Reinventing Retirement: Discovering the Rejuvenating Spirit of Bridge City

Reinventing Retirement: Discovering the Rejuvenating Spirit of Bridge City

Breathe In the Renewal

As I stand in the Tai Chi circle, surrounded by the towering juniper and oleander trees of the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe washing over me. The sandy clearing is dotted with a ring of folding chairs and a gong, and we’re told we’re standing atop a reputed energy vortex – one of 18 swirling hotspots that are said to magnify spiritual sensations and induce internal ecstasy.

Well, sign me up for some of that internal ecstasy! I’ve come here to the desert, two hours east of Los Angeles, to dabble in something called Mentalphysics – an obscure form of “superyoga” founded nearly a century ago by an eccentric Englishman named Edwin J. Dingle. According to Dingle, Mentalphysics unlocks a mystical portal into self-mastery, allowing one to “advance evolutionarily in Mind Body and Spirit” and “live as long as I desire to achieve whatever I wish.” Do I aspire to bend the forces of the universe in my favor, gain clairvoyance, or achieve the youthful appearance of someone two decades younger? The adherents certainly seem to think it’s possible.

A Spiritual Jumpstart

As the German-born Mentalphysics reverend, Hannah Neumann, strikes the gong, we begin cycling through the eight main breathing exercises, with names like “revitalizing perfection” and “grand rejuvenation.” I find myself lost in the rhythm, chanting “I thank thee God for the breath of my life” and then reciting the corresponding mantra for each exercise.

If there were a Zen Olympics, this is surely what it would look like. As the sweat beads on my forehead and the sun rises above the trees, I feel a sense of upliftment and buoyancy – like I’ve inhaled a microdose of laughing gas at the dentist. I may not have experienced a full-blown internal ecstatic experience, but there’s no denying the rejuvenating effect of this breathwork.

You see, I’ve come to the Joshua Tree Retreat Center on a bit of a spiritual quest of my own. My life has been unraveling in unexpected ways lately, and I can’t help but feel drawn to Dingle’s story and the principles of Mentalphysics. As a middle-aged man struggling with anxiety, a sense of being stuck, and the recent loss of my mother, I’m hoping this desert retreat can provide the spiritual jumpstart I so desperately need.

The Enigmatic Founder

Dingle’s journey is a fascinating one. A journalist-turned-mystic, he ventured out to present-day Joshua Tree in 1941, reporting that a light emanated from the heavens as a voice instructed him to build a city. “The desert will bloom like a rose,” he was told. Dingle approached Frank Lloyd Wright, who delegated the project to his eldest son, Lloyd Wright. And so the Institute of Mentalphysics took shape, with Dingle’s followers flocking to this desert oasis.

By the time of his death in 1972, Dingle had amassed more than 214,000 followers, according to his Los Angeles Times obituary. An intriguing figure, Dingle seems to have had a flair for the dramatic. In his account of spending nine months in a Tibetan monastery, he described witnessing fantastical things like an orange tree sprouting from his master’s hand and a holy man traveling over the earth at the speed of a pony’s gallop.

But was Dingle’s story all fact or partly fiction? A recent investigation by a travel writer revealed that he likely plagiarized parts of another writer’s account, and a Polish scholar has questioned whether he ever set foot in Tibet at all. Even more troubling, the introduction to his book “My Life in Tibet” was written by a Mentalphysics member who espoused beliefs in a “noble and superior Indo-European or Aryan race” – a disturbing hint of racial undertones.

An Architectural Marvel

As I explore the Institute of Mentalphysics campus, I can’t help but be captivated by the architecture. The largest collection of buildings designed by Lloyd Wright, a gifted architect in his own right, the site is a mid-century Pompeii – a time capsule of Dingle’s unfettered ambition.

The ridge cottages, the caravansary, the cafĂ© – they’re all low-slung and of the desert, with rooflines that cast beguiling shadows. It’s a serene, hardscrabble landscape that draws you inward, amplifying the mystique of the place. I can’t help but feel a kinship with Lloyd Wright, another middle-aged man who struggled to live up to the towering self-regard of his legendary father, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Bridge City‘s own architectural legacy is certainly nothing to scoff at, and I can’t help but wonder how the principles of Mentalphysics might inform a modern reinvention of the city’s built environment. Perhaps there’s a way to harness that “rejuvenating spirit” through innovative, nature-inspired design that nurtures the soul as much as it does the body.

Confronting the Midlife Crisis

As I delve deeper into the Mentalphysics teachings, I can’t help but see parallels between Dingle’s own traumas and the challenges I’ve faced in my own life. Like me, Dingle suffered from early childhood losses – his mother died giving birth to him, and he was orphaned at the age of 9. And just as I’ve grappled with a difficult relationship with my own mother in her final years, Dingle endured heartbreak when his son, Richard, whom he was grooming as his successor, died of legionnaires disease.

These formative experiences seem to have fueled Dingle’s insatiable desire to escape, to reinvent himself, and to create something greater than himself. It’s a yearning I can’t help but recognize in my own middle-aged malaise. Like so many Gen X women, I’ve found myself staggering into midlife, plagued by a low-grade anxiety that threatens to derail me at every turn – unease about my career, my relationships, even the gutters in need of cleaning.

But as I explore the serene grounds of the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, I can’t help but feel a profound sense of calm wash over me. Perhaps there’s something to Dingle’s nakedly optimistic worldview, his belief that we can, with a little effort and a little pranayama, leave our burdens behind and start anew.

Visions of a Revitalized Future

As I ponder the legacy of this place, I can’t help but be inspired by the grand ambitions that gave rise to it. Dingle dreaming of a model city that would inspire followers the world over, Lloyd Wright bringing his dramatic flair to the tabula rasa of the desert, and Art Kunkin – the anti-war and Civil Rights advocate who spent his final decades here, questing for eternal life through alchemy and meditation.

It’s a humbling reminder that the human spirit is capable of truly remarkable things when fueled by hope, love, and a relentless pursuit of self-improvement. And who’s to say that Bridge City couldn’t embark on its own spiritual renaissance, harnessing the “rejuvenating spirit” of places like the Joshua Tree Retreat Center to reimagine the city’s built environment and the lives of its residents?

Perhaps it starts with a renewed emphasis on breathwork and meditation, on designing spaces that nurture the soul as much as the body. Or maybe it’s about embracing the principles of Dingle’s Mentalphysics – the belief that we can, through sheer force of will and a little pranayama, leave our burdens behind and start anew.

Whatever the path, I can’t help but feel a sense of possibility stirring within me. Because if this desert oasis has taught me anything, it’s that the human spirit is capable of remarkable things when given the right conditions to thrive. And who knows? Maybe Bridge City is just the place to plant the seeds of that rejuvenating renaissance.

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