Come spring, I get antsy. No, it's not the warmer weather I'm dying to experience. It's the arrival of the Omega Institute's
amazing summer program catalog. Recently shipped in all its glory to 430,000 mailboxes, this year's 120-page booklet contains descriptions of 300 three-to-five-day "wellness" seminars offered from April through October at Omega's lush, organically fertilized campus in Rhinebeck, New York. Set on 80 acres of the Hudson River Valley, Omega is a spiritual summer camp for grown-ups who want to eat whole foods, breathe deeply, try a new kind of massage or bodywork, and rub shoulders (tap yoga mats?) with marvelous artists, therapists, counselors, and spiritual teachers from Tibet and India as well as the wilds of New York, San Francisco or L.A.
At Omega, you can choose dormitory, campground or private cabin setting, get up at dawn for yoga or meditation, try Tai Chi by the lake, drink miso for breakfast (in itself a revelation) and eat millet bread to your heart's content.
When Omega launched in 1977, the idea of "mindful" living was still alien to most people. But the world has changed. The world is STILL changing: PBS uses spiritual trainers on air to stimulate donations, corporations are requesting health insurance that covers alternative approaches, and many more people are at least saying they'd like to meditate if only they could find the time. Omega's founders would never claim they caused any of this, but for more than twenty years they have been feeding a mighty river, offering respite and enlightened education to one stressed-out person at a time.
Omega's 2003 summer season promises to be especially intense. Among the offerings: Author Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, designer Eileen Fisher and Eve Ensler of "Vagina Monologues" fame teach a three-day conference called "Women and Power: Bringing Balance to the World." Lama Surya Das teaches "Letting Go of Who You Used to Be." Actor Alan Arkin teaches theatric improvisation. Later in the season, Ram Dass, Buddhist author Sharon Saltzberg, and Krishna Das lead "Surrendering to the Moment: A Gathering of Hearts."
You get the idea.
Sadly, Eckhart Tolle's "Power of Now" meditation retreat is already wait listed.
New to Omega this year are faculty members Ralph Nader and Robert Kennedy, Jr., who will lead a three-day conference on water and the environment. Deepak Chopra and Sam Keen show up in July to teach "How to Know God" and "Christianity Revisited" respectively. Workshops that infuse tennis and basketball with spiritual meaning are also popular features.
There's a family week when parents can come to take their own workshops while their school-aged children can enroll in their own kid's camps with names like "Adventure Game Theater" and "Little Forest People." Don't be surprised if the child you left in the morning, is freer, more spontaneous and expressive than the kid you dropped off. The day care for younger ones, which we've used in the past, is sublime. Omega's store crammed with books, drums, essential oils and tropical attire is almost worth the trip in itself.
In the large community dining hall, one can find a space to be alone to read or join in a heated dialogue about the merits of soy products or George Bush's politics. The meals are meatless, of course, hearty, varied and marvelous. Traditional recreational activities like boating, walking, tennis and swimming are available, but I've always found it difficult to find time to explore those possibilities. Up a forest hill, there's a beautifully designed sanctuary for meditation and private worship. As you walk, spiritual sustenance is offered in the form of babbling forest streams, rock formations, and fountains among the ferns.
I remember the last time I was in blissful residence at Omega, attending a Qigong workshop with Roger Jahnke while my husband Steve studied the world's religions with the saintly Huston Smith. After dinner one evening, I turned to Steve and gushed, "Everything is beautiful here. Even the signs that label the women's room are beautiful." And it's true. During that same trip, Sharon Olds was leading a poetry writing seminar that prompted a full campus evening recitation of people's all-time favorite and most inspiring poems. Huston Smith read a Rudyard Kipling piece I just adored and am still working to find. To be with warm and like-minded strangers in that perfect moment filled me with happiness. It was a moment of good humor and supreme connectedness that I'll treasure for the rest of my life.
If, as Buddhists say, desire is the source of all suffering, then I've got a problem. I ardently desire to make time for a restorative trip to Omega every year.