Meditation retreats may be calming, but finding one can be stressful. But a young programmer and meditation enthusiast is trying to make it easier for people to find the right retreat with a new searchable database that launched on Wednesday, May 29.
RetreatBase currently lets users browse more than 750 retreats at 150 centers, making it more straightforward for people to find programs that fit their schedules, budgets, and traditions. While similar services already existed for yoga retreats, creator Alan Ni said that there was no centralized resource for silent meditation retreats.
Ni, 26, began working on the site shortly after leaving his position as a product manager at Google. He first posted the idea to the “/meditation” subreddit, where it received an enthusiastic response. He returned to Reddit with a beta later that year and said he encountered an outpouring of gratitude from meditators who previously could not find a retreat that worked for them.
“Part of what is motivating to me is hearing from a few folks who . . . were able to find a retreat center that they wouldn’t have found otherwise,“ Ni told Tricycle. “I find it super gratifying.”
Currently, users can search the site to find a retreat and the contact information for the center. But later in June, Ni plans to roll out a program that would allow meditators to contact registered hosts and book retreats directly—like Airbnb for contemplative practice. He is also creating a waitlist tool and other features to make it easier for hosts to organize retreats, in addition to making them easier to find.
However, not just anyone will be able to host a retreat through the site, Ni explained. He handpicked the current list of centers to make sure they met his standards, after gathering a larger list through crowdsourcing on Reddit and hiring a freelancer to help him comb through existing databases (such as Tricycle’s dharma directory).
“Quality control is super important to me because a lot of the people on our platform will be first time retreat-goers, so it’s definitely not going to be completely open,” Ni said. “For all of the retreats that we’ve curated, we’ve done some degree of diligence on them. And for any of the featured hosts, if I wasn’t already familiar with the retreat center, I would ask around the meditation community for people who had past experiences.”
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Ni, who moved to San Francisco after graduating from Duke University, said he also will be expanding the list to include retreats outside of the United States.
While he hopes to turn RetreatBase into a profitable business, the project is currently self-financed, and Ni said he is focused on completing the website before committing to a particular business model.
Ni became interested in meditation while trying to manage his stress at Google, where his job involved coordinating with various departments including engineers, designers, and developers to drive a particular product forward. After working there for about a year and a half, Ni went on his first silent retreat; he spent ten days at the Dhamma Mahavana California Vipassana Center in North Fork, which offers free retreats in the tradition of the Buddhist teacher S.N. Goenka.
“That retreat was a life-changing experience,” Ni said. “Being in tech, and especially in the product-management role, involves a lot of emails and meetings. It’s really hard to unplug sometimes . . . To be able to sit in silence for ten days was game changing.”
Ni wanted to make sure other people could have that experience.
“I was super lucky that I had enough vacation days to go on a ten day retreat, which also happened to be free,” he said. “But I think a lot of people that want to go on retreats are much more restricted by financial elements as well as the time and the distance to whatever retreat center they find. So, at the end of the day, this project is to make retreats more accessible to everyone and hopefully it helps.”
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