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Reflect and Renew with Spiritual Retreats

It’s no surprise that we need to escape from the everyday to nurture our spirituality. Somewhere between work, social engagements, the computer, and pop culture, we lose our sense of self, and need to step away to try to find it. A spiritual retreat can be just the solution.

Spirituality means many things to many people. For some it’s religious, for other it’s distinctly secular, and for others, it is a mixture of both. I like to think of spiritual retreats as a place where you can find the sentient part of yourself, and clear the mind in order to find a deeper sense of self. While I’m still searching for my “real” purpose, I’m sure these five places would help me to do so.

Green Gulch Farm Zen Center
This farm, Zen meditation center, and study center is tucked into the hills of Mt Tamalpais, in Marin County, CA. I’ve attended their Sunday session, which includes a meditation instruction followed by an hour-long meditation, a lecture by a monk or zen master, and a home cooked meal in the main hall. They also offer one, five, and seven day retreats. The center is set amidst a forest of eucalyptus and hiking trails, so you can tromp around the hills after your hours of silent rejuvenation. The spirit of Mother Nature might just help soothe your own.

Esalen
Esalen is a world famous mind, body, and spiritual center put on the map in the 1960s when it attracted such luminaries as Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Joan Baez. It continues to attract well know academics, artists, spiritual leaders, writers, and poets. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur, CA, Esalen offers workshops, personal growth programs, alternative education, and a stunning location.

Vipassana Meditation Retreats
Held throughout the world (there are ten centers in North America), these free, ten-day silent mediation retreats are not for the faint of heart. At least, so says one of my friends who attended a retreat in Joshua Tree, CA. For ten days, you are in complete silence, practicing sitting meditation for twelve hours a day, eating a purely vegetarian diet, and living in male and female separated quarters. My friend says that some people flee around day two when it seems overwhelming; however, if you make it past this point, and other challenging bumps along the way, you are greatly rewarded. “Like life, it has its ups and downs, but is ultimately a life-changing experience,” she says. Because it’s meant to be a purification of the mind, these retreats should not be taken lightly.

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
The Omega Institute focuses on spiritual growth and self-awareness, as well as health and wellness through the mind-body connection. To try to help their conference and retreat participants de-stress, they’ve made their 195-acre headquarters, located in the Hudson Valley, NY, a peaceful oasis from a hectic world. I wouldn’t mind oasis-ing with some of their upcoming lecturers, like Mia Farrow and Robert Kennedy, Jr., or visiting their center in Costa Rica.

Vallecitos Mountain Refuge
I think the scenery alone at this refuge in the Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico is a spiritual retreat. It is set on a 135-acre wildlife refuge and mountain sanctuary. In addition to courses on mediation and contemplative practice, they also offer workshops in mindfulness-based leadership for those practical change makers.

It’s almost calming just to know these places exist.

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