By Samantha Halitzer
Holistic centers are not only places of learning, but more essentially, they offer sustenance to the curious soul. If you’re someone who has pursued interests in spirituality, environmentalism, meditation & yoga, healthy living, and the creative arts, holistic centers offer rich resources & opportunities for skill development, self-exploration, and meaningful connections with other inquiring minds.
My personal journey with education has been dynamic, and I found myself feeling that my academic career was not substantial in supporting my growth as a whole person. When I discovered holistic centers and ecovillages, they fed something in me that I had not found in other academic arenas and workplaces.
Since 2008, I have been spending time in holistic centers around the world, most significantly at Omega Institute in New York’s Hudson Valley, the Findhorn Foundation in the Scottish Highlands, and Sirius Community in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. At these centers, I’ve explored questions such as, “What does it mean to be my truest self? What does it mean to co-create with nature? How do I learn healthy living practices? How do I feel more deeply connected to myself, and also to others?”
In the true spirit of holism, at these centers I have been able to dedicate my life, not only my work, to the pursuit of holistic living. Moreover, I am developing my personal network among these communities, and it is deeply gratifying to meet similarly curious people around the world. Residential programs are an excellent way to dip your toes into a community and discover if it a good fit for you. Following is a review and information about my experience with the residential programs at Omega, Findhorn, and Sirius.
Omega Institute is a learning center nestled in the Hudson Valley of New York. The residential staff experience is an incredible opportunity for anyone interested in exposure to the leading teachers & professionals in fields such as yoga, meditation, environmental studies, healthy living and the creative arts. The Omega season runs from May – October of every year, and come the end of April, seasonal staff start trickling onto campus forming a vibrant community. Staff work for the entirety of the season, and service volunteers come for shorter amounts of time. Not only are there copious opportunities to take part in retreats and events on campus, but a full class schedule is available specifically for staff on a daily basis. Residential life is particularly appealing to those in their 20’s as this age group makes up the largest demographic, though anyone with an open mind and a curious heart will thrive at Omega.
My personal experience with Omega has been dynamic and full. My journey began as a volunteer in 2011, and I still work with Omega on a freelance basis and as a practitioner in the Wellness Center when I am in New York. I have developed a network of life-long friends around the world and copious skills, such as a yoga practice, Reiki & other healing modalities, and sustainability & permaculture practices to name a few. It is a place where there are culturally rich opportunities constantly available. Most appealing is the ease at which world-renowned teachers meander through campus en route to teaching workshops & trainings. You may see Don Miguel Ruiz enjoying a tea in the cafe or Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa walking through the garden. Omega is a world rich with possibility, and an incredible place to learn.
The Findhorn Foundation is a holistic education center, spiritual community, and ecovillage situated in the mystical Scottish Highlands between two bodies of water. The location seems to lend itself to magic and the feeling is present both at The Park, which is the main center of the Foundation, as well as at Cluny Hill, a beautiful old building that serves as a residence hall for guests & residents alike. Findhorn is a place where nature is an active part of the experience. It is truly a treasure to experience the Findhorn gardens and the forest surrounding Cluny.
The residential journey begins with Experience Week, a program that introduces Findhorn rhythms and culture and is an opportunity for self-exploration, connection with the others and the world around us. One may then attend a Being in Community program followed by a month-by-month ongoing program, Living in Community. Each of these programs is a deepening into life at Findhorn, which may lead to the commitment as a member of staff. Though at Findhorn, there seems to be more than one way to do everything; finding your own path is part of the magic.
For me, Findhorn is the home within my heart and the place in which I found peace with the world around me. I feel the most magical aspect of Findhorn is the emphasis on inner listening and the process of attunement, the practice of consciously tapping into the interconnectedness of life. It may sound woo woo at the beginning, it definitely was for me when I arrived as a cynical New Yorker, but I have found attunement to be the most profound way to make decisions, and quite honestly, to live. For me, Findhorn is a place where my deep well of intuition can thrive.
Sirius is an ecovillage & community in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts in the United States. The community was founded by a group of Americans who had spent time living at Findhorn and wanted to teach what they’d experienced. With a definite emphasis on sustainability and hard work, there is still a quiet buzz of something mystical to be found at Sirius. Surrounded by the woods, the spiritual element of life is the foundation of the community, though experienced more quietly than at Findhorn. People are kind and connected to each other, though simultaneously fiercely independent. There’s a lovely combination of sharing regular meals together, and cooking in separate residences. Many people in the community enjoy regular meditation and are creative personalities. The residential program offers opportunities to work in various departments throughout the community, and take on jobs that need support. Tree work & building is a cornerstone of the community, though cooking & homecare are also essential.
While I’ve only been at Sirius during the winter, I have loved the snowy months, gathering around the wood-stove fireplaces for heat in the beautiful eco homes and sharing deep bonds with a small group of people. I have heard that the summer months are bustling, and there are many opportunities to learn about sustainable vegetable farming and permaculture. In fact, Sirius has some of the most beautiful compost toilets I’ve experienced. They are indoor toilets, and managed spectacularly, reminding me how possible it is to live both closely with nature, and comfortably.
My favorite part of Sirius is the stone circle nestled in the woods. It carries the memory of Bruce Davidson, one of the community’s founders who passed recently. His beautiful spirit lives on in the community and you can read about his journey in a book compiled of interviews with Bruce in the two years before his passing, Sirius: Growth in Community Through the Power of Spirit
Each holistic center has something special to offer, an essence all to its own. Like anything else in life, it’s about attuning to what’s right for you. All the best on your journey! Perhaps I’ll see you at a center somewhere on this big, interconnected earth.
Samantha Halitzer is passionate about holistic education, creative living, literature & spending time in the forest. She is currently Editor of Communications at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, after spending eight years working at Omega Institute in New York’s Hudson Valley. Samantha has also been involved with Sirius Community & Ecovillage, as well as the Valhalla Movement near Montreal.