By Richard Barker
IDYLLWILD, Calif. — Around 1300 years ago, a mystic made this observation: “There are three ways to relate to the Divine: One is Prayer, a step up from that is Meditation, and a step up from that is Conversation.” Of course, he had in mind a very particular type of conversation; specifically, one that nurtures personal growth and spiritual transformation. Such conversations require courageous vulnerability, which in turn requires a safe, intimate space.
The latest cutting-edge therapeutic techniques echo this sentiment. Coherence Therapy, for instance, is based on the principle that true healing of a psychological wound can only occur through verbalizing it to those that can be trusted to be emotionally supportive. Noted shame-researcher Brené Brown observed “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
Shelly Downes has created the Spiritual Oneness Center in Idyllwild to ensure that all Idyllwildians have a nondenominational and nonjudgmental space that nurtures safe and supportive conversations. She has been an ordained Religious Science Minister since 2007. Her vision is to “inspire connection,” she says. Most gatherings are no more than 12-15 people, topping out once at 18. Shelly understands that if the Center held any more than that it would alter the aura: “It is intimate work that is being done, and the coziness seems to add to the sacredness.”
That there was a need for such a space has been amply proven by the long and diverse list of offerings that the Center has been home to since it quietly opened its doors earlier this year. Some programs are ongoing (e.g. many weekly 12-Step meetings) while others are short-term (e.g. six-week workshops on Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements and on Byron Katie’s Loving What Is.) Several local healers are utilizing the Center to host private consultations (e.g. Reiki practitioner Tricia Pilkington and therapist Rene Eram.)
Kaarin Elizabeth chose the Center to facilitate two concurrent six-week “Trauma Survivor Group” workshops. When asked about Shelly, Kaarin replied, “I’m grateful to see an example of someone practicing open acceptance and open-mindedly creating a space so devoted to healing and a better quality of life.”
When Shelly moved to Idyllwild about a year ago, she was simply looking to retire from her many years of service as a spiritual leader (she had founded a church called the Tree of Life in Pasadena, and later she had founded the Spiritual Oneness Center in Sierra Madre), but the spirit of our mountaintop village drew her in, just as it has done to so many before her, and she answered the call. Appropriately enough, she opened Idyllwild’s Spiritual Oneness Center on New Year’s Day of this year. The Center is located at 151 Cedar, across from Ferro restaurant.
Shelly facilitates some of the activities herself. Her leadership skills are impeccable. She leads by example; for instance, if the situation calls for vulnerability, she will bare her soul, lighting the path for those that follow. She intuits when to corral the group into staying on task and when to allow for an organic evolution into uncharted territory.
In response to the oft-expressed “difficulty of making a good living” in Idyllwild, Shelly created a weekly workshop called “From Poverty to Prosperity” which she will be facilitating starting in June. Also starting in June, the “Sunday Gathering” will offer weekly discussions on a variety of topics that share the common feature of encouraging connection.
As a way of celebrating its success, and to increase awareness of the various programs, workshops, and healing modalities being offered, a Grand Opening Celebration was held on Sunday May 15th. The event, which featured live music and finger-foods, drew about 150 people.