Feathered Pipe History: A Mystical Intersection of People, Place and Spirit
The fabric of the Feathered Pipe is woven of a profusion of radiant threads of place, people, and spirit – all intersecting in sometimes unexpected ways, creating a wellspring that fostered and continues to nurture prescient souls in the communities of yoga, meditation, and personal growth. An unlikely convergence of avant-gardists, artists, industrialists, seekers, and teachers all somehow came together to create, nourish, and draw wisdom from sacred land near the Continental Divide in central Montana.
Beginning as the Holistic Life Foundation in 1975 with a vision for a better future, the Feathered Pipe Foundation has consistently offered learning experiences to inspire people to discover their path. Since that time, over 10,000 people have studied with some of the greatest teachers of our time at Feathered Pipe workshops. If you are a yoga student in the US, chances are you have benefited directly or indirectly from the Feathered Pipe Foundation’s work. Visionary and founder India Supera says it best when she talks about the “miracles, crazy wisdom, and greatness that comes from not realizing you are trying to do the impossible.”
Almost three-quarters of a century ago, a young and adventurous Liam O’Gallagher, who played a pivotal role inspiring Feathered Pipe’s evolution over the past 40 years, took a chance and hitchhiked from his home in the Bay Area out into the Mojave Desert to pay an unexpected visit to the writer, Aldous Huxley. He knocked on the door and was welcomed in by Mr. Huxley’s wife.
The conversation between Liam and Aldous Huxley catalyzed the creative expression and conscious evolution through art, culture and societal transformation. With his quiet, welcoming, and curious demeanor, Liam and his life partner, Robert Rheem, would befriend, inspire and support many of the foremost luminaries of the 50s, 60s and 70s counter-culture movements, from Allen Ginsberg, Andy Worhal and Allan Watts, to Marcel Duchamp.
Meanwhile, a free-spirited, young woman named India Supera in the mid-sixties hitchhiked across the country to New York, took a flight to Europe and after many strange and unexpected adventures ended up in India. Her wandering eventually brought her to Satya Sai Baba’s ashram where she would spend many years and befriend another devotee named Jermain (Jerry) Duncan who would buy the Feathered Pipe Ranch from Robert Rheem’s father, the well-known industrialist of Rheem’s Heating & Cooling.
Jerry had dreams of starting a conscious living center to foster the next generation of leaders but was soon diagnosed with terminal cancer. India, who had come back from India to have medical treatment, stayed on at Jerry’s request to care for her through the final days. On her death, Jerry bequeathed the Ranch to India. At the time, India intended to sell the land and give the money away, but encouraged by Sai Baba upon her return to India returned to Montana with a mission.
The Way of Convergence
In June of 1972, India returned home from Sai Baba’s ashram. With Liam O’Gallagher and Bob Rheem living just up the hill at Sky Farm, she launched, with a bunch of “just crazy enough” friends, what is known today as the Feathered Pipe Foundation.
In India’s own words about that magical crossroad of people, place, and spirit:
Bob has a level of aesthetics that very few people have – he would create beautiful gardens and cook dinner every night and Bob and Liam created this energy. He and Liam would meet people at the bus station and bring them home… they had a great sense of people and brought in those who were right for the place. They would have these wonderful dinners for everyone, they prepared the meals and the atmosphere was a wonderful soiree every night. I’ve studied with a lot of yogis in India and very few had what Liam had. In his company, we would transcend and the entire experience would be raised. Liam had an incredible amount of not only literary and intellectual being but he had this great heart and crystal clear mind. It was an incredible experience for me, being 24 years old and just coming back from India, which was the equivalent of my college education. This was my first experience of intelligent, forward thinking people.
. . . At the end of the summer, we decided we were going to go to Arizona and Jerry was going to buy a place there, so that we would have year round events – in Montana in the summer and Arizona in the winter. But then, Jerry developed cancer and within a year was gone. She left me the ranch, believing I could carry on the vision, but I was at loose ends and didn’t know what to do. I thought I should just sell the place. Liam was a real guiding light – I was so much younger and less educated than he and Bob and looked to them for help. Liam told me that I had to make it into something, saying that I was selected for the job by something higher than myself. I went back to talk to Sai Baba, who told me, “You can do what you can do, find out what it is and do that.” And so I set off to make something out of Feathered Pipe Ranch.
And “make something” of the Feathered Pipe Ranch is precisely what she did.
In 1975, the Holistic Life Foundation (HLF), which would later transform into the Feathered Pipe Foundation, held its first yoga workshop at the Ranch lasting three weeks. The teacher was the dearly loved Judith Hanson Lasater, and everyone involved simply pitched in with whatever skill they had. This core group, including India Supera, Judith Hanson Lasater, Rose Garfinkle, Rama Jyoti, Jean Giradot, and William Staniger Golden, established the California Yoga Teachers Association (CYTA) as well as the Institute for Yoga Teacher Education (IYTE). IYTE, in turn, became the Iyengar Institute which, happily, continues to operate today as the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. The CYTA founded the Yoga Journal on then secretary-treasurer, Janis Paulsen Silver‘s $500 credit card limit.
Spirit of the Land
Wrote Rumi, ”If you put your heart against the earth with me, in serving every creature, our Beloved will enter you from our sacred realm and we will be so happy.” India put her heart to this sacred land entrusted to her and listened, following the path of the original people welcoming traditional ceremony back to the land through Cree Elder Pat Kennedy. A deep commitment of keeping tradition and ceremony alive was thus born at the Ranch.
“Through his grace and the grace of many,” says India, she hosted ten international peace camps, inviting people from all races and cultures to learn the art of traditional Native American ceremony from the tribal elders. When Pat Kennedy passed away, hundreds came to the Ranch to honor his spirit and keep the ceremonial dances alive. (See photo below.)
The Feathered Pipe Foundation continues this tradition hosting, retreat, ceremony and events by other wisdom masters with programs featuring the late, universally revered mythologist, Joseph Campbell, shamanic leader Brent Segunda, renowned Juichol Indian tribal elder and shaman Don Jose, Brooke Medicine Eagle, and Native America flute legend, R. Carlos Nakai to name only a few. The Foundation oversaw residency programs at the Ranch with Native American artists and Tibetan thangka painters, supporting arts boards, artists’ refuge, and art markets.
In the days, months, and years since these many souls took their first unknown step on life’s journey – and India’s Satya Sai Baba-inspired dharma midwifed such grace and wisdom – we have been blessed to welcome many fellow sojourners. We are honored to have the steadfast support from such luminous beings as:
— Baron Baptiste
— Beryl Bender Birch
— Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen
— Seane Corn
— Mary Dunn
— Angela Farmer
— Lilias Folan
— Gabriella Giubilaro
— Dr. Marti Glenn
— Judith Hanson Lasater
— Dean Lerner
— Brooke Medicine Eagle
— R. Carlos Nakai
— Ramanand Patel
— George Purvis
— Erich Schiffmann
— John Schumacher
— Dr. Andrew Weil
— Patricia Walden
— Rodney Yee
The heart of the Ranch and the Foundation beats strongly today, moored firmly to the Source that creates and nourishes it. Today, the stewards of the Ranch share devotion to the mission of the Foundation and the spirit that midwifed it. We acknowledge, honor, and offer humble gratitude to everyone who is part of this wondrous and ever-expanding web of interconnection that is the spirit of the Feathered Pipe.