Communities Log: Chapel of Sacred Mirrors, NY

An intimate spiritual community rooted in the divine power of art.

The Church of Sacred Mirrors (CoSM) is an interfaith church that uses visionary and psychedelic art as a portal to transformative spiritual experience. Although the church itself was established in 2008, the intentional community has been coming together since 2003, when founders and artists Alex and Alyson Grey began holding full moon ceremonies with friends in their Brooklyn home. These intentional gatherings allowed the Greys to start gathering funds for the construction of their future chapel. Their meetings swiftly outgrew their Brooklyn apartment, however, and after opening a temporary site in Chelsea (2004), they finally purchased 40 acres in Wappinger Falls, NY (2009).

The Grey House: museum, inn, and church.

The Chapel is a truly impressive place. The acreage serves as a meditative retreat, educational space, and ritual site. The 10,000 sq ft, three-story Victorian house that came with the Greys’ purchase was previously an interfaith church. Now it’s “a sanctuary for spiritual renewal through contemplation of transformative art,” tripling as a guesthouse and art museum. The building provides event and studio space as well as meals through a small cafe and an industrial kitchen (the latter geared primarily toward serving residents and volunteers, though guests can purchase meal tickets). The first floor also houses a gift shop, church office, visitor restroom (so visitors don’t have to trek upstairs to use the guest restrooms–alternatively the closest wheelchair accessible bathroom is in the dining room), library, wrap-around porch, and full-size original artwork by the Greys. The second and third floors house guests and some staff. Guests can pay full price for a private suite or go for a hostel experience with a multi-bed room.

When we visited, the multi-purpose use of the grounds and main building really stood out to us. Tuned in to Alex and Alyson’s vision, people from all over the world come to learn, teach, connect, create, and heal. While some staff are permanent, a number of the people we met were volunteers who came for the intent of the space as well as the security of a temporary home. Whether attending a ceremony or helping for a season, everyone is a participant and adds to the energy of the space.

Net of Being by Alex Grey

The Greys’ professional and personal connections are a huge part of their community’s development and success. On top of their long-standing art careers, Alyson is an educator and arts organizer in New York and Alex has been producing the album and stage art for progressive metal band Tool ever since their 2001 album, Lateralus. Beyond the obvious financial benefits, this also widens their audience for visitation and ongoing crowd-funding, which supports the construction of CoSM’s Entheon project (seriously, check it out). Over the years, CoSM’s board of directors has included influential persons like philosopher Ken Wilber and author Deepak Chopra. During our visit, Alyson told us they even received some guidance from friend Michael Singer (author of The Untethered Soul and founder of Temple of the Universe) in forming the legal structure of their religious 501(c)(3).

After attending one of Alex and Alyson’s weekly Art Church events, we enjoyed dinner with staff and volunteers. When the Greys joined the meal and took time to sit and chat with us directly, our conversations were warm and intimate, highlighting many of our spiritual and community intentions. Following are the major intentional community insights we gained during out visit:

  1. Edited 3/12/2022: This was a noticeably white space, and none of the bedrooms were wheelchair accessible. Although we felt very welcome and safe and there wasn’t an explicit stress on spiritual positivity, looking back we can’t deny that there was a definite sense of willful cultural disconnect and irresponsibility. We hope to see this change.
  2. Intentional communities start with something you’re already doing. The intent is lived first. As community grows around it, there’s an understanding of purpose already rooted in people’s daily lives. No specific size or degree of success is guaranteed outside the self, and no amount of time is guaranteed in its pursuit.
  3. If applicable, identifying as a religious organization can serve multiple social benefits. It’s an honest interpretation of the healing power of community service, rematriation, and Earth-spirituality. It reinforces the organization’s role in service to the wider community. It creates opportunities for traditional ceremonial services and holiday events. It utilizes a well-precedented legal structure for what may otherwise be seen as a highly alternative lifestyle.
  4. CoSM and other communities often fill the role of temporary living space for people in need of guidance and stability, especially for young people. Virtually everyone alive today is carrying the toxicity of their environment, society, and intergenerational trauma. Many lack adequate family support, and very few have the space or time to participate in personal healing. We’ve spoken with youths who travel between volunteer programs, gaining skills and independence while maintaining a sense of responsibility for their found communities. If healing is the intention of any of these communities, it becomes part of the participatory process for visitors and residents, whether staying for a weekend or a season.
  5. Edited 3/12/2022: To expand on the above point, however, we’ve noticed that communities like these may fail to offer fair income for some of the people on which they depend — people who are at times quite young and may not be aware that the places they love depend in some way on their housing instability for access to cheap/free labor. We don’t know much about CoSM’s staffing and volunteer arrangements, but this pattern is worth noting for general purposes. If staff and volunteers show responsibility for the community, is the community also making sure to show responsibility for its members?
  6. The land, buildings, labor, and legal status of CoSM relate to the Grey’s social and professional circumstances, which are at all not universal. Regardless, thriving communities are built through connections and meaningful participation. Curious, meditative, celebratory, and/or day-to-day participation in a community allows visitors to get a little more, give a little more, and take their experience forward into the rest of their lives. It also provides extra resources for the organization.
  7. CoSM’s primary theme is the transformative power of visionary art. Presenting a community through a theme helps filter and align visitors, creating a self-selected community. Art is a particularly healing and liberating theme, and while it’s a vital part of being wholly human, our guiding theme is that of tending to the land as children and stewards of our ecosystems and reality.

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