Madison, Wisconsin | May 4-6

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This is Mystical Spiritual Direction & Companionship

“I would love to see many more people come forward and truly commit themselves to the vital work of building communities of healing and love. Not just in India, but everywhere! It is such fulfilling work, and the need is so great.”

- Sister Lucy Kurien

Keynote Speaker for SDI’s 2023 Conference

With deep listening guiding the way, Essence 2023 will explore how we turn our attention towards God, Tao, Brahman, the Universe, the Beyond, or however you might name the Nameless, so as to compassionately heal our relationships, our communities, and the deep structural injustices that divide us by gender, color, faith, sexual orientation, nationality, and money. We will consider how these and other factors can often mislead us into seeing our neighbors as “others,” and less-than. We invite you to join us for Essence 2023 to engage deeply within, without and beyond.

Essence 2023 will focus on spiritual direction and companionship, in connection with contemplation, mysticism and compassionate engagement with the world.

Next year, on May 4-6, hundreds of people will arrive in Madison, Wisconsin, USA and hundreds more will congregate online for a truly extraordinary learning experience. We will be laying the listening foundations to “build communities of healing and love” through our calling, as our keynote speaker, Sister Lucy Kurien says.

How will we do this?

In true mystic fashion, of course – by engaging in contemplative practice and holding space for the caring communities possible in our lives – communities of justice and love that contemplative life and spiritual companionship naturally sustain.

The itinerary for the Essence 2023 mystical experience has already been delineated:


Dr. James Finley

It is with great pleasure that we introduce Dr. James Finley as a Keynote Speaker. Jim has been a great friend to SDI over decades now, but it’s been a while since he has been able to join our yearly conference. And what better time than now?

We need to hear Jim’s wisdom and insights as we confront these dark moments we are going through, and recommit ourselves as spiritual directors and companions to composting, distilling, and recognizing Mystical Essence in everything that surrounds us.

Listen below as Jim recounts his experiences with his first spiritual director, Thomas Merton, and as he examines the role of mysticism and contemplation in relation to our calling.

Sr. Lucy Kurien

We are delighted to have Sister Lucy Kurien as one of our two keynote speakers for Essence 2023. Sister Lucy is a deep listener, mystic and activist working for human rights and justice. She epitomizes both healing and love. A Catholic nun from India, she created Maher in 1997 to help destitute women. Twenty-five years later, Maher has helped over 85,000 people through 50 homes offering spiritual guidance, shelter and sustenance. These homes house about 1,000 children, and hundreds of destitute women and men at any one time. At the forefront of Sister Lucy’s efforts has been campaigning for women’s rights and for an end to the acceptance of violence against women. Her organization is caste-free and committedly interfaith; all religions are honored there, and all people respected as equals.

What Makes This Conference Different?

At Essence 2023, we will offer high-quality workshops, community events, a retreat and plenty of opportunities to connect in-person and online. But Essence will be different in one important way – it will be more spiritually spacious than our recent conferences. We’re building space for reflection and connection into the schedule. For example, there will be time to process together with other participants after keynote talks. Using the “less is more” ethos, we will invite you often to engage deeply within, without and beyond.

We called this conference “Essence” because we want the experience of participants to be contemplative as well as educational. The essence of spiritual direction often unfolds in silence, as the welcoming space of companionship turns listening into a journey of discovery.

In keeping with this theme, we hope Essence 2023 will become your own mystic pilgrimage.

As spiritual directors and companions know, transformative journeys often start with a question or questions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself right now:

Conference Center

Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center
1 John Nolen Dr, Madison, WI 53703

Frank Lloyd Wright originally proposed a design for Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in 1938. His architectural vision for the City of Madison—a curvilinear gathering place linking the shore of Lake Monona to the State Capitol—finally realized in 1997. A vision 59 years in the making.

In November 2021, Monona Terrace was certified as a “green building” at the Platinum Level by the U.S. Green Building Council’s prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) program. Monona Terrace was previously certified at the Gold Level in 2015, and the Silver Level in 2007. This award recognizes the continued efforts of Monona Terrace to promote a whole-building approach to sustainability.

Lodging & Directions

For information about lodging options & directions to the convention center and downtown Madison hotels, click the buttons below.


Madison, Wisconsin, only a few hours drive from nearby cities such as Minneapolis, Des Moines, Chicago, and Grand Rapids, is an ideal city to host our conference. Situated on an isthmus surrounded by lakes, walkable, bikable, filled with restaurants, cafes, parks and cultural opportunities – we know you’ll enjoy it! Learn more about Madison – Visitors Guide | Plan Your Trip to Madison, WI (

Special Early Pricing

Non-members pay $100 more than a Neptune member would. Jupiter and Cosmos members save even more. If you want to come to the conference, being an SDI member is the best way to save.

Post-Conference Retreat

This year’s retreat will be led by Lucy Abbott Tucker and will convene at Holy Wisdom Monastery, 15 minutes from downtown Madison. 

Choose Your Conference Experience

Enjoy connecting and building community in-person. 

What a blessing. Experience the compelling culture and history of Madison, Wisconsin. In addition, you get the all the benefits of our conference app, Whova, and access to recordings of workshops and keynotes. 

The best choice for flexibility and lower cost. 

Registration is cheaper and attending virtually eliminates travel, dining out, and lodging expenses. Meanwhile, the conference app, Whova, allows you to connect with anyone at the hybrid conference. And you will be able to watch recordings at your convenience.

Cancellation Policy

  • Refunds (less a $75 non-refundable registration fee) will be provided with written notice prior to February 3, 2023,
  • On or after February 3, 2023, up to and including March 31, 2023, SDI will issue 50% refunds (calculated after deducting the $75 non-refundable registration fee),
  • Refunds will not be issued after March 31, 2023.

Stay Up To Date

Get updates on all the Essence 2023 conference happenings, including announcements for workshops and additional presenters.

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