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Judith Toy, a Black Mountain Zen cleric for more than 20 years, is retiring and closing Cloud Cottage Community of Mindful Living on May 21. She is moving to Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center in east Tennessee to start a new life.

Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center is a 760-acre nonprofit sustainable teaching community in Washburn, Tennessee. The 72-year-old Toy plans to renovate an old farmhouse and join the Narrow Ridge community in raising organic produce in the garden and orchard.

Judith and her late husband Philip Toy, also a Zen cleric, co-founded Cloud Cottage Community 17 years ago, in 1999. Since his death three years ago, life has not been the same for Judith, she said.

“It is indeed challenging to end one’s heart work, and to retire,” she said. “I have learned to lean into the loneliness, sometimes just to give in and cry, and yet to appreciate my own strengths, some that I did not know I had. Leaving my home in Black Mountain and becoming a ‘worker bee’ at Narrow Ridge, where I plan to lead nothing, requires quite a bit of letting go. I’ve fallen from the 10th floor, and I’m now flying past the fifth floor, saying, ‘So far, so good.’”

Toy became a Zen cleric in 1997 and moved to Black Mountain in 1999 to be close to two daughters who lived locally. When the children moved to other parts of the country, the Toys decided to remain in Black Mountain.

The Toys were active in the arts community in New Hope, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia before they moved to Black Mountain. They were mentioned in the book “The Genius Belt” about area artists, composers, poets, playwrights and other creative types. They found similar creative energies in Black Mountain.

“We saw similar creative and contemplative tendencies that had long thrived in Black Mountain through Black Mountain College,” Toy said. “We felt quite at home here. Philip and I decided that we were rooting in Black Mountain like a couple of old magnolias, so we decided to stay.”

Cloud Cottage prospered and grew throughout its 17 years here.

“It grew because there were two of us, my husband and I, and his influence was greater than mine,” Toy said. “Now there is only me, and I have decided on a new life in Tennessee. Being a Buddhist in the Bible Belt is something like growing up as a liberal Democrat in a right-wing Republican family, which I did. In other words, I’m used to being on the margins.

“When I visited Narrow Ridge to speak, I felt like I had come home and knew that I wanted to live there. Most of the homes are off the grid, but my farmhouse is on five acres in a sunny hollow. And it is on the grid, meaning I will have electricity. It is in awful shape and needs a lot of attention.

“For those who ask how a 72-year-old woman is going to renovate an old farmhouse, my answer is with help from my friends, and very slowly,” she said. “After all, I have until I die to finish the job. This won’t be a television renovation. Updates don’t interest me. I’ll live humbly and simply, without granite counter tops. I may not have the money for the renovation, but I have the guts.

“I also look forward to working in the large organic garden at Narrow Ridge. College kids from all over the country come to work in the garden and orchard and to learn about sustainable living as well as their connection to all of nature. I am embracing a gentler, earth-friendlier way of living.”

During the early years in Black Mountain, Toy wrote a book, “Murder as a Call to Love.” In 1990 in an upscale neighborhood in Pennsylvania, Toy’s sister-in-law and two teenage nephews were murdered, Toy said. “There had been no bad blood between them,” she said. “Years later I still do not understand why this happened, and I went looking for answers by writing the book.

“The murders changed my life. That started me on the Buddhist and mindfulness road. After five years of daily meditation practice, I had a spiritual awakening during which I forgave the boy who murdered my family. It was a spontaneous experience. The book is really my story of transformation.”

Toy said she would miss the people who visited Cloud Cottage.

“Hundreds of people seeking inner peace entered the doors of Cloud Cottage and found it,” Toy said. “I will miss the flow of people coming and going, never knowing how long they would stay, but they were always welcome. This is truly a bittersweet time in my life.”

Norma Bradley studied at Cloud Cottage for more than 10 years, traveling from Asheville to Black Mountain on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings.

“Cloud Cottage offered an environment of natural beauty and peace to practice mindful living with friends,” she said. “Philip and Judith offered their knowledge of Buddhism and their love. I will miss the mindful walks through the garden, the meditation and healing rituals, the interesting people who arrived from around the globe. I will miss the intimacy and warmth I feel at Cloud Cottage.”

Maggie Schlubach spent 10 years participating at Cloud Cottage.

“Cloud Cottage provided me with a beautiful, serene place where I was able to mediate with friends who were also seeking inner peace,” she said. “Judith and Philip Toy were inspired, gifted teachers, and I will always appreciate my time with them.”

On April 17 and 18 starting at 8 a.m., Cloud Cottage will hold a sale to raise money for the farmhouse renovation (donations will also be accepted). Cloud Cottage is at 219 Old Toll Circle, Black Mountain. It will remain open on Wednesdays from 6-7:30 p.m. except on March 23 and 30 until Saturday, May 21, when a noon picnic is planned to say goodbye.

For more, contact Toy at cloudcottage@bellsouth.net. For more about Tennessee’s Narrow Ridge community, visit narrowridge.org.

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