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Somewhere on the short hop to Menla Mountain Retreat Center from the bus stop in Phoenicia, a Catskills hamlet two hours north of New York City, my cell phone signaled: “No Service.” This boded well. Nestled within a secluded, 325-acre forested valley, Menla—the Tibetan name of the Buddha of Healing—promised a weekend of detoxification from urban life. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is said to have credited Menla with some of the best sleep he’s ever had. I’d left my earplugs at home in Brooklyn.
Owned and operated since 2002 by Tibet House US, a Tibetan cultural center in New York co-founded by Tibetan Buddhism authority Robert Thurman (actress Uma Thurman’s dad), composer Philip Glass, and actor Richard Gere, Menla occupies the site of one of the oldest known meteor-impact craters on Earth. The retreat is a former place of ceremony for local Native American peoples, a onetime boys’ boarding school, and in the 1980s and ’90s, a nonsectarian spiritual community. A sense of quiet and sanctuary suffuses the property today.
Recently, Menla opened a 4,000-square-foot spa building with 11 treatment rooms and Tibetan herbal soaking tubs—I headed there first. Thangkas (Tibetan scroll paintings), antique statuary, and an exquisitely painted Tibetan door frame decorate the foyer, which overlooks a flower and mandala garden and the surrounding hemlock-covered slopes.
Before a massage, I sat with Menla’s in-house Tibetan doctor. He checked my skin, nails, tongue, and pulse, and asked me questions about my lifestyle, before prescribing herbal pills and abstinence from spicy foods. I followed doc’s orders, but without difficulty: The mostly vegetarian fare at Menla, served in a communal dining room in the modest main lodge, was simple and delicious—Bhutanese red rice, granola, homegrown vegetables. Blissed-out retreatants, sequestered most days with a visiting Tibetan lama, sat at nearby tables. Robert Thurman, Menla’s “spiritual director,” was there that weekend, and after dinner he led a group of us in a short meditation and discourse in the yoga studio.
My bedroom, perched above the dining room off a hallway lined with photographs of Tibet, overlooked a central lawn that sloped down to a lake bedecked with Adirondack chairs: a good place for contemplating or spotting deer. Marked trails wended through the forest, up to neighboring peaks. I took a few slow, meditative walks, though never too far, content just to absorb the sound of drizzle on the tree canopy. The pattering offered the perfect lullaby for a restful sleep: The Dalai Lama, it turned out, was right about that.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
TRY KUNYE MASSAGE
Menla therapists are all trained in this Tibetan modality. It blends deep-tissue massage, pressure-point therapy, hot stones, and herbal poultices.
BY ROBERT THURMAN
Tibet House US’s co-founder and one of the foremost American scholars of Tibetan Buddhism leads 6 to 8 retreats a year, including Buddha & the Yogis with Richard Freeman and John Campbell. (Check the full retreat schedule at menla.org.)
CHANT AND MEDITATE
Join Krishna Das and Sharon Salzberg for a weekend of kirtan, November 6–9.
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