On November 17, an enthusiastic crowd of three hundred sangha members joined together in the new meeting hall at Spirit Rock Center to celebrate its official opening. At a ceremony led by teachers Jack Kornfield, Julie Wester, James Baraz and the project director, Sally Clough, the buildings were blessed and all those who contributed time, money and energy were thanked. There was a great feeling of joy and appreciation to be finally in our own buildings on this beautiful piece of land.
As one drives onto the Spirit Rock land, one appreciates all of the thoughtfulness and hard work that went into the design of the center. From the hand-carved sign at the entrance of the property, the road curves gently through the front meadow over two vehicular bridges with their copper railings, to the tree-studded parking lot tucked out of sight behind a landscaped berm. Two pedestrian bridges lead into the meadow to a circular path that winds past the staff quarters and administration office to the large meeting hall. Though the buildings are modular, they are tastefully finished, light and airy. They are also enhanced by trellis work and climbing plants. The meeting hall and the office are handicapped-accessible.
Since the opening of the center, the building has been put to good use. Jack Kornfield leads a weekly meditation class every Monday evening, often with over two hundred people attending, and there are regular daylong nonresidential retreats. The meditation hall is always open for people to use for individual sitting or just as a quiet space for reflection and contemplation.
It took much energy and commitment from the sangha to reach this stage. The financial support of our members has been wonderful, enabling us to begin to realize the dream of a West Coast retreat center. There is much to be done, however, before we have a fully-functioning residential center, with kitchen/dining hall, accommodation and staff and teachers quarters. Fund-raising for these phases of the center is continuing, but the board has decided not to try to undertake any building in 1991. The next stage of development will not begin until more funds are available. We estimate that the kitchen/dining hall will cost $1,000,000, and that the first three residential buildings will cost about $250,000 each. These are significant amounts of money, and will take some time to raise. The roots of Spirit Rock Center are strong, however, and the center will continue to develop as more people come to appreciate its value.
Spirit Rock Center is located in Woodacre, in the San Geronimo Valley in West Marin, north of San Francisco. To reach the center, take the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard exit in Larkspur from Highway 101 and follow it through San Anselmo and Fairfax. After Fairfax, Sir Francis Drake goes over a steep hill and enters San Geronimo Valley. Spirit Rock Center is one mile from the bottom of the hill on the right. There is a warning sign 500 feet before the center, and a large wooden sign at the entrance. Please drive slowly on the property, and stay on the paved road. Because of the rural nature of our neighborhood, we have an agreement with the county to limit the number of cars that come to Spirit Rock Center. Because of this, carpooling is mandatory at many events at the center, especially those with over one hundred people attending. If you are coming to an event, please meet at one of the carpooling locations listed in your registration letter, or call the office to arrange a ride with someone in your neighborhood. Carpooling is also necessary for the Monday night meditation class at the center because so many people are attending.
As announced in the last issue of Inquiring Mind, administrative responsibility for all West Coast retreats has moved to Insight Meditation West. Management and staffing of retreats by volunteers will continue. Our commitment is to keep classes and retreat rates as low as possible. Up to now, funds donated to Spirit Rock Center have been used to develop the center, to continue the fund-raising campaign, to cover the cost of running retreats, classes and events at the center, and to maintain a large mailing list that is also used by Inquiring Mind. The Spirit Rock Center office also provides the sangha with information and referrals, and organizes events such as community gatherings and dharma study groups.
In order to more accurately reflect the administrative expenses for running retreats and the Spirit Rock Center office, the IMW Board of Directors and teachers decided, after much thoughtful discussion, to raise the basic retreat rate by $10 per day. This $10 surcharge will go toward administrative expenses, thereby enabling donations to directly fund construction. The retreat cost change was discussed at a number of sangha gatherings, a town meeting and at several large classes and retreats. There was nearly unanimous support for this daily rate change.
At the same time, we have a strong commitment to keep retreats available to anyone who wishes to practice. We are trying to do this in three ways:
1) There is a reduced rate of $10 less per day (the old rate) for anyone who is unable to pay the new charge. This reduced rate will be available indefinitely. If you need to apply for the reduced rate, the contact person for the retreat will provide you with a form to complete and send to the Spirit Rock Center office.
2) For those who cannot pay the reduced rate, Spirit Rock Center makes available a deferred payment plan so that when extenuating circumstances dictate, you can attend a retreat and pay for it gradually over the next months. This is arranged through the contact person for the retreat.
3) We are starting a scholarship fund similar to that organized by IMS, to sponsor yogis with particular needs. If you would like to contribute to this fund, please contact the Spirit Rock Center office or send a donation to the office marked for the scholarship fund.
We hope that through these measures, retreats will continue to be available to anyone who wishes to attend, while at the same time we will create a financially stable and responsible foundation for Spirit Rock Center.
In early February, over 1,000 people joined together at San Francisco’s Fort Mason in a gathering of spirit led by a host of dharma favorites, including Ram Dass, Jack Kornfield, Joanna Macy, Fritjof Capra and Betsy Rose. Given the timing of the event, it became a forum for many of us to share feelings, thoughts, and strategies for dealing with the events in the Gulf. The presenters spoke both of depth of suffering in the world and the great capacity of the human heart for love, faith and healing. Through chanting, singing and movement, we acknowledged the pain while celebrating the joy of life; the weekend was unified through this theme. It was exhilarating and uplifting to be together with so many wonderful people to combine our energies and hearts, and at the same time to raise money for Spirit Rock Center. We have had much positive feedback about the event, and once our volunteers and staff recuperate, we may even consider holding a similar event next year. Our thanks go to the many people who helped to make the event such a success, especially all of the presenters, the organizers, Rick Klein and Anya Grange, and all of the volunteers.
We are very pleased to be hosting Thich Nhat Hahn at Spirit Rock on Sunday, May 5. Thây (Vietnamese for “teacher”) will lead a day of mindfulness, combining sitting, walking and eating meditation. The event will be held outdoors under a large tent. Practicing mindfulness brings peace, joy and liberation to ourselves, our families, our friends and our society. During this day of mindfulness, we sit in meditation together in the morning and the afternoon, walk mindfully outdoors, and share a meal in joyful awareness.
The proceeds from this event will be shared between Spirit Rock Center and the work of Thich Nhat Hahn and Sister Phuong with refugees all over the world. Young people are particularly encouraged to attend this event. His work with young adults over many years makes Thây an important resource for teenagers and post-teens. Thich Nhat Hahn knows the strengths of young people and understands the challenges they face. The event is sold out.
The Kalyana Mitra (spiritual friend) network was formed last fall and is now in full swing. Nine groups around the Bay Area, each led by a pair of experienced meditators, have been providing practice support and exploration to approximately seventy members of the community. The groups have different areas of interest—some focus primarily around cultivating mindfulness and deepening dharma understanding in everyday activities and situations, others have areas of interest such as communication, relationships, care-giving or social action in relation to practice. The group leaders meet with James Baraz. If you would like to be part of this network, or would like more information about the groups, please contact the Spirit Rock Center office.