We are a retreat center run by a volunteer community of lay (ie not monastic) Buddhists, with between 10 and 15 people on site full-time, and five times a year the community grows to 40-70 people for multi-day Buddhist events. About twice a month we also host rental groups who run their own programs -- our regulars include veterans, permaculture activists, 12-steppers, mindfulness for teens, various religious communities, and college leadership programs including for minority cohorts. Many Northern California retreat centers are too expensive and inaccessible for many groups -- we are fortunate to have been able to set up a retreat space that is affordable for all.
Our focus is on simple living, developing a personal spiritual practice, and creating a place of refuge for the guests who come for workshops and training. We are on 485 acres of pristine woodland, with open spaces, rolling hills and forests of redwoods, pine and oak, and are committed to protecting this land and all nature on it as best we can. We believe that finding a quiet place of natural beauty for reflection and community-building is crucial for the health of individuals as well as society as a whole, and part of our mission is to make this a place where people feel inspired, nurtured and strengthened, better able to then share the best of themselves with their families and communities.
Cooking / shopping
Help with Eco project
Help in the house
Helping with Tourists
Housekeeping (ongoing, plus once or twice a month we host 20-85 people)
Gardening (organic/permaculture principles) harvesting, organic food processing, and landscaping
Meal preparation and general kitchen support
Light construction and maintenance
Cleaning butterlamps (brass votive lamps that hold oil)
Forestry work (clearing, chain-sawing if qualified, etc)
Carpentry work (we have tools)
Most of the work is to help with what is needed on any large retreat property -- housekeeping, meal-prep, dish-washing, cleaning, gardening, construction/maintenance and landscaping. While everyone shares in basic tasks like housekeeping and dishes as you would at home, plus extra when we have rental groups in, there is also the chance to focus more on certain areas – be it trail-building, house-painting (and scraping!), forestry work, Tibetan Buddhist ritual arts, or whatever. If you don’t have experience in an area, we are happy to train you up if viable.
A volunteer's specialist skills are always welcomed when applicable!
Please note that we do not need assistance with desk-type jobs, eg computing, bookkeeping, etc.
The center uses low- or no-chemical products throughout the property, wherever possible.
Through our organization, we have two much smaller satellite projects in the Napa Valley and in Cottage Grove, Oregon, both in very scenic locations, and organized along the same Buddhist principles as our retreat center. A few times a year, volunteers are needed to help there with land restoration, organic gardening, or light construction, and at those times, we will let Workawayers staying at our center know they have the opportunity to go, if they would like a change of scene or some different work. This is always just an option, never a requirement.
While each volunteer arrives at the center from a different background and with different perspectives, there is a shared understanding that here is a community which offers a unique opportunity to learn about oneself and one’s relation to others and the environment, and also the chance to directly support a wide range of nonprofits who come here. We welcome volunteers from all walks of life, believing that diversity makes for a richer and more powerful community. Residents come from all over the United States, as well as from South America and Europe, and while the core community is Tibetan Buddhist and participates daily in the group practices, being Buddhist is NOT a requirement. We have had volunteers from a wide range of faith backgrounds -- active, atheist, lapsed and none -- and encourage each person to pursue whatever path makes sense for them.
MEDITATION Spiritual instruction and support are available from the lama-in-residence who is a Tibetan Buddhist master, and some senior students can also provide guidance. Volunteers are welcome to join in the group's twice-daily practice and make use of the center’s shrine-room and library. The library has an extensive collection of books on Buddhism, Hinduism and Asian arts, and multi-media materials. Volunteers can attend the center's Buddhist events free of charge.
ARTS Volunteers staying longer can learn various musical instruments or ritual arts. This is a unique opportunity to see how fine arts, movement and music are an integral, authentic part of this meditation tradition.
COOKING We regularly cook as a team for groups of up to 85 people, and if you ever wanted to know how to cook delicious, simple, nutritious meals (Indian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese) for large groups, this is the place for you! Our experienced chef runs a mellow, friendly kitchen. And we welcome the chance to learn from other cooks!
PERMACULTURE The center maintains an organic vegetable garden and orchard where we follow principles of permaculture and where all staff spend some time working regularly. We now have our summer plantings underway and have loved seeing how the garden has flourished with the support of Workaway volunteers! Several times a year we host Earth Activist Training courses under the direction of Starhawk and other eco/spiritual leaders, and our staff can join a number of EAT workshops on request.
We consult with permaculture and other experts to find the best and healthiest ways to sustain the forests, waterways (and fish) and roads on this land. This involves more resources and people than we have so far had, so we welcome Workawayers who can help make a shift in these areas.
CONSTRUCTION / MAINTENANCE We have staff with varying levels of skill, and are always happy to meet people with more skills! Our buildings are mostly redwood and steel constructed in the 1960s and internally sound, but they need a lot of external care. We have a large shop space, a wide range of tools and a tractor.
LANGUAGE LEARNING Our native English speakers include graduates from Berkeley, Oxford and Cornell, and a former editor and English teacher, and we have a passion for language in general, from the informal to the literary and tiny details of grammar. We also have native speakers of Portuguese (Brazilian) on staff. Language learners are welcome!
English, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Chinese (director also speaks Tibetan and Hindi)
Small, clean single room (bed, desk, chair, shelving/cupboards) with access to shared bathroom (separate men, women, all), in a building with up to 12 other residents, and a very friendly Labrador who is in the house several hours a day. Bedding and basic toiletries supplied. Double room available for couples.
All meals provided -- mostly vegetarian. Breakfast is DIY; lunch and dinner are cooked for staff as a whole 5 days a week; the other 2 days (usually weekends unless we're hosting a group) people cook for themselves using what is available. We mostly eat together. We provide healthy, 'home-cooked' substantial meals with gluten-free and often vegan options, and standard fruit and vegetables are supplemented whenever possible with organic fruits and vegetables from our garden. Dairy milk, soy milk, teas (including herbal) and basic coffee are provided as standard beverages. We do not offer expensive extras such as specialist nut milks, gourmet coffee, designer cheeses, organic juices, grass-fed beef, etc -- if these are a necessity for you, please bring your own.
Please note that no drugs or tobacco (including e-cigs, vaping, etc) are allowed anywhere on the property at any time. Alcohol can only be consumed occasionally and strictly outside work hours. Please ask if you have more questions about this, thank you!
We request people come to stay for at least 3 weeks. Please don't contact us if you are only able to stay for a week or two, as we won't be able to host you. Arrival days should be Monday-Friday.
Living in community can be challenging as well as enormously rewarding. The trick is learning to see even the challenges as an incentive for personal growth and the development of new skills, and we encourage everyone to work to their greatest potential. Many of the current long-term staff arrived clueless about various aspects of the work needed here -- but as a team we have been able to pool our resources and make things happen. Whatever skills we can share, we are happy to, and we enjoy continuing to learn from each other and from whoever passes through!
We are looking for volunteers with:
- a commitment to or interest in community life, including both the group and solitary aspects (although we live and mostly work and eat communally, people should also be comfortable doing their own thing and being alone)
- an interest in supporting the center as a place of retreat for themselves and others
- concern for the environment and interest in land stewardship
- the ability to work with clear direction alone or as part of a team
- the ability to communicate clearly with others
- a responsible attitude towards handling their workload, arriving at work on time (ie ready on the job at 9am, so others aren't waiting around for you)
- willingness to carry out tasks to the best of their ability and able to work different hours (not more, just flexible) on occasion
- the understanding that serving food to members of the public requires a clean, tidy appearance and hygienic practices
- good physical health and stamina, and able to safely lift 25 lbs
- ABSOLUTELY NO ALCOHOL, DRUG OR TOBACCO HABITS (including vaping and edibles), and not in recent recovery from addiction. (Yes, marijuana is legal in CA. No, it is not allowed in any form on our property. Please do not apply to volunteer with us if even occasional use is important to you. Also, we respect people’s need to use marijuana for genuine medical purposes. But if you are taking marijuana for a health issue, that same issue will probably make work here too challenging.) Some residents occasionally drink alcohol, but we have guidelines around usage.
- respect for the fact that the buildings, accommodation, facilities and food at the center all come from the hard work and generosity of others over many years, and so you are not working ‘for free’, but enjoying the benefits of what those people have offered
- a willingness to observe the principle of not taking life, which includes not killing annoying insects such as mosquitoes and ticks!
- openness to new or different cultural habits, traditions or identities
What probably won’t work is if you:
- need to constantly use social media and be on your phone while supposedly working
- need to listen to music for much of the day
- feel the urge to go into town a few times a week or party every weekend
- find it hard to be on your own for any amount of time
- get upset by people around you speaking their own, non-English, language at times
- are looking for a ‘free’ place before/after the trimming season
- believe the only correct position on politics or social theory is your own
- have an inherent problem taking instructions from a woman/man/someone younger than you/less fluent in English than you, etc
- have issues around food, group meals or large-scale meal prep -- there's a lot of food being prepared in a retreat center, and we see eating together regularly as supportive for a spiritual community
- have some deep issues that need addressing probably with professional help, and hope just being in a Buddhist center will effortlessly resolve things. We wish it could! But usually...no. This is not a 'therapeutic community' as people sometimes expect. We are fully supportive when people can acknowledge, work with and/or get help for their problems -- that's what we're all trying to do! And there are many excellent local resources we can refer people to. We are not therapists, though. Our own primary tools are practising Buddhadharma, using outside help as needed. There is a religious teacher here who can give guidance, but we are not able to host someone who primarily relies on drama or avoidance tactics to get through life and their stay here.
The center has in place anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and a Code of Conduct, which all prospective volunteers are briefed on, and which are used as the basis for promoting the well-being of every resident and the integrity of the organization's operations.
A NOTE ON IDENTITY… Religion, sexual orientation, racial background, gender identity, class, temperament, family history, nationality, education -- all are seen as part of the multiple layers of identity that any spiritual practitioner at some point has to examine in an honest and constructive manner, as part of the training. We try to learn how to observe without judgement, and also -- very importantly -- try not to define ourselves or others with limiting labels. You can come here and be yourself, whatever that 'self' is. While people will respect whatever you wish to share or not, our main concern is to live, learn and work together in a peaceful, honest and productive way. Everyone here has their own 'stuff', some visible, some not, and we are all just trying to work on that, by looking honestly at ourselves, connecting properly with each other and being of service in the world.
Please note that while we mostly use no- or low-chemical products, we do NOT have a no-perfume/scent/chemical policy.
We have a very affectionate young chocolate Labrador in residence, who is always willing to snuggle, play or take volunteers for a walk.
We ask for 25 hours work per week. Usually you would work from 9am-2pm, but there is some flexibility around this, eg depending what events are going on at the center, other hours can be agreed. Please note that during busy periods hosting large groups, you may be scheduled for more than 5 hours on one day, but will have fewer hours elsewhere -- and never more than 25 hrs a week.
In terms of outdoor leisure, there are many beautiful places to hike around the property, secluded spots for yoga and meditation, and a paved driveway 1.5 miles long that is fantastic for walking/running. Plus, our center is in cyclist heaven - major cycle races pass right by us every year, as the gorgeous local routes are hugely popular for amateurs and professionals alike.
There is no public transport locally. The nearest buses start from Monte Rio and Guerneville.
If you have a car, or want to hitch a ride with other residents on their days off, we are located 30-40 minutes from the stunning Sonoma coastline and the Russian River resorts such as Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Jenner. You can camp, surf (NOT swim), kayak/canoe, hike and go hot air ballooning within one hour of here.
Just over an hour away by car are the towns of Santa Rosa and Sebastopol which offer a full range of cultural activities from traditional to alternative -- and Sebastopol is small, with many friendly and accessible societies and groups. San Francisco and Oakland/Berkeley are two and a half hours away, and easily accessible from Santa Rosa by bus/train/ferry etc.
Through one resident family, we have a strong connection with the local school community where volunteering opportunities are also available depending on your length of stay and the school’s vetting requirements.
There is no public transport to our center. We can pick you up from Santa Rosa, Sebastopol or Guerneville. Nearest airport is STS, Sonoma County Santa Rosa (connections through Alaskan/Horizon and United Airlines), and further away are Oakland OAK and San Francisco SFO. There are bus connections from those airports to Santa Rosa (try airportexpressinc.com and Golden Gate Transit). Amtrak and Grayhound also go to Santa Rosa. Please plan for a weekday arrival if you need to be picked up, by 7pm. Thank you!
Limited internet access
We have pets
We are smokers
More than two
Maximum 25 hrs a week
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