Modern hotels are brilliant at healing the ailments of the body. But why are they so bad at remembering we also have minds?
It is religions that have taken our need for inner calm and well-being most seriously. The meditation exercises and walks on offer at Buddhist retreats are one response to the workings of what Buddhists call our 'monkey minds'. Catholic retreats have an equally wide and intruiging range on offer, from the 'examen', a thrice daily survey of one's conscience, to consultations with spiritual guides who are trained to listen with unusual care to our confusions and attempt to bring a degree of logic to our corrupted thought-processes.
What is ultimately impressive about religious retreats is their appreciation of the oddity and perversity of our minds – and their understanding that we need to plan rather carefully to generate calm and maturity. It is when we compare religious retreats with their secular equivalents, with existing country hotels and spas, that we get a sense of how shallow atheistic society can be, with its failure to build institutions that have any grip on our requirements for the well-being of the mind.
To answer to our longing for calm, Buddhism developed the technique of meditation. Western consumer society has over half a century arrived at the concept of sunbathing.
The most ambitious country hotels, often found on the outskirts of large conurbations, declare intentions to offer solutions to life's most important tensions. Brochures speak of opportunities to rediscover what is essential – yet they offer us no one to call when the incompatibilities in our relationships reach a zenith, when a reading of the Sunday papers generates a crisis about our career or when we wake up in terror just before dawn paralysed by the thought of how short a span of life remains to us. Otherwise helpful concierges, rich in ideas on where to partake of horse-riding and minigolf, have nothing formal to say about guilt, regret and self-loathing.
The tradition of religious retreats reveals a need for a new kind of establishment, a secular hotel for the soul, devoted to satisfying with intelligence and artistry the psychological as well as physical needs of its clientele. Such a hotel would humbly study the extraordinarily structured ways in which Buddhism approaches the topic of relaxation, as well as casting an eye across other faiths and psychological schools in order to arrive at programmes for the care of our troubled minds that would extend beyond the lamentable solutions currently on offer.
The world's religions have set a benchmark for the thoroughness of their approach to inner transformation. Certain of their insights deserve to be fused with the practical modern arts of hostelry so that a new generation of retreat hotels could reintrepret the underlying aims of religious retreats and develop into effective centers for the restoration of our whole beings. If the predominant share of our troubles is caused by the state of our psyches, it seems a perverse and reckless habit of our materialistic age to persist in bringing ever greater comfort to our physical envelopes without at the same time seeking to cater systematically to the tenacious ailments of our monkey minds.
The contemporary hotel has now reached the epitome of its evolution according to the materialistic understanding of its purpose. This form of the hotel, which has its origins in the inns and refectories of the European Middle Ages, has conquered all its challenges. Despite occasional grumblings on www.tripadvisor.com, mankind has grown able to supply, on a mass scale, at a reasonable price:
- good quality linen
- functioning bathrooms
- stylish interiors
- good locally-sourced food
Nevertheless, the modern hotel remains a problematic institution, as evidenced by the alienation and boredom of the grandest examples. The modern hotel is detached from its true possibilities.
So we propose a solution in the form of a Hotel for the Soul. The needs of the mind, or to use an old-fashioned but evocative term, 'the soul' remain generally ignored by holsteries. While pampering our bodies, the typical hotel comes up with no more sophisticated response to the needs of the soul than minigolf, the Sunday newspapers and a DVD library. The new institution, positioned either on the slopes of a Swiss alp or to the side of a volcano in Tenerife, will skilfully attend to the needs of both body and soul - and will thereby mark the natural evolution from the luxury spa hotel to the hotel dedicated to the well-being of the whole person and humanity more broadly.