Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Spirit Rock Mediation Center #

  • Name of the Center: Spirit Rock Meditation Center
  • Address: 5000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd Woodacre, CA 94973
  • Website: www.spiritrock.org
  • Phone Number: (415) 488-0164
  • Tradition(s): Insight Meditation / Theravada
  • Technique(s): Insight Meditation, metta, concentration practice, more formless practices, and occasional yoga and qi-gong in addition to the above.
  • Teacher(s): Over 20 core teachers at Spirit Rock, led most notably by Jack Kornfield. Many more than 20 teachers teach there throughout the year. On long retreat, a month or more, you are assigned to two teachers. You will meet for about 15 minutes with one, then two days later the other one, they alternate. They take notes and discuss your practice as a team. I don't know how they do it on shorter retreats.
  • Orientation: They have a process for when you first get there, to check-in and sign up for a work task or bell ringing. There is an assigned time to all meet in the eating hall where they fill you in on all the details of being there, i.e. lining up for meals, answer any questions, etc. They have already thought through many issues, this place runs like a well oiled machine.
  • Cost: on the pricier side of insight meditation centers, with a week-long retreat costing between $75 - $120 / night. Cost is on a sliding scale and many scholarships are available.
  • Housing: Housing is in one of 4 residential dormitories (each one named after one of the brahma viharas...), with a mix of single dorms and double bedrooms. Although they have a plan to work toward having only single rooms for everyone in the coming years.The beds are single mattress on a wooden platform. The rooms have carpet, and usually a sink in each room. If you are not doing the entire two month retreat you may have to share a room. They have excellent handicapped accessibility. The bathrooms are large and tiled. I never had to wait to use the shower, before the dharma talk in the evening there would be a line for the womens toilets next to the hall. All of the facilities are very clean and nice.
  • Schedule: There is a full year-round schedule here consisting of many day-long activities, many 5-9 day retreats, and the longer 2-month retreat which is taught each spring (February thru March).
  • Entrance Requirements: Most all of the retreats and events don't have any entrance requirements, except the 2-month course which requires that you have done a minimum of two seven day retreats.
  • Food: Food is all vegetarian, and generally includes a variety of international dishes. Three meals are served, but the 3rd meal is fairly light with soup and salad. They have a filtered water system so you can refill your water bottle. The meals are prepared on the blander side so all can enjoy even if they have sensitive stomache or palate. They have a condiments tray for you to add spices to suit your own palate. For those with food allergies, they have a separate refrigerator so you can store any special dietary needs. For gluten free, they set aside an area and offer gluten free alternatives, and simple dishes. All of the food was served hot and very fresh. There is a toaster oven if you need to warm something. There is a filtered hot water system for making your own tea or hot drinks. After eating you just bus your dishes, and can leave the eating hall.
  • Setting: Spirit Rock is a 45 minute drive north of San Francisco in Marin County and is in a fairly secluded plot of land in the rolling hills of Marin County. It is very quiet there. In March, 2009 cost for a taxi from downtown San Fran was $70.00. They have an active carpooling system that is also an option. At the end of the retreat, they do facilitate carpooling and sharing taxis to the airport(s).
  • Facilities: As well as the 4 housing dorms, there is also a large meditation building, that includes the meditation hall (big enough to fit around 100 meditators), 2 walking rooms, and a large foyer with space for shoes. There is also a dining hall at the bottom of the hill, and outside the silent retreat space is a large bookstore and community meditation hall where on-going events are conducted.
  • Size: Spirit Rock is fairly large and can accommodate a large retreat of 80 or more people as well as a smaller retreat (in the community meditation hall) at the same time.
  • Clothing Restrictions: None
  • Openness around sitting: They have about a dozen backjacks available for use. They have comfortable chairs without arms for sitting in the back area of the hall. They have a lot of cushions for sitting. You can take your sit or walking meditation outside. There are benches outside in various places along paths or trails that you can use for sitting.Some folks need to do reclining when they meditate, and there is space for them to do this. Also, you can meditate in your room if you like. It is best to try and be at the 8:15 sit with the group in case there are any announcements from the teachers at the end of the sit.
  • Etiquette: Etiquette is based on the 5-precepts and noble silence.
  • Issues of Rites and Rituals: There is some bowing that goes on here, but it's much more loose than most retreat centers. Jack Kornfield, the head teacher, intentionally doesn't bow and wants people to feel comfortable without any particular rites or rituals.
  • Openness of Discussion: While I was there I found the discussion with many of the teachers to be very open during interview periods. Several of my teacher spoke openly about the progress of insight and the stages of enlightenment. What I found is that the teachers will accept you where you are at, they are versatile. If you are practicing a certain way, they will accept that and gently move with you along that path. They respond to what you bring to them and work with what you are doing. So, it is also important to be assertive and let them know what you really want.
  • Conduciveness to Practice: Spirit Rock, if you can afford it, is one of the best places I've found to practice insight meditation in the United States, and has some of the most well-rounded, flexible, and developed teachers I've encountered.
  • Openness about Hardcore Practice:
    • From Vince: The teachers I spoke with were extremely open to talking about Hardcore practice. These included Guy Armstrong, Howie Cohn, John Travis, and Jack Kornfield.
    • From CCasey: I worked with Trudy Goodman, Gil Fronsdale, and John Travis, all excellent.
  • Problems?: The only problem I would mention, when sitting with Jack, is that he has a bit of a groupie following that can be kind of annoying. This was more apparent at a shorter retreat (9 days) where people were coming up to him after the dharma talk to have him sign their books (wtf guys!?). There is also a super-strong boomer mentality at these retreats, that fortunately because it is silent doesn't become too irritating. There was also an interesting phenomena where with the more loose teachers people would be a little bit more sloppy in their discipline and sometimes a lot more noisy and occasionally annoying. This wasn't a big problem for me, but could be for people that are into a more strict mode of practice where they expect everyone around them to be in a similar mode.
  • Schedule for the long retreats:
    • 5:00 Wake-up Bell
    • 5:30 Sitting Meditation or Qigong/sit in upper meditation hall
    • 6:30 Breakfast
    • 7:15 Work/Walking Meditation
    • 8:15 Sitting Meditation (sometimes with instructions)
    • 9:15 Walking Meditation
    • 10:00 Sitting Meditation
    • 10:45 Walking Meditation
    • 11:30 Sitting Meditation
    • 12:15 Lunch
    • 2:00 Sitting Meditation
    • 2:30 Walking Meditation or Qigong
    • 3:15 Sitting Meditation
    • 4:00 Walking Meditation
    • 4:30 Sitting Meditation (sometimes w/Brahma Vihara Instructions)
    • 5:15 Evening Meal
    • 6:30 Sitting Meditation
    • 7:15 Walking Meditation
    • 7:30 Dharma Talk
    • 8:30 Walking Meditation
    • 9:00 Sitting Meditation/Evening Chanting
    • 9:40 Sleep or further practice
    • Bells
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