The Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, NY, April 30, 2017. Video by Adam McIe for lohud
Next Saturday, you could find yourself staring up at a 55-foot ivory Buddha as you chant, barefoot and perched on a floor cushion.
You might be slamming a tennis ball with all your might at a former adult summer camp or inhaling to a count of three and exhaling to a count of three from a mountaintop as your gaze drifts over the Hudson River Valley.
All of these activities are within reach in an hour or two at meditation getaways that last a day, a weekend or much longer, if you have time.
Your meditative moment could be contemplating the sparkling river from a gazebo atop a bluff, meandering a lush garden labyrinth, sweating in a woody sauna, folding yourself into a downward-dog position, going for a meditative kayak journey, or learning how to run in a meditative state.
It’s a self-care kind of vacation, but it involves internal work with long-lasting payback suited for spiritually minded people as well as secular souls.
“You don’t have to have your eyes closed and sitting on a cushion to exercise these tools. That’s good, but what makes meditation practice great is what it does for us the rest of the time,” says Amy Reyer, mindfulness and meditation educator.
She’s the founder of the Art of Living Slowly and leads a compassion meditation class in Croton-on-Hudson. She also leads a meditation class at Graymoor Spiritual Life Center in Garrison using the Tergar philosophy, which translates the ancient practice of meditation for a modern world for people of all backgrounds.
But you don’t have to be a teacher or go out of state to take a breather in Buddhist monk fashion. You can reap the benefits of meditation anywhere in everyday life.
“It’s not about getting away from real life but making friends with yourself so you can be more present in your life,” says Ethan Nichtern, a shastri (or senior teacher) in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, and an award-winning author. He leads weekend retreats at the Shambhala Center of New York, where there’s no cloistering away from reality.
An urban retreat is a good middle ground between a 10-minute practice in the morning at home and a full-on, deep retreat in which silence and no cellphones is enforced. “It’s not that people are trying to … be yogis living in caves and all that. But we want to learn how to apply compassion and mindfulness in everyday life,” Nichtern says.
Joy Baum has been a contemplative educator for many years and continues to teach and practice in the Hudson Valley, throughout North America and abroad. She’s running a retreat at the Garrison Institute this summer, as part of Inhabit Retreats, which is “a fabulous opportunity to engage in the meditative and contemplative experiences of an immersion retreat,” Baum says.
For an experience closer to monastic living — for a few days, that is — that’s available at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, the Shambhala Center at Sky Lake in Rosendale, and Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper. Those who are really serious can take a year-long residency at Zen Mountain.
But if you’re just starting out, you may want to try an evening or a day at one of these retreats:
Omega Institute in Rhinebeck
Offerings: Choose from more than 390 workshops, retreats and professional training opportunities in 2017; the curriculum spans six learning paths: Body/Mind/Spirit, Health & Healing, Creative Expression, Leadership & Work, Relationships & Family and Sustainable Living; there are at least 20 programs specific to meditation and mindfulness, but hundreds of the workshops offered have a meditative component within the program; attend a workshop or visit as getaway for a rest & rejuvenation retreat; there are daily open (optional) classes in meditation, yoga, tai chi and movement; there will be four silent retreats in 2017.
Did you know? Founded in 1977, Omega Institute is celebrating 40 years; more than 23,000 people visit each year; most people stay for a weekend retreat or a five-day weekday retreat, but commuting is possible.
Accommodations: A former summer camp, Omega’s 250-acre campus restored the dining hall, main hall and guest lodging, adding a library, wellness center and sanctuary; lodging ranges from cabins with private baths to camping sites with shared baths.
Prices and packages: Overnight rates range from $236 for camping two nights to $1,883 for a single room in Cabin A for seven nights, which includes three meals a day, open classes, the sauna, lake (in season), basketball and tennis courts and trails; in May there’s a special R&R getaway deal including a free massage and discounted rates.
Go: Address: 150 Lake Dr., Rhinebeck, 877-944-2002, eomega.org
Chuang Yen Monastery
What’s there: Great Buddha Hall, Kuan Yin Hall, dining hall, gift shop, Thousand Lotus Terrace, Seven Jewel Lakes, Garden, and Woo Ju Memorial Library.
Offerings: Meditation & Dharma Talk with Venerable Suddhaso, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 21, at Kuan-Yin Hall; 10-Day Insight through Satipatthāna Meditation Retreat, in which you must follow the eight traditional precepts including silence, vegetarianism, abstaining from food after the midday meal and more; Summer Camp starting June 30, for adults, teens and children who are able to maintain silence.
Did you know? This Buddhist temple is home to the largest indoor statue of a Buddha in the western hemisphere. It’s 55 feet tall, including the pedestal and base.
Accommodations: Expect monastic accommodations; bring a sleeping bag, toiletries, and loose, modest clothing with long sleeves and long pants/skirts, shoes with no laces, and warm outerwear. Bring no valuable jewelry, cellphones, or other electronics.
Cost: The May 21 class has a suggested $15 donation; donations are accepted also for other programs; registration for overnight retreats is dependent on acceptance as space is limited; register for summer camp before June 11.
Hours: Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 1 to Dec. 31; library is open 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Go: 2020 Route 301, Carmel, 845-225-1819, www.baus.org/en/visit/chuang-yen-monastery/
Shambhala Meditation Center of New York
Offerings: Learn to Meditate classes for beginners are 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays and noon to 1 p.m. Sundays; Public Sitting Meditations are drop-in, silent, sitting meditation sessions typically hosted by a timekeeper, interspersed with brief periods of walking meditation 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays, 6 to 7 p.m. Fridays and 9 to 11:45 a.m. Sundays; Weekly Dharma Gathering at 7 p.m. Tuesdays involves a group meditation practice, a talk by a senior teacher, discussion and a light reception; meditation instruction is also provided; there are also Shambhala Training Weekend retreats with various themes, led by different shastras Friday night, all day Saturday and half of Sunday.
Accommodations: No overnight stays are available in New York City.
Cost: Dharma Gatherings are $10 for general admission and $5 for students; Learn to Meditate has a suggested $10 donation; other sessions are by donation; Shambhala Training Weekend retreats range from $180 to $330, with a generosity policy for those with financial hardship who make advance arrangements.
Go: 118 West 22nd St., 6th floor, New York, 212-675-6544, ny.shambhala.org; email@example.com
Shambhala Center at Sky Lake, Rosendale
Offerings: Located in the Shawangunk Mountains, Sky Lake is the the rural sister retreat to New York center and offers meditation, arts and mindfulness retreats. Guests can walk in the woods, hike trails at nearby Mohonk Preserve, scale the Gunks or take a stroll around the spring-fed pond. Meditation instruction is available, from free introductory instruction and follow-up instruction to guided programs that incorporate nature such as a Mindfulness Kayaking program (May 24-25). The center’s Spring Kado Retreat: The Way of Flowers (June 2-6) is an an intensive 4-day program including flower arranging demonstrations, sitting, Dharma talks, Kado practice, outside walks and evening events.
Accommodations: There are a few different overnight options including a few private rooms, shared room, shrine room or tent camping in summer. Rates are per person and include three meals a day for 1-2 week programs and breakfast and lunch only for Shambhala training weekend programs. Rates differ for each program.
Go: 22 Hillcrest Lane, Rosendale, 845-658-8556, skylake.shambhala.org
Tergar Meditation and Retreats in Garrison
Offerings at Graymoor Spiritual Life Center: Discover days of renewal and recollection, meetings, events, conferences, retreats and mini-retreats; there are a bunch of themed retreats such as addiction recovery, women-only and men-only; Tergar-philosophy guided meditation classes are held 7 to 8:15 p.m. Wednesdays.
Offerings at Garrison Institute: Many themed retreats are available, like the Personal Retreat Weekend July 14-16, a silent, unstructured personal retreat for meditators with a developed practice and those seeking renewal in the serenity of a contemplative environment; many 2017 retreats focus on the arts and The Atlas of Emotions.
Did you know? Garrison Institute is a castle that was the former Capuchin monastery overlooking the east bank of the Hudson River across from West Point. It’s on 95 acres of Glenclyffe property, formerly the estate of Hamilton Fish, New York governor and President Grant’s secretary of state.
Accommodations: Located on a mountaintop overlooking the Hudson River Valley, Graymoor is open to the public dawn to dusk year-round. It has miles of picturesque grounds with trails and a labyrinth. Meals are included for retreats; Garrison institute offers single and double bedrooms, along with vegetarian meals, walking trails, a gazebo, gardens and a labyrinth.
Prices and packages: Graymoor has one-day mini retreats 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays for $35, weekend retreats with two-night stays and five meals vary, but can be between $150 and $225; at the Garrison Institute, rooms are $290 to $330 with partial scholarships available.
Go: Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, Kennedy Lounge, 4th floor, 1320 Route 9, (40 Franciscan Way for GPS navigation) Garrison; and The Garrison Institute, 14 Mary’s Way, Route 9D at Glenclyffe, Garrison. inhabitretreats.com; for Graymoor, 845-424-2111, garrisonistitute.org.
Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper
Offerings: All programs fall into the monastery’s training schedule, which is highly structured; the Sunday morning program is a good way to first experience the monastery, learn to meditate and discover the offerings. There is no need to pre-register, but arrive by 8:45 a.m. for the chanting and bowing service, then beginner instruction in zazen (Zen meditation), formal discourse, and then lunch until 1 p.m.; wear loose, comfortable, modest, non-bright clothing; no shorts, leggings or tanks; then there are weekend, weeklong, one-month and year-long residential retreats. Themes vary from Running as Meditation and Family Camping and Storytelling Retreat to Dreaming to Wake Up and Introduction to Zen Meditation.
Accommodations: Dormitory bedrooms are separated by gender with bunk beds for six to eight people; bed linens are provided and vegetarian meals included, as well as coffee and tea in the early morning.
Cost: $5 suggested donation for the Sunday session; prices vary for retreats, but for example, one weekend retreat is $250; financial assistance is available.
Go: For GPS navigation, search for the intersection of Plank Road and Miller Road in Mount Tremper; it should take you to the monastery’s front gate. 845-688-2228, zmm.mro.org.
Benefits of meditation
Why bother with this anyway?
Meditation reduces stress, depression and anxiety. It improves your health, well-being and resilience to the struggles life throws at you, says Chrissa J. Pullicino, external communications manager at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck. Oh, is that all?
Of course there’s more.
There are four components of well-being supported by neuroscience in the 2015 World Happiness Report a document backed by institutions such as Columbia University. The components — a positive outlook, rebounding from negative emotion, mindfulness and mind wandering, and caring for others — can be developed and improved with training and experience. “Happiness and well-being are best regarded as skills that can be enhanced through training,” according to the report.
Yes, you can train yourself to be happy and feel a sense of well-being (most of the time).
Meditation is the training, and it can take many forms: Breathing, visualization, chanting, sound, compassion, moving, gratitude and mantras. It’s really a matter of taste and finding what suits you.
And where it suits you.
“I feel most drawn to nature mediation. I feel most connected and alive when I’m in the beauty of nature,” Pullicino says. “I find having a gratitude practice can be really helpful. On your commute to work, or before bed at night, even on your worst day, there’s always some blessing in your life you can feel thankful for.
“I genuinely do feel more of a sense of well-being and trust in life that everything will work out.”