Omega Institute—Empowering Women


“35 women leaders from across sectors gather at Omega’s 9th annual conference to inspire new models of leadership and power” was a line that was included in the information packet released by The Omega Institute of Holistic Studies, prior to the event. Though what it says is bold, and provocative, and perhaps something hard to believe, it’s absolutely true. I was there.

Under absolutely stunning blue skies, unseasonably warm weather, the Omega was host this past weekend to participants from around the country and the globe. In one class, Activism in Your Own Voice, guests had traveled from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Canada, New York City, Vermont, Missouri, and even one from Chile (though presently a student at a Manhattan college). The goal of the workshop, as co-host Marianne Schnall explains, was to, “build upon the themes of the overall conference and help women find their own voice, tap into their own inner ‘leader’ and discover their own personal pathway to creating change.” Those in attendance were asked to tell what drew them to this workshop, and how do you define ‘activism.’ There was a great deal of varied and personal answers. After the large group was broken down into three smaller ones, questions were posed for the group to brainstorm. “It was wonderful to see the energy, teamwork and friendship that just evolved naturally during the workshop and we all left feeling energized,” Marianne said.

The event was in the hands of caring moderators who in their own right are leaders in encouraging women to fulfill the call to action. Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer, and the founder and executive director of, a leading women’s website and nonprofit organization. For more than 15 years, has been fostering awareness, education, and activism for people all across the world. Her co-host Amy Richards has written numerous books on women and leadership, Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism (with Jennifer Baumgardner), and Manifesta: Young Women Feminism and the Future; her latest is Opting In: Having A Child Without Losing Yourself. She’s worked as a consultant to Gloria Steinem, Anna Deavere Smith and the Columbia School of Public Health.

On the other side of the Omega complex, a workshop moderated by Gail Straub — considered a pioneer in the field of empowerment — featured three remarkable women from Afghanistan, Darfur, and Cambodia. Each woman shared the horror she witnessed in her respective country, and each proved to be an extraordinary example of a woman deeply changed by her experience. Rather than cower in silence, each decided to speak out for her people. The conference, titled “Giving Voice to Trauma: Spiritual Surrender & Leadership,” focused on how we need to give a voice to some of the most painful parts of our lives. By doing so, we are released from its suffocating hold, in order for resilience, compassion, and strength to take its place.

After a brief Q & A, Straub invited each audience member to turn to her neighbor and start a dialog of sharing. By revealing to the person sitting next to us, one difficult time in our lives, we were given a head start in finding that “spiritual surrender.” She concluded with a hand-holding meditation where we wished each other well as we went on our own journey.

If I could say in one word what a trip to the Omega – for one day, or longer – means, I’d use the word, “balance.” Unfortunately, there’s little time for equality between our inner needs, and the demands of our days. A visit to The Omega – a very easy day trip, located just minutes outside of Rhinebeck – provides not only precious time to get to know ourselves again, but there are plenty of classes and encouragement for it to be a successful adventure. Everything you need is on the premises, and whether you want a busy day of activities, a relaxing day of spa treatments, or just to sit in an Adirondack chair and take in the beauty of the Hudson Valley, you couldn’t find a better place.

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