A few weeks ago I had some time off and needed to get out of the city. Once or twice a year I do a meditation retreat. Sometimes my own, sometimes a group, sometimes a combination. This year I needed to get some work done, so I looked up quiet places to go upstate in the Catskills. I found a place on airbnb, which I recommend for its know-your-fellow-man/community aspect, though their customer service ranges from okay to beyond dreadful. Luckily you probably won’t need it. Airbnb is kind of like couchsurfing for adults. You generally get a bed. Often you can rent a whole place, but I like to stay with hosts, to meet the locals and get an idea of a place. I found a lovely home in Livingston Manor with a Buddhist woman and her five cats. It was the perfect place to retreat.
This is a suggestive, not specific, guide. I trust you’ve the ability to plan something like this on your own, should you like, without the specifics. I spent ~$301 on my one-week holiday, and $74 of it was the wtf-cash-only Shortline bus ticket. Cash only? That is a major operation with a monopoly on all locations North. Now there’s a racket.
I stayed for a bit less than a week, and settled into a rhythm. Up at 5:30a. Coffee. Sit. Read. Around 8a, Cynthia (my host) would make a breakfast of goose, chicken, or duck egg omelets and greens and mushrooms from her garden. After breakfast I’d read some more. I brought three books, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice, which I chatted about last time, The Spirituality of the Body, by Alexander Lowen (which Horton had mentioned in her Yoga PhD), and Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride by Jungian analyst Marion Woodman. They all had a different tone, so I could shift gears when I felt the urge.
In the afternoon, some days we went to town, others I meandered outside. I sat again, then practiced yoga at 4pm. Then dinner, more reading, and bed. I spent some time working on my laptop as well, but the internet was really slow and my laptop too old to do much more than type a bit.
It takes me awhile to settle into this pace. On the first few days of solo retreats, I tend to be lonely in a way I’m not when I’m doing the same thing at home, as I learned when I did a retreat in the city last year. The company of my home and my routine somehow pads me from the existential angst that settles in when I’m away from home and friends and habits. This is maybe a good thing though, as it’s a chance to look at something that’s probably humming underneath the habitual life. It sure can suck though, that look. The incessant rain and the dropping temperatures didn’t help.
But it was cozy next to the wood burning stove with a cat or two to keep me warm. I enjoyed my reading and finished most of it, but for the Woodman, which I like to read before bed to trigger dreams. By the third or forth day I’d settled into the rhythm and was enjoying the peace. And then, the benefits of a retreat aren’t always obvious until even a month after its end. Plenty of sights are just coming up now.
The town was cute and basic, with an outdoors store that offers yoga, zumba and hiking trips, a little organic market, a bank, a diner, and Peck’s Market, an IGA supermarket with the largest pickle selection I’ve ever seen and “donut-shop blend” IGA coffee in a box.
One day Cynthia took me to the Sisters of Bethlehem of the Assumption of the Virgin and of St. Bruno, which turned out to be a real highlight of the trip (photos). The Little Sisters of Bethlehem is an eremitical monastery, i.e. the sisters are hermits. Each nun lives in her own small hermitage, each connected by a cloister that leads to the chapel. It is an intense and gorgeous place. The chapel and land are beautiful.
The unstaffed gift shop is full of art the sisters create for the love of God. The handmade medallions, icons, statues, rosaries, dishware, and other works of art can be paid for by check through a hole in the wall. As the sisters don’t speak, we were left to wonder around (<–that was a slip but a nice one) on our own. It was magical. Cynthia, who’s lived in Livingston Manor since 2005, only learned of the monastery this year when an airbnb guest wanted to visit. It really is a must see. They also have guest hermitages for about $75/night. Find out more about it here at PHATMASS.com (?). The unexpected visit here made the trip. One of those very human experiences you don’t expect but cherish when it comes.
All week I’d known a woman and her daughter would arrive on Friday, toward the end of my stay, as would Cynthia’s son. Thursday, Cynthia told me that the woman was also a yoga teacher from NYC. Maybe I knew her?
I explained that there are thousands of yoga teachers in NYC, that it was unlikely.
Friday morning, Cynthia told me the guest’s name is Lori, “L-O-R-I,” she spelled.
Hmmm. I emailed my teacher.
“Omg! Are you with Cynthia through airbnb?!!! Will you still be there when we get there tonite? That would be SO great!” she replied back.
Some more photos from Livingston Manor for your viewing pleasure: