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Meditators of all levels are drawn to silent retreats for spiritual awakening and peace of mind.

By Martha Schindler

Insight Meditation Society
Barre, Massachusetts

A Buddhist retreat center housed in an early 1900s mansion, IMS is an hour and a half west of Boston. It was the first Dharma center in the West and has been hosting meditation retreats since 1975. IMS offers approximately 20 retreats a year, most from seven to 10 days. There's also a three-month-long program available for advanced meditators. The retreats are all silent, except for daily talks and instructor interviews, and include both walking and sitting meditation. Accommodations are dormitory-style and cost $38 a day, including meals. (978) 355-4378;

Palolo Zen Center, Honolulu Diamond Sangha
Honolulu, Hawaii

This Zen Buddhist center offers six silent meditation retreats—which they call sesshins—every year, ranging from three to eight days. Visitors can also attend a one-day retreat called zazenkai or sign up for several months of intensive Zen study. The center sits on 13 acres in a quiet valley, just 15 minutes from Honolulu's bustling Waikiki Beach. Here, your day begins at 4 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m. You'll spend the time in seated meditation and mindful work practice; silence is observed throughout. Rooms are shared (dormitory-style accommodations) and meals are vegetarian; short-stay rates are $35 a day. (808) 735-1347;

Karme-Choling Buddhist Meditation Center
Barnet, Vermont

One of the Shambhala International meditation centers, Karme-Choling is a rambling 540-acre facility with a dormitory and large meditation hall, plus seven cabins tucked into the woods and a separate guest house in the nearby town of Barnet. It's located between White River Junction and Burlington, in the Green Mountains of northern Vermont. The center offers retreats ranging from two-day in-house programs to month-long residencies, which focus on the "three gates" of Shambhala theory: Vajradhatu, based on Tibetan Buddhism; Shambhala, which follows a nondenominational "human warrior" model; and Nalanda, which combines various Japanese arts with Buddhist teachings on subjects such as psychology, health, and relationships. A typical in-house retreat includes daily individual meditation instruction, group practice, and a short work period; it costs $30 a day, plus between $10 and $50 a night for room and board. Guests are encouraged to complete an introductory meditation course at a Shambhala Center before signing up for a retreat. (802) 633-2384;

Mount Madonna Center
Watsonville, California

Situated on a 355-acre tract above Monterey Bay in the Santa Cruz mountains, Mount Madonna hosts 40 programs a year, including retreats in yoga and meditation, Buddhist thought, and other paths to spirituality. In addition to their formal activities, participants can swim in a nearby lake; play tennis, volleyball, and basketball; and hike. Silence is part of many of the programs, although they allow for some discourse. The facility can accommodate up to 500 people (in private rooms and on surrounding campsites), but programs vary dramatically in size, from about five participants to maximum capacity. A typical weekend retreat costs about $150, plus $58 per person per day for double-occupancy and vegetarian meals. (408) 847-0406;

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