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Back at Ratna Ling

So, I'm back at Buddha Camp. Holidays were pretty baller. I'll write something more substantial more tomorrow. I just want to put this one little thing in the record. (Sorry about the fact that I've already cross-posted this to Facebook and Twitter and it's gonna show up again on Facebook. Deal).

Before hopping into bed tonight, I did like Meggie did last night and checked under the bedsheets for spiders and pranks and things. No spiders. Just about thirty acorns which are now scattered across my yome. I'd sweep them up but I think somebody stole my broom over holiday. Hil-ariousssssss. alright g'night I've been up too long tonight already.
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Home at last

Wow. That was pretty crazy: cleaning up everything and taking last-minute orders and driving down to Berkeley and crashing with a (pretty cool) CouchSurfing host and getting to the Oakland airport and getting home from the BWI airport in about three days!

I'll write up more later about end-of-season stuff. But let me say that I AM SO COOL because I TOOK A PHONE ORDER AT 2:30pm and had it all packed up and heading out and then I LEFT THE LING AT 3:00PM.

oh and for anyone I didn't see before I peaced out, HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

oops, the sun's coming up. That's what happens when I come home and hang out with friends and chat with mom until the wee hours. GOOD MORNING NIGHT WORLD, I'll see you soon.
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Why I have the awesomest yome on-site

After a particularly cold day last week, I stumbled into my yome in the dark (since the overhead lights are out) to trip over a portable electric radiator.

The next night, I followed a bright light to my yome to be blinded by light from the three overhead bulbs. (Okay, it's not that bright, but it's a lot better lighting than before; plus the lightswitch is right next to the door.)

This morning, I looked up from my bed to see a foil-covered piece of insulation covering the chimney hole at the top of my yome.

Now the only thing my yome is missing is Gerardo, my roommate, who went back home two weeks ago. I don't think Mike McMurphy can install a Gerardo... or maybe he could ... this could get creepy.
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It's job recruiting time!

Do you like packing things in boxes? Can you handle a spreadsheet and some data entry? Would you enjoy eating free, delicious vegetarian food day and night? Are you interested in Buddhism or don't mind working with Buddhists? If yes, you should apply to the Shipping department of Dharma Publishing!

The shipping department is responsible for:
  • packing and sending out books and art to bookstores and individuals world-wide
  • managing warehouse inventory
  • ordering shipping supplies
  • assembling products such as notebooks and wrapping paper packages
  • handling online orders and some phone orders
  • other tasks around the office determined by your skills and what needs to get done

  • Ability to handle an Excel spreadsheet and some data entry
  • Occasional heavy lifting of boxes under 50lbs

Work schedule: Monday through Saturday, 8am-6:15pm with 30min breaks in the morning and afternoon and lunch from 12:30-1:30pm.
  • $150/mon stipend check
  • Room on-site
  • Lunch and dinner, vegetarian meals prepared by professional cooks
  • Full utilities including internet and phone
  • Free classes on Buddhist topics and Kum Nye yoga
  • Open access to industrial kitchen and carpentry shop

Community: All Dharma Publishing volunteers live at Ratna Ling, an intentional work community in the redwoods of Northern California. In January, there'll be about 30 people living and working here from all over the world from 20 years old to over 60 You can read more about the community here.

If you're interested in this position, please fill out the application form and email it to For more information, call our Volunteer Coordinator office at 510-809-2014 or contact me via commenting here, email, or Facebook.
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Lessons in Awareness; or, Another Story on Carnivorous Trees

I walk around the Ling in the dark a lot. We've established this, like, two or three months ago. There's very few proper roads around the Ling; this we also know. There are, however, several established paths - at least, inasmuch as there's beaten-down ground where volunteers over the years have trod en route to their yome, the commons, and work. I follow one of these paths home every night (sometimes a little later than other nights, like when I passed out on the commons couch).

This particular path, which leads from the commons to my yome, starts across the road and two steps to the left of the walkway leading out of the commons. There's your first hazard - if you don't veer left, there's half a dozen small shrubs which will eat your legs up to the calves. They're nothing to trip on, but if it's raining like tonight, it's a bit of a nasty walk the rest of the way. Pretty soon after that are the second and third hazards: a raised manhole cover to kick on the left of the path and a wooden post to run into. At least the manhole cover is white, so you can aim just to the right of it and steer clear of these dangers.

After clearing these two trip-ups, it's smooth sailing for about thirty feet. My advice at this point is to treat toe-first, since there's a small hump immediately followed by a slightly larger hole. If you have either a cautious tread or a good sense of balance, this shouldn't be an issue.

Another thirty feet on, the same thing happens - that is to say, another hump. If you don't encounter the hump after a minute, though, it's time to worry: you're probably near THE CARNIVOROUS TREES. Yes, the trees will eat you up here in Volunteerland, too. You won't see them coming because a devious turn in their evolution left them with some fearsome leaf cover overhead, blocking out any moonbeams which might otherwise have glinted off their sodden trunks. The only method of detecting this by employing a paradigm shift in the way you look at things, by seeking out the negative space where the trees block the night-time sky behind them - and avoiding that space. Sometimes, though, its compatriots off in the distance form a barricade against any night sky helping us poor, damp volunteers get home. The end result: coming up short with your nose dead against a tree, if you haven't already stumbled over its roots.

Now, the only remedy to this dire situation we find ourselves in, lost in the middle of the forest, so close to home but potentially stuck running in circles for hours to avoid the underbrush, is to use our finely tuned Kum Nye senses, stretch out our mind, and feel for the path. Okay, in reality, I just walk back and forth really carefully until I can feel the the dirt path underfoot instead of the grass and fallen leaves everywhere else. Sometimes I try to keep an eye out for landmarks I recognize, like the prayer flags Zach hung outside his yome or the little LED light on the side of Kari and Jon's yome. But still, I gotta use my awareness! That's Kum Nye, man!

Once I get back on the path-by the way, I get in this kind of a fix about three nights a week-and over that last hump, I just gotta keep an eye out for one more little shin-kicker next to the path. It's a knee-high wooden post, which I know since I've busted my knee on it more than few times. Then you cross the road and there's the welcome crunching of gravel underfoot. It's almost home free - just keep an eye out for that shiny white block of concrete that's the first step up onto the yome patio!
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Oh no, I forgot the holidays!

Me as Daft Punk
Okay real quick, because I need to go to bed at a reasonable hour so I can be functional at work in the morning.. jeez, whoda thunk I'd grow up to be a responsible adult? and I'm not even getting paid for this. ehhh who am I kidding - even though they let me vote, drink, and buy porn, I'm never gonna grow up proper.

On that note, HALLOWEEN! We did the place up RIGHT. Even though we're a Buddhist work community, it's still staffed by Westerners and we fusioned this place like a space shuttle from the future. The banquet hall got all decked out Saturday morning with spider webs, coffins, and one corpse hanging from the rafters (I tied the noose, Meggie's clothes provided the corpse). A bunch of people made yummies, there was candy in abundance, and we all came down to bumble around and have a Halloweeny dance party. The winners of the costume contest - Ana and Davie, who were riding chocobos ostriches - won a week off of lunch cleanup duty. At 10pm, everybody pitched in with cleaning up the place and then migrated over to the bonfire, which Mike Murphy had stoked up. There were guitars and wolf-howls in abundance! You can check out Leigh's photos on Picasa if you missed them.

Soon after Halloween was THANKSGIVING - and two week's worth of preparations, oh man. A signup list for cooks went up on the fridge pretty early into November, so people could elect to cook a particular dish or side. We had to give our recipes to the kitchen, too, so they could order enough food for us to cook with. Another list showed up with times for people to cook their dishes, starting at 6:15pm (after dinner was cooked) on Thursday the week before Thanksgiving.

The day of Thanksgiving, of course, we had to have a FOOTBALL GAME. What without any TV reception on-site - and a mixed bag of loyalties to different regions - we instead trooped down to Stump Beach and held our own Ratna Ling football bonanza. Doug brought traffic cones, somebody rounded up the football, and we went! Loads of fun, even in the misty chill from the NoCal Pacific.

Yes, I do spend a lot of time in the kitchen.
When I got back at 4pm, the kitchen was overrun with a lotta lotta cooking, and for a good cause: 50 people sitting at three long banquet tables arranged in an arc around the banquet hall. We filled the buffet line to bursting with tofurkey, green bean casserole, candied yams, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and one huge platter of tofurkey - followed up by George's delightful dinner rolls. They rolled out another table for all the desserts, too, which included gingerbread cookies, 16 punkin pies, and tiramisu. ohhhhh man so much good food. And so much thankfulness! Arnaud gave a speech during dinner which everyone echoed, to the gist of: "We are thankful to be so fortunate, that we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies and friends and family members we care for and who care for us, wherever they may be, and that we have the opportunity to do the work we do and preserve the cultural legacy of Tibet." And afterwards, we put Alice's Restaurant on the stereo =)

These holidays are still hanging around, mostly in the form of leftovers popping up - the day after Thanksgiving, we had a Leftovers Casserole, four different dishes stuffed into one casserole pan. Pretty good stuff. And yesterday for lunch, the remainder of my yams from Thanksgiving were remixed into sweet & spicy burrito stuffing and sweet potato fries! Man, our kitchen is great. There's still some Halloween costumes floating around the Ling, mostly the Commons - and my robot helmet is on top of my armoire.

Now that it's December, several Holiday Cheer squads were dispatched during Saturday morning's community work period to prepare for the coming Yuletide times. Now visitors approaching the Ling will be greeted by a cheery string of Christmas lights outlining our gate, some colorful ones on the trees, and a 20-foot tall Christmas tree in the front lobby of the lodge! Fortunately, we're avoiding most of the schmaltzy music* and tawdry sales associated with the season and just get the good bits: happy people anticipating their holiday cheer.

(* Okay, that's not totally accurate: we dug out a copy of John Denver and the Muppets singing Christmas carols because Megan from Odiyan wanted to hear them.)

But Christmas break or not, we're still working hard! It's our good ol' eight hours a day, six hours a week that keeps this place running and, by george, we're sticking to it. This coming week is the last full work week, then we get a two-day retreat for everyone on site-a nice way to round out the season-and two days of cleanup before most everyone heads out to see their families - at least, their families outside of the Ling!
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How to Tell I Live at the Ling

As of yesterday, Ratna Ling has been home for four solid months (excluding a weekend in Berkeley). Here's a few signs that I've settled in:</p>
  • Walking the gravel path from my yome to the bathroom shed requires neither shoes nor (after dark) flashlights.
  • Walking anywhere at night doesn't require a flashlight, even during new moon.
  • I automatically lock bathroom doors behind me.
  • The "DONG!" of the prayer bell no longer makes me jump. Neither does the gunshot "bang!" of people stacking pallets outside the bindery in the morning.
  • I know the nickname and at least one hobby/interest of every single person on-site. However, I know maybe 20% of their legal first and last names.
  • I am surprised when people shave.
  • I am not surprised to eat tofu anything.
  • I am happily surprised to see leftovers from lunch transformed into an entirely different dish two days later.
  • I don't read the original labels on bottles. There's usually a masking tape label that's more useful.
  • I also don't read what t-shirt I put on in the morning, since I only have seven. Everyone's seen them and nobody cares anyway.
  • My bookshelf contains several sci-fi paperbacks, one dirty romance novel, a bestseller novel, and a copy of Skillful Means and Gesture of Balance, Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche's guides to practical Buddhism in Western work and life.
  • The other end of my bookshelf contains more hand-written letters and handicrafts than DVDs and video games.
  • I don't actually have a "bookshelf" per se, we just make do with what's here.
  • My yome's decorations consist of abalone shells from the coast, bird feathers, little things other volunteers have made for me. Oh, and art we produce at the bindery.
  • Most of the movies I've watched here were from an external hard drive, an old volunteer, or Netflix.
  • All of my personal storage boxes are recycled from leftovers at work. So are all my personal notebooks and looseleaf.
  • Despite the fact that I'm living below the poverty line, I'm eating better than I ever did since I got into college.

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Why so lethargic?

Why have I been so low-energy since I got back from Berkeley? I spent ten minutes staring at my craft table during break today instead of living life.

I'm still getting a bit of exercise, walking back and forth to work and to the lodge every day. I'm eating an okay amount. I spend enough hours in bed. I'm not depressed or anything.

Y'know what? I think the vegetarian diet is finally getting to me after four months. Eating whatever I wanted in Berkeley was great. (Being down in the city was fun, too, but I think that was only half of it.) It seems I might need to start going to the grocery store more often for myself.
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Ratna ZINE!

So the Ratna Zine was awesome. They ran a set of 30-ish and hope to finish off the rest of the 108 of the first edition. What's the RZ, you say? It was the youth of the Ling banding their creative forces together to form one 8.5"x5.5" booklet of art, essays, poems, music reviews, and general visually creative stuff. Some of it is in-jokes for people who've lived in yome-land or been part of the society here, but there's some good accessible stuff for folks from outside the Ling.

To celebrate and share the goodness, we had a party! The kitchen brought down pizza and pumpkin cheesecake muffins to the Tower House last Friday and people gradually filtered in around 7pish to pick up a copy to read - and to listen. Some people read their own contributions, making their pieces even more hilarious and poignant. Jesse described her conversion to vegetarianism, a bit stunning to her quite carnivorous New Zealand family, with humor and a brutal honesty, while Rachel, in a satirical but loving manner, lambasted the plight of a banana plug she encountered while on a morning run. Monel pulled up the myspace page for A Nice Place to Visit for one of Tim's bands and read her "EP Interpretation" - less a music review than a running narration of the album. We all tried to piece through Anna's German captions to her drawings of the different bathrooms around yomeland. That was pretty hilarious, especially the bit where people around the room eventually realized which bathroom was whose.

Sitting around the common room in the tower house with everybody, perusing the zine to find our lives portrayed so- it was pretty cool. I'm very glad that it happened and hope to keep it up into the new year.

You can download a PDF of it from my server, since the creators were kind enough to distribute it to us electronically.
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Sometimes, you just gotta laugh.

Just a warning: if you've lived at the Ling, you'll read this note, smile ruefully and say to yourself, "Yeah, I've done that;" as for y'all city folk, you're probably gonna laugh at me instead.

Walking from the bindery to the lodge, the quickest route is along the footpath that follows the road. Up one side is grass and the hill with the reservoir. The other side is a copse of trees. Along the path every ten paces or so lives a little footlamp; some burn steadily while others strobe, with the remainder flashing out now and then like lighthouses warning "keep an eye out or your feet will get wet!" Since my flashlight is dying and this week hosts a new moon, those little lights are literally my guiding lights to get from work to dinner. The entrance to the footpath is bounded on the right by some manhole covers for the septic system (?) and on the left by a little light and a tree.

This tree, it eats people if they don't keep an eye out. It'll just lean a branch over--esspecially on wet nights, like tonight--and smack 'em right in the face. I've lived here for over three months now, so you'd think I'd be familiar with it. Oh, I sure am familiar with it.

Tonight, as I approached the path, I figured out that I should hold my gradually weakening flashlight up in front of my face in order to illuminate any errant branches that might scratch my glasses. I got past the warehouse tent, over the road, onto the path - nothing! Great. The flashlight is out to save what battery is left. And-

BAM! in the face. So much for outsmarting the tree. Sometimes, you just gotta laugh.