Going on a Monastic Retreat
A monastery is a home for people (commonly called monks) who have made a commitment to a religious way of life. Monks, in general, live simply and follow a daily schedule that may include time set aside for prayer, meditation, and manual labor.
Why would people outside of the monastery be drawn to this lifestyle? It may be because monastic retreats offer an experience separate from our hurried and high-pressure society.
If you are longing for solitude and spiritual direction, then staying at a retreat may be exactly what you need to bring your life back into balance.
What to Expect
Monastic retreats can vary greatly depending on the religion that the monks practice and the program that has been created for visitors. Because of this, you may want to begin by doing research online to find out what types of retreats are available. A quick search for monastic retreats in the United States may return with hundreds of thousands of hits! So you may want to narrow your search by deciding on:
- Which religion you would like to focus on
- Where you would like to travel to
Once you have found some monasteries online, the next step is to read as much as you can about each one to pick the best match for you and your goals.
Here are some things to keep in mind to help you choose:
Monasteries are usually located in beautiful, serene settings that may feature several buildings, a garden, a tree grove, and a lake.
Reasons for Going
This is one of the most important points to consider! Think about what you hope to accomplish by going on this retreat. For example, you may want to:
- Begin a spiritual journey
- Build a stronger relationship with your higher power
- Learn how to meditate
- Renew your body and mind
- Release yourself from a hectic schedule
- Devote time to reading something spiritual
Discover your own reasons for going on a retreat!
While a monastery is usually thought of as home for Christian monks, there are actually monasteries for people who follow Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as other religions and philosophies. And, in general, monasteries are open to people of all faiths and backgrounds. Therefore, if you are new to the Zen school of Buddhism, for instance, that is perfectly okay! You just need to choose a retreat that is right for you.
Length of Stay
This really depends on you! There are retreats that last a weekend, several weekdays, an entire week, or even longer. If you are thinking of staying at a monastery near your home, you can even plan a brief visit to talk with the people in charge of guest relations.
Each monastery offers a unique schedule to meet various needs. For example, you may want to go on a directed retreat where you attend conferences during the day, meet with a spiritual leader, and read recommended spiritual texts. On the other hand, you may choose to do a private retreat that allows you to spend time alone in prayer and meditation.
Think simplicity! You can expect the monastery to offer a dorm-style atmosphere where you may be sharing a bedroom and bathroom with other guests of the same gender. In order to ensure a peaceful environment, you most likely will not be allowed to bring a computer, mp3 player, cell phone, or other electronic devices. However, most monasteries do have a library, so you can spend your free time reading.
Meals are typically very basic and served in the dining hall at set times throughout the day. Some monasteries have strict rules about meals, though, like not eating before noon or having only two meals a day. In some cases, guests are encouraged to eat their meals in silent meditation.
Manual labor is an important part of a monk’s life. Because of this, guests may also take part in the duties around the monastery, like cleaning or gardening.
No need to wear fancy clothes during your stay! Simple, comfortable clothes and shoes are fine for the monastery.
Monasteries may not be clear about the cost per night. But, in general, you can expect that it may cost $60-$100 per night. Of course, a more generous contribution will be greatly appreciated by the monks!
You may be surprised to discover that there are several monasteries in the state that you live in. But, what if you have your heart set on traveling outside of the United States?
Take the same precautions that you would for any other trip abroad. Research the area on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, and make an appointment with your doctor to find out if you need any vaccinations or medicines before your journey.
No matter where you are staying, take the initiative to ask about the cleanliness of the monastery, especially the kitchen facilities. You can also take other steps to be healthy, like getting a flu shot and washing your hands often. These precautions can help you to stay healthy while you are creating a spiritual connection.
What to Do Next
Now that you have an overview of what to expect during a monastic retreat, it is up to you to make the next move! Many monasteries allow you to register online, just keep in mind that there may be a registration fee and possibly a deposit.
So if you feel the need to step away from life’s constant demands, then now may be a good time to replenish yourself in the peacefulness of a monastery.
About retreats. Zen Mountain Monastery website. Available at: http://mro.org/zmm/retreats/about_retreats.php. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Accommodations and rates. New Camaldoli Hermitage website. Available at: http://www.contemplation.com/retreats/accommodations-and-rates.html. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Coming to a retreat. Zen Mountain Monastery website. Available at: http://mro.org/zmm/retreats/comingtoretreat.php. Accessed August 23, 2011.
The experience of retreats. Bhavana Society website. Available at: http://www.bhavanasociety.org/page/the_experience_of_retreats/. Accessed August 23, 2011.
General information for guests. Abbey of New Clairvaux website. Available at: http://www.newclairvaux.org/general-guest-information.html. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Group retreats. Monastery of the Holy Spirit website. Available at: http://www.trappist.net/GroupRetreats. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Guest information. Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery website. Available at: http://www.shastaabbey.org/visiting.html#schedule. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Making a retreat. New Camaldoli Hermitage website. Available at: http://www.contemplation.com/retreats.html. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Monastic life retreat (MLR) program. Abbey of New Clairvaux website. Available at: http://www.newclairvaux.org/monastic-life-retreat-program.html. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Private retreats. Monastery of the Holy Spirit website. Available at: http://www.trappist.net/PrivateRetreats. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Retreat frequently asked questions. Zen Mountain Monastery website. Available at: http://mro.org/zmm/retreats/retreatfaq.php. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Retreat policies. Monastery of the Holy Spirit website. Available at: http://www.trappist.net/RetreatPolicies. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Retreat schedule 2011. Monastery of the Holy Spirit website. Available at: http://www.trappist.net/RetreatSchedule2011. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Sample schedule for weekend retreats. Zen Mountain Monastery website. Available at: http://mro.org/zmm/retreats/schedule.php. Accessed August 23, 2011.
The self-directed retreat. Abbey of New Clairvaux website. Available at: http://www.newclairvaux.org/weekendweek-retreat.html. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Spiritual direction. Monastery of the Holy Spirit website. http://www.trappist.net/SpiritualDirection. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Successful retreat. Monastery of the Holy Spirit website. http://www.trappist.net/SuccessfulRetrat. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Upcoming retreats 2011. Shasta Abbey Buddhist Monastery website. Available at: http://www.shastaabbey.org/calendar-retreats.html. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Welcome. Monastery of the Holy Spirit website. Available at: http://www.trappist.net/. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Welcome to Zen Mountain Monastery. Zen Mountain Monastery website. Available at: http://www.mro.org/zmm/. Accessed August 23, 2011.
Last reviewed September 2011 by Lawrence Frisch, MD, MPH
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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