Working in a Buddhist Retreat …


I’m reflecting over my first week in Chenrezig …

Although I’m journaling every day, I’m only sharing random blogs because I’m being more mindful of my time and going online less often. I’m here to find inner peace (peace of mind specifically), but Im here as part of the work exchange program. So, its not the same as being on retreat. We work 5 days a week for 6.5 hours on a rotation of kitchen prep shifts, housekeeping shifts, supper shifts and breakfast shifts. So, they are busy days and theres a lot of new routines and roles to learn, which can become overwhelming. But everyone has been welcoming, friendly, kind and supportive, which helps with the settling in process.

My first shift didn’t start off the best because they didn’t have my larger than large size work top. I tried on one of the “large” sizes, thinking maybe with the right kinda pants it wouldn’t be so bad, but I was wrong. I wandered out to show one of the vollies “how not to wear a work top,” and the look on her face was priceless. On the smaller size ladies they are a lovely fit, but they weren’t accommodating for my broad shoulders and big bust. It looked more like a crop top on me, so I was a vision to behold. It was kinda funny, but I must admit, at the time I struggled to find the funny side. I rummaged a while and was relieved to find a 2XL on the rack, but even that was a narrow cut, snug fit and the fabric was heavy, so I felt even hotter and uncomfortable. BUT I focused on the positive, there was “a” top that fit me, even if it was uncomfortable as fuck (note to self: STOP swearing) and I focused on the shift, which was busy but everyone works great as a team and I had fun, even though it was humid and I sweated buckets. But I figured, with all this exercise and healthy eating then its only gonna get better, right? WRONG … well, not before it got worse anyways.

I came onto the 2nd shift to find no 2XL top on the rack, so I was forced to approach the cook and tell him why I was wearing my own shirt. I didn’t make a fuss and he was totally cool with it, but I was embarrassed and a little annoyed to be confronted with the situation. And deeper within the hidden parts of myself, I was dealing with feelings of shame. Before going on shift, I felt so out of sorts that I hid in the toilet cubicle and cried.

I observed the inner dialogue …

“Why arent you embracing your Goddessly goodness?

“Geeeeeezus, pull yourself together woman!!”

“If I can’t fit into any of the tops, then it means I don’t fit in here either”

“My body is too big and I’m ashamed to be the size I am”

“I feel so fat and ugly”

“I don’t want to look or feel this way”

Hmmmmm, I wonder, why do we bully ourselves in this way?

Not the kinda self-talk that reflects the Goddess I claim and strive to BE that’s for sure, but it did cut through the bullshit and got to the heart of how I was truly feeling about my body, which only made me feel worse, because I really DO want to love the skin I’m in. But, instead of getting swallowed up by my own self-pity, I approached the supervisor and explained my dilemma, who was more than cool with me buying my own shirts. So, after a few SOS text messages, my daughter picked me up after my shift. Took me to the shops to pick up some work shirts, and I’ve felt much more comfortable on shift since. (Thanks Jods, I love you).

I did learn something from the experience though …

Claiming to embrace all shapes and sizes means nothing if we don’t cater for them ALL. So, I’m gonna leave my “bigger” tops here when I leave, so the next larger than large person can feel like they fit and belong here too.

Around mid-week the real struggles began, which I wasn’t all that impressed about, nor was I expecting. I mean, Im here to find inner peace, so I wasn’t expecting to feel MORE struggles. Challenges YES, but not struggles. But, I of all people should have known better because inner peace isn’t gonna just happen because Im in a peaceful place. No, this is the place I need to be because it will help to bring the inner conflicts to the surface, so I can release them. Then and only then will I find peace of mind.

Anyhoo, as the rain continued to fall, the humidity began to rise, and I became more and more agitated in my skin. Although the rain is a welcomed relief and very much needed everywhere in Australia, my body struggles to work in humidity. I work up a mighty sweat before I even begin a shift because it’s a 10 to 15 minute walk up a hill and steps. Then I get all hot and sweaty when Im working in the heat and humidity, and feel self-conscious when I get called out the front to serve customers. And let’s face it, there’s nothing appealing about someone sweating all over your ginger cake, or dripping sweat into your lentil curry. Fortunately, I have a sense of humour and am open about my struggles, so I switch the fans on to help lower my body temp and ask a colleague to help me out on the front desk, if I’m feeling like a hot sweaty anxious mess.

The Buddhist faith encourages us to be honest about where we are NOW, which is what I like. I already do my best to own where I am with a little more honesty and a little less shame, but its wonderful to be in a living and working environment that supports and encourages it. Truth is, I’m out of my comfort zone here because everything around me is NEW. I’ve never lived in a communal setting like this before, I’ve never eaten a full vegetarian diet before and its been 30 years since I’ve worked in hospitality. Although all this newness excites, inspires and motivates me, it also makes me feel a little nervous and anxious.

The main struggle I have isn’t with what Im doing though, its with myself because sometimes (not all the time) I don’t like how I look, feel or think, which is largely motivated by my greatest struggle of all, which is grief. Traumatic experiences and conflicting stories that continue to replay in my mind, triggering a sense of loss, preventing me from living the life I want to live and love. I have no desire to deny this truth because it is mine, but I am taking the necessary steps to change it. Because I believe grief is a process, but we can and DO get stuck when things keep triggering old stories, that keep replaying in our minds. This is the cycle I want to break because I dont want to suffer from grief, I want to learn and grow from it.

The first week was mostly filled with work and the rest of the weeks will be too, but fortunately Im enjoying the work and meeting plenty of interesting people with interesting stories. When I asked one of the young lads where he was from the other day, and he said “the stars” I smiled because I love it when I cross paths with souls from other planets. The more I chat and get to know my fellow vollies, the more I realize how I’m not alone with my struggles and challenges. We are all realizing how similar we are, regardless of our individual differences. I really do love the process of getting to know new people and how it creates a deeper sense of connection between us.

So, what am I learning in these first few weeks?

I’m learning how to DO some things I haven’t done before and relearning other things I did many moons ago. Im going along to a barrister course tomorrow, to learn how to make coffee, which Im really looking forward to, but I have those niggly nerves too. I really do enjoy learning new skills though and I love working with people. So, the more confident I get within the new roles and new routines, the more Im gonna enjoy being out front in amongst the customers. I just need to be a little more patient with myself, as I adjust to the new roles and routines and find my own natural flow and rhythms. Im also learning how to BE more present and even more honest in my interactions. The more aware I am of my struggles and conflicts, the more openly Im talking about them and the less they control my BEing, which then allows for more inner peace.

Inbetween shifts I’m going along to whatever I can fit into my day. There’s a daily Dharma practice up in the Gompa twice a day, but I’ve only managed to go along to one so far. To be honest, Id rather dance naked under the moon and hug a tree than sit in a place of worship, but I’m here to learn more about the Buddhist faith, so I’m open to experiences. Then I went along to a meditation before a shift, but found it agitated me more than centered me. The first stage was a focus on breath technique, which I liked, but then he proceeded to do a teaching. I was intrigued by my reaction because it felt like he was penetrating my consciousness, which I didn’t really like. I was mindful of the psychology behind it, so it triggered me. I suppose that’s the purpose of the teachings, but whether its a priest preaching on his pulpit or a monk teaching on his mat, it triggers feelings of religious manipulations.

Maybe I’m being too defensive?

Perhaps I need to keep my mind more open?

Maybe I’m just a little more aware of the process?

Anyhoo, I am looking forward to having more 1:1 conversations with the monks and nuns. As I recall the first chat I had with a nun, I smile to myself. I arrived early to the Dharma practice, so she invited me in to have a look around. I asked why she was walking around the room, thinking it was part of a ritual. She lifted her gown from her hand to show me her iphone watch. She was trying to complete those darn circles that my sisters do. I couldn’t help but chuckle because it wasn’t what I had expected. Im looking forward to joining her at one of the mantra scrolling work shops she invited me along to.

After sharing part of my story and some of my struggles with the Work Exchange Coordinator over lunch the other day, she said if I ever wanted to talk to any of the monks and nuns, she could arrange it for me, so I said “YES please.” She suggested spending some time with one of the older nuns, who is around 80 yrs old because her teachings are around death and loss. “Yup, she’s the one for me.”

Although I’ve worked in Aged Care for 20 years and studied intensely to better understand grief and loss, my struggles with our parents end of life and their death reflect a need to expand beyond my limited spiritual practice, hence why I’m here I suppose. I also recognize a need to release myself from the old limited beliefs around grief and loss, which is also why I’m here. There are many reasons why I’m here to be honest, which is why I’m so grateful to be here.

Ive been waking early and I notice that Im more excited and enthusiastic about the days ahead. Although the days are humid and uncomfortable to work in, its a truly beautiful place to BE. And the scattered sun showers and afternoon thunder storms are divine. I literally feel the energy building within my body as the humidity increases, I sweat buckets and then I experience a wonderful release and cleansing, as the cool rain begins to fall from the sky. The other day a vollie and I stood barefoot in our togs and cleansed our mind, body and spirits under the stormy sky, surrounded by trees and felt the rain, which was lush. Those are the kinda moments and interactions my soul loves the most.

There are LOTS of bugs here and not all of them are overly friendly. The mozzies LOVE me, so they like to nibble on any exposed flesh they can find. They can drive me bonkers, but its a “no kill zone” here, so I do my best NOT to swat the annoying little buggers. Then theres the ants: Tiny ants, little ants, black ants, green ants, flying ants and the angry ants. I kinda like the feisty little angry ants because they’ve got attitude. They actually set themselves at you and I can hear Mams voice saying “put em up” in her silly voice, so it makes me chuckle. Mind you, apparently they give a nasty bite, so I have no plans on getting too close. So, I had a quiet little freak out when I noticed one crawling on my arm this morning, on my walk to work. I brushed him off and apologized for the fall and thanked my lucky stars he didnt take a bite of me.

This morning on my walk to work, the King Parrot came into my awareness, both the male and female, which made me think about my parents. A thought that triggered those painful feelings of loss, and I cried. Then I thought about the “gap” thats been left behind and how that makes me feel my loss all the more. Then I thought about how we often seek to fill that gap with something else. Then I wondered, what would happen if I just meditated on the gap and allowed myself to BE in the emptiness, which brought me back to something I had read this morning at breakfast …

“The transcendental knowing that perceives the nature of emptiness.”






2 thoughts on “Working in a Buddhist Retreat …

  1. Lou’s Rowley

    Beautiful, Trace!
    I read every little word and am so humbled by your honesty and openness and willingness to be authentic.
    Wishing you more transcendental moments of peace.


  2. Julie

    Loved reading this and it is where you need to be x I’m sure the learning from the uniform , which you Know I can totally relate to is meant for a lesson of a bigger mature x love you lots 😘


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