Retreat: to withdraw, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable

I’m happy to report that I did not fall prey to a serial killer this weekend. But I can’t say that my silent retreat was a complete success. I retreated all right. After a mere 24 hours, I escaped to the nearest hotel with a decent bed and room service.

Hosted by a non-profit Interfaith group, this retreat was extremely affordable. And I got exactly what I paid for.

I knew I was in for it when I hit the driveway, or rather when the driveway hit me. Deeply rutted, the steep gravel hill fought me for my car’s undercarriage at every turn.

Once I crested Mount Dilapidation, as I came to call it, a couple of ramshackle buildings came into view. The first building housed a shabbier version of the meditation room pictured on the website, a malfunctioning compost toilet, and two modest bedrooms, one of which was mine.

It was not as clean as it looks here

The asceticism appealed to me, given the nature of the retreat. The shabbiness did not.

While I am not terribly neat, I do like basic cleanliness. And this room lacked that. Almost everything that could be stained—the towel hanging from a thick wire at my window, the pillow, the comforter, the skylight—was. There were cobwebs in the corners, and it smelled like a combination of stale chicken soup, dust, damp, and chickpeas.

After a brief talk with the Reverend in charge, the silence began. I meditated, journaled, walked. It felt great. I didn’t speak to anyone, but one of the three other guests spoke to me twice. We’ll call her chatty Cathy. The others managed to convey what they needed to with hand gestures: Do you mind if I use the bathroom? Would you get the hell out of my way? May I have the milk? Can you believe chatty Cathy is STILL in the bathroom?

When bedtime rolled around, it was time for the sleep-sucking futon of death. Barring an airplane seat, this was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever slept on.

I wasn’t the only one not sleeping. The door to the building (which didn’t have a lock) kept opening and closing. From beneath the imagined protection of my thin blanket, I hoped it was another guest. The door to my room locked, but a determined nine-year-old could have forced it. Not that a thief would find this place tempting. No one with money would EVER stay there.

The mice couldn’t sleep either. They were pitter pattering all night.

Because the compost toilet was out of order, using the bathroom required a trip to building two. This was especially fun at night, when scanty lighting made for slow progress over the rocks and ill-kempt walkway.

Somewhere around 3:30 am I decided against spending a second night. At 5:30 am, I gave up on sleep and began planning my escape. I spent quite a bit of time looking at pictures of hotel beds on my smartphone. Porn for the unrested.

I stayed, silently, until mid-afternoon. I meditated and walked some more. I started writing a story about a woman who is trapped in an isolated and probably haunted retreat center.

Then I drove to the Marriott, ordered room service, watched Bridesmaids and laughed my ass off. Silence may be good for the soul, but laughter feels a whole lot better. My soft bed and private bathroom made me positively giddy. If that makes me shallow, fine. I can live with it.


From the midst of my hectic life, I sometimes think, “If only I could [spend a few months at an ashram, sail around the world, hike Mt. Wherever], I’d have it all figured out. I’d finally stop wasting my time, overeating, watching the millionaire matchmaker, and sweating the small stuff. I’d write that novel, be a better mother, and always get a good night’s sleep.”

But the thing is, my 15 minutes of near-daily meditation does more for me than my stay on Mount Dilapidation did. It gives me stillness when I need it most, when the day’s commitments make me feel crazy and overwhelmed.

So that’s what I learned from my silent retreat. Also, the next time I have a weekend away from my responsibilities, I need to make sure there’s room service.

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44 Responses to Retreat: to withdraw, especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable

  1. notquiteold says:

    I’m glad you took action. Your weekend was supposed to be stress-reducing, not stress-inducing. The next time you need quiet introspective time, I would recommend a really really fancy spa.

  2. I’m so sorry your trip didn’t work out (the first part, at least!) but darned if it didn’t make for a great blog post. ‘Porn for the unrested:’ that made me laugh out loud!

  3. Great blog. I agree completely – my idea of ‘roughing it’ is Room Service that cuts off at midnight.

  4. Porn for the unrested…classic! I need to be looking at some of that.
    What a great post! How funny cause I was just telling myself that I need to start meditating daily. I used to when I was pregnant and gearing up for the ol’ pusheroo and then once that was over and done with I completely abandoned it.
    I couldn’t agree more with what you said about silence and laughter.So true! And the part about all the things you want to give up — I’m right there with ya!

  5. bigsheepcommunications says:

    I’m with Nancy – an outrageously expensive upscale spa is a much better bet. Spartan is one thing, but cobwebs, mice and the futon of death is quite another. Glad you survived.

  6. Elyse says:

    Did you tell them you were leaving with sign language? Or are they wondering if there was, in fact, a serial killer at loose? Glad you got sleep and laughter. That’s the best prescription of all.

  7. gojulesgo says:

    I LOVE this! Okay, yes, coming from the girl with the guilty pleasure blog, but what I mean is I love your honesty and humor. Too many people try to cover this side of themselves, and for what? :o)

    Also, I think you got some pretty killer (the good kind, not the serial-killer-who-stalks-retreats kind) writing from the experience in the end – this was a fantastic piece! I was captivated the whole way through.

  8. Jayne Long says:

    Porn for the unrested made me laugh out loud Dory.

    Next time, you need to go “glamping”.

  9. Spartan I can deal with, rodent I can deal with. stained I cannot. My brain would not let me assume that it was a stain that just refused to wash out. I’d have to call the overall cleanliness into question. You made a wise decision.

  10. estherlou says:

    I used to love going on private, directed religious retreats every year. It was a time of renewal and prayer. I went to a Convent and found it wonderful. There is no excuse for what you found, even if they are not financially solvent. Cleanliness is a necessity. Wow. I might have left sooner. Hooray for motels and room service! This is one weekend you won’t forget.

  11. I saw the picture before I started reading & thought to myself “OMG, she needs to go to a RESORT not this dump.” Glad you made the mid-weekend change, got some quiet time, and BEST a good laugh!

  12. Wow. I shouldn’t laugh, but… WOW! That you managed to handle those unclean surroundings for 24 hours is commendable. Seriously, I could not have done it. Especially unclean surroundings that smell like stale food! Oh. My. God.
    When you write that novel about the woman alone in the haunted silent retreat, let me know where to buy it. I’m just picturing the little bits of terror accumulating as this poor woman – prohibited from speaking – slowly learns that spirits both restless and malevolent surround her…. Dude, write that book!

  13. Phew! I’m glad there wasn’t a serial killer! I don’t think I could have lasted 48 hrs at a silent retreat! Room service and a hotel is all I need 🙂

  14. Gilly says:

    I would have seen the room, made some lame apologies, and left. That sounds (and looks) like camping. I think it became a silent retreat when the inn-keep decided she no longer wanted to listen to complaints about the conditions. Congrats to you for giving it the old college try…then escaping to something better! 🙂

  15. Doc says:

    I feel like I came in on the middle of a conversation! Why the silent retreat? Whenever I have something to mull over, I change into warm lounge wear (OK, sweats), cozy up on the couch, turn on Mozart or R. Carlos Nakai, and open a bottle of red wine. Sometimes I’ll even use a glass. Within a half hour my concerns are back in perspective. I don’t mean to make light of whatever you went/are going through. I really enjoyed your writing. And your description.

  16. Lesley says:

    What a brilliantly written post. I’m still laughing. Maybe it was worth all the discomfort for the light it’s brought to the lives of others reading your account of it? No? Oh well. Spa it is next time then!

  17. If moving to a foreign country of which you don’t really speak the language could be likened to a “silent retreat” (Portuguese is like white noise if you don’t speak it), then I can tell you it doesn’t compel you to change those things that are keeping you from achieving those goals. I managed to find a website that played current episodes of “Real Housewives,” I gained 15 pounds and I haven’t started writing that novel. (Although finally, after more than a year, I went cold turkey on the “housewives” and have cut out the wine and cookies… I’ll let you know how it goes.)

  18. Muff says:

    OK, I LOVE that you had a smart phone on a meditation retreat. LOVE. IT. I noticed the distinctly white cable in your computer bag in the photo and laughed when I saw that. I bet most meditation folks bring yoga mats instead of smart phones, though. I hoped this would be a better experience for you since the build up was so big for you, but good for you for bailing out if it wasn’t working.

    Toilets need to work. Per my definition, compost toilets don’t work even if they are functional. It needs to flush – bottom line.

    If you want a silent retreat, why not be a monk in th Swiss Alps, and raise St. Bernards. THAT sounds like fun!

  19. workmomad says:

    Not just room service, but a good bed, too!

  20. Pingback: The big 1-0 | If I Were Brave

  21. Lisa Wields Words says:

    This is great. I’ve thought about doing a silent retreat, but perhaps your idea is better. I simply need a day of pampering somewhere away from the norm, plus I need to learn how to meditate. Love this post!

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