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Mindful Meetings at Retreat Centers

The highlight of your next meeting may be a mediation session.

Known for their remote locations and scenic settings, retreat centers offer the best of two worlds: well-equipped spaces for meetings large to small, along with the kind of serenity that’s difficult to find almost anywhere else. That’s because the best of them tend to be the result of a spiritual community’s decision to host conferences as a way of not only raising funds for their mission but also promoting personal growth.

Whether they are based in Christian religions, Eastern philosophies or other faiths or ideologies, a wealth of retreats across the country welcome groups of all creeds, offering programs and facilities quite unlike conference hotels and convention centers.

Mount Madonna Center

Watsonville, California

Sure, Mount Madonna has typical meeting spaces, including a meeting hall capable of holding 500 with full audiovisual equipment and two breakout spaces, and the Orchard House, which can accommodate 30 people. But those aren’t the only places groups can gather.

“The ambiance of this place is amazing,” said David Vishwamitra Prisk, director of guest services. “We’ve got a small lake that you can swim in and trails through 385 acres of redwood forest and meadow. We even have outdoor meeting areas, so even if you’re in a corporate meeting you can be outside overlooking the Monterey Bay.”

Founded four decades ago as a community inspired by the teachings of master yogi Baba Hari Dass, the center can accommodate about 90 overnight guests and features a Vedic temple where ceremonies of light are performed each morning and night. It also offers yoga and meditation programs to meeting-goers, which can bring great rewards.

“If you do yoga practices in the morning, you can go and meet your colleagues with a more concentrated mind,” Prisk said. “They provide you with an equanimity and way to ultimately achieve peace. And peace doesn’t mean inactivity. You’ll remain at peace through whatever your activity is. It provides a calmer, more concentrated mind, so you’ll be able to make better decisions.”

The center is currently closed due to COVID-19 but will reopen in February.

Center of Renewal Retreat and Conference Center

Stella Niagara, New York

Tucked away on 100 acres, the Center of Renewal Retreat and Conference Center sits adjacent to 30 additional acres that once belonged to the Sisters of St. Francis, the order that sponsors it. The Niagara River runs along that property, and a century-old chapel perches alongside the rushing water. It entices many meeting-goers to sit for a spell, letting the serenity found there soothe their stressed psyches. It’s much the same throughout the rest of the center.

“People have a tendency to slow down while they’re here,” said the center’s executive director, Nancy Askins. “I used to work at hotels, so I have nothing against a resort environment, but that’s not who we are. At the end of the evening, we’re not going to gather around a bar to hang out. We have beautiful outside areas where people can go on walks. There’s a calmness that’s different than if you’re going to a big resort. When you’re here, you’re focused on whatever it is that are the goals of your group.”

The Center of Renewal has room for about 90 overnight guests. Meeting spaces include a large conference room that can seat 100, which is connected to a chapel meeting room able to accommodate 45. Special programming can include workshops on various topics in workplace spirituality, organizational and leadership development and mission integration.

Shambhala Mountain Center

Red Feather Lakes, Colorado

People come from far and wide to see the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya — and it’s no wonder. A traditional Tibetan Buddhist monument said to bring enlightenment, the stupa rises more than 100 feet from the valley in the Rocky Mountains that surrounds it. Awesome in the best sense of the word, the Great Stupa is perhaps the finest example of sacred Buddhist architecture in the country. But it’s not the only reason people flock to its home, the Shambhala Mountain Center.

Encompassing some 600 acres, the center welcomes meetings with lodging that can serve 400 in the summer with the addition of cabin tents and about 140 in the winter. Conference facilities range from the 1,600-square-foot Sacred Studies Hall, with room for 150, to the 600-square-foot Great Eastern Sun room, which provides seating for 45. Special programming options for groups include yoga and meditation instruction.

It all adds up to a special retreat, said Shambhala’s rental developer, Faith Killough. “What we find is that the beauty of the land and spirit of the place helps people awaken up to their own wisdom,” she said. “There’s both a peacefulness and a kind of wakefulness here that allows people to connect more deeply to themselves, each other and whatever they’re doing.”

The center is currently closed to most groups due to COVID-19 but will reopen in 2021.

Mercy Conference and Retreat Center

St. Louis, Missouri

When meeting-goers first arrive at the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center, they immediately experience a sense of peace, according to executive director Dawn Stringfield.

That’s partly because of the tranquil nature of the center’s 72-acre campus, which is certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a nature refuge. The grounds offer a walking trail and an outdoor labyrinth, as well as a stained-glass chapel-in-the-round. Capable of seating 300, it’s evidence of the Sisters of Mercy sponsorship of the center, which also accounts for the property’s halcyon feeling.

“There’s a different, spiritual element to this space,” Stringfield said. “We have programming more on the spiritual side, so there’s access to spiritual directors, and there’s some massage therapy, or healing touch resources, on-site. If a group needs someone to facilitate a strategic-planning session or a presentation on mindfulness, we also have the capacity to do that. That’s not something that most conference centers or corporate hotels do. In some respects, we’re like a spiritual hotel — and so much more.”

About 90 guests can lodge with the Mercy Conference and Retreat Center, which features five meeting rooms, including an auditorium with a 200-person capacity, and audiovisual equipment like a large screen and handheld and lavalier microphones.

Art of Living Retreat Center

Boone, North Carolina

Resting atop a remote summit in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Art of Living Retreat Center provides conferences an excellent learning environment in a multitude of ways — and that includes the arrangement of the buildings themselves.

“It was designed on the principles of vastu shastra, the art of placement to enhance harmony,” said Kimberly Rossi, the center’s director of business development. “The dynamic of it supports bonding, community and processing. And the center also fosters team spirit through bonfires, labyrinths, hiking trails, yoga classes and meditation. So the extracurricular activities support the meeting’s purpose, too.”

Retreats at the center can help heal mind, body and spirit thanks also to a spectacular wellness spa and a dining room that doesn’t serve meat or processed food. Instead of a heavy meal and alcohol, meeting-goers eat “clean” nutritious fare with the goal of “improving performance, communication and creativity,” Rossi said.

The Art of Living Retreat Center offers accommodations for as many as 1,000 and can seat double that in the 17,500-square-foot Main Hall, which also provides advanced audiovisuals. Four smaller halls each have room for 279 seated, and the 5,000-square-foot Shakti Hall can welcome 315 for a seated event.

The center is currently closed due to COVID-19 but will reopen in March.