Is it a conversion: Where spirituality is re-envisioned?

Written by By Hadley Edwards, CNN

Since its inception in the late 1960s, psychedelia has been on a lively revival, a reinvention of sorts that’s coincided with the growing trend of alternative lifestyles — “alternative” not just to the strict uniformity and strict rules of monogamy and church.

A revived interest in the then-imported (and taboo) drug LSD has been a big part of that revitalization. But within the past decade, a host of new alternative communities — and so-called “psychedelic retreats” — have reemerged that are all-inclusive and focused on the art of meditation and personal growth. They can happen anywhere: in the countryside, remote mountains or even at a scenic lake bed. Some retreats consist of no more than a series of workshops held over several days. Others build up to longer stay periods, which include yoga classes and group work or research projects.

The largely untraditional nature of these retreats, which more often resemble retreats for people looking to avoid stress and anxiety than those with a more troubled outlook on life, makes them a welcome option for many who, for one reason or another, might have previously felt marginalized.

Juggling class, gig and spirituality

One example is Rob Wilcox , founder of Celtic Retreats , a Christian-based alternative to the secular traditions. Wilcox, a former artist who worked as a humanitarian for four years before establishing a group of retreats in Florida, says the return of religious practices makes this an ideal time to explore alternative communities.

“There are always different ways to be spirituality,” he says. “If there are a lot of changes around the country, some people might be leaning to more spiritual things…Whether we call it paganism or … spiritual path, there are alternative options, which need to be explored.”

Between tourist resorts and campgrounds, the “infinitely growing” membership of Celtic Retreats has grown, says Wilcox, and interest in the 10 retreats held so far has increased too.

“We’ve got a couple people who literally move to Florida for three months a year,” he says.

Beyond meditation

Visitors are encouraged to explore meditation and all-around culture at Vancouver’s East Side Spiritual Farm , although they won’t be able to get high on hallucinogens in these idyllic surroundings. Founder Alex Schmidt says that it’s hard to draw the line between what is considered a “psychedelic” event and something akin to a traditional lifestyle retreat.

She points to the point that many enjoy the wealth of programs available: “If it can happen at home, I can do it out here at a really small price,” she says.

The raison d’être for many retreats, however, remains the meditative technique and experience, and in that regard the late 60s and 70s still have staying power. Allison Bilquist , a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and the author of “The Psychedelic Experience,” writes in her recently published book that the experience of psychedelics — whether used recreationally or as an induction to meditation — is very similar to “an episode of broken-down TV.”

Still, the late 60s and early 70s spawned a variety of beliefs about the impact and benefits of psychedelics. Still, in addition to the skepticism of the medical establishment, parents and educators raised a considerable concern.

“The biggest misconception is that people who used psychedelics didn’t know what they were doing,” says Bilquist. “A lot of them were doing it because they’re creative individuals. They’re people who have an interest in art. They’d want to explore where their ideas came from.”

Though not a trial run, experiences with traditional yoga can often create a similar spiritual awakening that leads to insight, according to Walter Mossman , author of “American Backpacker: The Return of the Millennial Who Becomes World Watcher.”

“Yoga is enormously healing. It can heal yourself, heal your wounds,” he says.

Access to spirituality

But that doesn’t mean yoga shouldn’t be accessible to anyone, just as alternative communities can be accessed via the sites of its pioneers.

“If [yoga] can be available, you’d want to introduce it to as many people as possible,” says Mossman. “In today’s world, people want to gather and do things with like-minded people.”

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