Ojai Foundation

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"The Ojai Foundation began in 1975 as Human Dimensions Institute/West, a nonprofit organization exploring the interface between science and spirituality, situated on 40 acres of land in the Upper Ojai Valley in Southern California.

"This 40-acre parcel was part of 450 acres purchased in 1927 by visionary Theosophist Dr. Annie Besant to provide for an eclectic community devoted to artistic, agricultural and educational projects that would encourage a rich cross-cultural environment in a spiritual climate. The Happy Valley Foundation was created to steward the land and her vision, including overseeing the Happy Valley School, their first formal institution, founded in 1946.

"The early years were guided by a young visionary, Luke Gatto, who worked to develop an ecologically self-sufficient environment—or Bio-Shelter—designed by Sean Wellesley-Miller of MIT. Then in 1979, anthropologist Dr. Joan Halifax (at that time research assistant to mythologist Joseph Campbell) was asked to lead the organization in a new direction, which was then renamed The Ojai Foundation (TOF)."[1]

Marlow Hotchkiss, Gigi Coyle and Jack Zimmerman, were founding member of TOF's Leadership Council. [2]


"In 1979, the seeds of contemporary council found fertile soil in the Upper Ojai Valley in Southern California. Dr. Joan Halifax, anthropologist and protégé of mythologist Joseph Campbell, was invited to lead a non-profit organization—known as Human Dimensions Institute/West—to explore living spiritual traditions and to study the interface between science and spirituality. ...

"TOF was one of the first institutions in North America to explore an ongoing dialogue/council between Tibetan and Native American spiritual leaders at the request of elders from both lineages. Several of the first retreats in America by noted peace-activist, poet, and Vietnamese Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hanh, were held at the Foundation for children, artists, environmental leaders, and Vietnam War vets. Likewise, Men’s Gatherings with poet Robert Bly and mythologist Michael Meade, and women’s gatherings and conferences with teachers such as Riane Eisler and Joanna Macy, turned to council often, as a way to bring teachers and students together in learning circles. In addition, conferences on emergent topics—such as chaos theory, hospice work, ethno-botany, psycho-immunology, dream research and mind-body studies—were cross-fertilizing aspects of the Foundation’s programming during the 1980s and 90s. With an intention to strengthen awareness of our interconnectedness, and witness the complementary nature of wisdom, council served as a container for circles to honor differences, find common ground and open to a “bigger story”.

"Jack Zimmerman and Gigi Coyle, educators and community visionaries, collaborated with Joan in these early years, bringing their own threads of living and working in circle in different venues and cultures. They championed council as an essential way of governance at TOF, as well as further developing the practice for sharing in a variety of settings. Over a decade of working with and weaving many traditions, the Foundation evolved into a sanctuary for “council”, the name that historically has embraced a peacemaking intention. Council encourages participants to communicate in ways that lead to a heightened sense of shared purpose. Council became a time, place and practice for healing, as well as a pathway for creating and sustaining community – a sense of connection with all of life. By fostering attentive listening and authentic spontaneous expression, the practice builds trust and nurtures relationships among participants, offering an alternative to the power dynamics that can arise from inequities of status, race, economic stature, and other hierarchical structures. In the circle, everyone shares in the responsibility for guiding the process; thus the emerging group spirit, and the practice itself, becomes the primary facilitating force, with servant leaders, in supporting roles.

"As it unfolded at the Foundation, the practice wove together threads of old-age circle practices and contemporary group dynamics, in an inclusive experience of council. In 1996 Jack and Gigi’s work led to the writing of their book, The Way of Council (2nd Ed. 2009), which has since been translated into Hebrew and German, with possible Arabic, Italian, Greek and Spanish translations in the offing." [1]


Accessed May 2012: [3]


Web: http://www.ojaifoundation.org

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch


  1. Ojai Foundation History, organizational web page, accessed May 1, 2012.
  2. Beyond Boundaries Team, organizational web page, accessed June 17, 2013.
  3. Ojai Foundation Board, organizational web page, accessed May 1, 2012.