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My Personal Retreat at Stillheart Institute

It’s amazing what a 24-hour retreat can do for the soul. For my birthday, I booked a personal retreat at Stillheart Institute in Woodside, CA just 45 minutes south of San Francisco. I had one of the most unusual and memorable birthdays of my life.

Stillheart, a 16-acre sanctuary deep in the redwood forest, is the vision of founder and president, Joan Porter. She conceived this “sanctuary for humanity” ten years ago as a place to “energetically support people who are working hard to meet the challenges of the day.” She invites guests to use it in the way that serves them best, and most importantly “to allow the natural beauty of Stillheart to support their natural beauty—the natural beauty that may have been pushed aside to make it in the world.”

My husband and I arrived on the afternoon of my birthday and spent 24 hours enjoying the beautiful lodge and surrounding forest. We left the following afternoon relaxed and refreshed, as if we’d been away for days.

I enjoyed myself so much that I want to return every season and see what changes nature brings. There is beauty everywhere you look, both inside the lodge and outside in the Redwoods. We stayed in a “Tree House” room and felt as if we were actually in one. There are no shades on the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the forest and the rooms have radiant heat encouraging bare feet. A carved wood sign on the window ledge reminds visitors to RELAX. And we did!

We sat in the library and perused the large eclectic collection of books, mesmerized by the wall-size blue stained-glass window. I danced around the Great Room while my husband improvised a melody on the grand piano. We cooked my birthday dinner in the large professional kitchen, imagining we were Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. We soaked in the hot tub, dried off in the sauna, and slept peacefully in the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in.

The next morning we awoke to a mist shrouding the trees. I did yoga with Ann Dannelly, Stillheart’s program and events manager, in the creative expressions room. Just outside is a waterfall and a little further is an enormous tree stump with a sign reading: Woody’s Diner posted on the top. It’s the favorite hangout for all the acorn woodpeckers.

I walked the labyrinth and hiked every step of the lower loop falls trail finding all kinds of surprises at each turn.

At the entrance to the lodge a whimsical trail of stones beckons you to the entry. Each stone has a word written on it that asks: How-far-down-the-rabbit-hole-are-you-willing-to-go? They reminded me of those Burma Shave signs you used to see on the highway.

Now that I’ve completed my retreat I can tell you I went a nice long way down the rabbit hole and can’t wait to return and go deeper.

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