Over the last dozen years, Asheville has become a known and valued destination point by those interested in alternative choices as well as mainstreamers. The book Cities Ranked & Rated, 2nd edition (2007) ranked Asheville as number seven among their analysis of more than 400 metro areas in the U.S. and Canada. Self magazine labeled it the “Happiest City for Women;” it is one of AARP Magazine’s “Best Places to Reinvent Your Life;” Asheville was proclaimed the “New Freak Capital of the U.S.” by Rolling Stone; and it was named the “most vegetarian-friendly” small city in America by PETA. In the 2008 book, The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner, Asheville was called the “happiest place in the United States.”
If you choose to move here, be warned—or inspired, by the likely possibility of being transformed. As much as you are ready (and you are ready if called to relocate here), it just might be different from what you think. Life usually is. Many of us in Asheville believe that we are in a special place, a vortex for embodying and consciously living oneness—the focus of our magazine for 12 years. This social community website represents the next evolution of Spirit in the Smokies, Magazine of New Paradigm Living, inviting everyone to participate.
Asheville as a Mecca for Personal Transformation
When I moved to the Asheville area back in 1993, little of its current cultural color and activity was happening. I was one of several dozen people who arrived at about the same time, telling nearly the same story—that we felt intuitively guided to relocate here, without any job or plans for what to do next—unbeknownst to each other. It was uncanny. Many left established businesses or high-paying jobs and moved great distances. We all seemed to be responding to a sense of a higher order and purpose in life.
Among us newcomers, it was an exciting time. Lively discussions focused on the amazing possibilities implied by James Redfield’s book, The Celestine Prophecy, catalyzing our collective sense of purpose. At virtually every gathering, people were expounding the various ‘insights’ and excitedly sharing magical stories of synchronicities and following their intuition. One Australian visitor dubbed Asheville “the synchronicity capitol of the world.”
Many new projects were envisioned and plans made—to establish retreat, health or conference centers, create a nation-wide “Chamber of Consciousness” network and help transform the world. What actually happened, however, was we the people changed. I’ve noticed repeatedly that those of us who felt called to be here experienced a period of challenge lasting about two years—myself included.
It’s as if we stepped into a place where notions of who we are and what reality is shifted and expanded, and we had to adjust. Various new ideas, healing modalities, new diets and spiritual practices were embraced as people grappled with clearing limiting old belief patterns, opening to higher awareness and deeper meaning in life. I experienced it as a rite of passage that initiated me into a more spiritual approach to life, one that relies on awareness of my connection to all that is and moment-by-moment discovery of inner wisdom over habit and static knowledge. Life continues to be an adventure!
Spirit in the Smokies
In early 1995, five of us were guided to start a new kind of publication, one that chronicled the personal transformational stories so commonly told. On a lark, we launched Spirit in the Smokies, Magazine of New Paradigm Living. By early 1996, the first large Mind-Body-Spirit Expo came to the Asheville Civic Center, and later that year, CBS did a special Eye On America feature on Asheville, calling it “a New Age Mecca.”
Since then, many more people have moved here offering their personal stories of transformation plus many new alternative healing practices, spiritual teachings, sustainable living ideas, etc., and Asheville itself has transformed considerably. Interest in more conscious holistic living now is common and local politics have become quite progressive. In 2003, for example, Democratic presidential candidate, congressman Dennis Kucinich from Ohio actually won the Democratic primary election in our county. This was quite remarkable and sent shockwaves through the more conservative citizens in both political parties.
We continued publishing Spirit in the Smokies through May of 2007 and then also stopped doing the monthly ‘Community Network Gatherings’ that were well attended for many years. Interestingly, most of the other group efforts that were specifically focused on the holistic or metaphysical community also stopped at about the same time. I believe that this last year has been a time of integration and metamorphosis for all. It certainly has been for me! This site features stories of continuing spiritual triumph, living examples of grounding metaphysical principles, and we welcome yours!
There are about 80,000 people in the city. If consistent with the 2000 census, the racial makeup is approximately 78% White, 18% African American, 4%, Hispanic or Latino, 1% Asian, 0.35% Native American. While I’d like there to be more people of color, the YMI Cultural Center, founded in 1892 by George Vanderbilt in the heart of downtown, is one of the nation’s oldest African-American cultural centers. Mayor Terry Bellamy is the city’s first African-American female mayor.
There also are many gay, lesbian and transgender people living here, and a free publication devoted to them, Out ‘n About. Plus, we have a multitude of musicians (often playing live in restaurants, bars and on street corners), performing artists, poets, writers and crafts people. Many individuals can be seen wearing shocks of green, purple or red hair, tattoos and body piercings, and may be your waiter at one of our many restaurants. Even with all the diversity, people converge to enjoy the various seasonal festivals, dances, theater and music performances and more. Click here to see a 2-minute video on the wonderful weekly, outdoor downtown-drumming circle.
Terrain & Climate
The City of Asheville is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina (WNC), reputed to be the oldest mountains in the world. It sits at the confluence of the Swannanoa and the French Broad Rivers, the latter distinguished by its northeasterly flow and age; it is the third oldest river in the world. WNC hosts many beautiful streams, waterfalls, whitewater rafting, hiking and mountain biking trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway and mountain areas, plus some riding stables and golf courses.
Asheville’s average elevation is 2,000 feet and surrounding mountains rise to more than 6,000 feet, providing conditions for tremendous richness and diversity of plant life. Some have dubbed the area ‘the herbal medicine bag’ of the country. Asheville has a long history of healing arts, from the Cherokee to mountain folk. In addition to extensive local hospital and medical care facilities, there is an increasing integration of western healthcare with the more holistic healing arts of modern day and antiquity.
Asheville’s climate is temperate, with all four seasons represented. While winter temperatures go below freezing and we do receive some snow, it now typically melts within a day or two. Both the coldest part of the winter and hottest part of the summer are short, about six weeks each, leaving a long growing season of moderate conditions. Tourists from humid coastal and more southern regions populate our summers, and the beautiful fall tree colors draw many from all over the country in October and November. Come visit!
Gayatri Erlandson, PhD, managing editor of this site, co-founded Spirit in the Smokies, Magazine of New Paradigm Living, which was distributed to six different states, from 1995 to 2007. A psychologist, humorist and celebrant of life, she is particularly interested in learning to live the new paradigm of oneness within collaborative living communities. She lives at Lotus Lodge Spiritual Retreat and Learning Center, a cohousing-like community of ten, in a semi-rural area just 12-15 minutes from downtown Asheville. Contact her via this site for short- or long-term room rentals at Lotus Lodge and for referral to a great real estate agent.