The conference didn't begin the afternoon 33 premies from across Canada met at Riding Mountain National Park. That would be like saying Knowledge begins the day of initiation. No, it was long before that last week in September.
Labor Day weekend the London community was invited to Toronto to host a satsang program. I suppose for me that's where it started. Gary Ockenden was standing on the balcony of his fourteenth floor apartment peering out across the city. The air was clear and fresh as a result of traffic dispersement into nearby countryside. It was after midnight. I leaned reluctantly on the rail. Gary was talking about the Canadian Mission, his service as National Director, and the propagation of Knowledge. I felt a trust of his obvious dedication to Maharaj Ji. When the subject of a National Conference came up, I asked Gary whose decision it was to have it. "Mine," he answered. That sounded positive, even though my scepticism was peering through with the question, "But who said you could?" Then I felt that trust again. I leaned over the railing and almost forgot my fear of heights. I remembered a line from one of Guru Maharaj Ji's satsangs. "Have confidence in your own experience," he'd said. Confidence? I relaxed my grip on the railing and felt a surge of inspiration within me. Gary talked of the Mission like a father talks of the future of his children. What was his motivation? "The reasons for having this conference are very basic. In order to allow for a strong feeling of unity in the Mission in Canada to develop, and to really be able to proceed together in our service to Guru Maharaj Ji, it seemed that it was important for premies across Canada to not only work together, but to have the same understanding of where DLM is at and where it is going as the organization that we are supporting and serving through." In order to do this, a group of premies, from east to west were going to be invited to get together, look at where we were, share with each other to build a common vision, and work together on some of the common problems. I felt my excitement building. "I want to go to that conference, and I intend to even if I have to pay my own way!" The words came out of me with such conviction I startled myself. Gary twinkled. "I'm sure it can be arranged," he said. It was.
Thursday, October 23rd I boarded the train in London, Ontario, en route to Toronto where I would spend the night and leave the next afternoon by car for Winnipeg, Manitoba. My suitcases, one large and one small were seasonally packed to include jeans, sweaters, perma-press slacks, a long skirt, yoga whites (I'd bought them on impulse -- it seemed the thing to do at the time), toiletries, and a nice picture of Guru Maharaj Ji wrapped in a white cloth. I'm a sentimentalist. The floor length red and beige striped jersey and matching 5" platforms were discarded at the last minute. I never could bring myself to take clothes seriously. They always felt more like costumes somehow. I used to have a friend who slept in a bunny suit, including ears and tail. He was over 6 feet and although over 25 years of age, never acknowledged the fact.
The train arrived in Toronto a little late. A cabbie rushed me off to the familiar Spading Avenue apartment and back up to the fourteenth floor. Gary had gone ahead the day before to check the conference facilities. Ginette Sauve, in charge of National Communications, was busy on the phone with last minute details. I busied myself in the kitchen with some inviting-looking leftovers. One could never be sure of one's cuisine on the road.
It turned out Ginette was one of my travelling companions, along with Ken Letourneau, Gary's often-referred-to sidekick, and our driver, Clive Williams. Ginette originally came from Montreal, and reminded me of my younger sister, a mellow Sagittarius. She was happy and smiling and I felt close to her right away. Ken and I were initiated three years ago in the same Knowledge session. He looked older now and somehow more official with his briefcase and reading glasses. A clear reflection of his service as Personnel Director at National, I thought. We chatted in the back of the compact Mazda when he wasn't relieving Clive of his driving. Clive's curt English disposition combined with his seasoned premiehood (I believe he's been in it about 5 years) caught me unawares. He was an expert at maneuvering the car around the twisting autumned hills of northern Ontario at constant speeds of 110 mph. It was 1,300 miles to Winnipeg. We had 2½ days to get there. We would have made it in 13 hours if we hadn't stopped twice to meditate and sleep in hotel comfort. Anticipation began to manifest itself more and more with the miles as I realized I'd never been to a DLM conference.
We arrived at the Riding Mountain Conference site Monday after a somewhat
6 Divine Times, November 1976
bizarre but inspiring satsang program in Winnipeg. Riding Mountain National Park is located in the heart of the Canadian wilds on Clear Lake, Manitoba. The area has been specifically set aside to remain as a natural resource. Forest creatures like beaver, deer, wolf, bear and fox roam free in their own environment without too much intrusion from civilization. Our's was an old girl guide camp totalling four bunkhouses, one chalet-style dining area, and a large barn-like structure which I came to know and love. It was in the loft of this building that we officially began the conference.
We all met there after lunch. Gary had us sit in a circle and asked each of us to select one person whom we'd never met before. After doing this we were to tell that person all we could about ourselves. Then they'd have the same opportunity. We had 5 minutes. Then we shared that information with the rest of the group, and lo and behold we were off to a fine start. The day raced on with a multitude of beautiful experiences for everyone. It was like Christmas: greeting old friends; brothers and sisters we'd talked to on the phone for sometimes years, but had never met; exploring the area hoping to see one of the wild animals known to dwell there. Volleyball games and football sprung up from nowhere often made of teams of east versus west. Trouble was, many of the premies had done so much travelling since receiving Knowledge, they were from, or had been everywhere in Canada! But we were a family. And a diverse one too. In no time I began to feel a part of a very special community woven together in Holy Name by the hands of God.
I was watching Michael Dettmers making a mad dash across the field with a football under his arm, teeth flashing through a broad smile, when a huge bell began to toll summoning us all to the dinner table.
Mom was her name. She'd been the cook at the camp for some time now. Vegetarianism wasn't her specialty, but she had taken the time to prepare for our visit. We were bombarded with a barrage of baked beans, salads, rice, and squash, not to mention the cakes, pies, muffins, baked bread and hot chocolate. Mom knew the way to a premie's heart was all internal. Even the most trim of our collective were soon to realize the potbelly syndrome!
Satsang, service and meditation became everything to me and everyone else. There just seemed to be nothing else existing. And the conference continued. Michael spoke of the Mission with such a broad perspective, the effect was like getting one's nose jerked out of a dung heap. Irma from a community of four mentioned to Gary that she finally realized the National and International Directors were human beings. And Gary's input about the legal and financial state of the Canadian Mission brought everyone's attention gradually back to the communities and the issues that needed to be discussed. Each community representative was offered a chance to talk about the feelings in their city and offer suggestions for improvement or change. But the feedback began to reveal the underlying current of disunity within the Canadian boundaries. Some were experiencing what was referred to as a stalemate. "Nothing is happening, but the dust is settling." "The air is clearing." "We're feeling little National connection." Others were truckin' along slowly, but making progress. The Middle of the Road Communities. "We're a gypsy city, a maintenance city, a family city. We are conservative with a low profile. Change comes and goes with little effect on us!" Of course there are the radicals. "We don't have or want an ashram, or organization. We may even break away from DLM. We don't have a bookkeeper or a satsang hall. We want to grow one to one. We have a lot of money, are realizing friendship and have a secular community." When I said our family was diverse, I wasn't kidding!
So what did we do?
We focused on Knowledge and unity. We spent more time on satsang and maintenance than we did on the issues. But it worked. And the reps gained that feeling of unity and therefore, because of their very definite experience within our very special community, had something real to bring home with them. Sometimes when the timing was right, the focus would be on a specific subject. Like membership. Who is a member of Divine Light Mission? And finding that more input was needed here. Like realizing the importance of clear communications. Like finding out that guidelines from National were available for spreading Knowledge. But when one group was in the middle of discussing community structure, a member began to argue very intently. Finally he rushed off to find an oar and canoe and paddled off into the middle of Clear Lake, hopefully to reflect. His group wouldn't hear of it. Suddenly there they all were, paddling after our brother. What a sight. He shot across the lake, and disappeared into the forest. They ran after him.
It was beautiful seeing this cosmic love story unfold before me. And the group made it back together locked in a bond of trust and hugs and laughter and tears. And the work continued. Nights were wrapped with star-filled skies, steaming biscuits and hot chocolate from mom, along with the TLC and SSM.
Five days passed. There were no big surprise solutions to all the world problems. But there were some recommendations. Some of them follow.
1. We would like to see our videos in colour.
2. Each community should form its own structure according to its need, with advice available from National. But Must Be In Synch With Legal Needs.
3. Initiation and ashram are being looked after by Maharaj Ji.
4. Lateral communication is needed more to simplify and increase the effectiveness of communities.
But the outcome of the Riding Mountain Conference was more than that. A firm trust was established; a common feeling shared. I could say the weather was perfect (it was). I could say the location was perfect (it was). I could say the company was perfect (it was). I could say I enjoyed the six meals a day we were served, the canoe rides, the picnic, the romps in the woods and through buffalo fields, walking over beaver dams, wading in the lake, huddling in groups over matters of consequence, laughing and crying and hugging, and smiling and feeling like it was like darshan (it was). Everything was there.
- Louise Amm
Divine Times, November 1976 7