Back in December, I was up to my eyeballs in work, running from meeting to meeting, racing home to the kids, then racing to get them to bed so I could cram in more work before passing out on my laptop. In the midst of what was, quite possibly, the busiest season of my life, an invite popped up in my inbox. The St. Regis Bahia Beach was launching a meditation program, and they’d love for me to come check it out. Without thinking twice, I replied: YES.
Meditation is one of those things that’s fascinated me for a while. I’m not much for the Zen life: too impatient for yoga, too hungry for juice cleanses, too distracted for spa retreats. Yet when I talk to some of my most multi-tasking, high-energy friends, more than a few cite meditation as the practice that keeps them focused and sane. I’ve faced more than one 2 a.m. insomniac episode where I’ve wondered if it could be good for me, too. So January rolled around, and I packed up my laptop and hopped the short flight down to Puerto Rico to see what the fuss was all about—and how a big brand luxury resort known for its nightly Champagne sabering and Jean-Georges restaurant could blend ancient Eastern into its very new Western vibe.
Turns out, they do it pretty well. Meditation expert Michael Miller, who created the resort’s Be Here, Be Now program and founded the New York and London Meditation Centers, was at the hotel and explained the premise. Importantly, this isn’t a heavy dose of instruction intended to take over your vacation. Miller and the local team have chosen meditation locations around the resort, and there’s a short guide in your room that walks guests through short five-to-ten minute meditations for each place. “It’s a taste of what you learn in the Centers in New York and London,” Miller explains. The St. Regis property is, frankly, off the hook gorge. It’s next to the famous El Yunque rainforest, so green mountains covered in clouds mark the horizon, and the two-plus mile beach is undeveloped, with palm trees arching over its sides. There’s a bird sanctuary, with quiet estuaries and a wildlife trail for morning runs, and even the connecting paths between rooms are raised planks twisting through natural mangroves. If there’s a place to reconnect to something more primal, this is it.
And that’s really the goal of the program: to disconnect and reconnect. “Such a tiny portion of the world can experience a place like this,” says Miller. “It’s a shame to waste it and not appreciate the moment.” Hmm, is he talking about people like me who travel to amazing places then spend half the time looking at their phones and responding to messages? As he spoke, I realized that I hadn’t even put an Out of Office on my email because I felt it was rude to not be available at all times. Touché, Michael. Point made. But he’s not suggesting that you turn off entirely. “I don’t need to be a monk on a mountain to do this, or need a monk with me,” he explains. A few minutes, even once a day, and your brain starts to tune into the present instead of obsessing about the past and future.
Now how did I fare? Honestly, my mind wandered. I felt I was failing, or perhaps succeeding at proving that I stink at anything mindful and quiet. Not so, Miller explained. Don’t fight your thoughts, it’s impossible to empty your brain. Just follow the steps and see where it goes. By the second time, I was starting to get it. And to really appreciate where I was. I was sleeping, blissfully well, in a huge room where the ocean crashed outside my windows and the bathroom was the size of my New York City kitchen. I could eat healthy food without sacrificing, thanks to the fact that every resort restaurant could prepare simple, fresh fish grilled with veggies. There was even a puppy rescue program on property, and I spent an afternoon with two little doggies that very nearly came home with me (St. Regis has a partnership with American Airlines, so you can actually make this happen if you want). And over at the eco-center, a brilliant scientist led gratis kayak tours explaining the importance of different plants and bird species. Plus there was a small water park where, for an embarrassingly fun hour, I bounced on a water trampoline and shot off waterslides into a lake. My kids would be proud.
In the end, three days flew by, but the short retreat sparked an interest that I think I’ll pursue. If you’re curious, the official St. Regis program launches next month in Puerto Rico. Grab your family, or go by yourself. It’s a small commitment on the front end, but maybe it will spark a big change. Or at least an Out of Office on your next trip.