Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is an interesting place. It is one of the more developed beach communities on the east coast and is getting more so by the day. It's full of hotels, mini-golf courses, restaurants, shops and bars. Especially in recent years, it has grown to look like a giant submarine sandwich with housing developments sandwiched between the beach and the strip mall that highway 17 has become. You can imagine my surprise, therefor, at finding a beautiful, quiet, minimally developed spiritual center right in the middle of it all. But that is exactly what I found when I entered the Meher Spiritual Center in Briarcliffe, just south of Barefoot Landing.
When I was in Charlotte, I stayed with one of my friends, Billy, who I had hung out with when I lived in Myrtle Beach back in the late 1990s. We were sitting around his dining room table, drinking beers and trying to brainstorm a few ideas for upcoming posts. He recommended I look into "Mayor Baba" and his followers. I assumed he was talking about a political figure, but I wrote it down and looked into it later. When I did, I realized it wasn't "Mayor Baba", but Meher Baba and he wasn't a political figure, but a spiritual one.
Meher Baba was an Indian spiritual master and a self-proclaimed Avatar, or God in human form. He lived from 1894-1969 and had, and still has, many followers. His most famous follower, or at least the one we may all know best is Pete Townsend of The Who who named the song Baba O'Riley (often mistakenly called "Teenage Wasteland") after his main spiritual and musical influences: Meher Baba and classical folk musician Terry Riley. Bobby McFerren's 1988 song Don't Worry, Be Happy was also inspired by a popular Baba quote.
Meher Baba lived a simple life. He took a vow of silence in 1925 and kept until his death, 44 years later. He often fasted and spent long times in seclusion. Baba wrote several books including God Speaks and Discourses, taught widely about love and faith and worked with the poor and the sick.
In 1941, Elizabeth Patterson, a disciple of Meher Baba, was sent to find a suitable location for a spiritual center in the United States. Baba instructed them to find an area with a suitable climate, good soil, plentiful water and which could be given from the heart. Patterson found this tract on a then fairly deserted stretch of beach in far northeast South Carolina.
They acquired the area and began to develop it, bringing buildings from other parts of the region and having them reconstructed on the property. Meher Baba arrived for the first of his three visits to the Center in April of 1952. He liked what he found there, and eventually asked that it be preserved in perpetuity for his followers and those, like me, who wanted to learn more.
When I arrived to tour the property, I was amazed to find that it was right across the road from the Myrtle Beach Mall, cater-corner from the restaurant I worked at for three years. Quite literally hidden in plain sight, I never knew it was there. When I arrived, I signed in and met my tour guide, Jeff. He showed our group a short film about the center and about Meher Baba and then took us into the Center's grounds.
The roads are dirt, but well maintained and we started by visiting the Barn and the library. Both were simple structures, very clean and well kept, but certainly nothing flashy. The library had all of Baba's books obviously, but also a large collection of other books as well. Jeff showed us a collection of Agatha Christie books and told us they were a favorite of Baba. I loved this fact - it really humanized Meher Baba in my mind and I pictured him sitting in his room late at night catching up on the latest antics of Hercule Poirot. The Barn was just that, a large barn reconstructed on the property and used as a meeting and teaching center. The internal supports had been removed and the walls and roof shored up to make the room one open space with a full line of sight. I really liked the barn.
Jeff then took us to the main part of the Center which consisted mainly of small rustic cabins, communal kitchen buildings, and rooms for communal activities and meditation. We walked past a beautiful lake with a nice screened in boat house and Jeff told us they had once had a real Venetian gondola to push around the lake. I could somehow picture this in my head, but the gondola would have been the fanciest thing on the whole property. He also told us that the property had beach access - one of the last undeveloped stretches on the Grand Strand.
We ended our tour in a small, quiet meditation room. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sounds of the wind and the birds outside. It was very peaceful and a wonderful place to sit and think. Jeff told us about some of the musical offerings and teaching sessions on the schedule and welcomed us back any time (during normal day-visiting hours). He explained that now that we had done our tour, we could come in and sign out a key and visit the communal parts of the center any time we wanted a quiet place to meditate, or to participate in any of their programs. He also gave me a packet with information for overnight and multi-day retreats, staying in the cabins and enjoying the amenities of the center.
And with that, I looked at my watch and realized I had been there for over two hours. I had had such a quiet and peaceful time there that I didn't even notice how long we had been out. At no time was anyone pushy with any form of dogma regarding their beliefs or Meher Baba. Jeff was an excellent and welcoming guide through the property and I really enjoyed seeing this wonderful area. I can definitely picture myself going back to visit in the future.
The only thing I had to compare it to on this journey so far was the Palace of Gold I visited in West Virginia (see that post HERE). But while that was beautiful and ornate, this was simple and humble. That was gold and marble and this was wood and carpet. I thought the Palace of Gold was magnificent, but I think my belief system tends more towards the simple, natural side of things. I really liked visiting the Meher Center.
As I pulled back onto the pavement and took a right at the traffic light back onto highway 17 it was like I was waking up from a dream or traveling in time back to the present day. In a way I guess I was. Visiting the Meher Spiritual Center was a fascinating look at what Myrtle Beach had looked like 75 years ago. The landscape and people I found there provided a wonderful look at a different way of thinking and a different way of life.
The Meher Spiritual Center is open to day visitors from 2-5pm Monday-Thursday, 2-6pm on Friday and 11am-5pm on the weekend. They ask that you call 24 hours in advance to organize a tour of the grounds at (843)272-5777 There are also evening visiting hours from 7:30-11pm. You can find out more about Meher Baba, the Spiritual Center, overnight retreats and the programs being offered on their website www.mehercenter.org