It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, yet it’s less than a two-hour drive from midtown Manhattan. Almost two-hundred acres, it is nestled in the rural countryside of Dutchess County, surrounded by pastures and rolling hills. It’s The Omega Institute, a “camp” for enlightenment, wellness, and peace. A little bit of heaven, with your shoes off.
This past weekend, the institute hosted its eighth annual women’s conference, “Woman & Power: Connecting Across the Generations.” The theme was easily summed up by panelists Angela Hucles (leading scorer on the 2008 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic soccer team) and Jessica Mendoza (gold and silver medalist with the U.S. Olympic softball team), when they said power was “feeling comfortable with your body, being comfortable in who you are, and taking yourself as far as you can go.”
The three-day conference featured speakers Gloria Steinem, Helen Thomas (longtime AP correspondent, in photo top right, with Pat Mitchell, president of the Paley Center), Natalie Merchant, Isabel Allende, and other “groundbreaking” women whose influence spans several generations.
“For the past seven years, Omega’s annual women’s conference has facilitated important conversations among women from all corners of the globe and all walks of life — ranging from some of the world’s most powerful women, to some of the most disadvantaged,” said Carla Goldstein, the Women’s Institute at Omega Director. The intention this year was to “build bridges and provide empowering perspectives and tools for making a difference in one’s home, workplace, community and our shared world.” Workshops emphasized this theme, with topics like “7 Strengths We Inherit from Our Mothers & Grandmothers,” “Blogging Demystified,” “Orchestrating our Lives: Work, Home and Self-Care,” “The New Sisterhood: Stabilizing an Insecure World,” and more.
On this rainy Saturday, spirits were not dampened, but in fact, heightened by being on the grounds of Omega. Like-minded women passed each other with a smile and a greeting; some dressed in an international style, something from Africa, perhaps. There were all ages, from seniors on down to women in their early twenties. And over 400 women participated, with some men along for the ride. It was a busy afternoon. Adirondack chairs were set beside the gardens, a labyrinth laid out on a mound next to the theatre for meditative walks, while lily pads floated aimlessly in creeks and ponds. At every turn, an idyllic scene.
“Blogging Demystified,” held in the Omega Café, was crowded, underlining the popularity of this new form of communication. Representatives from Feministing.com were on hand to discuss how they make blogging work in their lives. The attendees were divided into two groups—those who already have a blog and those who hope to start one. The general consensus was that blogs should not be general, but should find a “niche.”
The seminar called “Sancutary,” had a different feel. Located in a high spot, requiring a pleasant climb up stone steps, the message conveyed was a spiritual one. The number of shoes left at the front door, indicated the session’s popularity. The building felt warm, like entering a sauna, although there was no apparent source of the heat. The group had comfortably settled themselves on the carpet, some stretched out on their stomachs, others leaning against pillows. Yet everyone was hard at work drawing or writing. Moderator Gail Straub led this introspective workshop on “Practices for Sustaining & Passing On Our Feminine Wisdom,” and asked the audience to consider the “sacred quartet of silence, simplicity, solitude and slowness.” Participants spent the time with eyes closed, taking in her soothing voice and the spirit of camaraderie while a CD played soft flute music.
At 6 p.m., guests were invited to the dining hall for a shared meal, and at the Omega, it’s cooked in a supersized kitchen. Large tables of ten surrounded the buffet counters, generously filled with natural and organic choices. At every table, conversation flowed. One woman noted that the program “Stabilizing an Insecure World,” inspired her to “believe that just one person can make a difference,” adding that “We have technology on our side.”
Even for those who could not spend the entire day at the conference, just a few hours at the Omega is terrific for the soul. It truly is an escape, a place to rejuvenate away from the demands of a New Yorker’s 24/7 lifestyle.
A glance at the upcoming workshops at Omega include “Listen: Trusting Your Inner Voice in Times of Crises,” “Meditation for Beginners,” “The Actor’s Process: Creating on the Edge,” “The Art of Leadership,” “Seeking the Decisive Moment in Photography.” While the choices vary in subject matter, all have a common denominator: seeking the divine in all we do. Whether it is attending a class, learning to calm our bodies, reaching deep into ourselves to find wisdom, choosing to become more involved in world affairs, or even having a great dinner with new friends, the goal is to make the experience worthwhile.
Founded in 1977, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is a nonprofit organization, offering diverse and innovative educational experiences to inspire “an integrated approach to personal and social change. It’s website is eOmega.org
Note: The Omega Institute is partnering with United Breast Cancer Foundation to offer scholarships to women who have had breast cancer within the past five years. The Institute offers an outstanding selection of programs on wellness and personal growth. Anyone wishing more information can log on to eOmega.org/scholarships, or call 845- 266-4444, ext. 134.
MJ Hanley-Goff is editing a follow-up to her first novel, The Bench. She’s taught classes in freelance writing, and is a founding partner of “Women For Women,” an organization inspiring women to pursue their passion. Visit her online journal, mjwrites.net She also muses about entrepreneurial topics at www.WomenForWomenSite.com