Welcome to Spirit Rock Meditation Center, commonly called Spirit Rock for short, which is a meditation center I visited recently that is only a hop, skip and a jump from San Francisco. A lovely drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and past southern Marin will bring you through the small but pretty towns of Fairfax and San Anselmo California, both of which have loads of quaint shops, cafes, restaurants and spiritual shops. A little further up nestled in the beautiful natural environment of Woodacre California lies Spirit Rock, which focuses on the teachings of the Buddha as presented in the vipassana, or Insight Meditation, tradition.
Set among 411 acres of serene oak woodlands in the secluded hills of West Marin County, you’re surrounded by grassy hills and woods on all sides. In other words, it’s peaceful, serene and tranquil in every way and allows you to escape from urban energy for awhile. There’s a variety of reasons you might want to experience Spirit Rock, the largest one I’d argue being as a retreat for personal and spiritual development and let’s say more “awakening.” Because its focused on Insight Meditation teachings, a lot of their classes and seminars center around Buddhism.
If you’re looking for a place to both experience and practice ways to have a more loving relationship with life, one that flows with more ease, then it’s a great community to tap into. As they like to proudly tout: “the spaciousness and stillness of Spirit Rock and the caring teachers, staff and volunteers, create a supportive environment for turning inward and letting go of the struggles that get in the way of experiencing the freedom and joy that are inherent in every moment of life.”
Photo credit: Spirit Rock
Their view on the value they offer makes sense to anyone who has started a spiritual journey. The teachings of the Buddha (Dharma) and the practices of Insight Meditation (Vipassana) and loving-kindness meditation (metta) are at the heart of all the programs they offer. Their belief is that “practicing Insight Meditation develops more mindfulness, the capacity to pay attention to each moment of life and to see clearly the truth of our experiences. Studying the Dharma provides insights into the conditions that define and limit our experience of life and cultivating an attitude of loving-kindness allows us to stay present to what’s true and what’s difficult in our lives with compassion for ourselves and others.”
With that said, they argue that our relationship to life is transformed as we learn to live more wisely and kindly and I couldn’t agree more. Ahhh yes, meditation and stillness as a “way of life,” to increase our awareness and ability to relate to people in a more loving way — it sounds great on paper but even for those who meditate and do yoga regularly, we know that it’s not always that easy when the stresses of life get in the way, is it?
Most of struggle with the lizard brain getting in the way of us truly feeling free of clutter, noise and stresses that take over our ability to be as present as we can possibly be. One of my favorite sayings is taped to my computer monitor as a way to remind me of the value of being more than just a little okay with silence every once in awhile. It not only feeds the soul, but it quiets your mind and everyone else around you.
“The World Surrenders to a Silent Mind”
I started writing in earnest about the importance of getting disconnected from the digital world back in 2010 while in Paris, on silence the same year, and on growing consciousness in 2011. In fact, since the first SAND Conference (Science & Nonduality) I attended which was around the same time, I’ve been writing about mind/body balance necessity every since, which was even more heightened after last year’s SAND, an incredible event dedicated to consciousness and the convergence of tech, science and mindfulness in the Silicon Valley area.
I learned about Spirit Rock a few years ago but only had an opportunity to chat to them in greater depth at their Wisdom 2.0 booth last year about their classes and offerings. While you have the opportunity to go fairly “deep” here, be a resident and commit to silent retreats of varying periods of time, this was not what I headed up to do, largely because I wanted to get a sense of what the center was about and experience their non-resident programs first hand without taking any time off. What’s great is that their non-resident workshops are offered on the weekends, making it feasible for people with busy lives or who have day jobs. Our commitment the first time was a weekend of two full day workshops focused on meditation, movement, love and relationships.
Above, yogi buildings, credit: Spirit Rock
Photo credits: Spirit Rock
The Relaxed and Awake: Mindfulness Meditation and the Feldenkrais Method workshop was all about movement, but subtle movement and increased awareness in order to reprogram the patterns of movement we already do, which are often not healthy and/or keep us stuck in positions at our desk or walking that contribute to pain. It’s a day long event that combines the traditional practice of Buddhist mindfulness meditation with sessions of Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons.
For those of you not familiar with Feldenkrais, it’s a sensory-motor approach to re-educating the nervous system and developing self-awareness which can improve your mobility and allow you to flow with more ease and often, less pain. Periods of meditation alternated with guided Feldenkrais “variations,” as instructor Dan Clurman called them. The techniques were designed to support each other in order to better create a sense of mind-body connection, vitality and well-being. The key I learn through careful listening and talking to others in the class who have had more experience with Feldenkrais than I, is all in the subtle movements and the notion that “less is more.”
When he guided us through a move, it was hard for me to not to use full range of motion, i.e., moving my knees all the way to the ground simple because I was able to, for we’re taught in so many other disciplines that the deeper the stretch, the better (unless it hurts of course). Yoga is all about the stretch and Pilates is about our core whereas it appears that Feldenkrais is all about options you can ADD on a regular basis to improve your mobility through greater awareness. For example, there was one lesson we did in a ten or so minute experiment which resulted in the majority of the class being able to turn their necks to the left with more ease and mobility than when we first began. The same applied to techniques we learned to get up and down from a chair with more ease and less effort.
While these may seem like “simple things” and appear to be more useful if you’re over 65 (and I’d have to argue that it would be since we lose our range of motion as we get older), it’s also a great practice for anyone who moves a lot and wants greater RANGE of MOTION, i.e., martial artists, yogis, dancers, physical therapists, fitness buffs and so on. Learning how to undo the way we may sit in a not so healthy way or walk dominating one side over another, is helpful for all kinds of things, from loosening our hips, knees and backs to reducing the strain on moving about in our every day lives.
Taken from my mat during the Feldenkreis session.
Above, one of the main rooms where they hold classes in a big wooden dome with beautiful wooden floors and big wide windows for lots of light – photo credit: Spirit Rock
More inside shots below.
Not long before I headed up to Spirit Rock, I had a private session with Feldenkrais maestro and long time pioneer Frank Wildman, which resulted in my feeling more connected to the ground when laying down and when walking than before I walked through his studio. In other words, there’s definitely something to the magic that this subtle method of moving with increased awareness provides.
Loving-Kindness in Relationships was led by David Richo who focused primarily on how you “show up” in a relationship on a regular basis and the judgments that you make which can have a negative impact. He asserts that “loving ourselves is in our genetic code and it’s nothing other than the purpose of our lives.” His books and therapy is about loving-kindness practice which are a set of tools and suggestions you can do to improve how you react to your partner and others in your daily sphere and beyond.
He called upon wisdom from both Buddhism and psychology to teach us how to better have a heart that loves and flows freely, fearlessly and universally. In part of the workshop, we read best practices we can implement and in others, he guided us through some techniques to improve our communications skills and conflict resolution in relationships (personal and professional) and in clinical work, useful for any healthcare practitioners and therapists who showed up that day.
Spirit Rock offers a variety of programs regardless of whether you’re a newbie to meditation or been doing it for years. They have two-hour, drop-in classes and daylong events as well as silent residential retreats lasting from three-days to two months as mentioned above. There’s also advanced practitioner programs spanning a year or more and then even offer classes online. For more information, visit their Programs section of their website or their Calendar section to search for programs by date. They have also laid out their programs by paths, eight to be precise, to help you filter what you’re looking for by interest.
Spirit Rock’s 8 Paths
- The Teachings of the Buddha
- Mindfulness and Meditation
- Mind and Emotions
- The Family and Relationships
- Communities in Practice
- The Dharma at Work
- The Body, Movement and Music
- Science and the Natural World
Note to families: they also offer programs for kids as well. Two thumbs up – we would definitely return to explore more of what they have to offer!