Guanyin and the Spirit of Quivira – Letter to the Editor

0917 letter meeker illustrationBy Larry Meeker

Perhaps my favorite piece of art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum is the “Guanyin of the Southern Sea” Bodhisattva. Unlike Buddhas, Bodhisattvas forgo Nirvana until everyone else has attained enlightenment; hence, their reputation for compassion as they stay behind to lead the rest of humanity to a better life.
Guanyin is regal, yet relaxed and approachable, seated on a humble rock ledge that could easily be the very surmountable border that separates our world from Nirvana. Its nuances—an upright posture, an arm resting on a knee, eyes neither open nor closed that suggest a mental state somewhere between the present and some far-off future—give it a spiritual life. Time seems to slow when you step into the room with this 1000-year-old sculpture as Guanyin’s composure washes over you with an invitation to contemplate a better life.
The encounter is similar in many ways to the feeling I get when approaching Quivira. It’s easy to envision Guanyin resting on our unassuming split-rail fence that, like Guanyin’s rock ledge, is more boundary than barrier. It’s a fence from another time and another place that slows time down and extends its own special invitation to a better life with a more spiritual side.
The spiritual sides of Quivira and Guanyin are undeniable and complex. What other explanation is there for many of us considering ourselves to be home when passing under our antiquated “LAKE QUIVIRA” entrance sign rather than reserving that feeling for our garage? Like Guanyin’s statue, the sign itself exudes a sense of regality from another era just as our clubhouse—though necessarily modernized—still echoes conversations of weddings, firemen’s balls, Halloween parties, annual meetings and simple gatherings with friends from decades past. These first impressions of Quivira are without pretense and are as open, genuine and welcoming as Guanyin.
The experience does not end there. Our eclectic mix of housing speaks to an organic growth where teardowns, renovations and additions reflect an extended conversation about the balance between our personal spaces and our environment. Nature has clearly been an equal partner in those conversations showing her approval by cloaking us in foliage that hides much of our footprint half of each year.
At the very core of Quivira, nature reigns. The lake reflects her moods while the forest creatures render a fuller meaning of home. It’s the perfect setting for a conversation with Guanyin.
As objects, however, Guanyin and Quivira are nothing special: a piece of wood someone has carved; a piece of land shaped by nature and generations of people. There are many wood carvings and many communities carved out of nature on our planet. However, the unique ways in which each of these has been shaped have imbued them with spirits that can transport us to another time and another place. . . perhaps Nirvana. They are ideas made visible through a delicate balance of regality, composure, approachability and even history.
During a portion of our strategic planning process we interviewed realtors. The on-lake realtors intuitively understood this dichotomy of object and spirit when they summed up their challenge as one of selling potential residents on a lifestyle: a lifestyle that results in a home here selling for more than it would sell for elsewhere. It was equally telling that the one off-lake realtor was more focused on amenities—objects—and the need for Quivira to keep pace with other country clubs.
Quivira’s strategic planning process has focused only on objects: possible new things and some old things we might want to change. They reflect different people’s wants and visions for Quivira and range from large scale building projects to seemingly minor things such as replacing the split rail fence with something more formal. It will thus fall to each of us to discern how these proposals relate to the spirit of Quivira, a sprit—like that of Guanyin—that lies in the subtleties: nuances easily overlooked when one is in a hurry.
As proposals for change both large and small come forward, “Guanyin of the Southern Sea” will be an important reference point for me as I ask: Will this project make Quivira more pretentious or more inviting? Will it preserve the sense of mystery that comes from our delicate balance of people, housing and nature? Will it encourage time to slow as we enter this unique space and invite each of us to explore the space between today and Nirvana?