This is the story of The Trees Community, a semi monastic Christian group that left NYC on a bus in 1971 on a journey of faith. When most of our money burned up the first night, we relied on God for all our needs and he provided! We traveled the United States growing in our new faith, finding a ministry in music and eventually becoming artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Seven years, seven "stories" are woven into this amazing journey.

New Beginnings

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they shall be satisfied...Matthew 5:6

Something remarkable was happening. By early November, our evening gatherings had become more structured as our lives became more “sacred” and spiritually oriented. What had been helter-skelter parties or meditation sessions evolved into evenings with a spiritual direction that included the reading of poetry, singing and playing music. That music was more of a theatrical event than campfire songs. It mirrored our religious studies and musical influences (Ravi Shankar, Balinese music, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and the Moody Blues).

Our collection of unusual instruments grew as we scavenged them from dumpsters or picked them up on the street. Shipen already owned a sitar. Small percussion instruments and bells were added. Then Shipen and Ariel returned to the House of Musical Traditions on St. Mark’s Place and bought two large antique Tibetan gongs. Ariel got a used cello and I happened upon an antique Venezuelan folk harp sitting dusty and neglected in a storefront window one day and bought it. We used bells from an old telephone and a heavy old chain. David Lynch had his silver Artley flute and acoustical guitar. David Karasek was given a violin from his father. Eventually, we added simple wooden flutes, wood blocks, a Shenai horn, gongs, and even used silverware, pot lids and an old bicycle part that sounded like a clanging channel marker bell on a foggy ocean night. We came up with a name for ourselves: The New York Tent City Symphony of Souls.

I loved those sessions! I remember one evening we sat cross-legged on the floor in a circle with our plates set on woven rice mats in front of us. Ariel brought in a tray with warm, golden brown crusted homemade wheat and honey bread, which was passed around. This was followed by steaming pot of black beans flavored with Tamari sauce and spices to be poured over brown rice and topped with a delicious miso sauce, eaten with chopsticks. After dinner, silence enveloped our small circle of friends. One by one, David Karasek lit candles and lanterns, their soft flickering light cast shadows that danced along the edges of the room. Shipen opened his notebook to a poem he’d written, the words flowing in quiet cadences. Gradually the words led deeper and deeper into the essence of Truth. Slowly, the remnants of encroaching thoughts and entanglements faded away…

On Account of the Mystery of the Revolution of the Soul by Shipen

To the right side, his means of expansion
To the left, his animal body
Those off the path expand the left
base concupiscence.
Those in the light expand the right
Trace into-transcendence
the cord
Father-mother-through son-bride
What is above is what is below
In the palace of the union of the fountains.
The beginning is the end - after another manner
This is the path of Glory.
It shall converge midst the waters,
And the Ancient One shall speak.

As the words spiraled outward through the room like ripples on a pond, the gentle drone of the tamboura filled the languid stillness. Floating like petals on the water we were swept along by the current of the words, moving together into an expectant place... waiting.... breathy tones from a wooden flute rose from among us, slowly unfolding in a ribbon of melody. A new dimension opened before us... a bright realm of light filled with promise, mystery, and eternal truth that transfixed our hearts. Rising shimmering bell sounds exposed the passions of pain and our own secret longings. Our voices emerged from our souls, opening our hearts wide we eased ahead, losing ourselves in columns of unencumbered spacious freedom ... the music flowing through us…a story forming, growing, then becoming complete.

The music faded until only Shipen’s voice remained, clear and poignant in the pregnant silence as he finished reading his poem:

Frayed and torn
Goes the life without bounds
Goes the ocean without a shore
Who says it needn’t be
When the lessons are before us?
Who proclaims a useless floating
To be in accord with love?

Without a shore we have no love,
No base of operations
No energies of fusion.
Indeed we will float cloaked in fear,
Until at last we reach
The age of the boon of love and peace,
It is here, hence we’ve never left it,
That confines our ocean of life
And leads us on
to God.

Miraculous! We opened ourselves to become one with God, to be His instruments and the music that flowed was powerful, intricately beautiful and inspiring. I remember just feeling completely in awe of what we were experiencing. Word went out that some incredible things were happening at the Loft at 108 Fourth Avenue and people streamed in to partake of this extraordinary banquet. We recited poetry, played spontaneous music or sat quietly and meditated. I felt as if I was at the center of the Universe! We might have continued on this odyssey through different religions and experiences indefinitely, but God, who had been moving quietly behind the scenes until now, had other plans. It all started over Thanksgiving vacation…