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Natural Awakenings Richmond

The Butterfly Emerges at Chrysalis Institute

May 01, 2014 11:18PM ● By Lauressa Nelson

Vicki Saunders, Martha Tyler, Priscilla Burbank

“We are building a first-class organization to feed the souls of Richmond,” says Vicki Saunders, president-elect and program chair for Chrysalis Institute, a Richmond learning center that inspires people pursuing personal transformation and spiritual growth beyond the conventional boundaries of any single faith or belief system. The institute encourages the study of insights and practices drawn from all of the world’s spiritual traditions and philosophies, as well as contemporary science.

In October 2013, Chrysalis Group changed its name to Chrysalis Institute, reflecting the organization’s shift from a supportive gathering place for independent spiritual exploration to a bigger resource for learning and building community to encourage spiritual growth.

“As we reevaluated the organization in 2013, we recognized three distinguishing features about Chrysalis,” remarks Saunders. “One, we do not espouse any single belief system; instead, we encourage everyone to define their own spiritual path. Two, we have a real interest in the connection between science and spirituality, from brain research to quantum physics. Three, we have no bias toward any one type of spiritual seeker.”

“People with a spiritual yearning find a home in Chrysalis, as do individuals interested in personal development and finding meaning in their lives,” Saunders explains. “At one point, we kind of thought of ourselves as a fringe group; but now, more than a third of the people in the U.S. no longer identify with a particular church and a growing number, especially those under the age of 30, consider themselves spiritual but not religious. We offer programs and a community for these people.”

“Many are involved in a traditional religion; however, they are interested in learning about non-denominational spiritual practices, such as meditation or intuitive painting, that provide experiential techniques to become present and experience a spiritual moment,” notes Priscilla Burbank, the institute’s 2013-2014 president, in the role since 2010. Practice groups scheduled on a monthly or weekly basis include journaling, Reiki exchange, Shamanic drum circles and Nia sensory-based movement.

Chrysalis Institute hosts a majority of its events, classes and workshops at the Gathering Space, located at 3527 Ellwood Avenue. For larger events, Chrysalis collaborates with other venues. The institute uses The Clearing, a secluded spiritual retreat center located on 75 wooded acres in Amelia County, for Ember Days, quarterly silent day retreats intended to nurture the soul’s embers with reflection, journaling, walking and reading.

The Labyrinth, a walking meditation space comprised of concentric circles that weave the walker toward the center while facilitating quiet contemplation, is located at the corner of Loxley Road and Westwood Avenue on the grounds of Union Presbyterian Seminary. Open to the public during daylight hours year-round, the Labyrinth is also the site of several Chrysalis-sponsored walks throughout the year, such as solstice, equinox and World Labyrinth Day.

Chrysalis Institute RichmondSemi-annual themes lend structure to the programming at Chrysalis, serving as the foundation for a keynote lecture by a renowned expert and several supporting lectures and workshops by local faculty. The fall 2014 theme, Science and Spirituality: Living with Uncertainty, will bring into focus the work of keynote speaker Dr. S. James Gates, Jr., Ph.D., a theoretical physicist and 2013 recipient of the National Medal of Science.

Other regular programming includes the Spiritual Seeker Series, four monthly midday sessions led by experts in their respective fields. The faculty is also developing a nine-month curriculum called Living the Questions: Spiritual Pathways, a comprehensive overview of the questions explored at the institute. The Chrysalis Book Club is hosted once a month and movie nights are scheduled once a quarter. The recently launched online Learning Space is a topically themed library of electronic articles, links and learning experiences.

“Our initial fundraising attempts for capacity-building and expansion confirm that we and the outside community are ready for what Chrysalis Institute has to offer and that what we are doing is of good quality,” affirms Saunders. “Things that feed the soul finally have widespread appeal.”

For more information, call 804-359-0384 or visit

Lauressa Nelson is a contributing editor for Natural Awakenings magazines and a freelance writer based in Orlando, Florida. Connect at [email protected].