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Benefits of monastic stay?
April 16, 2006 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about spending some time at a monastery.

Long story short, I'm a frustrated and not very happy university student, and I think it might be good for me to take some time to think about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. At the same time, it would be nice to get out of my hometown, since I haven't had a vacation in years, and I could avoid the crushing heat for a little while.

The question: has anybody had any experience with staying at a monastery? Is this likely to be a beneficial experience for me, or might it just exacerbate my feelings of isolation? I like reading, hiking, getting up early in the morning, and other monkly activities. Yes, or no? Thanks, any input appreciated (I really don't want to get there and realize that I traveled several hundred miles only to feel worse).
posted by diocletian to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I think it sounds like a fine idea. I am told the ten-day Vipassana meditation retreats are great – structured but gentle. Depending where you are, you might find a Zen or Tibetan-style monastery nearby that offers some kind of structured meditation retreat arrangement, or could offer you a room or a private cabin or the like.
posted by zadcat at 10:12 AM on April 16, 2006


There's a local Benedictine monastery here, which I visited during the day. After a lovely, peaceful walk through the hills, I found the abbot. He took me for a little tour and answered a lot of my questions. Afterwards, I stayed for vespers.

Not being a religious person, and being entirely unfamiliar with the faith's traditions and rituals, I did feel a bit uncomfortable at times.

That said, I still considered spending several days there in the future. It's been on my mind lately because our new home is quite close to it. I was made to feel welcome, and the sense of peace and calm was indescribable.

I suggest calling or writing and asking any questions you may have. Bottom line, I absolutely recommend it if what you need is a little mental quiet and space to work some things out. It is not a fully isolated activity unless you prefer it to be, and you will come back to the world soon enough. Who knows, if you are able to gain some clarity you may find your relationships with others and the world improved.
posted by moira at 10:21 AM on April 16, 2006


I stayed at an ashram for a couple weeks after a particularly traumatic period of my life. it gave me time to just think and wander and meditate. some of the people there were a little nutty / culty, but I didn't see much of them and it was cheap, with full vegetarian meals, yoga classes, swimming pool & lake, beautiful trails, etc. And no one talked to you / intruded /etc if you didn't want to engage - very respectful of the importance of silence and solitude (I think they do a 'silent weekend' thing, too, where no one speaks at all). anyway, point is, yes I think it is a good for you, and no you don't have to feel any affinity with the particular beliefs of the place to find solace.

Regarding your worries about feeling 'more isolated', I guess you have to assess what you need. if you are mostly feeling lonely, you might want to consider a vacation that allows for some kind of bonding, like a retreat or conference built around an interest of yours, or just a trip to a place that excites you, where you may also have social contact (w/o considering the social contact central - eg, going scuba diving - you won't meet soulmates, but you'll have human interchanges etc). if the trouble is more that you're feeling muddled or overwhelmed or traumatized or otherwise thrown / out of touch with yourself / etc, then a personal retreat where you can really pay attention to your own thoughts, and just spend some time with nature, can be very healing.
posted by mdn at 10:39 AM on April 16, 2006


I would call ahead of time and talk to someone at the monestary before you go. It's a good idea to ask what they expect from guests. And like others, I would suggest looking into other sorts of retreat centers like ashrams, buddhist centers etc. That said, I know some folks have really enjoyed retreats at monestaries. I think it depends on where you go.

I spent part of a spring break at a monestary wanting solitude. Like you I was pretty unhappy with what I was doing and was hoping to find some clarity. Though I could say that I got some of what I wanted, there was an unwritten expectation that those who came as guests would attend services. Which I wasn't all that interested in doing. I wanted time to read, walk around on the hiking paths, meditate etc. Frankly I just wanted it to be quiet for a while.

I can't say that it solved my problems for me. But it wasn't a bad way to spend my time and it certainly wasn't expensive.

Good luck to you!
posted by mulkey at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2006


The BBC did a programme on something like this last year. They did a 'reality TV' show where five men spent 40 days and 40 nights in a Benedictine monastery. I haven't seen the programme, but from what I've read, the five men all entered the monastery as sceptics, but had a profound experience whilst there. The BBC website has a testimony from one of the men.
posted by talitha_kumi at 11:17 AM on April 16, 2006


This is a previous thread
posted by hortense at 3:10 PM on April 16, 2006


If you are struggling with feelings of isolation I might recommend against the monastic retreat. I've gone on a number of retreats through the years and they are incredibly refreshing, but tend to make even my introverted nature yearn for people again.

Do you have friends or family who live in other towns? You could take a vacation where you visit those friends, but also set the expectation that you have some things to sort out and would like to have some space and time to be alone.

Another gentle suggestion - if you are thinking about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything, you might want to consider that the answers to those questions are not purely intellectual - they are relational as well. I say that because I have a tendency to draw into myself, become pensive and brooding, and start seeing the universe in darker and darker terms. It takes a call from a friend or some time to do something mindless to get out of it. If you are like this as well, going off by yourself might intensify the problem.

If you are really just sick of being around people and need some time to decompress and think, however, a monastic retreat is a great idea.
posted by sherlockt at 3:27 PM on April 16, 2006


Before you go someplace and spend time and money I would suggest you read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. You can probably find it in your local library. If it speaks to you it may be all you need.
posted by dclawyer at 4:15 PM on April 16, 2006


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