The Quiet Beauty of Kyol Che at the Providence Zen Center

The silent retreat begins January 5.

When flurries fall, there’s no quieter place on Earth than this blue-roofed monastery deep in the woods of northern Rhode Island. It’s operated by the Providence Zen Center, which was founded by Korean Zen master, Seung Sahn, in Providence in 1972 — the first Zen center of its kind in the nation and, today, the head temple for more than 100 sites around the world. The Zen Center relocated to this forty-nine-acre property in Cumberland in 1979 and, one year later, it began offering Kyol Che (or “tight dharma”): three-month intensive meditation retreats conducted in complete silence in winter and summer. “I’ve done a bunch of them and I’m always grateful, whether they’re easy or hard or neutral,” says Nancy Hedgpeth, a co-guiding teacher at the Zen Center who resides on the property. “You minimize all of the distractions of everyday life and just focus on paying attention to this moment.” The winter Kyol Che retreats, which run January 5 to April 5 and require a one-week minimum stay, are contained within the monastery, where practitioners sleep, eat and meditate on cushions overlooking the freshwater pond. “It’s surprising. It takes a lot of courage and perseverance and patience with yourself,” says Hedgpeth, recalling a West Point sophomore who said Kyol Che was the hardest thing he’d ever done. “Our mind habits are pretty strong.”