by Kellen Moore
After years of being shuttered and ignored, the former Heavenly Mountain is bustling once more.
Hundreds of visitors from across the globe gathered Saturday for the inauguration of the International Center for Meditation and Well-Being, a new campus focused on stress management and peace through breathing, meditation and yoga programs.
The event was a blend of east and west, with traditional mountain music from Appalachian Fire featured alongside a chanting choral song led by Grammy nominee Chandrika Tandon.
The event, which included dignitaries from near and far, included words from founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a noted humanitarian and spiritual leader.
Shankar said he believed the center would tend to each individual's physical, mental and spiritual needs and turn tears to smiles, dullness to creativity and hatred to love.
"It gives me great pleasure to dedicate this sanctum for the people of America, for North America," Shankar said.
The center also received words of blessing from Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and other religious leaders.
The center is based at the site formerly known as Heavenly Mountain, a community developed in the 1990s by brothers David and Earl Kaplan to serve as a hub for transcendental meditation.
The Kaplans later disavowed the movement and closed the buildings, eventually offering them for auction last fall.
The Art of Living Foundation didn't have the highest bid at that auction, but after the high bidder didn't work out the foundation ended up with the stunning 381-acre plot for $6.35 million in October 2011.
Nilendu Srivastava, managing director of the center, said renovating the numerous buildings at the site seemed a nearly impossible job at first.
A mild winter, coupled with dedication from primarily local contractors, helped solidify plans for the June 30 opening, he said.
"I don't really believe in miracles, but in the last six months, I have seen miracles," Srivastava said.
The center spent about $3 million in renovations, he added.
Now, staff are hoping the investment will pay off both in individuals' personal lives and for the community.
The center is estimating that it will generate more than $7.2 million in economic impact during its first year of operation, including the payment of roughly $119,000 in county property taxes.
"I anticipate that Boone will become an even more popular area once the center opens its doors to the public," Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson said.
N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who also attended the inauguration, said she hopes the impact spreads even farther.
"North Carolina is very proud and believes you have made a perfect choice in locating here," she said.
While the inauguration Saturday served as the center's official opening, classes are already under way at the site. The center offers introductory programs in The Art of Living, yoga and other self-improvement techniques, as well as more advanced programs on meditation and The Art of Silence.
It also will offer programs aimed at returning veterans, youth and more.
U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois, who spoke at the inauguration, said he could already feel the center creating peace and soothing in his own life.
Walsh said being in Shankar's presence caused his lingering migraine headache to dissipate and then vanish shortly after arriving at the center.
While the inauguration served as a way to introduce the community to the Art of Living programs, it also served as a gathering for those whose lives have already been affected by them.
Kenneth Scherr of Los Angeles said he learned meditation almost 40 years ago and previously taught transcendental meditation. He said learning the breathing techniques and methods introduced by Shankar enhanced that prior learning.
"I found it invaluable," he said. "No other word for it."
Tina Faith, who said she previously worked for the Kaplan family doing accounting and property work, said she was excited to see the new center since having been associated with Heavenly Mountain from the beginning.
She said she thought the Kaplans would be pleased with what had come of their original vision and that the International Center for Meditation and Well-Being was a natural fit.
"The land here, the mountain itself, wanted something serene, peaceful — something for all people," she said.
Visit http://bit.ly/InternationalCenter to view a photo gallery of the inauguration.