If you've ever felt a desire to leave the trappings of city life behind for the quiet beauty of the natural world, you're not alone. Humans have been feeling this pull for hundreds of years.
For those who are religious, this inner search for purpose and direction has often drawn people to join monastic communities. Traditionally, these centers have been organized around the doctrines of a specific religious tradition or leader. The monks and nuns in these communities take lifelong vows to uphold and honor the rituals and practices of their order.
While the number of people entering monastic communities has decreased over the years, people are still drawn to the benefits of this kind of communal living. Studies show that both meditation and silence -- two practices that can be found in abundance at monasteries -- have positive effects on the brain.
Today, many American monasteries and spiritual retreat centers have opened their doors to seekers of all faiths (and no faith) who are looking to step away from the routines of urban life to contemplate life's mysteries.
With summer just around the corner, HuffPost Religion has put together a list of spiritual centers in the United States that offer guided retreats or short stays. From exploring native Hawaiin spiritual practices at Ala Kukui to taking a pledge of silence at Kentucky's Abbey of Gethsemani, here are 12 centers where you can temporarily unplug and spend some time turning your gaze inward.
Lama Foundation, New Mexico
The Lama Foundation
is an inter-spiritual retreat center near the town of Taos, New Mexico. A group of about 8-15 men and women stay at the center throughout the year, but during the summer the Lama Foundation "welcomes visitors and pilgrims from all walks of life to join the community and connect with the land," according to its website
. Guests can attend guided retreats or simply stay for some time in one of the center's rustic "hermitages."
The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, California
According to its website,
Tassajara was established in 1967 as the "first Zen training monastery outside of Japan." During the fall and winter, the center trains people who are seriously interested in entering monastic life. Between May and September, Tassajara is open for visiting students and guests.
Ala Kukui, Hawaii
Ala Kukui means "Path of Enlightenment" in native Hawaiian. This Maui County retreat space bills
itself as a "cultural center for native Hawaiian spiritual and intellectual advancement." The website
states, "Our retreats offer passage into a community of traditional practitioners and a peaceful space for personal and group development."
Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky
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The Abbey of Gethsemani is likely best known for one of its most famous former residents, the journalist and Trappist monk Thomas Merton
. Today, the abbey opens its doors to visitors who would like to participate in "silent, unstructured and undirected" retreats. Speaking is limited to designated areas. "Communing with the Lord requires a measure of solitude, a stillness and an emptiness, a waiting on and attending to the Spirit," the website states
. "Silence fosters and preserves the climate of prayer and is thus a fundamental part of the Gethsemani retreat experience."
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico
is a spiritual center owned by the Presbyterian Church (USA) that is open to people of all faiths. It hosts a number of guided retreats and conferences every year
, with programs
that range from devotional writing to faith-based eco-activism. The website states
, "People from all over the world come to work together in creation care, to paint, write poetry, to hike, ride horseback, to research globally renowned archaeological and fossil quarries or simply to rest and renew their spirits."
Spirit Rock Meditation Center, California
Spirit Rock Meditation Center is a Buddhist retreat space dedicated to vipassana, or insight meditation, a form of meditation that pays close attention the sensations
that the body may be experiencing. The website states
, "We provide silent meditation retreats, as well as classes, trainings, and Dharma study opportunities for new and experienced students from diverse backgrounds with a willingness to develop their own practice."