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Shhhhh...

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

By Martha Schindler

Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health
Lenox, Massachusetts

Here you'll find combined yoga and meditation programs and retreats geared to almost any level, with dormitory-style accommodations and a large cafeteria that serves bountiful vegetarian meals. Kripalu is also a center of education, offering courses in Buddhist thought, metta meditation, and several schools of yoga. Programs are built around yoga and meditation classes, group workshops, and various guided activities; you can also find plenty of hiking and biking in the surrounding Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. "Retreat and Renewal" programs—loosely structured, three- to five-day courses that include meditation as well as yoga, music, and dance—cost between $77 and $196 per night, depending on the type of room you choose. (Some have private baths; others use a shared one down the hall.) Midweek discounts are available. Meals are silent and guests are asked to observe silence in the evening and early morning. (800) 741-7353; www.kripalu.org.

Southern Dharma Retreat Center
Hot Springs, North Carolina

Tucked into a secluded valley in western North Carolina (Asheville is about an hour away), this 24-acre center is insulated by another 140 acres of privately held land. Open from April through January, the center hosts meditative and contemplative retreats in vipassana meditation, Soto Zen, Sufi, Judaic and several other spiritual traditions. Retreats are small (the maximum number of participants is 25), and all include some yoga. Retreats run from three to eight days, and guests are silent for a majority of the time. Accommodations range from dormitory-style rooms with private baths to campsites, weather permitting. The typical cost is $55 a night, including vegan meals. (828) 622-7112; www.main.nc.us/SDRC/.

Spirit Rock Meditation Center
Woodacre, California

Residential retreats at this 400-acre facility in Marin County, about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge, range from three nights to three months and are geared to beginning as well as experienced practitioners of vipassana, or Buddhist insight meditation. Except for daily Dharma talks and one-on-one interviews with instructors, silence reigns. Participants begin their day at 5 a.m., spend it in alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation, then turn in around 10 p.m. Meals are vegetarian and fees vary (some are established on a sliding scale). A typical three-day meditation retreat costs $160. (415) 488-0164; www.spiritrock.org.

Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
Carmel Valley, California

Part of the San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara was established in 1966 as the first residential Zen center in the United States. The facilities were once a hot springs resort and include a pool, bathhouse, and dormitory accommodations, as well as unique stone and pine rooms, yurts, redwood cabins, and traditional Japanese tatami cabins. Double-occupancy rates range from $70 to $150 per night; retreat fees are an additional $100 to $125. The retreats, which typically include silent meditation as well as group discussions and instructor consultations, are conducted May through August. The center is closed to the public during the rest of the year and used for formal Buddhist monastic training. (415) 863-3136; www.sfzc.com.

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