I’ve come to realize that there are two types of travel. I’m not talking about the difference between first class and economy or different modes of transportation.
Nope, what I’m talking about is the difference between going to places and going to a place within. I like to think of it as adventure travel.
Adventure travel, at its best, is always a journey of self-discovery, whether it’s hiking the red rocks of the desert southwest or connecting with my true nature, the journey of meditation.
Combining the two type of travel offers the opportunity to enter into a blissful experience on two different planes, which is why happiness is a meditation retreat, at least it’s been my experience.
What to Expect
The vision many conjured up,when they picture a meditation retreat, is of a remote mountain top or getting lost in a far desert, cut off from the world, a place where saffron robed monks and novices meditate ceaselessly.
To be sure, there are those places, and though a retreat into meditation is a part of that experience, for the most part these places have little to do with a “meditation retreat.”
For practitioners of meditation the retreat has a special purpose.
A meditation retreat is an opportunity to deepen your practice through longer and more focused meditation sessions with a minimum of distractions.
Personally, the most appealing aspect is the Satsang (connection with “like minded” people), and I find the energy palpable.
Jack Kornfield, a meditation teacher and author, notes that “Every wise culture knows that there are times that are important to walk out in the desert or in the mountains, or go on a retreat and listen.”
It’s not uncommon for meditation teachers to recommend attending a retreat once a year, explaining that if you want to build a mature practice that attending a retreat at least once a year is a necessity.
My experience encourages me to agree with them.
There are many advantages and benefits to attending a retreat, all of which will encourage you on your adventure of self-realization.
One of the first joys of a retreat is that you get to satisfy both desires when it comes to travel as most retreats are set in beautiful, peaceful locations and they are the perfect setting for intense practice.
Because meditation retreats offer a controlled environment, where your basic needs are taken care of, you can focus without distractions, on your practice.
And because of the intense practice, meditation retreats will offer you,(very quickly I might add) a mirror on your mind and emotions. This is often powerful and sometimes challenging, but the retreat offers you a safe, supportive and loving environment for this experience to take place.
There’s another advantage to the intense practice and that’s the almost instant focused awareness (feedback) you receive. This instant focus strips away the layers of condition behavior, the excuses and other subterfuge that the ego uses to hide your true motivations.
The centers enables you, in a caring and non-judgmental environment, to witness your mind and the effects that your thoughts and judgments have on your actions.
The better meditation retreats afford you the opportunity to be around and interact with skilled and compassionate teachers. Which gives you have a chance to connect, ask questions and receive personal instruction.
Meditation retreats have been described as an “escape into life,” and not from it. Things can get very “real.” As challenging as that prospect sounds, fear not the releasing process is, in the end, a lessening of pain and suffering and a lightening of spirit.
What a meditation retreat is not; it’s not A “Club Med” vacation; and while the surrounding can be beautiful, they are not designed as a luxurious escape, and in fact, contrary to popular belief, they are not an escape from your life, but a means of finding it.
Finding the “Right” Retreat
It’s important to look for teachers with a good reputation connected with long standing programs.
Studied consideration should be given to depth and intensity of the experience you are seeking and whether you’re a long time experienced mediator or a beginner.
Meditation retreats offer different levels of intensity of varying length. There are intense 10 day meditation retreats and some a short as a weekend.
It’s important, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t attempt a retreat that’s beyond your comfort level. If you’ve never been to a retreat then pass on the 10 days of silent sitting and opt instead for a 3 day meditation experience. There are some retreats that will not let you sign up for the more intense experience until you’ve completed the first level.
There are many programs that offer different levels allowing your practice to evolve.
Where to Start Your Search
In the spirit (literally) of full disclosure, before I begin listing some of the organizations, retreats and centers, I want you to know that I’m a certified “Chopra Center Meditation Teacher” and have attended most of the programs offered there, so I have a little bias in this regard. That said, I also have enjoyed other styles and approaches and have attended different retreats.
Here then are some of my personal favorites and some that have come highly recommended by other teachers of mine.
1. The Chopra Center offers many different types programs including personal growth, health and wellbeing, relationships and success and fulfillment.
However, their signature mediation programs are “Seduction of Spirit,” or if you’ve already attended it, you can attend “Seduction of Silence.”
All Chopra center programs require that you receive a personal mantra before you can participate. These are often given in special classes a few days before the retreat begins.
It should be noted that you need only receive your mantra once, then your set for all the future programs you attend.
One advantage of this program is that it travels. While it’s held at the center (at La Costa Resort in Carlsbad California) a number of time a year, it “travels to different places both in and outside the U.S. You can the center’s site for the “meditation retreat nearest you.”
Kripalu, Located in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, just down the road from Tanglewood. Kripalu is billed as a center for Yoga and health and offers a wide variety of programs. This variety extends to their meditation programs, which are but a part of the over all offerings.
The iconic woodsy setting overlooking a lake is pure New England, whether the trees are rich with colors of summer or fall, or the branches bow under by the winter snows.
Besides their yoga classes which are their specialty, and include teacher training in their signature method, emphasizing personal expression, they also offer many other programs, for example, they offer not only meditation but mindful running or couple’s massage.
Kripalu is a very family friendly retreat, among their different offerings are some programs designed specifically for kids.
Don’t let that fool you, the property has a long monastic history and living quarters are basic. Many people choose the available dorm rooms with bunk beds and community baths. However, there are some private rooms.
Meals are vegetarian-friendly and are served cafeteria-style. (Note that breakfasts are silent)
A large menu of bodywork can also be booked, ahead of time or while you are there. For example, you can get an ayurvedic consultation, a massage, or even a facial.
3. Spirit Rock located outside of San Francisco in Woodacre, California. Like the name sounds, the countryside around Spirit Rock looks as if it were taken right out of the Hobbit’s Shire and place there.
Sitting on land once used by Native Americans for spiritual rites, there’s a deep sense of peace that envelopes you as soon as you enter the grounds.
Residential retreats can run as long as two months and are held throughout the year.
Spirit Rock is self-described as, “dedicated to the teachings of Buddha as presented in the Vipassana tradition. The practice of mindful awareness, called Insight Meditation, is at the heart of all the activities at Spirit Rock.”
According to Jack Kornfield, one of Spirit Rock’s founding teachers, “Some come for healing, either the healing of the heart or the healing of the body,” and “Some come because they are in life transition and need to listen deeply to what is the next thing that is asked of them or how to deal with some great change.”
The center provides silent meditation retreats, Dharma study, training and classes.
The inspiration for the creation of “Pathway of Illumination,” or Ala Kukui were the events of September 11. It is nestled in the hills and fruit trees in rural Maui, offering views of both the Pacific Ocean and Haleakala.
Describe by one of my most beloved teachers, Ram Dass, as “…a magnificent retreat center. The property is stunning, and the accommodations are A+.” Considering the source, high praise indeed.
Ala Kukui offers various programs throughout the year and draws in locals and long distance travelers alike.
A quick visit to the website and you will understand why it is that among their specialties is a residential retreat for war veterans suffering from extreme PTSD, grief and loss.
But, Ala Kukui also has programs which are as diverse as meditation and hula, writing and yoga. In should be noted that as of this writing (July of 2013) they are offering a limited number of programs because of plans to expand, building new cabins and a “host of improvements and renovations.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk formed the community after being expelled from Singapore for helping “boat people” escape from Vietnam.
He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. and teaches “cultivating lucidity” as a means to connect with yourself and others; to awaken to self-realization.
In an interview with the Shambhala Sun, a publication about “Buddhism Culture Meditation and Life,” he said, “When you are mindful of something, you are concentrated on it, and the power of mindful concentration can help you see things as they really are and you discover the nature of interbeing.”
The monastery welcomes visitors of all ages and features “one lazy, unstructured day per week,” along with periodic retreats.
This video will give you the flavor of Plum Village.
Practicing meditation and attending a meditation retreat is one of the most direct routes to awakening personal happiness that I’ve experienced. It’s an experience that’s transcends all layers of existence, body, mind and spirit.
The benefits of the meditation and the retreat experience are beautifully summed up in this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s forward to Sally Kempton’s wonderful book on meditation, “Meditation for the Love of It.”
“This is why, over the years, I’ve made efforts to replace my bouts of accidental meditation with a practice of deliberate meditation- which is to say, I have been striving to learn the art of replacing the mundane din with a mind filled with quite wonder. What I really want (what we all want, I believe, deep down inside) is the ability to choose my own thoughts, rather than living forever in the sometimes whinny, sometimes angry, sometimes lethargic, always chattering monkey-hut of my unfettered human brain.”
Happiness is a meditation retreat, discovered at the convergence of inner and outer travel.
I’ve come to realize that there are two types of travel. Adventure travel, at its best, is a journey of self-discovery, whether it’s hiking the red rock of the desert southwest or connecting with my true nature, the journey into meditation.
These retreats are but a few of the many special and wonderful places where you can begin or deepen your meditation practice on the way to a happier and more fulfilled you.
Going forward there will be other retreats featured and reviewed with the intention to provide you with more knowledge to discover what works for you.