Hello my friends!
I've recently made a glacial shift in my life, joining a yearlong work/study program in Northern California at Ratna Ling.
Since I've been here for one full week now I figured it made sense to give an update on my experience so far. Basically, it's been lovely! In turns I've been engaged, deeply interested, motivated, and in awe of the people and surroundings here. There's a lot more to say about it, but let's start by breaking down a day, shall we?
5:45am - Alarm goes off, roll out of my (bunk) bed. I've found that going to bed in sweatpants makes the process of getting moving that much easier. I was decidedly not a "morning person" but that's honestly bullshit, you can readjust your schedule to get up early within a couple of days pretty easily.
I have a really sweet roommate, Eben, who greeted me into our room with some welcome notes and even rearranged some furniture in the room to make it more comfortable for two people to live in. He wakes up at the same time and we drag ourselves to morning Kum Nye yoga class in the Meditation Hall from 6-7am.
It's a beautiful space, we're not allowed to share photos of it (sacred and holy areas require discretion, transmission of knowledge is guarded and not for everyone) but it has high vaulted wooden ceilings and is adorned with photos of Tibetan masters of the Nyingma lineage, prayer wheels, and gorgeous Buddhist artwork. It's a perfect space for stretching, connecting with the body, and breathing to start the day. This time of year we begin class in darkness, and finish as the sun comes up, which is especially energizing.
7:00am - Breakfast is just a quick walk from the Meditation Hall across the garden pond. There's a fully stocked restaurant-grade kitchen that volunteers are given free reign over. You just need to stay out of the way of the team preparing meals for retreat guests, but so far I've had amazing smoothies, granola with fresh fruit, and one time leftover coconut merengue pie (don't judge). There's never a shortage of coffee and tea, and you get to enjoy it in the dining hall, with some great views of the surrounding grounds.
8:00am - All 25 volunteer staff meet at the Stupa for the morning circle, where we chant a mantra to dedicate merit for our daily work. This is followed by announcements, a short reading from Tibetan Buddhist texts and usually a few jokes, and then we start work.
8:15 - Work begins. The first half of my day is spent at Dharma Publishing, where we kick off with a morning meeting to sort out tasks and responsibilities for the day. One thing I was struck by at Dharma Publishing was the level of autonomy and independence given to all the volunteers. There is very little semblance of traditional hierarchy as we understand it in the west, each volunteer is considered valuable and no idea is discounted outright.
That independence also means that it's up to you to make those ideas a reality. It's a small team and so far I've helped lay foundation and mix cement for new Stupas, crop and pack sacred artwork for the shipping team, research analytics and metrics for the website sales to make strategic recommendations, and begin a reimagining of one of the organizations digital properties to engage younger audiences.
The team is generally pretty young, multinational (Brazil, Argentina, Latvia, Holland) and very motivated. All proceeds from sales go directly to preserving Tibetan culture, which is being gravely threatened with extinction by China. I'm reminded of this just by looking around, there are Tibetan prayer flags and artwork everywhere, which is and inspiring and sometimes surreal environment to work in.
12:30pm - Lunch break! The food is vegetarian, which I am not - but it is delicious and over the week I've adjusted to it. I generally feel lighter and more energetic during my day, less lethargic. Although I probably need to cut down on the bread a bit :/
Lunch is also a great opportunity to socialize with the other volunteers. Everyone has an interesting back story about how they came here, where they came from, and why they're here. I was really surprised by how friendly and welcoming every single person here has been. There's a mix of all ages, some kids fresh out of college and some octogenarians who've been with the Nyingma organization for decades. Groundskeepers, gardeners, warehouse managers, yoga teachers, and forklift operators all converge and break bread, share conversation, laughs and stories. It's really pretty spectacular.
1:30pm - Work resumes, with the second half of my day being spent with the team at the Yeshe De text preservation project. This is a book binding and shipping warehouse. It's no joke, there are four warehouses filled with hundreds of palettes of Tibetan and Western texts. They handle all of the orders that come in through Dharma Publishing while simultaneously using those proceeds to print and bind thousands of Tibetan texts that are given away in India every year at the World Peace Ceremony.
A good summary of the World Peace Ceremony and the Yeshe De project can be found here. Besides helping to preserve the culture of Tibet, this massive project has led to an influx of texts that were normally so rare they were considered off-limits and precious - now laypeople and nuns are able to read and process these texts for the first time. It's led to a resurgence of literacy and a revitalizing of culture among the Tibetan community in India and the surrounding areas.
The bindery workers are really funny and kind, it's repetitive and strenuous work (boxing up books for four hours a day has left some marks on my wrists with sore hands for sure) but they keep a light, joyful atmosphere. It's been interesting to work with sacred texts, and it's a rare opportunity normally afforded only to ordained Buddhist monks and nuns.
It's also a good opportunity to work with the body, and find mindfulness in physical labor and routine activities. Plus, who doesn't want to help these little guys?
6pm - We close the work day by chanting and reciting prayer to dedicate the merit of our work for the day - to all sentient beings and anyone in particular in your life who needs it. Once in a while we'll all sit on palettes and stacks of cardboard boxes in a circle and pass around a book, reading passages to the group before closing up shop.
6:15pm-9pm - From here on our you're kind of on your own. So far I've been grabbing a plate of food the kitchen staff prepares and stashing it in the fridge to attend some classes. Typically there's a class in philosophy, history, or art followed by an evening Kum Nye yoga session. The instructors are world-class, and despite being tired after a long day of work I'm always engaged with the teachings. I find time to eat somewhere in there, with a bit more socializing in the common room followed by collapsing into my bed.
There's more to say, but that's a good start for now! I just finished a twelve mile trail run to the coast, and after jumping into the frigid ocean and meditating for a bit on the beach I'm ready for a nap. Morris the cat is way ahead of me:
More to come! Om Ah Hum.
Published by: Ryan in Uncategorized