Ready for a life without telephones, televisions, computers, and other earthly distractions? Few of us are. But we could all use a break from time to time.
For those seeking a respite from the noisy demands of daily life, a silent retreat might be in order. Whether set amid the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Valley or right in the heart of Washington, spiritual retreats offer peace and quiet where you need it most: on the inside.
There are a few things to keep in mind. Most retreat accommodations are spartan, with single beds and sparse furnishings (think college dorm). Spiritual retreats nourish not only your mind but your body: If a meal plan is available, it will likely feature organic or vegetarian fare.
While the idea of silence may sound good in theory, some people find they need help keeping the peace. Some centers offer a spiritual guide or coach to help you through the process with prompts, insights, and guided meditation.
Silent does not mean sedentary. Some retreats have organized activities, like yoga; others offer a do-it-yourself approach, providing access to facilities like gardens and chapels.
Retreats may be rooted in religious tradition or operate on a philosophical ethos. Though ideologies may differ, all share a common directive: Leave your cell phones and other communication devices at home. At the end of the day, the only voice you really need to hear is your own inner one.
Where to Experience the Silent Treatment
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Real action is in silent moments.”
Here’s a sampling of options in our area where you can experience your own silent moments. Prices vary from as little as $15 a night for a room up to $2,000 for lodging and meals for a weekend. Some religious retreats do not set a cost but appreciate a donation. Many retreat centers welcome visitors who want to come just for the day. Most offer self-directed retreats, where you are on your own, though some offer spiritual or retreat guidance. All centers are open to all faiths.
Am Kolel Sanctuary Retreat Center, Beallsville, Md.; 301-349-2799. Only 40 minutes northwest of the Beltway, Am Kolel includes a meditation garden, labyrinth, chapel, and more than 20 acres of grounds to explore. A yoga instructor is on site.
Benedictine Pastoral Center, Bristow, Va.; 703-393-2485. Rooted in the Christian Benedictine tradition, the center offers quiet spaces for relaxation and prayer. The monastery setting offers a labyrinth, outdoor Stations of the Cross, and wooded walks.
Dayspring Silent Retreat Center, Germantown; 301-916-1131. The place to go when you’re serious about silence. Retreats can be self-guided, though spiritual direction is available. Individual retreats are scheduled Monday through Thursday except during July and August, when some weekends are also available. Closed for retreats in January.
Friends Wilderness Center, Harpers Ferry; 304-728-4820. Twenty minutes east of Charles Town, West Virginia, this Quaker-sponsored sanctuary offers a wilderness setting and basic lodging including a yurt, treehouse, and campsite. Breakfast and dinner are included for those staying in the cabin; lunch can be brought in or is provided for $10 each.
Hermitage at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, Northeast DC; 202-526-6800. The two-year-old, modernist retreat center for one is set on a serene wooded hillside. There’s a kitchenette and private outdoor deck. Guests are free to walk the gardens and grounds, visit the shrines and a private chapel, and attend mass or confession. To read a first-person account of staying there, from our December 2014 issue, click here.
Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville, Va.; 540-955-4383. Experience the monastic life at Holy Cross. Run by Cistercian (Trappist) monks, the abbey offers nondirected individual retreats where silence is strictly observed during meals. Stays are Monday to Friday or Friday to Sunday, with basic single rooms, private baths, and three meals a day. Monks are available for spiritual direction and confession.
Loyola on the Potomac, Faulkner, Md.; 301-392-0800. Thirty-five miles south of Washington, on the bluffs overlooking the Potomac, this Jesuit center provides directed and nondirected retreats at certain times of the year. This is a picturesque setting: Guests can explore the woods or riverfront beach, and enjoy sunsets over the Potomac.
Loyola University Retreat Center, Flintstone, Md.; 410-617-5780. On 20 acres in the mountains of Western Maryland, this retreat center, owned and operated by Loyola University Maryland, is a nondenominational retreat for groups, families, and individuals. Meals are provided and made from scratch.
Retreat and Conference Center at Bon Secours, Marriottsville, Md.; 410-442-3120. Sponsored by the Sisters of Bon Secours, this retreat, on more than 300 acres, includes a peace garden, chapel, labyrinth walk, and a pond with a small waterfall. Guests are welcome to use the outdoor pool (in season), indoor fitness center, and library. For overnight guests, rates include meals.
St. Anselm’s Abbey, Northeast DC; 202-269-2300. In the heart of the city, the abbey and its chapel are open to all. Overnight retreats are mainly for men, with limited availability for women. If they wish, guests can consult with a monk.
StoneSong Awareness and Nature Center, Flintstone, Md.; 301-478-3368. For those who want to heighten their environmental consciousness, StoneSong is the place. The Nature Center hosts workshops, retreats, sweat lodges, drumming circles, and simple weekend getaways for individuals, couples, or groups.
Can’t get away for the night but would like to find some inner quiet? The Insight Meditation Community of Washington offers half- and full-day retreats at area locations. Day retreats focus on meditation, mindfulness, and movement, and most are conducted in silence. For details, contact 202-986-2922.
November, 2014: This article has been updated from a May, 2008 version.