The day-to-day demands of life can sometimes feel a bit crushing. Everything from the morning commute to the need to prepare something for dinner can result in a stressful experience from sunup to sundown.
Even vacations aren’t always enough for sufficient relaxation. A weeklong outing might be packed with daily itineraries and endless hours on the road. It’s no wonder that people returning to work might joke that they need a vacation to recover from their vacation.
Retreat centers look to give visitors an escape from this type of daily grind. A stay at a retreat is designed to be relaxing, but also to foster personal enrichment. Many of these centers can be found in Connecticut, taking advantage of the state’s natural beauty to support their missions.
Copper Beech Institute, West Hartford
Although it’s located on the grounds of a Catholic retreat, the Copper Beech Institute operates independently as a non-sectarian venue. Brandon Nappi says he founded the institute in 2014 to “meet a growing need among individuals and communities for contemplative practices that help us reconnect with ourselves, each other, and our larger world.”
The Copper Beech Institute puts particular focus on mindfulness, or a “moment-to-moment non-judgmental awareness,” as well as contemplative practice, or developing the capacity for deep concentration and a peaceful state of mind. The institute uses practices such as yoga, meditation, and centered prayer to develop these attributes.
Programs range from introductory workshops to weeklong retreats. Guests can stay at the retreat and enjoy its 48-acre grounds, including wooded trails and a labyrinth; the grounds are also open to any visitors who wish to explore these amenities, even if they aren’t part of a retreat.
“We regularly hear people talk about a need to infuse their lives with more purpose and intentionality, a desire to feel connected to a larger community, and a willingness to be of greater service to themselves and others,” says Nappi. “Our programming is all geared at helping people achieve these yearnings and meet the challenges of their individual lives and larger society with greater resilience, awareness, and compassion.”
The Copper Beech Institute includes silent retreats, where participants are invited to step back, break out of their usual habits, and observe their way of thinking. Nappi says the ability to assess oneself without the usual small talk or verbalization often makes participants more skillful and intentional in how they use speech after the retreat.
“Most of our silent retreat gusts will share how healing and supportive the silence is,” he says. “It’s amazing the bond you feel with others in silence.”
303 Tunxis Road
Guest House Retreat & Conference Center, Chester
The Guest House Retreat & Conference Center was founded in 2008 by Alia Johnson, a teacher of the Diamond Approach. Based on the teachings of A.H. Almaas, the Diamond Approach is a modern spiritual approach that uses meditation and other methods of psychological exploration to reflect on one’s experience.
The Guest House can accommodate up to 100 guests, and during warmer months they can enjoy their meals on a spacious three-tiered deck overlooking a pond. The 17-acre include a tennis court, labyrinth, and access to the Cockaponset State Forest.
The retreat is rented to groups and individuals for meetings, seminars, or personal journeys. A weekly meditation, open to the public, takes place each Wednesday evening.
Saralyn Kerrigan, executive director of the Guest House, recommends that those interested in a retreat find an experience that supports the goal they are hoping to accomplish.
“Select a retreat that gives you enough time away to accomplish the benefits you are anticipating. If possible, give yourself an extra day when you get back home before going back to everyday life,” she says. “Journaling before, during and after a retreat can be very helpful.”
318 West Main St.
Mercy by the Sea Retreat and Conference Center, Madison
The 33-acre coastal property that the Mercy by the Sea Retreat and Conference Center calls home was once the summer getaway of department store magnate W.T. Grant. Capable of hosting up to 55 guests, the campus includes a beach, labyrinth, chapel, library, and art gallery.
The Sisters of Mercy are an international community of Catholic women who follow the tradition of Catherine McAuley, who established a home for poor women and children. While the retreat was originally used for training the members of this community, it transitioned into a retreat and conference center in 1972.
Mercy by the Sea has a mission of providing a “peaceful place of natural beauty for personal, spiritual and professional renewal and growth.” Its directed and personal retreats work to help visitors withdraw from daily life, reflecting on and deepening their relationship with God.
Although it is associated with the Catholic Church, the retreat is open to all faiths and backgrounds. Eileen Dooly, executive director of Mercy by the Sea, says visitors range from those who stop by for an hour to those attending sabbatical programs lasting for weeks.
“Some people use a retreat to get away, but we encourage people that it’s not just getting away,” she says. “It’s what they’re going to do when they get back into the world.”
Dooly recommends that people who haven’t tried a retreat before attend a day or weekend program before committing to a longer one. In addition, visitors are always welcome to visit the retreat free of charge to see the property and learn more.
167 Neck Road
The Sound Retreat, Chester
Leaving a career as a commercial photographer in New York City, Tracey Kroll founded The Sound Retreat in 2015. The main focus of the retreat is sound meditation, which uses items such as gongs, chimes, crystal bowls, and special drums to induce a more relaxed state.
“The sound gives your mind a point of focus,” says Kroll. “With conventional meditation, the problem is you sit there in silence and all these thoughts come into your mind. With sound meditation, the sounds occupy the space so it’s easier for people to drop into the meditative state.”
Kroll says that since sound meditation has to be done in complete silence, he needed to find a place free of busy roads, neighbors mowing lawns, and other noise. The secluded retreat sits in the woods adjacent to the Cockaponset State Forest.
Public sound meditations take place on the first and third Sundays and Tuesdays of each month. The Sound Retreat also hosts a variety of private individual and group events, and can host groups of up to 18 people. A private bungalow, available on Airbnb, can accommodate two guests and is available for overnight stays.
96 Cedar Lake Road
Still Waters Retreat Center, Voluntown
The tranquil setting where Still Waters Retreat Center is located has a long history of hospitality, once running as a venue called Hemlock Lodge and later as a “summer resort for city slickers.” Tao LaBossiere grew up there, helping his family manage the operations. When he revisited the property with his wife, Amy, they agreed that it would be an ideal spot for a retreat.
The Still Waters Retreat Center opened in 2011 on a part-time seasonal basis, hosting visitors such as Wounded Warriors and tai chi groups. Then a fire in 2014 severely damaged the main house, necessitating a lengthy process of gathering funds and rebuilding. The retreat reopened as a year-round venture in September 2018.
Amy and Tao oversee all aspects of the retreat, which can accommodate up to 15 guests. They cultivate relationships with group leaders, offering immersive getaways where people can unplug, do inner healing, connect with nature, and improve their creativity.
“People are so busy and immersed and connected with their technology that a retreat gives them an opportunity to put the phone down, to step away from the computer, to sit around a big table at a community meal, and focus on the work they want to do,” says Amy.
Encompassing more than 80 acres, Still Waters Retreat Center includes the newly renovated main house with five guest rooms, two rustic cottages, and a studio for art or yoga. There is also a private hiking trail and 12-acre pond.
“I’ve had people coming here for a tour who say their blood pressure drops as soon as they step out of the car,” says Amy.
280 Shetucket Turnpike