Retreat from my retreat (National Public Radio

A year ago this week, Ted Rose abandoned his New York City urban life and headed for the American West. He lives year-round at the Shambhala Mountain Center in the Colorado Rockies. In part three of a week-long series, he talks about how he sometimes needs a retreat from his retreat.

Announcer: This week we’ve been hearing from commentator Ted Rose. A year ago he traded life in New York for life at a Buddhist Retreat Center in the Colorado Rockies. There he planned on spending a lot of time in meditation and contemplation. He never expected to have to make an escape.

Ted Rose: People come up here to Shambhala Mountain Center, they’re usually looking for a break from the regular world. Up here there’s no Walmart, no cellphone service, and no television — just aspen trees, tall wheatgrass, and lots of talk about meditation. This, as the catalogue says, is a place to be renewed and refreshed. This is a special place.

Sharing my breakfast table with a blissed-out urbanite, over our bowls of granola and yogurt, I sometimes am asked that inevitable question: So, what’s it like to live here all the time? I mention the contemplative camaraderie, and the access to teachers, but I rarely discuss my furtive visits to Motel 6.

When I lived in New York City, however socially I spent my days and nights, I could always wake up and enjoy breakfast in the sanctuary of my apartment. I assumed I’d get more of these moments when I moved to a Buddhist retreat in the middle of the Colorado Rockies. In fact, as a staff member at a public Center, I’d signed on to be a permanent host.

And up here, I don’t really have a functioning sanctuary. My home is a beat-up old trailer, and it lacks a kitchen and running water. My neighbors, the mice and the bears, keep me from storing much food there. Any time I want to do something social, like eat or take a shower, I’m on duty. My once sacred breakfast time is now open to anyone who sidles up to my table in the commons dining hall

I’ve learned to be much more gregarious, but sometimes I need some space. And earning just a few hundred dollars a month, I don’t have a lot of money to buy it. That’s how Motel 6 has become my retreat for my retreat.

Attached to the off-ramp of the local Interstate, displaying the cost of a single room occupancy in red lights for all motorists to see, Motel 6 is deliciously banal.

I normally speak to only one person when I visit Motel 6 — the check-in clerk behind the plexiglass screen. The only thing I bring into my room is food — normally three slices of pizza: two for dinner and one for breakfast. My Motel 6 room is equipped with the mundane efficiencies that my picturesque home manages to lack: a sink, a shower, and most important, a cable television.

I’ve been meditating for 3 years, but I’ve been watching TV for decades, and following my breath rarely provides the feeling of simple relaxation, of ease and contentment, that I get quite reliably by spending the night alone on a cheap motel bed.

When it’s time to leave Motel 6 I’m usually ready to go. I leave the plastic key on the dresser and say goodbye to no one and then get in my car and head back up to the mountains, ready to return to my special place.


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