By: Courtney Dabney
If I asked you to take a moment and relax, where would you go, and what would you do there? Would you head to Starbucks for a latte, sit barefoot on the back porch swing, take a nap in your bedroom or would you kick back in the recliner and turn on the television? And would you carry your cellphone? Remember, you’re supposed to relax.
Would you bring along the anxieties of your ever-growing to-do list, your should-have-done list and your I-wish-I-could-do list? What about tomorrow’s big meeting or last month’s stack of bills or next week’s rapidly approaching (fill in the blank)? Maybe asking you to relax wasn’t a fair request.
Just for fun, imagine a place where the environment and the people work together to help you reach the kind of complete relaxation you might think impossible. Imagine a place like Shambhala Mountain Center set deep in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado or the Esalen Institute on the Big Sur Coastline of California or Ala Kukui amid the fruit trees and sandy beaches of Maui, Hawaii, where you’re uninhibited by all the familiar baggage and free to learn from those who’ve studied the art of relaxation, self-reflection and deep soul rejuvenation, how exactly to let go and unwind and how to do it for more than the time it takes to sip a latte at the coffee shop.
Retreats like these actually do exist, and they provide a unique experience for those willing visitors looking for a gentler pace and the opportunity to reconnect with their inner self who, despite years of neglect amid a stressful existence, still endures somewhere quietly beyond the reach of a demanding career, the burdens of modern culture, the constant and often over-bearing connectivity of technology, and those things we use to fill in that blank space above.
Take a place like Silent Stay Hermitage—the quintessential digital-free, silent retreat located amid a peaceful European-style farm setting in Vacaville, California. It serves only nine guests per week, so it can easily offer a more private experience than many larger retreats. Guests are welcome to stay anywhere between three days and three weeks, taking part in morning and evening meditation and afternoon personal time. Owners Bruce and Ruth Davis lead guests in daily meditation focused on reducing the kind of toxic mental activity that drives stress and replacing it with an inner peace through traditional sitting meditation and sacred movement meditation based on yoga and Tai Chi. Most of the day at Silent Stay is completely unstructured, though, and gives guests plenty of personal retreat time to spend on their own.
In the four corners region, near Telluride and Durango and well within the historical and spiritual influence of Mesa Verde National Park, is Sophia Peace Center in Dolores, Colorado. Sophia Peace Center is one of the nation’s most prominent spiritual destinations and offers a peaceful retreat for all belief systems and accommodates all retreat needs and sizes whether personal or professional. One of the most popular events here is the Inner Bonding Retreat, a five-day intensive where couples and individuals explore the deep issues related to love and connection with others. The natural setting of the Southwest and the San Juan Mountains enriches meditation spaces where retreats like Yoga Bliss incorporate yoga, meditation, pranayama, labyrinth walks, and ancient wisdom tours into the daily routine. Free time offers time to explore the local hot springs and hiking excursions in the Colorado backcountry.
Since 1976, the highly trained teachers at Insight Meditation Society, a 240-acre refuge in the woods of Massachusetts, have guided participants in Buddhist meditation practices that aim to give students a more authentic and joyful life. No matter your religion or experience, IMS offers a selection of courses for beginners and experienced meditators. Classes include The Joy of Letting Go, The Art of Mindful Living, Your Life Is Your Practice, and Freedom and Ease of Being. Whether you stay a weekend or several months, fees are based on a sliding scale according to individual means with financial assistance offered to some participants.
Spread across a 195-acre campus in Rhinebeck, New York, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies teaches wellness and personal growth through classes in Tai Chi, meditation, yoga, creativity and community. Between classes, visitors can paddle a canoe over the pristine waters of Long Pond Lake, climb the stone stairway to the wooded sanctuary for quiet reflection, or take long, deep breaths amid the fresh aromas of the garden. Meals are communal and based on a vegetarian diet that upholds the sustainable lifestyle Omega promotes. Omega Institute also offers retreats specifically geared toward couples, teens and families. Or head down to the sandy beaches of Blue Spirit Costa Rica where Omega offers all-inclusive winter retreats like no other in the state.
For those who don’t want to travel long distance, there are some great silent retreat options nearby. North of San Antonio is Namaste Retreat Center, offering personalized relaxation and renewal retreats, nondenominational spiritual retreats, and group retreats centered on creativity and art. Rainbow Hearth Sanctuary and Retreat Center in Austin also offers retreat packages with a menu of natural and organic meals, comfortable accommodations overlooking Lake Buchanan, and a healthy deficiency of televisions and telephones. Retreat options include therapeutic spa retreats with restorative bodywork; spiritual retreats focusing on the power of self-reflection in nature; and couples retreats for healthier, more connected relationships. And on 200 acres of rolling hills and forests in nearby Windham, Siddhayatan is a non-religious-based spiritual retreat center for those looking to awaken and feed their soul and uncover and reconnect with their inner self while moving toward an enlightened, or just stress-reduced, life. Siddhayatan offers a number of retreat options including their silent retreat based on just that—silence. Starting at $50 per day and including lodging and vegetarian meals, the silent retreat offers twice-daily mantra classes, a staff of spiritual teachers, and lots of relaxation in the absence of noise.
So whether you travel far or stay close to home, whether you go for a day or stay a year, take the time to be silent in a place that specializes in relaxation. Be silent in the mouth and silent in the mind, and take the time to rediscover your inner self, reconnect with the true you who’s been waiting all this time, and recharge something far more valuable than your cellphone. Make the investment today, and you’ll wonder why it took you so long.
By: Courtney Dabney