I moved onto the property that would eventually become Suan Sati 1 in June, 2016. I advertised for volunteers on Workaway, and luckily they promoted my post on their social media channels and I got a flood of people wanting to come volunteer. The first two volunteers were named Travis and Sara (names changed). They were there with me for about two weeks at the very beginning when things were basic. We didn’t have electricity for the first few weeks, we barely had even the necessities for cooking and sleeping, and I had no idea what in the world we were doing. Those were interesting times.
After a few days, it became clear that Travis was craving more community and sharing, and Sara needed to do the opposite of whatever Travis and I did. About a week in, I was done with managing Travis’ needs and trying to make Sara want to be around us. I thought, if this is the way it’s going to be, I don’t think I can do this. When they finally left, I was relieved and hopeful that the next volunteers would be easier to handle.
The next guy who walked through the gates was named Rob. Rob was a cheery Englishman who was up for any task with a smile and positive attitude. We got along right away, and I was grateful to have someone who I vibed with. After about a week of Rob and I alone, the next wave of volunteers that came in were Anna and Lorenz, a sweet and intelligent German/Austrian couple, Rapha, a hilarious Spaniard who took himself to be a pirate, Matt, a friend I met traveling in Nicaragua, and Azfar, a quiet Canadian builder who loves cats way more than people.
This was the group that I wished I had started with. Every day was a fun adventure figuring out what we should do and how to go about doing it. We started every morning with yoga and meditation in the big house after moving our mattresses and hammocks out of the way. I had a habit at that time of talking waaaayyyy too long with the Dhamma talks. Sorry for everyone who’s ever gotten a half hour Buddhist sermon from me, I was more than a bit excited to preach to a captive audience every morning. That’s why I tend to keep the philosophy pretty short in my classes now. After yoga and breakfast, we’d have a meeting where we’d split up the tasks for the day. Some people were on clearing the grounds, some people were creating garden beds, and some people were on kitchen duty. We cooked in shifts, with everyone taking turns making breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I was always surprised how tasty our meals were considering we were basically using stone age cooking methods and our kitchen was literally under the stairs of the big house. Kudos to all the wonderful cooks who shared their recipes with us and kept us fueled during those early days.
Things hummed along for the next few months, and we had a lot of fun. Volunteers came and went, although some stayed longer than others and embedded themselves in our long term family. I can’t believe how lucky I was to get the volunteers in that I did, including professional chefs, builders, plumbers, medical doctors, social media marketers, and just generally top tier humans. It seemed that no matter what I needed, it came at the right time. That faith has stayed with me to this day.
Sometime around October, I realized that money was running short and I needed to move towards opening. I figured I needed to get a website together so I could draw people from the online world into our physical space. I was a bit sad to take myself off of the hard physical tasks on the property to work online instead. There’s something deeply fulfilling about working with your hands and finishing your work day tired, and covered in dirt and sweat. It feels somehow more honest to me than the jobs I had working in an office.
Although we were nowhere near ready, we opened our doors on January 1st, 2017. I had nearly run completely out of money and it was time to sink or swim. The very first day, we welcomed a couple of guests, and from that point on, Suan Sati was officially running.
I lamented that when we opened, things were more serious than in the volunteer phase. I had to think about the business side of things more, and the pressure of guest expectations took some getting used to. I knew that this was the direction it had to go, but a part of me still wanted to stay a volunteer project forever. I still get that community feeling with our guests, our teachers, and our Thai staff, and it’s beautiful now in a different way. We have the power to positively affect hundreds of people per year with a conscious retreat experience, and that’s a big thing – one that’s worth giving up the more carefree style of the volunteer phase. I’m very content with how things have evolved over the past six years, and yet the early days will always hold a special place in my heart.
Thank you to all the volunteers who gave their blood, sweat, and tears (of joy, mostly!) to Suan Sati. There are too many to name, but you know who you are. This place wouldn’t be what it is without you, and I will never forget the magic that we created together, including all the meals, jokes, failures, successes, and fun that we had during this unforgettable, chaotic, beautiful moment in time.