What The Fudgsicle Are You Doing?!: Your Burning Questions Answered
Terms you need to know for this post:
WWOOFING: Willing Workers on Organic Farms
WWOOFER: One who does the above
So this is what I am doing here in New Zealand. It's really common in places outside the US and very common in NZ. You trade about 4 hours of work, 6 days a week for accommodation and food. It's a way to minimize costs without having to go through the hassle of getting a job and finding a place to stay. There are seriously over a hundred postings just in NZ.
When I was initially looking at the WWOOFing website in March, I found one for a place called Dharma Gaia and sent an email. I figured I could stay here first and then make further arrangements in NZ once I arrived. I am SO glad I happened upon this place. There have been a lot of inquiries (and some hilarious assumptions) from people about what exactly I am doing...so here I shall answer a few of your burning questions:
What is Dharma Gaia? It is a mindfulness living center meaning it's a place that hosts retreats for those who are trying to practice mindfulness meditation. It's the gathering place for the buddhist community here in Coromandel for those practicing in the Plum Village tradition of buddhism. This tradition was started by Thich Nhat Hanh (if you are interested in mindfulness/zen/buddhism, he has a kajillion awesome books you can read/google). There is a nun who lives here (Sister). She is the only nun in New Zealand that practices this tradition. She's a sassy woman who used to be a social worker and therapist. She chose the monastic life in her fifties after raising her daughter. There are two buildings here, one with dorms and the meditation room/office and the other with a private resident living space and common areas (kitchen/lounge/etc). Sister lives in her own residence on the property.
Who is at the center? At the center there are currently about 5 wwoofers including me. There is an older Danish man (Harrie) and the rest are all younger adults-- a Japanese vegetarian chef (Masa), my French yoga master roommate (Marine), and a Kiwi woman (Mel) who is writing a book after working for years in environmental conservation. In addition, a resident couple act as "guardians" of the center, meaning they run it and take care of it. They happen have a spunky and very extroverted 8-year-old "ball of glitter" who offers a stark contrast to her most introverted of introvert parents. It's quite the dynamic.
What do I do here? I wake up about 6:15am, participate in daily group meditation at 6:30, have breakfast, and clear breakfast/dishes (my current "household delight"....aka chores...that change weekly). Next we have morning check-in where we can feel free to share what's going on with us and discuss what needs to be done. Then Anton and/or Benni assign us tasks for the day whether it's gardening, weeding, cleaning, laundry, etc. We share cooking and cleaning responsibilities. Around 1 is lunch after which I have free time. Once a week there is Dharma sharing in the evening. This is where people from the community gather together and share what they feel moved to talk about in regards to life/their practice. It's like a small group session or fast and testimony meeting...only more intimate and no cross-talk. It's actually one of my favorite things about the week. Dharma Gaia hosts retreats a few times a month where groups of people come and stay and participate in organized activities, yoga, teachings from Sister, and meditation practice. They are mostly just your average people trying to practice being more present in their lives:)
Where do I sleep? I sleep in the dorm above the meditation room. There are four beds and I share with Marine. She is awesome and laughs easily which was when I knew we could be friends.
Where is this place? It's in Coromandel area but is about 10 miles outside of a town that is smaller than LaVerkin. There's one road with maybe 15 shops and one tiny grocery/mercantile store. It's up in the mountains and part of the same property as Mana Retreat Centre (a more formal retreat/spa). There are lots of trail paths, waterfalls, gardens, and natural beauty right outside my door. It's amazing. There is also a lot of undesirable wildlife...spiders, RATS....birds that aren't scared of humans....lest you think it's a total Eden paradise.
What do I eat? Organic, vegetarian, unprocessed food. If Masa or Marine cooks, it's even more amazeballs. Also I may or may not have supplemented my diet with chocolate from the grocery store in town. I have to maintain my figure lest I waste away too soon! Seriously though, I've never felt physically more nourished. There isn't even a McDonalds within 20 miles Liz!
What do I wear? My normal clothes, duh. I do not wear monastic robes or black Nikes. I am sporting my tieks, hiking boots, headbands, mermaid leggings, and chacos like nobody's business.
How do I get around/buy chocolate? Bum rides from people...and hitchhike...(don't freak out! It's common here). Or, I can take the bus if I need to go to one of the larger cities. (Apparently I felt the need to wear make up to hitchhike that day? haha)
Weird/hard things about living here? No technology allowed in the shared living space. Everyone is asked to be quiet and not maintain a lot of chit chat. There is no wifi. No car (this is also nice too though). Everyone drinks tea all of the time and can't fathom how I don't.
How do I like living here? I LOVE it so far. Yes, the rats rustling around in the storage space behind my bed may have kept me up a night or two, but the rest of Dharma Gaia makes up for it tenfold. I've never lived in an environment so conducive to my wellbeing. I eat well, I sleep well (mostly), I can easily access nature trails that are literally all uphill so my ass is in great condition, and I have time to draw and rest. I love how they treat the land and the earth. NOTHING goes to waste here. No need for garbage disposal as we have a compost bin that nourishes the garden. There is recycling and reusing. I hang my clothes on a line to dry. No one cares about material things or what the latest and greatest anything is. I rarely wear makeup because no else does. I feel comfortable and at home in my own skin. Its like an eco-friendly-inner-and-outer-well being-minimalist paradise. I have been drawn to this kind of life for a long time and it's so cool to be part of a group of like-minded people who actively live it.