New-Age dress-code in its soaking pools.

Ishvara's Oneness in Living - the Church's unofficial Bible. 

NACOB’s principles were articulated most clearly in Ishvara’s book ONENESS IN LIVING (2002). Therein he dispensed the wisdom gleaned from 30-plus years of disciplined spiritual development, as well as the countless insights he’d collected from the retreat’s residents and visitors. Ishvara synthesized Harbin’s spiritual, holistic, and cultural visions and practices into a look at the roles non-traditional religions, the human-potential movement, and the counterculture had in the retreat’s development, and the possibilities presented by them.

One of Ishvara’s most intriguing ideas concerned Harbin’s “power spots.” According to him, a network of seven points of spiritual power formed a ring around Harbin, giving people who tapped into their arcane energies the power to dream, see visions, and reach “between the worlds.” He claimed that the Miwok Indian shamans knew of these power spots, which is why they considered the area around the springs sacred and healing.

So strong did this belief become among Church members, that Ishvara formed the Holy Lands Preservation Trust specifically to protect the sacred aspects of Harbin’s property. The Trust boasted that many of its trustees were Native Americans; in a sense, it was giving spiritual stewardship of the land to Indians for the first time since Spanish-colonial days.

Things were coming full circle. Certainly, the original Miwok Indians would have been nonplussed at latter-day Harbin’s paid admission and corporate organization. The Victorians would no doubt have been shocked at today’s mixed-gender nudity. And the Sixties hippies would’ve been bored by the quiet, low-key ambience typical of a current weekend at the retreat.

Harbin and the Churches' main Web page.

Yet all of them, and others, had helped nurture Harbin Hot Springs, and in turn inspire the Heart Consciousness Church and fuel the New Age Church of Being. The Miwok’s “hot place” would no doubt be a land of sacred visions for many years to come.

Heart Consciousness Church Web page (part of the Harbin Hot Springs site)
Ishvara, Oneness in Living: Kundalini Yoga, the Spiritual Path, and the Intentional Community. (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002). 
Klages, Ellen. Harbin Hot Springs; Healing Waters, Sacred Land. (Middletown, CA: Harbin Springs Publishing, 1991.)

Harbinger Revisted (1967 - 1969) (Facebook group dedicated to accounts and photos of the Harbinger University era at Harbin. Thanks to Susan Jennifer Gray Charnoe for allowing me to use photos from this source.) 


  1. I find it very odd that everyone, including Hamrick, knew that all sorts of drugs were quite available (from where?) and were being taken by many of the Harbinger residents daily. Odd that Hamrick would abandon ship right after the biggest event of Harbingers' life and when a number of the attendees were probable financiers who were likely to purchase the property for Hamrick and Co...........Not all has been told in this story.

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  3. Good observation. There are indeed some odd things about the Hamrick part of the tale; I personally wonder about the connections he had that allowed him to essentially be a professional futurist for the rest of his life after HHS.

  4. Thank you so much for this fantastic historical overview of the place called Harbin! In the wake of the current Valley fire (9/12/2015) which has destroyed this place once again, there is some great comfort in knowing this is just another stage in its ongoing evolution. The current loss of Harbin is a personal blow to me since I had only discovered Harbin this year via the [tremendously effective and healing] HAI workshops and in my short time visiting there, my experiences at Harbin were the closest I had ever felt to the actual implementation of universal Utopian ideals of respect, dignity, and empathy. Countless idealists have tried to make a "utopia" work, but the sheer joy so many of us felt while relaxing at Harbin, in its most recent dignified format, was magical beyond words. Having visited there most recently as last week, on retreat from the maddening pace of our digital world and severe drought, I soaked in its rejuvenating waters, had the most amazing underwater "massage" by the most caring practitioner (Watsu evolved into "water dancing" which evolved into "dolphin dancing"), strolled through its drought-proof lush gardens and marveled how fortunate I was to experience this slice of heaven on earth. I will miss it sorely and hope to live to see what it becomes next. For now, my heart goes out to all those who have lost their homes and livelihoods because of this most recent fire, and to the people of Middletown who will surely be impacted by the loss of Harbin as well as having to rebuild and restore.

  5. Thanks for the good words, Adam. I've been visiting Harbin since the early 1990s, have great memories of my times there, and was deeply saddened when I heard what happened to that idyllic place.

  6. I know of personally, that Donald Hamrick was a CIA operative, his "handler" was LOU MOBLEY, ex IBM Vice-President, and that Hamtick frequently saw Marion Pettie (of the FINDERS) at the Harbinger Commune. Hamrick was NOT independently wealthy but was provided all the money he needed, along with any and all drugs used at the commune, as part of the ongoing CIA operation known as CHAOS.

    Hamrick took me to a remote area one day, in an area I believe was close to San Luis Obispo, where a silo existed. He took me to the entrance, where another CIA agent and Don injected me with drugs which allowed them to control me, I was taken underground where I observed many young human children and animals, in cages, where they were being experimented on, primarily MIND CONTROL experiments. My memory was concealed from me by some type of Mind-Control technique that kept me from knowing what had occurred for most of my life until recently. Anyone who has information regarding Hamricks' secret CIA connections, MIND-CONTROL projects, and his vast sexual diversions while parading himself as some great guru, please leave any info here. Also, John Wester knows about all of this, as Wester was Hamricks' right hand man at that time, who went with Hamrick in his plane trips to meet secretly with CIA handlers. But, John will not talk, and took his very curious "poem" about Harbinger down from it's website years ago. I have a copy of that poem that spells out what HAMRICK, the secret pervert, was really up to.

  7. @beersheva:

    This poem?

  8. I was on the property on 9-12-2015 when the wildfire swept through. The drought conditions had escalated to the point that 90+ degree temps where common from early June through late September. The fire seasons are steadily becoming more and more destructive in this part of the country, yet the place is stubbornly being rebuilt when the earth is obviously not showing any signs of willingness to be occupied. Ishvara should get back to his Gestalt roots and stop living in the past.