In 2014, I traveled from my home in Yellow Springs, OH, to Asheville, NC, with my daughter for a weekend event with Prem Rawat, a well-known speaker and author. We wanted to have easy access to the unique downtown of Asheville, so I found a room available at The Gray Rock Inn right on the edge of the downtown business district, on Biltmore Ave.
John Senechal met us there and showed us around. Right away, it felt like a very friendly, comfortable place. Some people were renting rooms full-time, and some came for brief stays. There was a kitchen downstairs that was used by the renters.
As you may already know, Asheville is a special place. It seems to be both a city and a small town, and The Gray Rock couldn’t have been a better location for getting around on foot. It’s next door to a very good health food store and within walking distance to just about any place. With the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in the background, everywhere you go is a visual treat, from the French Broad River to the River Arts District.
I was thrilled too, when I went to one of the many art galleries, and saw a beautiful tapestry, a fiber art wall hanging woven by my sister’s sister-in-law, who I hadn’t seen for a long time!
We had a wonderful time at the event we were attending, and saw a lot of old friends. Prem Rawat was engaging as always. In traveling around the world, speaking about peace, he shows a simple way for anyone to improve their happiness through inner development, connecting to the source of peace within. He has developed the Peace Education Program, which is offered to various schools, universities, senior centers, etc.
The program is especially effective in prisons, where it’s offered in more than 70 countries. In South Africa, three prisons were closed after the inmates had gone through the program, because the recidivism rate was zero – no one was coming back!
Prem Rawat says, “Extract the possibility of joy from each breath.” There is a feeling of harmony and deep truth in his message. (More information is available through The Prem Rawat Foundation.)
Soon after we returned to Yellow Springs, I decided that I wanted to live elsewhere for a while, and thought that Asheville might be just the right place for me to relocate. There is another connection that brought me to Asheville. In 1937, the Celo Community was created in nearby Yancey County by Arthur Morgan, who was famous for that and for being an early president of Antioch College in my hometown of Yellow Springs, OH.
Arthur Morgan was also the leader of the TVA project under Franklin Roosevelt. Arthur’s son Ernest and Ernest’s wife Elizabeth started a middle school for teenagers in Celo Community in 1962, honoring Arthur’s concept of experiential education that was taught at Antioch College. I had interviewed Ernest for a video I made about Yellow Springs, so I wanted to visit the community and the Arthur Morgan School while in Asheville.
When I called John in January of 2015 to reserve a room for a longer stay, he asked if I’d be interested in managing the short-term rentals in exchange for staying there. I jumped at the opportunity, and was so pleased to be able to stay at The Gray Rock again. I got to know John and his wife Anne, as well as the residents. I had some past experience running an Airbnb, so this was a good fit for me. At the time, there was only one room at the Gray Rock Inn converted for Airbnb guests while the rest were still longer term tenants. In the four months I was there, two more were upgraded and added to Airbnb offerings. Now, I understand, there are eight rooms available, and the whole second floor is managed that way.
When I got there, John had already restored the building after years of neglect. He is kind to the old building, bringing back the best character and features within the context of affordable hospitality. He treats tenants and guests with honor and respect. There is a wide mix of people in the building, as he welcomes all with the caveat that they respect others too. He recognizes that the building is a temporary home for many people. His wish is the same as Prem Rawat: That peace be realized through mindfulness and gratitude for each breath and each day. The comfort and ease I felt with everyone at The Gray Rock Inn gave me a great jumping-off place to explore and expand my connection with the local community.