© 2002, Thomas M. Krapu, Ph.D., All rights reserve
Don't You Know You're on Vacation?
Glenn Davis to describe his weeklong silent retreat, and he's almost
at a loss for words. Here, finally, is what he comes up with: "It's
the best vacation I've ever had." A fan of the Transcendental Meditation
courses, oil massages and herbal treatments offered by the Raj, an ayurvedic
spa in Fairfield, Iowa, Mr. Davis, 53, a car dealer in Richboro, Pa.,
eagerly signed on six years ago when he learned of a program that would
let him experience the classes and bodywork in silence. "The whole
idea behind T.M. is that you're silent during the meditation, and this
was a chance to be in silence for an entire week. It's so restful,"
said Mr. Davis, who has also attended silent retreats in Livingston
Manor, N.Y., and Heavenly Mountain Resort near Boone, N.C., sometimes
accompanied by a friend in the construction business. "Your whole
life is focused outward, and this was an opportunity to get to a very
deep state of rest. You don't realize how much effort it takes to talk
until you're not doing it."
people seem to be coming to the same conclusion. Maybe it's a reaction
to the endless brrrrrings of cellphones and the relentless barrage of
messages by e-mail, fax and BlackBerry, but silence, for many, is becoming
the great escape.
Tom Krapu, a St. Louis-based corporate coach who leads an annual two-day tai chi retreat conducted almost entirely in silence, is getting so many inquiries he is considering adding another session. "I get a lot of people asking me about silent retreats, even those who don't do tai chi," he said. Similar inquires have led the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Mass., to "significantly increase our meditation programs, all of which have a considerable silence component," said the center's spokeswoman, Cathy Husid.
Sky Lake Lodge, a Shambhala retreat center in Rosendale, N.Y., centered
on a Western form of Tibetan Buddhism, there is often a waiting list
for "Resting the Mind," a weeklong silent retreat held every
July. The White House Retreat, a Jesuit-run retreat center in St. Louis,
is averaging 600 new participants a year, "and more calls than
ever before because we're on the Internet," said Genevieve Eiler,
the office manager.
periods of silence vary from program to program and center to center.
At Spirit Rock Meditation Center, a retreat center in Woodacre, Calif.,
for example, participants in some program are asked to observe quiet
except during a daily talk given by the instructor, often followed by
questions. During her 10 days of silence at the Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana
Center, a Buddhist-related retreat in Joshua Tree, in Southern California,
Amy Sanghavi, 23, was permitted to speak to the meditation instructors
daily at noon and at the end of the day. "I shared a room with
two others and learned to pick up on their nonverbal communications,"
said Ms. Sanghavi, an account coordinator for a public relations firm
in Austin, Tex. "But we weren't supposed to make hand signals."
has some retreats that require total silence and some that have silent
components like walking or eating in silence. But it also offers quiet
à la carte. "We're so big you can construct your own silent
retreat," Ms. Husid said. "You can take a yoga class or have
facials and massages and wear a sign that says 'In Loving Silence,'
so people will understand not to converse with you."
Leonardi, a professor of English at the University of Maryland, has
taken a similar devise-it-yourself approach in her own four-day silent
retreats at monasteries in upstate New York, Northern California and
New Mexico. "They weren't organized events. I've just gone. The
monks have been pretty open that way; you can do what you want as long
as you don't disturb them.
gone to some of the services at the monasteries, so I'm participating
in something that is different from my ordinary routine and larger than
my own personal concerns," Ms. Leonardi added. "Yet I also
have the time there to think about my own personal concerns."
not for everyone there. "There were three women who sat behind me
and talked," Ms. Kellner recalled. "The first thing I did was
turn around and show anger by my facial expression. You're not supposed
to have eye contact but I begged them with my eyes to be quiet. They kept
talking. The first thing I did when I could speak again was to turn and
hug them because silence needs to come from within. You can't control
the outside. There will always be noise outside."
the first day of Jill Gleichman's weeklong retreat at a Carmelite monastery
in Indianapolis, "I was hyperaware of not talking," said Ms.
Gleichman, a 37-year-old Mahwah, N.J., book publicist. "But then
I fell easily into the rhythm of their life and it was a nice place to
be still. My friends were concerned that I would be overwhelmed with intensive
navel-gazing, but I wasn't. Strangely enough, the experience made me more
appreciative of speech. When I was leaving, a nun told me that I fit in
curiously well. Then I was afraid I had a monastic calling." (Now
the monastery accommodates only women considering a "contemplative
Carmelite vocation." )
everyone finds peace in the quiet. "We have people for whom the silence
is too much," said Karen Gutowski, communications manager for Spirit
Rock. "They sometimes get distraught. If they want to talk, we get
them a job in the kitchen. If they've had enough and feel they want to
leave, we ask that they talk to a teacher first."
the fourth day I got completely crazy," Ms. Hilberry said, "and
what I did was hire a taxi and went to see the Mount," Edith Wharton's
residence. "Then I went to the nicest restaurant in Lenox and had
several glasses of red Burgundy, and then went back and felt like I had
been really bad."
there was "some slight psychic shift," Ms. Hilberry acknowledged.
"I did feel at times some wonderful sense of profound quiet, even
though I wasn't following the rules with rigor. I would do a retreat again,
but not there. I want something lean and elegant."
"There is a real attraction to the idea," Mr. Krapu said, "because people sense there's a healing that can be found in silence. They see it as much more of a break than a traditional vacation where they come home more tired than when they left."
Thank you for your interest.