Since its inception in 2003, the Garrison Institute has flourished under the influence of its unique geography and storied history.
The Garrison Institute was founded by Diana and Jonathan Rose and colleagues in a former Capuchin Monastery in Garrison, New York, an hour north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley. The Institute’s mission is “to apply the wisdom that arises from contemplation and insights derived from science to today’s pressing social and environmental issues to create a more compassionate, resilient future.”
In its first eight years, the Institute developed a series of ground-breaking programs. In 2004, the Institute launched its Initiative on Contemplation and Education, carrying out the first mapping of the emerging field of bringing contemplative practices to the field of Education, followed by symposiums, research, curriculum design and other activities that brought disparate elements together to form a recognized field. In 2005, the Institute launched the Women’s Wellness Project, a five-year pilot program, the first to apply the emerging science of trauma transference to the issues of burn out facing front line care givers in domestic violence shelters. This grew into the Institute’s signature program on Contemplative-Based Resilience (CBR) which has been used by humanitarian aid agencies around the world.
In 2008, the Institute’s Climate Mind and Behavior program brought together neuro and cognitive scientists who understood the deep nature of the mind with behavioral and social economists, environmentalists and sustainability officers to figure out how the behavioral sciences could be used to reduce climate impacts at the City level.
Each of these programs, and others, were carried out in partnership with leading University science centers, who view the Institute as an essential partner in translating their research into actionable programs, as well as practitioner networks, ranging from teachers to urban sustainability directors. This translational work was supported by a wide range of foundations, as well as individual donors.
At the same time, the Institute hosted deep retreats with great teachers from a wide variety of traditions, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who came three times, Father Thomas Keating, Rabbi Zalman Schechter, Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield and many others. The Institute was a leader in contemplative social justice, holding regular retreats for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community.
These signature Initiatives demonstrated the ways in which the deep reflection and contemplative work that happens inside the building extends into the wider world and society.
In 2012, the Institute founded The Garrison Institute International as a vehicle for its international programs, which at the time, was our CBR work with humanitarian organizations. This work has grown over the years, and now also includes work in compassionate leadership.
Throughout human history, people have created sacred places—whether they’re called monasteries, ashrams or vihars—where the spiritually inclined can withdraw from the world or society. These are places designed for profound thinking and deep reflection, where rich inner lives and wisdom are pursued over status and wealth.
These sacred places have also been centers for intellectual exploration. The first university in the world was originally a Buddhist vihara in India. The oldest existing, continually operating university in the world is the University of Al-Karaouine in Fez, established in 859 A.D. In Europe, the monasteries were used as models for the university system. And so many spiritual traditions have recognized the need for places of retreat, deep study, reflection and action as sources of societal resilience.
The Garrison Institute’s founders believed that the ancient wisdom cultivated inside these sacred places should not belong to the select few ready to renounce the world. Many monasteries had an outward role in the past—they were the places that preserved knowledge in their libraries, they healed the sick, and provided hospice—and they typically cultivated wisdom and taught compassion to the communites that they were part of. So monasteries were part of the world, too. In light of urgent environmental and social issues—from underperforming schools to climate change to humanitarian crises—the Institute’s founders reimagined the monastery as an incubator for ideas that would spread into the wider world.
Perched above the Hudson River about 50 miles north of New York City—on the east bank of the river across from West Point—the Garrison Institute is nestled in the hills of a landscape made famous in 19th century Hudson River School paintings.
The 93-acre area surrounding the Institute still looks like a Hudson River School painting today, but it might have been otherwise. Supporting the call of local conservationists, the Institute’s founders rescued what was then a run-down Capuchin monastery from destruction to make way for a proposed large-scale real estate development.
This would have been a tragic end for the site—formerly known as Glenclyffe, when it was the 19th century estate of New York Governor and U. S. Secretary of State Hamilton Fish—that has changed little since it was solely inhabited by the Wappinger Nation of Native Americans.
In 2001, the property was acquired by the Open Space Institute, which generously donated it to the newly formed not-for-profit, The Garrison Institute, which renovated the building, and opened its doors to the world in 2003.
Our current building is a renovated version of the 77,000 square foot stone and brick monastery and seminary built by the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Mary in 1923. Much of the architectural restoration is notable for what wasn’t changed. They tried to keep the essential character of the building—the light and the acoustics—the same.
To consecrate the revival of the building and grounds, extraordinary people were invited to bear witness. The Institute celebrated an auspicious beginning with newly appointed spiritual advisors—Gelek Rimpoche, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Father Thomas Keating. The opening ceremonies included music by Pete Seeger, Philip Glass and Christine McCall. His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited the Institute in the fall of 2003 and blessed it, saying that its work was to serve all people and to connect the insights of wisdom traditions with the challenges of
civil society and the environment.
Building a More Compassionate, Resilient Future
As we look forward to how our thinking and approach to global problems might evolve, we envision more events outside of the Institute to broaden our reach, deepening the work of Signature Programs and developing new ones, and creating meaningful and authentic digital content that can help us build a wider and more vibrant community.