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.
Linwood Spiritual Center
Founded by the Sisters of St. Ursula in the 1960s, the Linwood Spiritual Center, which is adjacent to the 19th-century historic estate of Wilderstein just south of the village, notes on its website that it is “rooted in the Ignatian tradition of finding God in all things.” Retreats are offered to anyone seeking “spiritual freedom and growth.”
Susie Linn, director of development and marketing, said that writers, artists and other creative types seeking quiet and rejuvenation stay anywhere from a night to a month. The rate of $75 includes a private room with shared bath (some rooms have sinks), three meals a day (with a vegetarian option), access to an outdoor, Olympic-sized pool and bicycles and helmets. Attending daily mass, held at 5 p.m., is an option though by no means required. The 50-acre grounds offer a spectacular view of the Hudson River and include a labyrinth, gazebo, gardens and numerous flowering and ornamental trees. There’s a well-stocked library specializing in spirituality and philosophy, a small meditation room with pillows and a conference room; massages are available for $65.
Linwood offers both silent retreats and directed retreats, in which a visitor can schedule regular meetings with an experienced director, who will oversee a program of journal-writing, reading and exercise; the cost is $500. The next directed retreat will be held from June 29 through July 6. Linwood will be hosting a $450 yoga retreat from July 16 to 20, which will combine yoga with periods of silence and prayer, walks by the river and swims in the pool. A hand-quilting retreat will be held in August. For information visit www.linwoodspiritualctr.org or call (845) 876-4178.
Holy Cross Monastery
Dating from 1902, this brick Anglican Benedictine Monastery, which is located on 26 acres overlooking the Hudson, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is open for both individual and group retreats. It’s one of the largest monasteries owned by the Episcopal Church, and its 43-room guesthouse attracts approximately 5,000 visitors a year. The rooms are open from Tuesday through Sunday and have shared baths. Guesthouse director Lori Callaway said that the rate, which includes all meals, is $75 on weekdays and $95 on weekends. Stays range from one to four nights. There are trails, a labyrinth and daily services in the chapel, with visitors welcome.
The Holy Cross website notes how time spent at the Monastery is an opportunity for “prayer and reflection, renewal and recreation and deepening one’s sense of communion with God, nature and other people.” There are 12 resident brothers and one postulant. “What the community hopes for is that people will come and join in the rhythm of the community by going to the services, eating meals, to get a sense of what life is like here,” said Callaway. There’s morning prayer at 7 a.m., followed by breakfast, eucharist at 9 a.m., more prayers at noon followed by lunch, vespers at 5 p.m., supper at 6 p.m. and evening prayers at 8:05, after which the monastery is dedicated to silence.
Special programs are also scheduled, such as the recent flute masters’ retreat: a nondenominational meeting of flautists from around the world. The monastery manufactures incense and operates a book and gift shop. For information visit www.holycrossmonastery.com or call (845) 384-6660.
Sky Lake is a Shambhala Buddhist retreat, located in a wooded setting on the northern crest of the Shawangunk Ridge. The center runs a “contemplative bed-and-breakfast” that offers eight rooms with private bath, access to a deck overlooking the pond, gazebos and a walking trail. The rate includes breakfast, and there’s Wi-fi, a guest refrigerator and microwave oven. Rates are $115 for a single and $150 for a double on a weekend night and $90 single and $125 double during the week.
Sky Lake director Katy Bray said that many guests come to hike (the center is located near the Mohonk Preserve), rock-climb or ski in the area, while others simply enjoy the quiet, peaceful atmosphere. The retreat belongs to an international community of contemplative centers founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who promulgated a more secular type of Buddhism in which spiritual practice is combined with being in the world – what Bray refers to as “the path of the warrior.” “People from all different paths take Shambhala training,” she said. “Level One is a very straightforward and wonderful body of teaching about the art of being human.”
Every Tuesday and Thursday evening and Sunday morning the center holds a free meditation session. In September, it will hold a two-day “Level I of Shambhala Training” course. For information visit www.skylake.shambhala.org or call (845) 658-8556.
Villa St. Dominic, Dominican Sisters of Sparkill
The Dominican Sisters of Sparkill rent out rooms to lay women and men in the Villa St. Dominic, a house on their riverside property in Saugerties with a stunning view of the Hudson. Fifteen rooms are available, most with shared bath, and the rate includes three meals. Mass is held every morning in the chapel, and guests are welcome (though not expected) to attend. Directed retreats, in which guests consult with a director for spiritual guidance, are also offered.
The retreat – whose grounds have been transformed into a Scenic Hudson-managed preserve with trails, through a conservation easement with the Sisters – also offers individuals a “spiritual hermitage.” Two tiny houses located in the woods, each with a bathroom and kitchenette, are rented out to individuals. The hermitages, which Sister Mary Shay, one of three sisters who manage the rentals, said are in demand, offer a St. Jeromelike experience in which an individual connects with God by living alone in nature – or perhaps just finds the quiet an inspiration for creative work and thinking. Most guests rent the house for a week.
The rates are extremely reasonable: $40 a night for a room and $350 a week for a private or directed retreat; $50 a night for the hermitage. On September 1, the prices will increase to $50, $400 and $60 respectively.
Sister Mary Shay said that many guests are writers and lovers of nature seeking a change of pace from their busy lives. The sisters have been offering the retreats since 1932. For information visit www.sparkill.org or call (845) 246-8941.
The Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located on Overlook Mountain, is one of the premier centers of Tibetan culture in the US. Its main shrine room, containing an 11-foot-tall Buddha, was featured in Martin Scorsese’s film about the Dalai Lama, Kundun. The monastery has 15 residents, and individual retreats are available by appointment and through an application process. There are dorms with shared bath as well as private rooms with private bath.
Participation in the life of the community includes attending the daily meditations, scheduled for an hour at 5 a.m. and 7 p.m., which are open to the public; there’s also a 5 p.m. chant session. One of the high points of a stay here is meditating in the peaceful precincts of the shrine room, which is connected to the ancient lineage of Tibet. Visitors can also walk the trails and make appointments with a lama. Wi-fi service is available.
Trustee Kathy Welsey said that a program of three-day retreats, with structured activities, should be available in several months, once the new addition is completed. They’ll be designed to teach people how to meditate and learn the basic tenets of Tibetan Buddhism. Free instruction in meditation is currently available to the public on Saturday at 2 p.m., and an introduction to Buddhism is offered on Wednesday. For information visit www.kagyu.org or call (845) 679-5906, extension 3.