This is a re-post of an historical piece, written by ardent Abbey volunteer Nanc Nesbitt and posted to the then-new Abbey website in January 2004. Nanc is now Ven. Thubten Semkye, and her enthusiasm for offering service to the Abbey and to sentient beings has not waned. Here, at the beginning of the Abbey’s annual winter retreat when there’s not much news to share, we thought you might enjoy a post from the past. Look for more in the next weeks.
I consider it a phenomenon that despite all my efforts, I can’t find clarity or still my chattering mind while I live my life in Seattle. But put me in a vehicle heading East to the abbey to volunteer even for a 24-hour period, and everything I thought was important, troubling, anxiety- provoking, or distracting simply falls away by the time I reach the Columbia River Gorge. They float away like clouds on a windy day.
I bring a willingness to participate in the Abbey’s growth, motivation for sentient beings to benefit from my efforts and all others’ efforts on behalf of the Abbey, and offerings and supplies to make this happen on the physical level. My mind turns to benefiting others without a lot of pushing to do so.
By the time I turn onto Spring Valley Road and climb the gentle incline up to Country Lane, I feel like I am going on retreat. In winter you can actually see the Abbey from the bottom of Country Lane. It looks like a ship with its glass bow sitting peacefully in the conifers overlooking the valley below. It is a welcoming sight.
When I walk in the front door, it’s like coming home. Venerable’s smile is worth the trip alone.
Knowing that I am entering a sacred space founded on the Buddha’s principles of love, kindness, simplicity, and compassion helps me let go of any need to be other than who I am. The facades simply fall away. My attention turns to settling in and helping others to do the same, and then getting down to work.
It’s not an easy laid back time when we volunteer at the abbey – we work really hard. There’s a lot to do and usually the time most volunteers can give is a short 3-4 days maximum. But everyone knows what needs to be done, and soon the abbey is bustling. There’s not a lot of chatter or small talk, but the energy is joyous and enthusiastic.
Volunteers are well fed at the Abbey and dinner is a community affair. For someone like me without partner, children, or family near, it feels like a family meal, whether there are 13 or 4 of us. We offer the food and we can actually feel the many sentient beings that made that meal possible in the room with us. It’s very humbling.
The land that holds the abbey is a marvelous place. The love of Harold and Vicki Unruh (the previous owners) for this place shows in the health of the land and the forests. The logging roads are accessible but unobtrusive. The vast stands of trees for the most part are healthy and well managed.
The meadow is high on a hill and the view from its top will clear out any depression or tightness in the mind. With the snow blanketing this part of the world, you see the tracks of the abbeys’ forest residents, some I recognize and some I don’t. The wild turkeys are not shy nor are the stellar jays, woodpeckers, and chickadees. The deer, field mice, and rabbits are more so, but you can see evidence of their coming and goings. The air is clear and you can smell the evergreens, wood smoke, or moisture if a storm is coming.
When you stand still, there is literally nothing to be heard but your breathing. At first I found it unnerving. I wanted to identify something. The silence is so vast that it is hard to put into identifiable words.
My practice and the energy to practice strengthen at Sravasti. Getting up at 5:00 a.m. and offering the water bowls on the altar is an effortless undertaking. I feel the Buddhas and bodhisattvas reside at the abbey. I feel their presence in the house, in the cabin, in the woodshop, in the barn, and on the land. They are so delighted with it all. It is a palpable joy and my heart and mind turn towards it.
In the evening, curling up with a Dharma book from the library or sitting with Venerable brainstorming after dinner, I realize I’ve spent almost my entire stay at the abbey just thinking about the Dharma! It becomes the only thing that matters. Not in a serious, dry sort of way, but in a natural effortless comfortable sort of way.
Volunteers are still welcomed, and your efforts are much needed. See the Visit section of this site and come for a short to long visit anytime after the end of winter retreat on March 24. Or join us for Offering Service Saturdays, which happen once a month. See the event schedule for dates.
Ven. Semkye still finds joy in offering service!