10 of the world's best meditation retreats

Updated: Jan 28, 2019

10 of the world's best meditation retreats

Rebecca L. Weber, for CNN • Updated 15th June 2017

Adventure travel isn't always about riding waves and ascending heights -- sometimes it's about heading inside, to explore the realm of our inner worlds. While it might be counter-intuitive to travel long distances to sit with a bunch of silent strangers, meditation retreats offer guidance to those on an internal quest.

"Every wise culture knows that there are times that are important to walk out in the desert or in the mountains, or go on retreat and listen," says Jack Kornfield, a meditation teacher whose books include "The Wise Heart" and "Bringing Home the Dharma."

"Quiet the mind and open the heart and listen deeply. In the cycles of our life, that serves almost everyone." It's common to worry about a week without conversation, meat or sleeping in. But those who persevere are rewarded.

"It turns out in almost every case that they love it," says Kornfield. "Things that seem like they might be difficult, such as silence, turn out to be right away a splendid gift."

Rules vary, but many dedicated centers will ask for a temporary vow of silence during most or all of your time as a visitor. A rule of thumb is to look for teachers with a good reputation and who come from a long tradition rather than a self-proclaimed guru. Be realistic about your physical needs and creature comforts. Austere conditions may prompt insight into the difference between what you want and want you need.

A traditional Buddhist meditation retreat starts early in the morning; nonprofits will likely expect you to do a work period (cut those carrots mindfully) and to pick up after yourself. More than anything, says Kornfield, look for "a place that's known for love, [with] a spirit of loving kindness and compassion in everything that it does."

Spirit Rock, California

Once San Francisco's northern suburbs give way to what looks like Tolkein's shire, the hills of Spirit Rock appear. Native Americans once used this land for spiritual rites; even the wild deer and turkeys are calm, without any need to flinch from humans. Residential retreats, held throughout the year, run as long as two months.

"Some come for healing, either the healing of the heart or the healing of the body," says Jack Kornfield, one of Spirit Rock's founding teachers. "Some come because they are in life transition and need to listen deeply to what is the next thing that is asked of them or how to deal with some great change.

"As they quiet themselves, as they walk in nature, as they listen to their own breath and their own feelings and thoughts more deeply, they grow a sense of stillness and clarity."

"And we see it on their faces. We call it sometimes the vipassana [insight meditation] facelift. You look at the shining faces of people after a week of retreat, and they look like they are 10 years younger. They're brighter; their presence and spirit has been renewed."


Plum Village, France

For Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk whom Martin Luther King Jr. nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, cultivating lucidity is a means to connecting with yourself and others.

"When you are mindful of something, you are concentrated on it, and the power of mindful concentration can help you see things as they really are and you discover the nature of interbeing," he recently told Shambhala Sun.

The monastery in southern France that he and about 200 monks and nuns call home welcomes visitors of all ages and features one lazy, unstructured day per week.


Dalai Lama's teachings, Dharamsala, India

When the Dalai Lama teaches in India, where he sought refuge after fleeing his native Tibet, his talks are typically free and open to the public.

Eleven Directions bridges the gap between the Nobel Peace Prize winner's talks and negotiating a week or so in Dharamsala, the center of the Tibetan community in exile and destination for many a spiritual pilgrim.

Accommodation options include a guesthouse run by the Dalai Lama's brother.

Shantum Seth, a Zen priest, advocates being fully open and aware when traveling, and is widely praised by Western Buddhists as the go-to guide in the Himalayas. His tour in Dharamsala is for those who want to connect with and discuss Tibetan culture and practices; other itineraries include "In the Footsteps of the Buddha."


Mindfulness-based stress reduction at Glenview Hotel and Leisure Club, Ireland

In the 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for patients (and staff) to help manage the physical and psychological impacts of stress, pain and sickness.

The approach strips away talk about dharma and karma to offer meditation techniques straight up.

Their Center for Mindfulness hosts an annual conference for scientists on how meditation impacts health care and vice versa, and has contributed to scientific understanding of how meditation affects the brain and immune system.

Mindfulness Tools for Living the Full Catastrophe is a five-day residential version of MBSR, which is taught around the world. This summer, Ananda hosts a session at Ireland's