Written March 23, 2023 by Virginia Gregory

“Work can be a source of growth, an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and to develop positive and healthy relationships. If we view work in this way, we find there is really no difference between devoting energy and care to our work and devoting energy to improving our awareness and appreciation of life.” Tarthang Tulku, Skillful Means

Retreat guests can’t help but notice the connection and camaraderie we share as volunteers at Ratna Ling. Whether visiting for a group yoga and meditation escape or a personally centered approach, many guests pick up immediately on the hum of energy. We are a family and Ratna Ling is our home. Living in close quarters together means sharing rooms and workspaces, gardens and the temple; but the one place that we all gravitate towards is, of course, the kitchen. Whether it’s a boisterous laugh or answered question, snippets of communion are easily heard through the heavy swinging doors connecting the dining room to where the culinary magic happens.

It’s in these moments of shared experience that a symbiotic relationship forms: fresh volunteers hover and jump in where needed, especially in cases where a core, seasoned resident can ask for help and provide direction.  Flexible and adaptable, another layer of comfort is found by those of us who have reached an interestingly dynamic point in this experience together. There’s a funny spot in community life where you think you know how most of this thing works and where everything goes, but not by any means do all of the things make sense! At all stages of this system, we learn, work and grow as a group as well as individuals.

These activities of making and sharing lunch, setting up meals for retreat guests and cleaning the chaos afterwards occur on a highly routine, nearly daily schedule. However, weekly we gather to conquer projects as a focused, core group. Enter Community Work Day!

Whether it’s for solitary contemplation in the garden, recreation and exercise on our many acres of property, or simply baking in the kitchen, we share an incredible amount of space with one another. Thus, we also maintain, clean and take care of it together too! It’s not always easy, but it is always fun! I’ll admit, some wet and cold days with chainsaws and soggy insulation on the agenda… I’m not necessarily rarin’ to go. My inner “whisperer” says I don’t feel like doing this today. But I’ve always found that within the first thirty minutes of working together, my friends and comrades lend me the energy to change that attitude.

In my short three months here I’ve shown up to Community Work Day in raingear ready for a muddy slog through downed trees to lift broken branches overhead; I’ve also rolled up my sleeves and thrown out the gloves to clear garden beds and plant blueberries. Someone is taking off their shoes and socks to squish their toes in the dirt; our background soundtrack is streaming music we talk about as we work. These multisensory joys are interspersed with loud laughter and sharp pops of air from the compressed nail gun being used to finish construction of another greenhouse.

We can feel the cooling breeze and warm sun on our faces. It really is a beautiful day. We talk about some deep and heavy things as well. In between shovels of mulch and mixing soil, my friend asks me, “Hey, how’s your soul doing?” and genuinely wants to know. Working together with our hands in the dirt, the blueberries we plant also absorb our energy. We take breaks to play games and breathe together; maybe we’re continuing the tradition of the volunteer hippies who lived here before us and some who still do. We work hard, we smile, and we’re not afraid to hold hands.

“When we truly care about working together, we know the importance of understanding and being understood, of being clear and honest in what we say and how we say it. We listen to and support each other, and problems in our work are dealt with smoothly. We help each other willingly, accomplishing our goals together, sharing all of our energy.” Tarthang Tulku, Skillful Means