I just received an email for a retreat with Eckhart Tolle and Kim Eng in April 2020. It sounds lovely, helping people wake up to the realization that we are “the light of the world,” going “beyond the limitations of egoic thought.”
But I do wonder about privilege, and the formation of a kind of spiritual “elite” class. It costs $1,197 “tuition” for the 4-day retreat, but that does not cover lodging or food. It is taking place at a very nice place, the Arizona Biltmore Resort, as it is described:
Since 1929, the Arizona Biltmore has been a stand-out destination, creating unforgettable memories. Over the years, the 39 acres of gardens, swimming pools, and iconic architecture have provided a safe haven for celebrities, diplomats, and presidents, and a luxurious resort for guests from all walks of life. The resort has been an Arizona landmark since its opening and is one of the only existing luxury hotels in the world with a Frank Lloyd Wright influence.
The cost is an additional $359/night for single occupancy, or $419/night for double occupancy (including a daily lunch). Then you must pay for breakfast and dinner on top of that, at one of the on-site “restaurants or cafes.” So between “tuition,” lodging, and food, you would be out well over $2,000 for such a retreat, not to mention your flights to get there.
There is no sliding pay scale, there is no “pay what you can,” no gift economy, there are no lower-cost lodging options. It seems that those who will be attending are those who have significant income or savings, and who can take off half a week from their vocation to fly to Arizona (no apparent carbon offset), to spend the weekend in luxurious accommodations, with gardens, swimming pools, etc.
It’s ironic, because Tolle’s email also says, as if in the voice of Tolle himself,
There is never a wrong moment to seek Presence. However, in this historical instant, awakening is no longer a luxury.
If it is no longer a luxury, then why are such retreats about awakening taking place in such luxurious conditions, which are noted several times for their “luxury”? I can’t imagine Jesus organizing a prayer retreat at a beach-side luxury resort on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that would only be accessible to the middle to upper-class Jews because of the costs involved.
I think Tolle is a very spiritually wise person, one of the greatest spiritual sages of our time, and I’ve quoted his teachings several times before in my writings. But things like this make me wonder if such spiritual teachers as Tolle are being used by the “spiritual” system? Is he blind to his own activities? Or perhaps he does know he is reaching only the “elite” in such retreats so as to help them surrender their enlarged egos, to help them realize they can no longer afford such luxuries if they are to awaken? Is it surreptitiously intentional? Maybe he knows exactly what he is doing, not talking to those who are well, but to those who are sick (Mark 2:17)?
Sometimes we need to look in the mirror. I’ve been on such retreats. One was at Jack Kornfield’s Spirit Rock and cost about $1,000 “tuition,” and I also had to fly to California. But there was a sliding pay scale, and food and lodging were included (hermits were also allowed to apply for a complimentary stay). And the teachers were not paid from the “tuition” (which helped cover only room and board and administration), but from charitable “dana” given afterwards. Yet it’s still a privilege to go to such a retreat. I recognize that. I live in relative privilege to many others. Those who are less well off cannot afford to go to such retreats.
Looking back, I prefer the other retreat I went on which cost nothing to attend, not a penny up front, including food and lodging, and is run on a system of voluntary donations or “dana” that is only given after the retreat is over. They claim it is “pay it forward” to provide for the retreat of the next cohort, helping give to them what you have received yourself during the retreat. Granted, the retreat was much more austere than the first one I went to at Spirit Rock, but that seems like a better system to me. This second retreat was with S. N. Goenka’s Vipassana organization. I still flew to this retreat, even though it was only 300 miles away… Privilege.
Or maybe I’m just jealous that I have neither the time or the money to go on such a retreat again with one of the spiritual giants of today. So perhaps it is my own inflated ego that is the issue. Yes, that’s probably it. I’m perhaps privileged by the ability to even entertain the thought that I could possibly attend such a retreat, and then write about how I will not be attending, including criticizing those who do. Yes, my ego trip.
I will retreat at home.