JoAn Steinmetz got the idea when she was going through a rough patch.
She and her husband had moved to rural Laurelwood near Gaston so he could take a job they not longer after found out he would lose. Now she was stressed. She was in her early eighties and felt lost.
To deal with the turmoil in her life, she turned to frequent and lengthy meditation practice.
It was while she was sitting quietly one day that she envisioned a beautiful garden with a large statue of Paramahansa Yogananda — a yogi who introduced millions of westerners to meditation — in the center of a garden atop a large hill.
That was in 2014. Since then, Steinmetz has dedicated countless hours to bringing the garden to fruition.
After touring a 15-acre parcel on the hills that overlook the Laurelwood valley, Steinmetz decided the Ananda Center at Laurelwood, where she and her husband participated in retreats and activities, would be the perfect spot. "It looked just like the space in my vision," she said. "It seemed like an impossible thing, but Yogananda spent his life bringing hope and understanding to the world. I wanted to do something to honor him and bring his light into the world."
Eric Glazzard, one of the center's founders (who goes by the spiritual name Daiva), offered Steinmetz the space after she shared her idea with him. "It goes back to why Ananda exists in the first place — to support people living an inspired life," he said.
Ananda is a worldwide movement based on Yogananda's teachings, which stress that all people can find God in daily ways through varied faiths and backgrounds. The belief system focuses on yoga, meditation and community to find God's presence and a sense of self-harmony.
"I wanted to build a park where people could come and pray," said Steinmetz, who searched for the meaning of life for years through philosophy, education and travel before discovering Yogananda's teachings. "He had answers that really satisfied me."
Steinmetz, her husband David Steinmetz — who goes by the spiritual name Byasa — and others involved with the Laurelwood Ananda Center have been donating and fundraising to bring the garden design to life. They've started working on the preliminary infrastructure and have commissioned a large statue of Yogananda. Paths will snake through the chunk of land and lead to the lotus flower design that will surround the statue.
New Mexico artist Gary Roller visited the center in early February, where he worked on the eight-foot-by-eight-foot statue of Yogananda that will eventually be bronze and will rotate slowly on a pedestal outside in the envisioned garden.
The rotation is necessary because the Yogananda statue is meant to symbolize a blessing of the whole world, not just one direction, Steinmetz said.
Roller made a small statue of Yogananda, which he then scanned with a computer program. The images from the scan were fed to a milling machine that produced the statue in pieces of enlarged blue foam blocks. Roller then took the blocks and fit them together to resemble the statue.
He buffed out small flaws last week and covered the foam structure in clay. Once those working on the garden can secure the funds, they'll take the statue to Portland for the final bronze casting process.
Project leaders expect the completed sculpture to cost around $50,000.
Roller created a bust of Yogananda several years ago. He first learned of the Yogi after reading his autobiography while enrolled in art school and has been inspired by the man ever since.
"This project is very meaningful to me as an artist but also as someone tuned into the subject," he said. "I'm hoping whoever views the statue will be elevated by the experience."
The Ananda Center is housed on about 200 acres of land and buildings once occupied by the Seventh Day Adventist High School and Retreat Center that began in 1904. The Ananda Center bought the property in 2011.
Portland Ananda leaders like Glazzard founded the Ananda College in 2012, which offered non-accredited studies that covered sustainability, spirituality, yoga and inspirational arts. While plans to expand and seek accreditation arose in 2013, the college folded not long after. Now the site hosts meditation, yoga, creative arts and sustainability classes and retreats.
David and JoAn Steinmetz moved to Laurelwood so David could teach at the college, but now live in a home neighboring the center and are involved in its various programs. Their main project is currently creating the garden, which they intend to keep open to the public at no charge.
"It'll give people a place to feel calmness and the beauty of nature," said Steinmetz. The garden and statue, like Yogananda himself, "brings a higher understanding of life, rather than a focus on wars and politics."
Those interested in helping with the garden or donating funds can call 503-747-6192 or 503-476-7045.