The Margaret Austin Center is a rural retreat center established to provide a quiet and inexpensive setting for retreats and meetings in the rolling hills outside Chappell Hill, Texas. Originally the vacation home of Margaret Austin, the Center has welcomed retreat groups for almost 20 years. Margaret passed away in 1992. Beginning in 1993, the Center has been operated as a non-profit organization. Our goal remains the same: to provide hospitality to people from every walk of life. We hope to give all our guests the opportunity to explore their chosen path, to experience the open countryside, and to relax and renew their spirits. This is Margaret’s legacy.While serving primarily groups with a spiritual, educational, or healing focus, the Center is available to any group whose members need time and space in which to withdraw and renew themselves. Retreats may be scheduled year round for any length of time. The Center is open to all beliefs and all paths, and welcomes the diversity of its guests. When you come to the Center, your retreat or event will be the only group in residence.
The buildings at the farm are grouped near the center of a 40-acre tract that includes a creek and eight acres of woods along its western border. The Center’s buildings are sheltered under a cluster of tall native pecan trees, and are surrounded by open fields on all sides. Bordered by woods on the west and by gently rolling hills to the east, the Center’s improved area consists of six acres of landscaped grounds, including a permanent open air labyrinth. Outdoor furniture dots the lawns. Because we are so far from large communities, clear nights offer a spectacular view of the starry skies.
One of the gifts offered by the Margaret Austin Center is the chance to reconnect with the earth. What is your favorite season? Winter will greet you with crisp air and a landscape of brown, red, and gold. In the spring, sweet breezes waft through our open windows, and the fields are perfumed by wildflowers. Summer buzzes with cicadas and the pastures shimmer with heat while you laze under the canopy of trees or from a chair on the breezeway. Autumn isn’t colorful in a splashy way, but watching thousands of geese wing their way south across a china blue sky is reason enough to be here. Rain comes at all seasons, sometimes pinging on the metal roofs, sometimes blowing in fiercely across the meadows. When was the last time you actually experienced rain?
The Margaret Austin Center is a unique experience in this age of sterile, look-alike accommodations. We invite you to enjoy the experience of community in our open setting.
A large professional kitchen is at the disposal of the retreat in residence, which may either elect to bring and prepare its own food or hire a chef to cook onsite. We can provide a list of recommended chefs who will prepare the type of food requested by the retreat.
The dining hall is approximately 500 square feet and seats 50 at large picnic-type tables. Outdoor tables are also available.
Our meeting hall (Linda Austin Hall) is a large (1,030 sq. ft.), open room, framed on three sides by floor to ceiling windows with views of rolling pasture, a forest of golden bamboo, and an outdoor labyrinth. This room has been used for meditation, dance, group instruction, and yoga.
The Teachers’ Quarters is a smaller space designed to house up to six retreat leaders and/or retreat teachers. In addition, it can be used for meetings, planning sessions, group discussions, interviews and other small gatherings of up to 12 people.
The oldest building at the farm (Martha Edgar House) is a locally celebrated product of the South Coast Collective, a 1960s collaboration of architecture students from the University of Houston. Originally a weekend house for Margaret, it now serves as one of the Center’s two dormitories and sleeps 26. In 1996, volunteers converted an outlying building into a second dormitory (Susan Krantz House), which sleeps 24. Edgar House residents are connected to a covered breezeway, while Krantz House residents enjoy a large porch overlooking the west pasture.
The labyrinth at the Margaret Austin Center is a classical or seven circuit labyrinth, laid out in a circular design with seven paths leading to the center of the labyrinth. This ancient design is found in many cultures, the earliest known dating back more than 4,000 years. Also known as a “Cretan” labyrinth, this design is associated with the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and was found on Cretan coins.
Some people confuse labyrinths with mazes. A maze is a puzzle to be solved, complete with blind alleys, wrong turns, and dead ends. A labyrinth, by contrast, is not designed to confuse, but to clarify and cleanse. The path of the labyrinth leads to the center and then, from the center, the path leads out again. There is only one path and it is easy to follow. The path winds in and out, back and forth, and it is sometimes difficult to tell where the path is going, but there is no trickery: it simply leads to the center and back out again. The only decision the walker needs to make is whether or not to enter the labyrinth.
A labyrinth is a sacred space. Like any sacred space, the more a labyrinth is used, the more vibrant its energy becomes. Symbolically, the labyrinth invites us to walk a spiritual path. There is no “right” way to walk a labyrinth, and the space welcomes the walker’s creativity.
Commonly, the walk to the center is used as a time to shed one’s worries, obligations, expectations, desires, hopes, fears, and all other thoughts that normally run riot in our minds. As these cares arise, we simply let them drop on the path. Some people carry stones in a bag, and as they walk, they drop a stone to represent each care they leave on the path.
Once in the center, the walker has the opportunity to sit with Silence, to pray, to sing, to chant, and otherwise to commune with the Divine and/or his or her own consciousness as he or she is moved to do. Some people like to journal, some to meditate, some to simply sit and allow themselves to feel spacious and open, some to grieve.
The journey out may be used to take up again those cares the walker has left on the path, or to receive blessings, strength, vision, understanding, or other qualities to take with the walker back out into the world.
We invite individuals and retreat leaders to incorporate the Labyrinth in their retreats.
Tent campers are welcome to pitch their tents anywhere on the grounds. This recreates some Margaret Austin Center history, before our dormitories were built, when all of Margaret’s guests camped on the land.
All our buildings are air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. The dormitories are furnished with bunk beds and have modern bathrooms. For more hardy souls, there are cold-water outdoor showers! We offer our facilities to retreat leaders for the functions they organize, to individuals for personal retreats, or to other groups for other types of meetings. Those retreats which are open to the public are advertised by the Center through e-mail, in our newsletter, and in selected advertising venues, free of charge to the retreat.