Mountain Stream Meditation/Nevada City Insight Center: A balm for the soul |

Mountain Stream Meditation/Nevada City Insight Center: A balm for the soul

Nicolas Federspiel, Mary Hellen Fein, Marcia Craighead, Delaney Sherr and Christy Sherr meditate during the Family Practice Program at Mountain Stream Meditation in Nevada City Sunday morning.
Laura Mahaffy/ | The Union

Mountain Stream Meditation/Nevada City Insight Center

710 Zion St., Nevada City


Just down the street from the constant chaos of a busy grocery store and three Nevada City schools, sits a quiet gem set back from the endless flow of Zion Street traffic. A hurried passerby might assume the large, well-landscaped parcel — boasting a 1949 brick ranch-style home — was just another large family residence. But a peek out back is the first clue that the property offers something very different.

An impeccably designed 42-foot-wide circular labyrinth — taken from the design used in Chartres Cathedral in France — is there for those seeking a meditative stroll, winding slowly around nine rings to the center and back out.

In the year 1220, the walk of 1,100 feet at the French cathedral was thought to represent the long journey of a pilgrim. Various types of labyrinths, however, have been found throughout history in many cultures and traditions. Today, walking along a peaceful maze-like path is considered a practice that clears the cluttered mind and offers reflection and insight.

For this reason, the Nevada City labyrinth seems to serve as a metaphor for the grounds on which it sits, the dually named Mountain Stream Meditation/Nevada City Insight Center. Considered a gathering place for the Buddhist community in the Northern Sierra foothills, the spacious center offers a place for people to come for meditation instruction, practice and a sense of community, said executive director Marcia Craighead. The center offers regular events, such as study groups, group meditation, “open temple,” retreats, potlucks, a library and ongoing activities for all ages.

Founding teacher John Travis has been a student of meditation since 1969 and has since received many years of training with Buddhist masters throughout Asia. In 1970, he began studying the “vipassana” tradition of Buddhism, on which the teachings at Mountain Stream are based. Thought to calm and concentrate the mind, vipassana is considered to be one of India’s most ancient Buddhist meditation techniques. The word itself is often translated as “insight” or “clear-seeing.”

In 1986, Travis began teaching small weekly meditation groups and daylong retreats in various homes and venues throughout Nevada City, and in the mid-1990s Mountain Stream Meditation established itself as a nonprofit. In 2011, a donor came forward to make a meditation center a reality; after more than a year of renovations, the Nevada City Insight Center opened in January 2013, home to Mountain Stream Meditation. At last, long-time students and teachers, such as well-known instructor Heather Sundberg, could enjoy a peaceful setting solely designated to their practice.

“For me, Mountain Stream provides a real place to come to — the Nevada City Insight Center — where I can reflect and renew a personal perspective in a busy life, in a busy world,” said Susan Solinksy, who lives just outside of Nevada City and his been involved with Mountain Stream for 16 years. “It is a constant resource, whether I’m in the midst of a good day or not such a good day and remind myself to be present to how life is now.

“In the larger view, the Insight Center on Zion Street provides a calm setting in the middle of all our stressful lives,” she continued. “It’s a respite, both mentally and physically, where there’s nothing to do and no place to go for a few moments, which can be very revitalizing and healthy.”

Over the past decade, Travis’ spiritual quests have been ongoing. He has led pilgrimage trips to sacred Buddhist sites in India, Tibet and Nepal. In 2006, he took an extended trip to Asia, where he spent time with the Dalai Lama and went into solitary retreat in the caves of the mountainous Ladakh, India. In 2010, he went back to Asia, where he spent seven months studying with Buddhist teachers in India, Thailand and Nepal. And all of Travis’ experiences serve to enrich the experience at the center, said Craighead.

“Travis is now in his 70s … He was a carpenter who moved here decades ago because Gary Snyder lived here,” she said. “Today, there are more than 300 people who take advantage of the Insight Center. We’ve taken a 2,500-year-old practice and been able to translate it into the here and now.”

The purpose statement of Mountain Stream Meditation/Nevada City Insight Center is straightforward: “to offer the heart and depth of the Buddha’s teachings, for all beings, to ease suffering and awaken to compassion and joy.”

“It’s as simple as that,” said Craighead. “Our intention always comes back to this.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User