Today, even when we’re at home alone, we’re likely plugged into e-mail and the Internet, with hardly time to relax and step out of the constant media buzz. That makes a stay at a spiritual retreat all the more appealing – and even necessary: The opportunity to get out and smell the flowers can reset our priorities and perhaps even change our lives.
Here in the mid-Hudson Valley, there are multiple options for spending a night, a weekend or a week at a monastery or spiritual center, with two main choice of locales: the Catskill Mountains or on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. The options range from the comparatively deluxe Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious spiritual retreats – its program of 345 workshops features such celebrities as Bobby McFerrin, Suzanne Vega, Isabel Allende and Eckhart Tolle, although you can simply book a room for your own private retreat – to one of the more intimate Catholic-denominated facilities to a Buddhist monastery, of which there are two located near the village of Woodstock.
At most of these facilities, you will be part of a resident spiritual community – although in most places, participating in the schedule of daily meditations, mass or prayer is purely an option. Respect for the residents and the quiet atmosphere is obviously a requirement. Accommodations are generally simple – in some cases, the bath is shared – and all meals are included, for a daily rate that is generally well under $100 a night. The river or woods is at your doorstep, the spiritual atmosphere is healing; and if you are going through a crisis, or just searching for a deeper connection with life, you can consult with an on-site spiritual counselor. Here’s a brief roundup:
Zen Mountain Monastery
Located on 230 acres of forest preserve 11 miles west of Woodstock, the Zen Mountain Monastery, which started in 1980 as a Zen art center, offers a continual series of arts-related programs, ranging from several days to a week. Coming up this summer are workshops focused on painting (one workshop is led by famous abstract painter Ross Bleckner), the voice, poetry, the bamboo flute, raku pottery, archery and more. The purpose is not so much to produce an aesthetic object as to discover one’s self in the creative process, said program coordinator Ikusei.
Two of the retreats this summer are dedicated to the discipline of Sesshin: silence and deep introspection. The Monastery also offers a popular three-day Introduction to Zen Training retreat every month, which is designed for novices. Ikusei said that participants wake up early with the residents and participate in the morning and evening meditations.
The main building has a 50-person capacity, with retreats generally attended by 10 to 25 people and rates ranging from $250 (for the Introduction to Zen Training retreat) to $400. It includes three vegetarian meals and dorm accommodations (segregated by gender). Ikusei said that the use of cell phones is discouraged. There are several walks on the property and a store.
For information visit www.mro.org/zmm/retreats or call (845) 688-2228