If today’s younger San Francisco embodies the task-oriented gentrification of tech-obsessed workers thriving on cyber business and the startup lifestyle, then the older San Francisco is often described as a historical meditative place in the heart of the 1960s Bohemian counterculture. While this perceived cultural binary continues to be debated and extracted politically by the media, as many older residents experience abrupt evictions at the hands of emerging tech companies looking to buy up real estate, subcultures of the old San Francisco are still very much alive and visible. The most distinguishable are the scenic meditation retreats just outside the city limits, most of which were established during the Love Generation. These sacred places continue to offer guests and spiritual seekers the space to reconnect with the higher aspects of their own being.
In the heart of Napa Valley Wine Country, 1 hour, 20 minutes outside of the city, Mayacamas Ranch represents the bridge between the fast-paced corporate San Francisco and the meditation-oriented spiritual path. Fortune 500 corporations like Apple, eBay and Oracle regularly hold meetings and wellness retreats there for their employees. The luxurious yoga studios stocked with props and state-of-the-art lodging facilities offer panoramic views of the countryside and include massage rooms and a heated pool and hot tub, with nearby hiking trails for adventurous nature lovers. The lodging areas set the mood for group creativity with cozy fireplaces, skylights, hardwood floors and a garden room with a fountain ideal for contemplation among vibrant blooming vegetables and plants.
Spirit Rock, a Buddhist meditation center, emphasizes the spiritual brilliance of what its teachers call “insight meditation”: the practice of focusing on bodily sensations and mental events with the intention of gaining insight into reality and higher levels of consciousness. Representative as a kind of living mandala, throughout the years Spirit Rock has continued to host a packed program schedule year round. Clinical psychologist and Buddhist Leader Jack Kornfield, who trained in the monasteries of India, Thailand and Burma before founding Spirit Rock, continues to inspire a culture of love and appreciation for all aspects of life. In the larger American culture of stress-inducing consumerism, materialism offers people addictions to satisfy that inner void, whether drugs and alcohol or excessive shopping. As a response, Kornfield invites spiritual seekers of all ages to “let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.”
Surrounded by 72 acres of breathtaking meditation gardens stands the Ananda Meditation Retreat. The beautiful scenery is the perfect backdrop for the silent retreats, intended to still the mind and rejuvenate the spirit. The elements involved in such an experience include learning basic meditation techniques as well as learning gentle yoga poses to release stress and tension in the body. During retreats, teachers are present to guide visitors of the art and science of prayer and meditation and nature exercises to open their hearts. The Seva (serving) Yoga program offers beginners a form of yoga that emphasizes the nature of giving as a way of experiencing collective enlightenment via spiritual togetherness and integration.
Ananda Village, where The Expanding Light Retreat is located, happens to be one of the most highly respected spiritual villages in the world. Situated on approximately 700 acres, the community is dedicated to the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and was founded by his direct disciple, Yogi Swami Kriyananda. With 200 residents living on this peaceful land in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California, the environment and collective intention of living a spiritual life is evident in the town’s quaint simplicity. A personal retreat in such a setting is memorable. Many visitors enjoy the homestyle vegetarian cooking onsite, garden walks to the nearby Crystal Hermitage, and daily guided yoga sessions, energizing exercises and meditation.
Behold the power of valley sounds rising from the natural hot springs of Tassajara Creek. Word has it that the hot springs at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center have been developed into Japanese-style public outdoor baths called Onsens. The 126-acre mountain property was purchased in 1967 by the San Francisco Zen Center, which built it into the oldest Japanese Buddhist Soto Zen monastery in the United States. Tassajara Zen Mountain Center invites guests to step away from busy lives in order to reconnect with their being between April 8-Sept. 11. The Center is isolated within the Ventana wilderness, more than 16 miles from the nearest paved road and only accessible via a very narrow, steep, one-lane dirt road. Various programs within the Center actively reach out to the community, helping prisoners, the homeless, and those in recovery; protecting the environment; and working for peace. Founder Suzuki Roshi’s disciples and students of his disciples lead dharma groups around the country.
In the remote back roads of Solano County, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, dwells the little Silent Stay Retreat Center. Spiritual psychologists, authors, teachers of world religions and founders Ruth and Bruce Davis established this non-profit in 1986 with the intention of supporting all people who wish to promote inner peace. During retreats, guests enjoy habitual morning and evening meditation guides that teach calmness. In the afternoons, guest may roam the spacious, European-style grounds past bright green gardens with time to rest, walk, read, meditate, journal, or just be free of technology and other external responsibilities. The vast mountainside scenery, with its rolling vistas, signifies the kind of expansiveness inherent in all beings. In this silent, breathtaking setting, individuals are encouraged to truly receive what is. As Ruth Davis says, “Silence is the universal language of the heart.”