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Seeking Sanctuary: Stress Relief at a Monastery

zen mountain monastery

zen mountain monastery

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 and stress relief 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, stress relief, 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.  Remeber to bring your Zen Timer for your mindufulness practice.
green gulch zen monastery

green gulch zen monastery

Finding Sanctuary

Trappist, Kentucky
(502) 549-3117;
Thomas Merton spent twenty-seven years writing and becoming a spiritual master at this monastery in the Kentucky hills. Monks make meatless meals for guests at this silent retreat (speaking is permitted only in designated areas). Accommodations include private room and bath.

Santa Barbara, California
(805) 565-9062;
Two retreats in one, the interfaith center includes El Bosque and Ladera, both nestled in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Dormitory and private rooms and meals are available.

Berryville, Virginia
(540) 955-4383;
At this Blue Ridge Mountain monastery, members of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance of Trappist Monks bake fruitcakes and make preserves, creamed honey, and fudge. Guesthouse accommodations are available.

Wallingford, Pennsylvania
(800) 742-3150;
This Quaker center for study and contemplation is set among woodland that includes 150 different tree species, an organic garden, and a straw bale greenhouse.

Valyermo, California
(661) 944-2178;
This Benedictine monastery and self-directed retreat center offers rooms and home-style food shared with the monastic community (silent breakfasts and dinners). Guests are welcome to join the monks in prayer and chanting.

Mt. Tremper, New York
(845) 688-2228;
Located on a nature preserve in the Catskill Mountains, this monastery offers several levels of visitation, from weekend introductions to Zen Buddhism to monthly meditation intensives. Guests must join the monastic community and are required to participate in all activities.

Zen Chime Alarm Clock, zen meditatin timer

Zen Chime Alarm Clock, zen meditatin timer

adapted from Natural Home Magazine, Jan/Feb 2005 by
Judith Stock
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