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Shhhh! Don't You Know You're on Vacation?
By Joanne Kaufman

Published: March 20, 2005, New York Times

ASK 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."

More 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.

At 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.

The 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."

Kripalu 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."

Susan 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.

"I've 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."
Eden Kellner, a yoga teacher in Manhattan, was not altogether sure what she was getting into when, on a trip to India, she met a woman who told her about a Vipassana meditation center in a small town outside Pune that was offering 10 days of silence. "But I like to go into things blindly," she said. "The idea of being quiet for 10 days seemed awesome."

Apparently, 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."

On 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." )

Not 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."
Susanne Hilberry saw no need for such niceties when she went AWOL - if only for the afternoon - from a five-day silent retreat at Kripalu. "I had been taking yoga, and going on a retreat seemed like an extension of that," said Ms. Hilberry, owner of an art gallery in Ferndale, Mich. "People I know had been there and they said it would be too spartan, but it all sounded appealing to me. I don't think I realized it wouldn't just be me and silence. There were other classes going on and other people who were talking. I also didn't realize it would be primarily meditation. I thought it would be yoga with some meditation. I was sitting in one position for 45 minutes or an hour.

"On 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."

Nevertheless, 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."
All the silent retreat participants took on quiet with different expectations. Amy Sanghavi was seeking to gain more perspective, Jill Gleichman to "reorient," Ms. Kellner "to become a more mature person," as she put it. "I wanted to understand all aspects of myself." All of them, certainly, were looking to de-stress and recharge.

"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."

Reference:
http://travel2.nytimes.com/2005/03/20/travel/20silent.html



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