Andy Vantrease joined India Supera for a final interview in July 2019 at a cabin down the road from the Ranch. Tucked into the comforts of her bed, with her two cats sitting watch, India reflected on her childhood, her first travels to Mexico, near-death encounters, and how she believes the Feathered Pipe Ranch has succeeded in its mission to elevate consciousness.
What was the spiritual or religious background of your childhood?
My family was culturally and socially Jewish, but not very strict with the religious practice. My parents created an environment where everything felt safe and whole and beautiful, and it felt more like sacredness or spirituality. My grandmother did amazing things like read Tarot and was psychic as can be, and my mother was also totally psychic. My father was an artist, which made his spirit close to the source. He read a lot of books about Hinduism and all kinds of philosophy and passed that on to us. I can’t remember anyone ever putting a religious thought on me—and I imagine VJ would say the same—but the openness and curiosity soaked in through the way they lived.
Can you recall when you become aware of spirit or life outside of the material realm?
My grandfather died when I was seven, and that’s the earliest memory I have of any association with spirit and death. We lived in these little tract homes in California, and in between houses there was a grassy space where they put the meters for your electric. I went there to lie down and contemplate my grandfather’s death, and I had an out-of-body experience: I left my body and I was floating around with dogs that looked like RinTin, and everything felt a bit cartoonish. I became very frightened of death after that actually—if I pricked my finger on a rose or if I stepped on a piece of glass or did something I did every day as kid, I asked my mother, “Am I going to die?”
After that, my grandmother and my family dog died when I was 14, so it was a double death seven years after my grandfather. My grandmother came back to me the night she was buried and we had a conference; she looked so good in the vision, she was her middle-aged vibrant self. At the time, my mom came out to the living room and asked what I was doing, and I told her that Skipper (the dog) and my grandmother were in the living room with me, and I was eating a carrot. With no hesitation, she said, “Okay well when you finish the carrot, come to bed.” She never tried to interfere or tell me I should or shouldn’t be doing certain things.
Who were your role models growing up?
I don’t talk a lot about my parents because it’s so hard to put them into terms. They were far from the type of parents that just bathed you and brushed your hair every day, but they were definitely my role models growing up.
My father, while he carried none of that spiritual stuff with him, he treated people with such equality. Jules was one of those people that could talk to anyone walking down the street. It didn’t matter who they were, what their job was, how dirty they were, how clean they were, if they were in a suit driving a Mercedes—if they stopped to talk to him, he had time to talk to them. My dad’s sign of a good time was to invite his friends over and do calculus problems in the kitchen, and Star Trek is the only thing he watched on TV. “You know what a great world this would be if people could just love who they love?” he would say. He gave people permission to be who they were and acknowledged them and made them feel whole.
My mom was brilliant, too. She was born in 1911, and of course women couldn’t vote then, but she was really involved in politics and fought for the plight of women. She was publicly active and led public reading programs. My mother had these real peculiar things: She didn’t want us to learn how to type because she didn’t want us being secretaries. She didn’t want us to babysit because she didn’t want us to be domestic workers. She didn’t want us working in offices, which I think is really unusual because at that time your daughter became a teacher, a nurse, worked in an office or was a store clerk. My mom was also a private detective, and she was also a newspaper reporter—then someone threw acid at her and she decided she was done with that. There were so many things that she did that were unusual to the time.
When you first left home to travel, what were you searching for?
I had a strong case of wanderlust, and I wanted adventure. Nobody ever seriously bullied me—VJ would take them down to the parking lot if anything ever happened to me—but I also never really felt like I had a place, either. I didn’t fit the mold. I didn’t want to go to sock hops. I was already very serious about my life, and people made fun of you in Downey, California if you wanted to be serious and intellectual. I think I was looking for a place for myself. I wanted to find people who thought at least a little bit like I did—and turns out there were quite a few!
When I decided to go to Mexico with some friends, my dad came with me—partly because he didn’t particularly like the people I was with but also because he wanted to go to Mexico (all artists know people in Mexico). I always say I’m the only 16-year-old who ran away and my dad came with me. It was fun to travel with my dad; he found the most interesting people, and he was such a good travel companion because of his openness.
When we first got to Guadalajara, everyone was taking acid, and it shocked me that my father knew people taking acid. That’s where I met John Lily and Timothy Leary, and besides being into the psychedelic scene, I was attracted to their basic level of intelligence. You could say something and they would link it to every mystery and fable there was, like Joseph Campbell did. They used to say that I “dropped out without ever having to drop in,” because I was so young.
When I got my cancer diagnosis this summer, I was trying to recount how many lives I had left out of my nine lives, and I could have sworn I had a few more left. But I’m remembering a near-death story right now that, at the time, I never considered.
Wow, a memory that’s resurfacing. What happened?
When I was finally taking off on my own and my dad had gone home, I was going to meet our friends in Acapulco and wanted to buy train tickets for first class. I had maybe $300-400, but in those days, that was enough for five months in Mexico. So, we went to the train station, Charlie was fluent in LA-Spanish, so he did the talking. They put tickets in the first class envelope and we went to board the train hours later. We hadn’t looked in the envelope until we tried to board and realized they had sold us third class tickets. We hopped back to third class since we didn’t have time to fight with them (which they depend on as part of their traveler’s scams).
Well, sometime in the middle of the night, the train crashed and almost everyone in the first class cabin was killed. It was a huge ordeal; we were rerouted to a different city and had to make our way to our destination. That probably counts for one of my lives, but I never really thought about it because I was in third class. Sometimes you’re close to your death and you don’t even know it!
One of the many lessons I’ve learned from you is how to receive—from people, places, experiences, spirits. Tell me about trusting the inheritance of the Ranch and those who showed up on your doorstep to help with it.
Actually, I fought the idea of the Ranch a lot in the beginning. You know, I just wanted to go back to India and live at Sai Baba’s because it had taken me so long to finally make it there. We did this sweat lodge, and we were all singing, “This land is your land, this land is my land”—and I saw a complete vision of several ways that the Ranch could work. That was giant ah-ha moment, but even then, I went back to Sai Baba to ask him what to do.
Sai Baba said, “Teach what you know there,” and I said, “I don’t know anything,” which is almost true. He said, “You know food. I’ve come to the hospital every day to teach you how to make healing food. You know yoga, and you know astrology.” So, those were the first three workshops we had at the Ranch. Later, we had people like Robert Monroe, whose work was how to make people leave their bodies.
I’ll never forget: The CIA and government workers were here to see how this worked, and I was pregnant with Crystal. Those guys were so well trained—they could dance formally and sing and were so polite. We were afraid to talk in front of them, you know. But one night, they were all in the main room, and I was standing by the fire in the kitchen when this guy comes by in a trance and says, “I don’t know the meaning of this workshop. I can’t figure it out. It’s fascinating. But I do know that the Feathered Pipe Ranch is going to be a very important part of American history.” And that was from the straightest-edge guy in the CIA!
John Lily and Jack Schwarz came and did a lot of groundbreaking material with inter-species communication and holistic integration. Where we grew up, Dr. Bernard Jensen had a little office five minutes away—save the traffic, as we say in LA—but I went to him and asked him to come teach. He was already semi-retired when I called, but he came anyway.
I keep contacts way beyond anyone’s wildest comprehension. I never even knew why, but it helped the Ranch immensely to be open enough to call on people and ask for help. Because of Sai Baba, some of the wealthiest, most influential and interesting people in the world were in our circle. Those that were supposed to come to the Ranch to work—they just showed up. Look at Tom and Heidi and Laughing Water, in his little yellow Hudson Bay blanket with stripes on it. We all just settled in.
I’ve got these friends from Great Falls—Lou is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Every time Lou’s brother comes here, he doesn’t even stop in to see me first, he just goes up to the stupa and pats one of the Buddha’s heads and goes and buys a lottery ticket—and he wins. Each person has a reason for coming to the Ranch, and I have extreme gratitude for everyone who visits.
Thinking about your initial vision for the Ranch, how do you encapsulate its influence on the world these last 45 years?
I do think the Feathered Pipe Ranch changed the world. I truly believe that. I know if someone put that in a magazine, it may be laughed out of it. But every time someone walks in here for the first time—including me last week when I hadn’t been here in a year—I couldn’t get over the basic beauty of this place. Zane has given us the most beautiful pictures of our land, and I always hoped that when people saw those pictures then saw the actual place, they weren’t disappointed. Every time, they say, “It’s prettier than the pictures!”
What people on the outside don’t always see is how we give people jobs to grow at the Ranch. Everyone who works here has been successful, whether they just worked here for a short time or were here for a longer time. Like Danny, who worked here for almost a decade then started Veteran’s Yoga Project. Some people have told me that this place has saved their lives, that if it weren’t for the Feathered Pipe Community, they wouldn’t have been able to continue on like they did. Most people get stuck in a rut because they never go after what they actually want to do in life, and we try to make this place one where you are always encouraged to be exactly who you are and who you want to be.
A lot of people have tried to start big foundations to fight the government, and I understand having a vision like that, but I think when something gets too big, there’s risk of it starting to waffle. As goofy as the little vision of the Ranch was, we all had foresight that this was worth doing. Even small things have a way of impacting the world—I can be in an airport in India, meet a handful of people and several of them have heard of the Ranch. It’s a ripple effect—and what you do has a direct effect on other people.
Of course, when I envisioned the revolution or the paradigm shift, I imaged the Earth splitting its axis and countries merging and oceans changing. I had hoped it would be that extreme, but it wasn’t. Believe it or not, though, the consistency and gentle practices like meditation are very helpful. If you go on to fight something as vicious as politics without being completely centered, you are going to be the one who gets off balance. I’ve worked towards the Women’s Conference with the United Nations, and that’s an ongoing project that requires enormous patience and hope. Lately, I’ve been donating money to an ocean cleanup project by young kids who have a hopeful vision. We don’t know if the vision is going to work, but when we started the Ranch, we were asking for the help of people who weren’t sure our vision was going to work either—and here we are 45 years later!
What can we do today that would be a positive, mindful step towards peace?
The media tries to sell the idea that you don’t have enough. You have to go out and buy those products. Buy the 5,000 square foot house. Buy the happiness. And that’s why the middle class feels pinched and why rich people feel pinched and why everybody feels pinched because no one feels like they have enough—ever. This rhetoric is designed to make us angry and blame someone else for the idea that we don’t have enough.
I think we all have to live more simply: plant a garden, ride a bike instead of drive when you can, downsize the house (you don’t need rooms that are touched once a year for a holiday)—all of this saves you a lot of money and brings you closer to the Earth, to the elements. Everyone I know who has a garden and is either growing food or flowers or herbs—they’re honestly really, really happy doing it.
People can do a lot more than they think, and it doesn’t have to be grand gestures. Whether it’s taking care of pets at the local shelter, calling your Senate representatives, feeding people in your town or city through different organizations. Just pick one thing that you feel is really important, and do it. And stop hanging on every word in the news—its purpose is to scare you into reacting with hatred or closing your heart.
When you reflect on your life—72 years in this body—what do you see?
I can see the reasons for all the connections now. I can see why Winter and Josh came here. Why the Ranch happened. There’s no accident. All the kids who came here to work could have just as easily gotten to 18, gone out and robbed liquor stores. They didn’t have to turn out to know how to fix everything and cook and think—but they did.
I look back on my life, and the only thing I was ever preparing for was to die. Everything else was serendipity: having Crystal, running the Ranch, going to Sai Baba. All of those things helped me because the people we studied with thought about things like dying. Right now, my practice is to have a meditation with every action. That’s what this is because my body is so weak that I keep figuring out how to mindfully do simple things like turn myself over in bed: I’m putting my arm on the edge of the bed, feeling my hand, pushing myself up until I feel balance. It’s absolutely exhausting, but that’s the conscious meditation. Today’s meditation was maneuvering in and out of the bathtub.
In the end, I can’t think of a single thing I’d change about myself and my life… except for when I was 13 years old, I stole a bottle of fingernail polish from the store on a dare. I’ve always known truthfully what isn’t yours, isn’t yours, and that action was something bigger for me than the bottle of nail polish. What I thought were mistakes at the time, though, turned out to be necessary or not a big deal. At this age, I like myself pretty much—it doesn’t matter if the rest of the crowd doesn’t. My life has really been one giant love fest.