Planning a summer vacation? Why not do something that feeds your soul and elevates your spirit? Instead of settling for mere recreation, consider spending your time and resources on transformative re-creation. Here are some suggestions.
Take an advance. They call them retreats because the purpose is to retreat from the demands of everyday life. But if you approach it the right way, a retreat can trigger a major advance in your spiritual development. With a little exploration and the magic of Google, you can find retreat centers that offer weekend, weeklong, and even monthlong retreats in the context of just about any religious or spiritual tradition.
If you prefer a non-sectarian version, certain spas have programs that include plenty of time for solitude and contemplative practices, along with physical rejuvenation, and centers such as Esalen and the Omega Institute combine serene natural settings with workshop offerings. There are also tons of summertime yoga workshops of varying lengths and styles, both at institutions like Kripalu in Western Massachusetts and at temporary facilities in secluded locations.
Use a home remedy. Your home may be your castle, but you can turn it into a hermitage for a while, especially if you can’t get away for a formal retreat. Why not set aside some bona fide Sabbath days, or a good long weekend. Alert your friends and family, unplug the computer and the entertainment gadgets, turn off your phones, and bury all the high tech devices that keep you connected to the outside world. Meditate, read spiritual texts, contemplate the deeper things. That famous fourth commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy,” is not a demand for self-deprivation but a call for spiritual renewal.
Shut up. You have the right to remain silent. Whether at a retreat center or at home, taking a day, or several days, of silence is not just a good way to rest your voice. It draws the attention inward, allowing the mind to become as still as the tongue. As Father Thomas Keating put it, “Silence is the language of God, and everything else is a bad translation.”
Take a pilgrimage. Is there some recognized holy site that you’ve always been drawn to? Someplace whose name or image makes you want to fall to your knees? The Vatican? Jerusalem? Mecca? Machu Picchu? Benares? Bodhgaya? What’s holding you back? Pilgrimage, a journey undertaken in the spirit of devotion, is a valued rite in every spiritual tradition. In settings where sublime emotions have been deposited for centuries, the very atmosphere draws the receptive soul toward peace, like a riptide carries a bottle out to sea.
Visit nature’s cathedrals. Like oxygen, the Divine is present everywhere, but it’s decidedly easier to breathe in some places than in others. Instead of going somewhere that bombards the senses with clamor, why not sojourn in places of awe and wonder? Chances are, somewhere accessible to you is a location of breathtaking beauty, cavernous silence, and pristine light, where the air is fragrant and every sound is a sonata. Miraculous natural settings inspire awe and a humble appreciation for the mysterious power that created it all. That’s where we are most likely to see, in William Blake’s words, “a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower.”
A sacred vacation is more than a way to recharge your batteries. It’s a spiritual investment, a big deposit in your karmic account that will reap compound interest in peace, joy, and other spiritual blessings. But what you take from it depends on what you bring to it. So, whether you trek over mountain passes, or fly first class, sleep in a hostel or a four-star hotel, bear the following in mind:
- Set your highest intention. This is not a sightseeing trip; it is a spiritual quest. Be clear about your purpose.
- Be open to everything. Sometimes, the most enlightening moments come when least expected, like on a noisy, smelly bus on the way to a shrine. Welcome the surprises, pleasant or unpleasant, as part of the overall experience.
- Travel light. Not your suitcase, your mental and emotional baggage. Try to leave all heavy items—anxieties, preconceptions, expectations, attachments—at home.
- Pack the necessities. Bring with you an alert mind, sharpened senses, and an open heart.
You might also want to bring this passage by Feodor Dostoyevsky: “Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day, and you will come, at last, to love the whole world with an embracing love.”