It has been nearly three months since I arrived here. Updating this weekly as I originally hoped obviously hasn’t worked out quite as I planned. I’m going to try to start updating at least every other week but even that may be optimistic. Now that I’ve been here for a bit I’m developing a better sense of the place so I’m going to do a couple posts about what I like and don’t like about being here. Let’s start with the positive:
Lots of high quality food – We have a fairly healthy diet here. All of our meals are vegetarian and we eat a large variety of different foods; rice, bread, several types of beans, tofu, eggs, dairy and lots of fruits and vegetables, among other things. The variety ensures that we get all of the nutrients we need which is very important in a vegetarian diet. We get a lot of our vegetables and herbs from our two gardens, one of which was built about seven years ago while the other one was finished since I arrived. The new garden is actually one of the projects I’ve been helping out with, and it’s already producing an absurd amount of potatoes (I’ve heard we’re expecting about 5000 pounds total, possibly more, and we’ve only harvested about 300 pounds so far). Much of our fruit comes from the various orchards scattered around the property. There are several types of pear and apple trees, blackberry bushes, plums, oranges (which don’t ripen until October), and mulberry trees. Have you ever heard of these things? I didn’t know what a mulberry was before coming here but they’re similar to blackberries, except bigger and they aren’t surrounded by huge thorns designed to make your life miserable. They’re also one of the most delicious things I’ve ever been fortunate enough to encounter. I’ve been downing them by the dozen every chance I get. This past weekend a few people worked on picking hundreds of apples, which was then turned into about 40 gallons of some of the best apple juice I’ve ever had, and this process will be repeated the next couple weeks. Basically we have a lot of really great food, and one of the best things about it is…
Almost all of your meals are cooked for you – We have breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked for us every day (except Sundays, which is lunch only) by the volunteers here on a rotating basis. A lot of the people here have become good cooks over time so most of the food is really good, and everyone can at least make something edible. I can’t say I’ve had anything particularly bad while I’ve been here. Since people have different styles there’s a lot of variety in the meals and unless you’re the one cooking it doesn’t require any work except helping with meal cleanup.
Variety in the work I do – There are a lot of different jobs here. Some people work in particular areas and do the same job all the time. There’s a crew that works in our foundry that is currently working on a 20-foot bronze statue. There are a few people that live here but work at a book bindery at a sister community nearby called Ratna Ling. And then there’s the group that I’m part of. We pretty much do anything and everything that needs to get done. Here’s an abbreviated list of the jobs I’ve done in the last few months: hedge trimming, brush cutting, mixing and pouring concrete, laying cinder blocks with mortar, building wooden posts and boxes for our fire hydrants, painting, picking fruit, cooking, grinding / polishing metal, and gardening. Now that the statue is nearing completion I’ve been working in the foundry quite a bit as well. I’ve learned to use a lot of tools and machines I’d never used before coming here. I’m a lot better at digging holes than I ever cared to be. I never thought I’d have strong feelings about shovels, but I have a favorite shovel here (partially because most of them are so awful). At first learning so many new things at once was overwhelming, but now that I’ve adjusted I’m eager to learn new skills every chance I get and to improve on what I’ve already learned. Which brings me to…
An environment that nourishes growth – Odiyan offers seemingly unlimited potential to learn. Not only can you learn dozens of different work skills, but there is also an emphasis on personal growth through learning to cultivate awareness. Tarthang Tulku, the founder of Odiyan and its many sister organizations, is a prolific writer and has authored dozens of books about meditation, studying the mind, work, and many other subjects. The books are all available here in a library for us to read and currently there are several classes spread throughout the week to discuss a couple of the books in depth. One of the classes I have been attending is based on a book called Gesture of Balance, which has been incredibly eye opening. The book is a series of essays on various topics, but the main theme is the habits the mind creates in order to rationalize and justify negative and harmful behaviors. Many of the people here are also very supportive and willing to help with problems you might be facing in your life.
The difference in culture – One of my favorite things about living here (and just outside of society in large in general) is the drastic difference in the culture. I think it’s important to explore new ways of living than what you’re accustomed to and Odiyan offers a radically different way to live. We are not constantly inundated with advertising trying to subtly trick us into thinking that we need to buy a certain product or watch a certain TV show for our lives to be good. We don’t have to deal with traffic or crowded stores. We share resources and tools so we don’t need to own as much and create less waste. Work is viewed as an opportunity to do something meaningful and fulfilling as opposed to a burden that must be done for the sake of survival. It’s by no means perfect but I prefer it to the mainstream society that seems to prevail elsewhere.
The people – There are about 35 people that currently live here. I don’t interact much with a lot of them since we work in different areas, but the people that I work with and see often I really like. The rest of the general work crew that I’m on are other guys around my age and we tend to have a lot in common and get along really well. There are a few other new people like me, but most of them have been here for years. Having only been here a few months it’s inspiring to see how much the people I work with have learned since arriving and how much they are capable of accomplishing. There are a few other people I don’t work with that I have become friends with as well and there’s no one here that I dislike.
The place that I get to live – Living in a place that offers a gorgeous natural environment has become vital to my long term well-being. I enjoy the privilege of getting to live in an absolutely beautiful little spot of the world. I’m surrounded by forested hills, gardens, flowers, and a view of the Pacific Ocean just a few miles away. The air is free from pollution and (except for our noisy machines while we’re working) it is quiet and peaceful. One of my favorite things to do here is stargazing. The night sky here is incredible since we’re so far away from a populated area. As long as the sky is clear, and especially when the moon isn’t too bright, there are thousands of stars visible. The Milky Way, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before being here, is a common sight as well.
So, those are a few of my favorite things about getting to live here. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer before I can find some time to complain and tell you about the things I don’t care for so much.