It’s been booked nearly solid since it opened in October.
What do we complain about more these days than the tyranny of constant stimulation? Our attempts to tune out the outside world — the occasional radio-less drive to work, the concerted decision to leave the phone at home for a few hours — are often ineffectual. It has come to this: True solitude is such a rarity in our modern lives that we have to buy it — or, in this case, rent it for $70 a night.
But it turns out solitude isn’t that simple. Although participation in silent retreats is on the rise, many of those preparing to spend time at the hermitage said they were so unaccustomed to unstructured time alone that they made to-do lists — then feared they were doing “solitude” wrong and scrapped them. They agonized over what to bring and wear and eat, as if they were traveling to an exotic land.
Michelle Harris-Love, a neuroscience researcher, wife and mother who lives near the monastery, was happy to pay $140 for two nights at the hermitage. But as the days drew closer, a stressful question surfaced. “I thought: ‘How am I going to fill my time?’ ”
This is a serious question.
The Catholic University architecture students who designed the RV-size space worked to envision the needs and rhythms of tenants who were unplugged. They were asked to turn off all their own devices and spend an hour alone and silent. Of the 12, only three were able to do it.
“Everyone tried, but it started to seem like a waste of time” to them, said William Jelen, the professor who oversaw the project.
“It’s not easy to find silence.”
The biggest U.S. retreat centers, including the Insight Meditation Society in central Massachusetts and Spirit Rock in Northern California, anticipate the roadblocks to achieving an inner focus and discourage — in some cases, forbid — participants from bringing books or journals, even for weeks-long silent retreats. Retreat staffers say such rules are necessary to help participants focus on their interior lives, because many people would rather do just about anything else.
Yet the number of Americans going to silent retreats has been climbing, particularly in the past five years, as more data emerge on the value of meditation and meditation-derived practices such as mindfulness. Despite tough economic times, it seems, people are willing to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a few weeks or months of . . . what?