I would guess that most people—especially the parents among us—have taken vacations that seemed more like forced marches than relaxing getaways. Back when my sons were small, I discovered the perfect alternative to our family’s noisy, energetic holidays: a twice-a-year escape to a retreat center.
Years later, I continue to make regular pilgrimages to a variety of spiritual sanctuaries. Sometimes I travel to a nearby Roman Catholic center for a retreat of my own design, a quiet weekend of reading, meditation, and walks in the woods. Other times I’ll venture farther afield for a workshop on topics such as prayer and poetry or yoga and contemplation. I’ve meditated with Buddhist monks, walked the labyrinth with nuns, and had the chance to meet and learn from some of the spiritual teachers I most admire.
I’m not alone in seeking rest and renewal like this, for a growing number of Americans go on retreat each year. Across the nation, Catholic abbeys, Hindu ashrams, New Age wilderness outposts, Zen monasteries, non-denominational camps, and Protestant retreat houses are welcoming growing numbers of guests. Visitors can come for a day, a week, or a month, for either a private retreat or a group workshop.
Retreat centers are typically located in scenic locations and charge quite reasonable rates, and most welcome visitors of all faiths. You may be asked to keep silence for part of your stay, and your accommodations and meals are likely to be adequate but simple.
The attitude you bring with you on retreat should also be different from that of an ordinary vacation. Pack light. Don’t bring a lot of books or materials that will distract you. Instead prepare to slow down, listen to the silence, and live in the moment.
Here’s a sampling of retreat centers across the country:
Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico: Set amid the spectacular desert landscape made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe, the Presbyterian-affiliated Ghost Ranch offers self-led and guided programs. http://www.ghostranch.org/
Prairiewoods in Hiawatha, Iowa: Run by Roman Catholic Franciscan sisters, Prairiewoods blends spirituality and mindful-living programs with an environmental focus. http://prairiewoods.org/
Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York: This secluded monastery in the Catskill Mountains offers Zen training to people of all religious backgrounds. http://www.mro.org/mro.html
Breitenbush Hot Springs near Detroit, Oregon: Hot springs set amid a temperate rainforest await visitors to this non-denominational center. http://www.breitenbush.com/
Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut: This center in the Berkshire Mountains offers spiritual retreats inspired by Jewish traditions. http://isabellafreedman.org/
Hope Springs Institute near Peebles, Ohio. Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Hope Springs offers peace, environmental, social justice, and community-building programs. http://www.hopespringsinstitute.org/
Sinsinawa Mound in southwestern Wisconsin: The scenic, rolling countryside of southwest Wisconsin is home to Sinsinawa Mound, a Roman Catholic complex that offers a wide variety of workshops. http://www.sinsinawa.org/01_about_us/04_Sinsinawa_Mound/Sinsinawa_Mound.htm
Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky: People who treasure the writings of Thomas Merton find inspiration in this monastery in rural Kentucky, where Merton lived from 1941 until his death in 1968. http://www.monks.org/
Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery in Mt. Shasta, California: Located near the Oregon border, Shasta Abbey features a year-round schedule of retreats, Buddhist ceremonial festivals, and Dharma Talks. http://shastaabbey.org/
Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville in central Virginia: The foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains are this ashram offering yoga training and spiritually oriented programs. http://www.yogaville.org/
Lori Erickson writes about inner and outer journeys at http://www.spiritualtravels.info/.