A Living Laboratory
A.R.E. Camp is a remarkable place, nestled deep in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia. Since its first session in July 1965, Camp has been a collaboration of many people's effort. In a very real sense, it is a living lab for exploring the basic ideas and precepts of the Cayce readings. Camp reflects Cayce's desire to teach simple, attainable practices that build a dependable foundation for our spiritual development.
Last summer I was privileged to serve as resource person for an astrology theme at Camp’s Adult Retreat week. Even though I have been a practicing astrologer for over 20 years, leading a week-long intensive program at Camp transformed my conceptual understanding into fuller, rounder experiential truths. It’s one thing to study the Cayce readings but quite another to experience their truths with like-minded souls. The magic of Camp allowed a eureka moment in which the Cayce readings came alive under an astrologically significant full moon.
I think the Camp programs are like the garden’s fertile soil, nourishing the children, families and individuals who come there to eat and grow. Each year new and returning people show up to play a role in Camp's success. Many hands share in many tasks: we gather resources, we plant and tend the garden, maintain the buildings, cook the meals, plan and lead the activities. Over time, the camp has evolved from rustic tent platforms by a cow pasture into a simple, comfortable place that welcomes seekers of all ages and abilities.
Camp is deeply personal to me, the cradle of my own spiritual development. I meditate daily and write my dreams down. These foundational practices, which stabilize my life today, I learned at Camp almost 40 years ago. I have participated as a camper, a counselor, a gardener, a hike leader, and in each role I've been transformed.
Even though the facilities at Camp have been slowly expanded and refined, they maintain a close, harmonious relationship with the natural world. We can breath sweet mountain air and relax into a sustaining flow that nature provides. Natural rhythms support our spiritual development in an oasis free from the buzzing of electronic devices and flickering screens. The sun awakens us from our cabins in the morning, and the stars and moon light our way back at night. We are surrounded by a feeling of belonging and inclusion. The Cayce readings explain that we incarnate not just onto the earth plane, but into the whole solar system. If we participate in this energy matrix as multidimensional beings, then looking out into the sky, is like looking into ourselves. What better place than Camp to encounter our cosmic nature while cuddled into the heart of a valley with kindred spirits?
A week is a small window to look into a system as vast as astrology, but not too small to have significant ah-hah moments. Every morning a fun and fearless group joined me for what I called Adventures in Astrology. Each person received a copy of their personal chart, setting us up for an ever-widening inquiry into our own celestial journeys. Because novices require a guide, I was almost immediately besieged by requests for deeper conversations and more detail. It was such a privilege to take folks a few more steps down the path during one-on-one sessions at Camp and afterwards in my regular professional practice.
While I devoted time to explaining the technical aspects of signs, planets, and modalities, I thought it was equally important to have time to play with our individual charts. In one exercise, we grouped up according our moon signs and shared how we dealt with our emotional nature. In another exercise, since our ascendant can influence our physical appearance, I asked ascendant groups to take turns in the middle of the circle while we studied and appreciated each other. That was a revelation for us all!
During another exercise we embodied our talents and callings: teaching, organizing, caring, building and communicating. We turned this into a big slow motion dance giving and receiving these gifts. As I watched, I realized that in order to receive a gift, I had to take the time to be present. The tangible motion of this simple exercise taught me what words alone could not. This is the gift of Camp: a time and place to experience principles.
During the week I found myself in the midst of my own astrologically significant aspect: a full moon on the degree of my natal sun. The moon felt like it was everywhere! I wanted to honor its presence, so in the wee hours of morning when the sun and moon were exactly opposite each other, I walked down to the garden to practice yoga. Clouds streamed past the moon. My perspective shifted and suddenly I was riding the prow of a boat in an energetic ocean, balancing on the earth as it sailed through the sky. I stopped analyzing a mechanical system and started experiencing a dynamic dance with the planets spiraling around the sun. And I felt how we are all participants in this breathtaking experience.
Every session we have a square dance in which we let our feet pound out ancient dance patterns, fun and wild, accompanied by incredible musicians. But beyond the joy, these repetitive dances reflect the patterns within us, and are a metaphor for our shared relationships. Towards the end of the evening during the Virginia reel, my partner and I put our hands up for the bridge, through which the rest of the dancers duck and spin. For a moment, I saw us as the sun and moon, forming a gate through which they, as planets, went spinning through our hands. In Edgar Cayce’s own words: as above so below.
As the resident camp astrologer, I got to spend time with the staff reading their charts and illuminating their superhero traits. A strong astrology reading can help you interpret the spiritual map that your soul has charted. We are coming from somewhere and we are going somewhere: it is all recorded right there in our charts. As I talked with participants, I was struck again and again by how many different roles people have come to play and how beautiful their work is.
Because we had built a community of trust over the week, I was able to help people understand that their particular gifts may not be all flowers and chocolates; they often have a little edge to them. Perhaps in your last life you experienced perfect marital bliss, but this lifetime you need to assert your own creative independence. Perhaps your role here is to provide a little sting of discipline that your fellow travelers don't yet know they need. Maybe your sun is pointing in the direction of the galactic center and your job is to birth the next level of evolution. This is hard work and we’re not always appreciated, but where would we without this star-guided dance of personalities? The fact-keepers and the minstrels, the cooks and the builders the artists and the gardeners, the adventurers and the gurus all contribute to the whole.
Each in our own way, we left Camp understanding how honoring and healing our own bodies and minds contributes to integrity of our collective fabric. Showing up and strengthening the warp and weft of your own being supports the people we encounter at Camp and beyond. We almost can't help contributing to something greater than ourselves. And that, my friends, is why we have a laboratory! Welcome to Camp, the living laboratory for exploring and practicing ourselves. See you next summer!