Wednesday, January 25 was a particularly special day at Ratna Ling Retreat Center for the volunteers here. We held our first bi-annual Volunteer Retreat! For anyone unfamiliar with the staff at Ratna Ling Retreat Center, we are operated entirely by a volunteer staff. Each volunteer here makes a 6-month commitment to work and study at Ratna Ling.
When you make the choice to commit your time here, you are welcomed into a community of supportive and mindful individuals who are living their Dharma practice through meaningful work and both guided and self-study. What this means for our guests, is that each interaction with a staff member is an opportunity to help us, through practical experience, take what we learn on the meditation cushion and use it in our everyday life. For this, we are so grateful!
As a reminder of what this experience has to offer, the Volunteer Retreat was held right here on the property and organized by volunteers. For the entire day, we focused on team building, creating spaces to grow in our relationships together and to connect a bit more closely to the lessons that are offered here through Kum Nye meditation and the Dharma focused classes. Additionally, we were able to spend more time with volunteers from Dharma Publishing and the Yeshe De Text Preservation Project, both of which are found on the property here.
We kicked off the morning with group chant at the stupa garden. The garden is home to several stupas, which are abstract depictions of the Buddha and inside contain dozens of tightly rolled Tibetan language prayers, or historic relics important to the Nyingma tradition. We meet daily here for a morning chant practice, and to listen to a reading from a Tibetan Buddhist text, the principles of which we can take with us into our daily work practice.
Next up was a beautiful Kum Nye class led by one of our volunteers, George. He took us through a series of gentle body movements and careful, deliberate breath work. If you’re unfamiliar with Kum Nye, you can read about it here.
The last morning exercise was led by Chris, an enthusiastic student of Barr Rosenburg at the Nyingma Institute in Berkley, CA. She helped us to explore all of the possibilities we have through vision. We learned about panoramic vision, which uses every part of the eye, not just the laser-focused parts we are most accustomed to seeing through. Want to give it a try? Hold your arms up to your sides, like cactus arms and keep both arms in your line of sight. To make it even more fun, get up and walk around! See what you don’t see when you’re not looking for it.
As the second part of this session, we learned how to use Panoramic Vision in our everyday conversations. Give this a try, too, maybe with someone you already feel comfortable with. Sit facing each other and in chairs pushed close together. Look into each other’s eyes, but don’t ignore what you can see through your panoramic vision. Watch the subtle eye movements as you focus and unfocus. Ask one another questions and see what kinds of conversations come up during this intimate experience.
A highlight of the day for everyone was lunch. On a typical day, our current in-house Chef, Anthony, and his small team put together our meals. However, during the retreat, we all donned aprons and prepared a meal together. Anthony creatively came up with a team-building exercise that for some intensified their senses, and for others took away their most relied upon ones.
Each team of three or four had a member who wore a blindfold, one (or two) who were completely mute and one leader who had all of their senses exposed – in some cases, that included their vulnerability, too! Chef put together a Chopped-style box of ingredients, explained that only the leaders from each team could ask him questions and that each ingredient in the box would be a component of the full meal. The catch? Aside from members who couldn’t see or speak, we also were not permitted to watch or communicate with any of the other teams.
What could have been a recipe for disaster, turned out to be a fun, silly and creative experience. Our team members who are used to using their voices to communicate were left to find other ways to express their ideas. Our blindfolded members learned to trust their teammates to keep them safely engaged in the project. Leaders who were not familiar or comfortable in that role had a chance to take charge and to learn that, sometimes, it’s good to just let things flow. We learned so much during this exercise!
The afternoon included a trip to Dharma Publishing and the Yeshe De Text Preservation project. We heard the history of Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, the lama and founder of the Odiyan Buddhist Retreat Center and the Nyingma Monlam Chenmo World Peace Ceremony held annually at Bodh Gaya, India, where, since 1989, he has freely distributed more than five million sacred texts to lamas, monks, and nuns of the Tibetan community.
At Dharma Publishing, we got to see where all of the books and CDs that you order actually come from! Dharma Publishing is also home to the very first printing press Rinpoche used while this venture was just a side project for him during his time as a teacher at Sanskrit University in Varanasi, India.
At Yeshe De, we watched how volunteers operate an entire printing facility. Thousands of sacred Tibetan texts are printed each year. Work at the book bindery is hands-on and physical. Areas of work include the assembling of traditional Tibetan books and wrapping them in colorful fabric, putting books in slipcases and boxing them up for shipment to India. Volunteers can also be trained on a variety of bindery machines like the collator, gold stamper, trimmer, and folder.
To close out our community day together, Shari Sunshine, our resident wellness therapist led us through a gentle yoga class. We worked on hip openers and a sideways version of “panda rolls.” We had a chance to laugh ourselves through seemingly simple body movements and explore what our bodies are capable of when shown compassion and thoughtfulness. We’ll take these lessons into our daily work practice as well as the challenges in store during the Longchenpa Celebration next week which will include three days of continuous meditation and chanting. Watch for a recap in the next blog post.
Interested in volunteering at Ratna Ling? Click here to submit an application.