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Once upon a time at Dechen Choling…
Kitchen Prep at Dechen Choling

Kitchen prep

Rarely is there a time when people come to Dechen Choling and think: what a horrible place! People don’t wonder why it is called “Dharma Place of Great Bliss” because of it’s beautiful rolling landscape. And trees…we have the best trees in the world!

But it is not only that. We are, after all, trying to create enlightened society! Right? Well, after this summer, that might not actually be so far from the truth. In fact, people didn’t stop talking about how wonderful it felt here. Yes it was crowded. Yes it was hot. Yes the porta-johns were full. But it was all completely magical.

So what happened? Why did everything work out despite being short-staffed, not having enough beds, meeting rooms, or chairs for dinner, and the occasional reminder that we need a new sewage tank came wafting through the window? How can we do this again? We were left with all of these questions at the end of our summer debrief, and we didn’t have just one answer.

Making momos on Full Moon gathering

Making Momos for Full Moon Gathering

Summer started sometime in the Winter

Last winter we had to make some decisions about how we were going to work with a shorter budget. We had the most minimal number of staff and this meant that some people were doing an extra two jobs in addition to their own (and cooking two meals a week). People worked really, really hard, but instead of frustration, there was a lot of harmony and closeness that developed among the core staff. We had a lot of support from Dechen Choling’s neighbors and in return we invited them to monthly full moon gatherings and enjoyed each other’s company by the fireplace. Then the question was raised: how, with such a small staff, are we going to host a very full summer of programs? We needed to create a strong container for people to volunteer for the summer. Soon after, the Summer Volunteer Program was born.

The daily gathering in the Chateau Shrine Room

Daily Gathering in the Chateau Shrine Room

What does your container look like? What color is it? Is it here? Or is it there?

The previous year, 2008, we experimented with a summer setup program where people could come to work, practice and study together. It was a good start, but what about the rest of the summer? We eventually tailored a summer volunteer program similar to what is done at other Shambhala land centers. There was a beginning, middle and end, including daily required practice, classes twice weekly with Acharya Pongracz and senior students, and parties, trips and other diversions. Applicants to the program were selected based on Dechen Choling’s needs and their own skills.

Returning from the midnight full-moon nettle picking harvest

Returning from the midnight full-moon nettle picking harvest

Then some wonderful people arrived

We heard from more people than we had expected! Our summer volunteers helped out and instantly joined the community. There were music jam sessions in the staff community space, card games, football in the village, dance parties, trips to the river and so on. People cared for each other, in such diverse ways as spontaneous meetings on how to be more earth-friendly, participating (usually!) in ROTA, and most of all, everyone coming to sitting practice.

Not only were the summer volunteers talented and motivated to participate in everything, the genuineness and friendships that quickly developed are something that remained inspirational for a long time. This community bonding strengthened everyone’s connection and people took care of each other genuinely and generously.

Setup crew taking a break under the shade

Setup crew taking a break under the shade

People learned to worked with each other

But that sense of coming together was not easy. There were conflicts, difficulties and challenges along the way. Some individuals lost heart, hid from the group, and a couple left early. The one consistent aspect of living at a land center is that one can never really escape. We work, eat, practice, and even shower together! If a person is angry with someone, it is very difficult to avoid seeing him or her again. As a result, a lot of gentleness and understanding develops towards others as well as connecting to one’s own heart if only in order to survive.

Weeding the gravel in front of the Chateau

Weeding the gravel in front of the Chateau

Practice makes perfect sense when there is such little space

Normally in summertime the staff shrine room is the emptiest place on the land. Everyone is running around doing anything other than practicing. This year, we made an agreement among the permanent staff, and as part of the summer volunteers program, that sitting was mandatory. In order to facilitate this actually happening, the time for meditation was changed from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Because this was a community decision, staff and volunteers actually made an effort to show up.

Besides regular sitting practice, we had dozens of staff and neighbors preparing for Scorpion Seal program, so the werma shrine room was full of lungta, which radiated beyond its walls. We also made every Tuesday as our fresh beginning of the week and started with the long lhasang out at the flagpoles before practice and then ended the day with a dharma talk.

At the river

At the river

Conclusion? It was the weather!

As we now settle down into autumn, the tents have come down, and people are gradually departing. Others are participating in dathun, and the air remains warm and sunny. Hundreds of guests have come and gone. We hosted our teachers, and people were blessed by the lineage in many ways. In a sense, there isn’t really that much of a mystery as to what happened this summer: this is Shambhala, and we discovered the truth that enlightened society is not just an idea. So now, my fellow warriors, the question becomes: once we leave our land center communities, how do we take this out into the world?

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About the Summer Volunteers Programme

Beginning in February and May 2010, Dechen Choling will offer a Summer Volunteer Programme open to anyone with an interest in the Shambhala Buddhist teachings. Come spend all or part of the summer as a volunteer staff member, practicing and studying in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, and earning credit towards future programmes.

How it works

The programme has two main entry dates, in accord with the staffing needs of Dechen Choling:

  1. Feb 24, 2010: for those interested in filling more long term summer staff positions
  2. May 25, 2010: for volunteers who are willing to commit to at least two months
We hope that volunteers at both entry dates who enjoy living and working here will consider staying until mid-October 2010.  Other entry dates and alternative lengths of stay will be gladly considered.

For more information, you can go to: DCL summer staffing

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1 response to “ Once upon a time at Dechen Choling… ”
  1. Lisa Steckler
    Nov 20, 2009
    Reply

    This is great, Zane. Makes me seriously contemplate coming back for the summer! I am so so happy to hear that things went so wonderfully this year. May it continue…
    Love, lisa “shtecky”


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