“Retreats are the best way to deepen practice and clear away the dust,” a Tricycle reader tells us. “‘Retreat’ isn’t the right word,” another writes. “When I go to the monastery, I’m not retreating from anything, but rather deliberately going toward something—that opening that lets me devote myself full time to the matter at hand. I think it’s hilarious that when I tell friends that I’m going on a Buddhist retreat, they invariably say, ‘Oh, that’s lovely—it sounds so relaxing!’ as if I were going to a spa instead of to a place where I’ll sleep in a bunk bed, sit motionless on a cushion for hours a day, scrub floors, and eat oatmeal.”
To learn about your retreat experiences, Tricycle surveyed nearly 400 readers to find out which centers are your favorites and what kinds of retreats you prefer. The topic respondents were most vocal about was, surprisingly, silence. Nearly 90 percent favor “near silence” or “many silent periods” while on retreat.
“Most powerful and productive retreats have involved silence,” one respondent explains. “I always have too much to say, so it’s good to shut up and hear what I really mean. 😉 OX.”
Others complain about a lack of silence: “Many retreats are advertised as ‘silent,’ but, in fact, retreatants engage in quite a bit of unnecessary talking.” Another reader agrees, describing the average retreat as having “too much chatter and not enough time to be silent and look within.”
Weekend retreats are the most popular, being preferred for their convenience and cost by close to half of those polled. As one person puts it, “I find it financially difficult to go on anything longer than a weekend retreat.” Another reader prefers the shorter period out of consideration for her two young children, but notes that these retreats “tend to be for those newer to retreat, so they don’t always meet my needs.” Over 40 percent of respondents report a preference for retreats that last a week or longer. “When working a full-time job,” one reader says, “I find I need at least ten days for my body to fully relax.”
As for the style of retreat, just over half of survey respondents prefer their Buddhist getaways in the Zen tradition. Vipassana is a close second, with over 40 percent favoring this style. Not as many spend retreats doing tantric visualizations—only a quarter of respondents choose retreats in the Tibetan tradition. Slightly fewer respondents opt for days of sun salutations in Yoga retreats, but Theravada-style retreats are the clear path less traveled, with only 16 percent preferring them.
As for why they go, a large majority of respondents attend retreats to develop their meditation practice. Most also indicate that working closely with a teacher and “refreshing their minds and bodies” are among the most important elements. Nearly a third prize time for Buddhist study, and a little under half say that “joining a community of practitioners” is of foremost importance.
“There is something very powerful about being in a community of people who value mindfulness,” one person writes. “It is a brief, imperfect glimpse of enlightened society. On the way to one retreat, the bus driver got lost and drove us around in circles. When we finally arrived, he was a nervous wreck. The passengers, however, broke into applause and offered him thanks and sympathy.”
While the fruits of retreat may be limitless, we are unfortunately limited to these three pages, so we’ve narrowed the choices to the eleven most popular U.S. centers. For those of you who are looking to go on your first retreat or to try a new place, we hope this list will help you find, as one reader puts it, “a deeper understanding of the self and greater compassion and patience for one’s self and the other people in our lives. It’s priceless.”
Readers’ Top 11 Picks (in alphabetical order)
Blue Cliff Monastery in New York’s Hudson Valley was established in May 2007. It is an extension of Plum Village meditation center in France, founded by the venerable Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.
Cloud Mountain Retreat Center Castle Rock, WA
Cloud Mountain Retreat Center, 60 miles north of Portland, Oregon, is a nonsectarian Buddhist center hosting residential retreats year-round that focus on cultivating ethical behavior, generosity, and wisdom.
Garrison Institute Garrison, NY
Occupying a former Capuchin monastery on the Hudson River north of New York City, the Garrison Institute is a nonsectarian organization that explores the intersection of contemplation and engaged action. OneTricycle reader picks Garrison as his favorite center because it “is at a fantastic location and serves amazing food.”
Insight Meditation Society, the Forest Refuge, and the Barre Center for Buddhist
Studies Barre, MA
The two meditation retreat centers—IMS and the Forest Refuge—and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies offer meditation retreats and courses rooted in the Theravada Buddhist teachings of ethics, concentration, and wisdom. One person who responded to the Tricycle survey wrote that “IMS provides a near-perfect atmosphere for retreat practice—simple, supportive, beautiful surroundings; good teachers; and a very kind and committed staff.”
Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is dedicated to promoting the art and science of yoga. Located in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, it is the largest retreat center for yoga, health, and holistic living in North America. Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is dedicated to promoting the art and science of yoga. Located in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, it is the largest retreat center for yoga, health, and holistic living in North America.Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health is dedicated to promoting the art and science of yoga. Located in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, it is the largest retreat center for yoga, health, and holistic living in North America.
Omega Institute Rhinebeck, NY
150 Lake Drive
Rhinebeck, NY 12572
Founded in 1977, the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies offers programs on its 195-acre campus in Rhinebeck, New York, and at other locations around the world. The focus is on health and wellness, spiritual growth, and self-awareness.
San Francisco Zen Center, City Center, Green Gulch Farm, and Tassajara Zen
Mountain Center northern California
300 Page Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
SFZC is one of the largest Buddhist sanghas outside Asia. It has three practice places rooted in the Soto Zen tradition: City Center in San Francisco; Green Gulch Farm in Marin County; and Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, inland from Big Sur. One survey respondent writes, “When I go on retreat at a place like Tassajara or Green Gulch, I love sinking into the formalities of sitting in a real zendo where countless hours of meditation and ceremony have taken place. It is both an escape and a push out into the world.”
Shambhala Mountain Center Red Feather Lakes, Colorado
4921 County Road 68-C
Red Feather Lakes, CO 80545
Located on 600 acres in northern Colorado, Shambhala Mountain Center has offered programs on Buddhist meditation, yoga, and other contemplative disciplines since 1971. The center is affiliated with Shambhala International, a network of urban and rural communities. One Tricycle reader says, “The setting is breathtaking. I was in a tent on the side of the mountain. The quiet day was the best—the animals came out freely. Unfortunately they left as soon as we were free to gab. But still, there was so much to learn about myself and my fellow participants.”
Southern Dharma Retreat Center Hot Springs, NC
1661 West Road
Hot Springs, NC 28743
Southern Dharma is an interfaith retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. It hosts retreats representing a variety of spiritual traditions. “I found my experiences at Southern Dharma to be rejuvenating, enlightening, challenging, and important,” one Tricycle reader tells us. “They helped me to grow in essential ways, and helped me to learn to live in the here and the now.”
Spirit Rock Meditation Center Woodacre, CA
5000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd
Woodacre, CA 94973
Spirit Rock is dedicated to the teachings of the Buddha as presented in the Vipassana tradition. Located in California’s west Marin County, the center hosts a full schedule of ongoing classes, daylong programs, workshops, and residential retreats.
Zen Mountain Monastery Mt. Tremper, NY
P.O. Box 197
Mt. Tremper, NY 12457
Set on 230 acres of forest preserve in New York’s Catskill Mountains, Zen Mountain Monastery is the main house of the Mountains and Rivers Order. Since its inception in 1980, it has offered a wide range of retreats and residential programs within the context of authentic, full-time Zen monastic training. As one Tricyclereader explains, “The atmosphere is so intense—a real kick in the pants to my so-far lax tendencies— and yet it was inviting, too. I took the clarity and resolve I found there home with me.”
Did Tricycle readers miss your favorite center? Let us know in the comments below.
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