Tricycle readers name their favorite U.S. retreat centers.
“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.”
—Alexandra Kaloyanides, Managing Editor