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Leslie Lihou: Volunteer Profile

Three years ago as I was driving through golden hills to Spirit Rock for a Monday Night class, I was imbued with the certainty that I was going to move to the Bay Area, not only for the immense trees and vast sea, but for spiritual growth as well. Even in St. Louis where I then lived, the teachings of Spirit Rock manifest through a dedicated practitioner who created a website connecting the Buddhist community and who initiated a dharma study groups using Phillip Moffitt’s book, Dancing with Life.

To offset the drive from Santa Rosa, I began volunteering to clean-up after the Monday evening talks at Spirit Rock. On the bulletin board of the old community hall, I noted an advertisement for Mark Coleman’s Baja kayaking, camping and meditation retreat. Immersion in nature with lightly rigorous meditation practice offered the perfect initiation into Buddhist mindfulness. On that trip I realized that expectations carry the seeds of disappointment and began to be at peace with whatever was happening. Dolphin sightings or just waves crashing against the rocks; hermit crabs crawling in their variegated shells; cactus and rock shapes were all calming objects of awareness, concentration and investigation. The Forest Tradition of Buddhism practiced at Spirit Rock encourages meditation in nature. I found my spiritual niche. I began to trust sangha (spiritual community) and teachers who were committed to guiding us to be happier, to be responsive instead of reactive.

Sampling the variety of job opportunities, I volunteered once in the kitchen because I was grateful for the tasty, healthy food that cooks prepared with efficiency and comradery. A few times I tended plants and weeded on the grounds. Finally, I settled into cleaning retreatants’ lodgings with housekeeping staff. Under the precise direction of staff members, I focused on the tasks, aware of my wandering, judgmental mind. The gratitude expressed by Spirit Rock community nurtured confidence that I was serving by ministering to the comfort of incoming retreatants. Discussing experiences with other practitioners in light of Buddhist teachings and also greeting cohorts by name, I trusted that I shared in a community that intended to be aware and kind.

Volunteer benefits abound. Greeting all who come is the beauty of the land: the colors and shapes of the molded hills, the feathered trees, the sharp gray rocks against the crystal blue sky. Volunteer hours can be traded for free daylong classes which introduce many teachers, present diverse ways to practice and understand Buddhist teachings, and clarify applications to daily life. Daylongs satisfy the curiosity of the beginner’s mind. Mindfulness practice is an evolving process of learning to live in the present moment with peace and kindness, cultivated in the environment of Spirit Rock.