Across the country, hundreds of retreats, monasteries, cloisters, and abbeys located in out-of-the-way places—and some in unexpected city settings—offer sanctuary to all who seek it. No matter which retreat you choose, one thing is universal to the experience: The tools needed to balance mind, body, and spirit come with the room.
Mark Perew, a Santa Ana, California, programmer, says he keeps returning to St. Andrews, a Benedictine abbey in Valyermo, California, because his visits change the way he views himself. “There I learned I can be by myself, but I don’t have to be alone,” he says. “The monks follow a regimen of prayer, singing, and silence. Entering into that pattern helps me get in tune with the spiritual presence.”
Although the motivations of sanctuary visitors are as unique as their personalities and histories, those who host them notice a common theme. “A word we often see written in our registry book is peace,” says Brother Raphael Prendergast of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Kentucky.
The quiet, often remote settings allow for introspection, reconnection, and a flowering of inherent wisdom. “Here guests get themselves back,” says Ryushin Marchaj, a senior monastic at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York. “People recognize their own strength, their vastness, and their foibles.”
Most Zen monasteries begin and end every day with zazen, several hours of sitting meditation. Guests who have few opportunities for silence in their regular lives find this very powerful. Leslie Farmer, a journalist who stayed at Green Dragon Zen Monastery in Sausalito, California, says the meditation aspect gave her the sense she’d stepped into another culture. “This place had a peaceful atmosphere you can’t find at a hotel,” she says.