In 2011, Dharmalaya held its first-ever international programme: a work retreat in collaboration with SanghaSeva. That experience was so inspiring that we’ve been coming together again every year and, since 2012, also hosting silent meditation retreats with Zohar Lavie and Nathan Glyde, our gifted and delightful friends from SanghaSeva.
Last month, friends new and old from all corners of the globe (five continents!) came to Dharmalaya to participate in our fourth annual SanghaSeva retreats. As usual, we were feeling like family by the end, and mountains were moved — both outside and in.
Starting off with a silent retreat is a great way to land — to slow down and settle into a state of peaceful presence. For most of us, a week is a very helpful stretch of time to put us in touch with that tranquil, warm-hearted presence that lives in the center of us always but too often goes unnoticed as we are swept around in the winds of our experiences.
But most of us don’t live our whole lives on a cushion, so how do we bring the warmth and presence of meditation into the rest of our lives (and vice versa)? That’s where our ‘work retreats’ come in: We create opportunities to practice mindful engagement in daily life by doing earth-loving work with as much awareness, warmth, and presence as we can manage to hold.
In the case of this year’s work retreat, we began with a group activity in which over twenty people collaborated (in almost total silence) in the creation of a beautifully landscaped path leading up the hill from the entry to Dharmalaya’s campus to our main building.
The pathbuilding process also served to ‘feed two birds with one seed’ by providing turf and wildflowers to cover an earthbag retaining wall in the front of the building.
From there, we branched into a variety of interrelated tasks developing our campus for sustainable and compassionate living, including green building, organic gardening, and natural landscaping.
We made adobe bricks for the new dormitory cottage.
We built a path climbing up an embankment to reach the site of a future bamboo bridge that will provide access to the upper story of that cottage.
We created several new organic garden beds.
And put new life in the older gardens.
We learned to work with bamboo, splitting and flattening it for use in the buildings.
We did a lot of ‘sanding and varnishing meditation’, preparing wood and bamboo elements for the main building.
We gave the slate tiles in the dishwashing area a good polish.
On a rainy day, we even did some stitching to mend some ailing duvets.
And a few of us learned to make chapatis. :-)
Finally, we built a compost shed out of stone, mud bricks, bamboo, and recycled roofing material.
Looking over what we’d accomplished, we were amazed at what a group can do.
But it wasn’t all work. In the middle of the retreat, we had a silent day, for much-needed rest and an inspiring wordless walking meditation with the birds down by the stream.
And, every morning, we greeted the sun with chi kung sessions to help us start the day in balance.
Perhaps most importantly, throughout all this, we found insight into ourselves and came together as a community.
We hope to see some of these faces, as well as new ones, on the horizon…
For upcoming retreats and other programmes at Dharmalaya Institute, see our events page.