Hoping to recharge my mental and emotional batteries with some solitude
June 4, 2012 12:02 PM   Subscribe

I keep thinking about solitude. I find myself drawn to the idea of a hermetic retreat lasting a week or more. I think I would like to be off the grid and perhaps even verbally silent for that time. I find myself imagining a facility in the woods of British Columbia that provides for the simplest of material needs and enables real solitude and introspection. I have found several such retreats on the web but it seems they primarily religion-based and I am thinking I might be uncomfortable in such a situation as I am an atheist. Have you had such an experience? Can you recommend any facilities that might enable such time? I would love to hear any insights you might have on the topic.
posted by royboy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I spent a few days at Tassajara (the oldest Zen monastery in the US) earlier this year. I was certainly AWARE that I was in a religious & spiritual space, but there was no pressure to attend services, or to participate in those aspects of the community. I did maintain respect for the holiness that the place holds for the residents.

I'd be happy to answer more specific questions if you've got them.
posted by mollymayhem at 12:15 PM on June 4, 2012

Is there a reason you can't just rent a house in a sparsely-populated/full-of-natual-beauty place, drive in your supplies and enjoy solitude for a week? I do this from time to time and love it.
posted by smirkette at 12:16 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes does it need to be an actual organized retreat or do you just need alone time in the woods? Because solo camping in the middle of nowhere (especially during the off season for wherever you are staying) is a pretty easy and cheap way to get off the grid and find some solitude. If you don't want to do actual in a tent camping, a lot of places rent small cabins that just provide shelter and have a minimal amount of amenities.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:22 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went on a few personal spiritual retreats during a more religious phase of my life. Looking back on those times, I really don't think that there was much about the retreats themselves that would have rankled an atheist. I spent a long weekend in a hermitage that had a bible and some crosses, and I could certainly have chosen to participate in religious services, but I really was left alone. In another case I spent a weekend in a dormitory facility on the grounds of a monastery. I was invited to have dinner with the priests and nuns as their guest, but it wasn't required and again, I was pretty much left alone for the rest of the time. I'd say that you should call the retreat center. If they offer hermitages with kitchens you should be good to go to cook your own food and be on your own for the time.

I would give you this piece of advice about retreats - if you don't have any experience with solitude and silence, don't book an entire week or more for your first retreat experience. I'd say 3 days would be ideal and you may find that you're dying for human contact at the end of that time. I'm pretty introverted and have a monastic bent to me, but I couldn't imagine spending a whole week unless I worked up to it and had a very specific lifechanging personal issue to work through.
posted by sherlockt at 12:28 PM on June 4, 2012

I've done 3 Vipassana courses 'with' Goenka. Ten days of silence with about ten hours of meditation a day. Vipassana is Theravada which is very different from Zen. You would not be completely alone, but the experience can be transformational.

I am a staunch atheist and had only the minutest trouble with the teachings. YMMV as they say. Google searches will yield some criticisms- read up in what to expect. The courses are free and in my experience the donation-asking is very, very gentle.
posted by maya at 12:47 PM on June 4, 2012

You could rent a cottage.

If you're active, maybe you can pick a less popular, but not-so-difficult hike and do that (I just finished reading "Wild", which is probably why this idea sprung to mind).
posted by backwards guitar at 1:21 PM on June 4, 2012

I did a retreat at a monastery for 5 nights. You generally have the choice between directed retreats or self-directed retreats. This monastery was cloistered nuns. I was one of two males there. The other was a monk in his 70s. I was the only one under 50 besides a few novitiates.

I too am an atheist and I thought is was wonderful.

They are used to people wanting to be left alone. I had no internet or TV or cell phone.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:26 PM on June 4, 2012

There was a Catholic retreat center I went to several times close to where I used to live. If you have a problem with religious iconography and architecture (like if a picture of Jesus in your room or a chapel with crosses, stained glass, etc., would bother you), it's obviously something to avoid, but they didn't make me flash my Catholic card or pressure me to attend services or prayers or anything. I joined the nuns, priests, and various people for meals and we had some discussions about religion in the course of dinner conversation, but I never felt pressure to convert and it was more dinner conversation/shop talk than real serious theological discussion and I've always found talking to clergy interesting despite not being religious. But I could've kept to myself were I so inclined, no one came knocking to see where I was. The only indication it was happening was the daily schedule they had in my room when I got there. Obviously I wouldn't walk around carrying around books about evils of the church or wearing potentially offensive clothing or blasting music, but I think that's just good manners in a place of prayer (for some) and contemplation (for me).

You could call and ask. Say you're thinking about coming out there but really just want to be alone for however-many days, would you have to go to any prayers or activities or whatever might be potentially bothering you? Some of the retreats by me are even silent retreats except during the prayer services, so I imagine they'd be hard-pressed to convert your or hassle you.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:38 PM on June 4, 2012

Your profile does not list a location. Is there a Trappist monastery near you? Since they are silent, you would probably only encounter someone when you check in and at meals.
posted by Cranberry at 2:15 PM on June 4, 2012

If you don't need some kind of enforced schedule, you could rent a vacation property (especially in the Northeast during the winter) out of season.
posted by elizeh at 3:15 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hollyhock on Cortes Island might offer what you're envisioning. It's a bit spendy, but I' ve heard its also shangri-la for some people.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 3:23 PM on June 4, 2012

Seconding the Vipassana retreat, but only if you're interested in actually meditating - it's not quite the same as solitary contemplation of whatever you feel like. I've done two and can recommend them, but it's not for everyone.
posted by Calibandage at 4:01 PM on June 4, 2012

I don't think you would have any problem with the "religion-based" retreats. The people there will leave you to as much solitude as you want and they will be fully respectful of your beliefs and wishes. Plus you would have the security of an orderly and safe stay.

They may pray for you for a minute in the next room, but that either has no effect or won't hurt anyway. It's as much for their own benefit.
posted by caclwmr4 at 4:42 PM on June 4, 2012

I have been to Hollyhock and came in to suggest it. Since Heart on Sleeve already did that, I will second.

I think if you went and wanted to be silent, everyone would respect that. Wear a button or badge explaining that you're on a silent retreat. (Talk to the staff about this when you book, but I feel like they will be down.)
posted by pupstocks at 9:07 PM on June 4, 2012

Along the lines of backwards guitar's question: if you're active and have some backpacking skills (which, if you're drawn to solitude/hermitism, you may already be), I can recommend Isle Royale National Park.

It's a six-hour boat ride from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I saw a few people near the boat landings at the beginning and end of my week there, but otherwise I went whole days without speaking to anyone. There's no cellphone coverage, no TV, radio, internet, nothing. You, wolves, moose, and quiet.

I was on the island for 9/11. I didn't find out until 9/12 when I was on the boat back.
posted by OHSnap at 11:12 PM on June 4, 2012

Would you consider regular Vipassana?
posted by Under the Sea at 5:12 AM on June 5, 2012

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