Mindfulness and beyond: a three-month training program. Learning and serving in conscious community.
What is the residential intensive program?
A three-month residential program within a strong spiritual container. The program consists of daily karma yoga, or selfless service, done with mindfulness, living and communicating within an awakening community, and regular instruction in meditative practices.
To give you a flavour of our program, here’s a video that some participants made during our 2017 Buddhas in Action Retreat:
Is this program a good fit for you?
- looking to spend three months, or longer, focused on fast-tracking your growth?
- seeking new ways to deepen your spiritual practice?
- wanting to learn to live and relate in conscious community?
- open to reaching new levels of freedom, by looking at patterns and views that limit you?
- willing to consider input and training offered by others?
- ready to go the extra mile to complete tasks with engagement and attention to detail?
- reading carefully all of the words on this page, and not just skimming the bits you want to hear about?
If you can answer yes to all of these, we’d be a happy to receive your application for the karma yoga program.
— Linda Yamashita, January 2013
What is Karma Yoga?
Essentially, we define Karma Yoga as training in mindfulness through action. Clear Sky is a modern-day working monastery, and if you spend time here, you will be training in Karma Yoga through all the community interactions and activities that it takes to run the center.
It takes time to understand what a precious opportunity it is to engage in Karma Yoga at a place like Clear Sky. In fact, no matter how carefully we explain this in advance, we’ve found that people still arrive thinking that Karma Yoga is a fancy phrase for volunteering, or simply an exchange of work for food and accommodation.
Instead, we’d like you to understand the potential for transformation and growth this ancient discipline offers. The people who succeed in our program, those who stay past the one month trial period, are the ones who come to understand this magical mix of service, community, mindfulness, and study.
Mindfulness – moment to moment awareness
Karma Yoga is about bringing consciousness to everything we do. After all, when we practice formal meditation on the cushion, we’re really training the mind to be more focused during all the hours we’re not on the cushion. We’re training the mind to be calmer, all day. We’re aiming for moment-to-moment awareness.
Doing service, then, we treat every action, task, and interaction as a practice in mindfulness, a meditation in action. We look to see what’s going on in each moment. We look with curiosity at why one task is more interesting to us than another. When something stirs up a reaction in us that we weren’t expecting, we see it, accept it, and begin to see the unconscious patterning, the preferences and habits that have been driving us.
Immersed in a community of people doing the same, you’ll experience a sense of connection and honest communication that you may not have experienced before. This happens because our main motivations are compassion and the wish to free ourselves and others from suffering.
What Karma Yoga isn’t
We’d like to clarify a common misunderstanding that comes from the word “Yoga” itself. To be clear, we do not teach any form of Hatha Yoga, though we absolutely recognize its value.
Confusion continually arises because of the mainstream use of the word “yoga” for the practice of physical postures (Hatha Yoga). The word “yoga” derives from words meaning “unite” or “yolk” and there are several kinds of “yoga.” Karma Yoga, then is a practice in itself and is not a form of Hatha Yoga.
The Karma Yoga program, based on daily activities, is also more than just a way for us to get our chores done. It’s fundamental to the program that participants understand the nature of what we’re doing here, and engage with us openly.
What a dramatic shift in my view of human beings since my service stay program at Clear Sky Centre. Others are not a threat! In fact, learning to live with each others has been the most powerful and transformative experience in my life.
— Maryline Fortier, June 2015
Woven into the daily activities and life of the community, you will study and practice across three main training areas. These areas follow the three pillars of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold path and will be delivered through some self study material, as well as guidance in periodic morning education slots and one-on-one check-ins with your assigned mentor.
Area 1: Ethics/integrating practices (sīla) –
This ranges from exercises and reflections using Clear Sky’s 5 principles to in-depth work on communication and team work. You could say this about is what we DON’T get taught. We never learnt at school about healthy conflict, emotional honesty, money issues, working in teams, integrating heart, speech and body in all our actions.
We use a wide variety of resources such as Fifth Discipline, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, stretch collaboration, and non-violent communication.
Area 2: Meditation (samādhi)
We will guide you in developing or strengthening your daily meditation practice morning and evening. The program includes an opportunities for a day of practice and a short retreat. Depending on timing, you may also have the opportunity to join and receive Tibetan empowerments.
Are 3: Wisdom / study (pannā)
The curriculum includes study of traditional and modern Dharma, both Buddhist and more eclectic approaches. There is generally an abundance of opportunities for live, informal in-the-moment teachings with our root teachers, senior students, and members of the community. Mealtimes are a particularly rich time for questions and lively dialogue. You will have opportunities to join classes when available.
Example curriculum self study material:
How challenging is this residential program?
This may well be the most challenging, and rewarding, experience you could have. At times, you’ll likely come up against your limits, which may send you into intense emotions like anger and fear. Typical responses can be shutting down, wanting to escape, or going to something comforting or familiar. Imagine jumping into cold water – all the same responses may occur, and the result is feeling incredibly alive! Clear Sky exists to be the supportive container for these kinds of growth moments, which are beautifully rich with potential for insights.
We know that everyone goes through these challenges, including ourselves. If we have the courage to honestly meet discomfort, we can train the mind to welcome these moments and open into joyful discovery and growth. In the end, we learn that everything opens into spaciousness. We also know that guidance from those who have experience can save us a lot of time and struggle.
As a Karma Yogi you report to a mentor, who assists you in processing your expectations, hopes, and fears, and guides your work. In addition, our founding teachers are generally available for questions and help with processing issues that may arise from unrealistic expectations.
We highly value the emerged individual but we also honor the collective and the team spirit. This experience is about being immersed in a conscious working community, where allowance for personal preferences is limited. Most find this very enjoyable and enriching, yet if you’re just looking to chill out at a meditation center for a while and expect lots of time to do your own thing, the Karma Yoga program is not for you.
If you do like a challenge, if you want to develop skills you have and find ones you didn’t know you had, if you want to share in an awake, investigating group of people who also manage to have a lot of fun, then we might just be what you are looking for.
In the past, I’ve struggled with business and had a business not work out the way I’d intended. Now, I’m launching a new business, and the reason that I feel confident in the success of this new business is the learning and growth I’ve experienced in the Karma Yoga program at Clear Sky. The training in systems, the experience of being in a team business where we reflect on our own patterns and support each other to change, these things have been transforming. This experience has dramatically enhanced and expanded the skills I couldn’t quite put together before Clear Sky. I recommend it highly.
– Stephen Gilmour, Feb. 2017
What are the benefits of Karma Yoga?
The discipline of Karma Yoga shows us how much our personal preferences want to run things, especially if we’re tired, uncomfortable, not getting what we want, or getting what we don’t want! It shows how resistance and protection use up our energy, needlessly. If we’re watching closely, we see how all of this comes and goes, just like clouds in the sky. It is an incredible experience to realize that we, and we alone, have the power to decide what state of mind we choose to cultivate.
- helps us integrate our inner meditative work with our daily lives; it actualizes the insights.
- shows and frees us from going-nowhere patterns.
- opens up new paths of exploration and discovery by taking us places we don’t usually go.
- strengthens and grows our capacity for greater generosity, discipline, patience, focus, wisdom and JOY.
- develops skill and compassion in communication and relationships, and allows us to connect more deeply.
- boosts our creativity, clarity, and ability to act wisely, quickly.
I’m appreciating more and more how amazing you all are. I’m very pleased how the dharma I gained at Clear Sky has not been dying out in me as I feared, but feels like a seed that is now germinating in me and promising future fruit. I’m so grateful to you all 🙂
— Vanessa Bachynsky, 2015
Our residential program allows stays of three months or more, assisting in all activities involved in running the center. You may be assigned a main area of focus – such as activities in our cold-climate food forest and innovative farm, or in our shared office space – depending on your skills and interest. You will also be added to the cooking rota, help clean up after each meal, and join any group karma yoga activities such as harvesting, gardening, or snow shoveling.
Aside from your karma yoga duties, you’ll be expected to participate fully in the routine of the center, because one of our mandates is conscious intentional community. Our routine includes morning and evening group meditations, study time, a daily contemplation theme, three meals, classes, morning meetings, as well as fun and exploratory activities.
Clear Sky – A working monastery lifestyle
As stated above, we embrace Karma Yoga as a practice in itself, and the purpose of the center is to provide a supportive container for this precious discipline. Life here is geared to this principle, rather than on strict adherence to the published schedule.
So, while we set out a schedule averaging out at eight hours a day of Karma Yoga in a six day period (with one day off (integration) per week), there are times when this may change based on the needs of the center. Typically, we balance this by a day at the beach, or skiing, or going out for a dinner and a movie.
A typical day starts with group meditation at 6:30 or 7:00 am and ends with a second group meditation at 7:30 pm. Aside from six hours of general karma yoga projects, everyone spends around two hours a day in the kitchen on meal preparation and cleanup.
Living so fully in community is an integral part of the program – it is both a challenge and a joy, and is the source of much of the learning and insights you can expect here.
I recently had the opportunity to work with the team at Clear Sky, to brainstorm new ways to improve their processes. I have been facilitating this kind of work for over 20 years and it is rare to discover a team that can make “change” so much fun.
-Jon Morris ASQ. Certified Quality Engineer and Six Sigma Black Belt, Vancouver, Canada
Our founding teachers living onsite
Clear Sky hosts and supports the activities of our founding teachers, Doug Sensei and Catherine Sensei, who run programs under their own website www.planetdharma.com. When here, they generally eat lunch and dinner with us, and they engage with the community in a very real and enlivening way, modeling compassion, wisdom, and non-clinging awareness. Those of us who have chosen to live at Clear Sky year-round are their students.
As a karma yogi, you aren’t expected to accept our founding teachers as your teachers (unless you want to, of course. In fact, many do!). Yet, those who get the most from the program, and tend to stay past the one-month trial period, are those who see the value that the teachers offer, learning to engage with them in a open and healthy way.
When you arrive, you will notice that we serve and support the teachers as part of our daily duties. This may include setting their place at the dining table, serving them food, and assisting in cleaning their suite.
Since the teachers and teachings are an integral part of life at Clear Sky, anyone staying onsite is expected to attend all classes, meditations, and group activities. Classes and programs offered by the teachers (Planet Dharma), are given on the practice of dana.
Should you wish to spend time with the teachers while at Clear Sky, please refer to their teaching schedule. While they spend a large portion of the year here, they also travel for weeks at a time to teach in other parts of the world.
..asking, “What can I do to help the team?” is important for expanding the spectrum of how you show up.
– Founding teacher, Catherine Pawasarat Sensei
One of the reasons joy is joy is because the release of joy is preceded by the tension of effort
– Founding teacher, Doug Duncan Sensei
We require a $750 deposit, which is returned after 3 months. This $750 covers accommodation, meals and training for the first month of your stay. (Some participants have used this credit to attend a personal retreat in the middle or at the end of their stay, to deepen their integration of their three month immersion experience).
Budget $75-100 week. Expenses during your stay will include offering dana for guidance interviews and courses with the founding teachers, going off site, eating out, and exploring the beauty of the surrounding area. It is a 40-60 minute drive to Cranbrook, Fernie or Kimberley.
Have minimum savings of $CAD 2,000 for when you leave. It is important not to have financial concerns weighing you down during your stay. If your next step is not clear, and you need to find a home, job, and cover living costs in the meantime, we need to know that your stay at Clear Sky will not get you into financial hardship.
As a general pattern, we have experienced that spiritual types can lack attention to some practical financial details. For this reason, we consider it compassionate to have these requirements in place, to set you up for success before, during and after your stay.
Regarding your deposit, we will apply the following cancellation policy to the Karma Yoga Service Stay Program:
If you cancel with 90 days or more notice, we will keep a processing fee of 15%. If you cancel with 60 days to 89 days notice we will keep a cancellation fee of 50%. The remainder of your deposit fees can be refunded, or kept as a credit on your account for up to one year from the cancellation date. After one year, any unused or unclaimed fees will be forfeited.
No credits or refunds:
If you cancel with 30 days notice or less, there will be no credit or refund of any fees paid. If you have to cancel because of extenuating circumstances beyond your control, than Clear Sky will refund 50% of the payment. It is recommended that travel insurance is taken out as a precautionary measure in the case of such an event. If there is mutual agreement that we will continue as planned for the next 2 months, this $750 will be reimbursed to you in full, at the end of three months.
In the following list are examples of the activities you would be engaged in at Clear Sky, depending on your abilities and skills. We do not assign tasks by preference. Though there may be tasks you are more suited to, part of the learning is to engage in whatever comes your way.
- Dusting and vacuuming the meditation and shrine room
- Picking berries in the food forest
- Helping with kitchen inventory
- Creating a spreadsheet or document
- Preparing a room for a new retreatant
- Serving a silent retreatant's meal
- Doing laundry
- Preparing a meal
- Assisting with programs and events
- Weed whacking
- Cleaning the main house
- Cutting grass with the tractor
- Washing a vehicle
- Updating food forest whiteboards
Technical/ skilled labor based on abilities such as:
- building, etc
If you're not familiar with dāna, you may have come across related approaches such as “pay-from-the-heart.” Dāna is a Sanskrit term that is translated as "generosity" in English. It’s radically different from the transactional way we normally interact in the world – where we give in order to get something back, either a service or thing. Instead, with dāna, we give as a mutual exchange of generosity.
The practice of generosity is central to spiritual unfoldment, whatever path you follow. In our own Buddhist lineage, teachings have always been taught on the basis of dāna, and we are committed to this practice and its development in the West. Dāna is also a radical and – we believe – viable economic alternative to capitalism, which our planet would really benefit from. We all know there must be something better than capitalism or its hungry cousin, consumerism. We maintain that, together, we can offer a financial model that is based in life-affirming mutual support. Please join us in co-creating this promising economic alternative.
You will see other people on site doing service for the founding teachers. We do this because the teachers represent the principle of the awakened mind, and we want to train ourselves to put this principle first, in all we do. Examples would be plating a meal for the teachers and placing it on the dining table, moving their plates away once they've eaten, or making them a cup of tea. All of this would be done mindfully, with care and attention to detail.
By putting the teachers first, we are also practicing putting aside our habits and preferences for the sake of our growth and unfolding. God (or enlightenment) is in the details , so we are also "upping our game" in terms of mindfulness and attention when serving the teachers.
Lastly, we are generating merit in this lifetime by serving the principle of awakening.
How much free time will I have to connect with family, friends and/or continue some personal work or studies?
Very little and this is intentional. Our program has been consciously crafted as an immersion experience so that you can dive deep and reap the benefits of a retreat. Like when you go on retreat, you are encouraged to take space from your regular activities, relationships, and habits (not that there is anything wrong with them, necessarily). This space gives you the opportunity to become more conscious about yourself and how you spend your time. You will have some evenings, after 8:30 pm and your integration day (one day a week), to attend to your personal growth and needs. This is a great example of less is more, or put another way, quality time over quantity time. As a result of our program, we find that participants learn to fast track their spiritual growth, engage in their lives more fully, and prioritize their personal time more wisely.
How can I prepare before coming?
Reading the Clear Sky and Planet Dharma websites, blogs, vlogs and watching the Youtube channel is highly recommended. You can purchase a copy of Dharma If You Dare by Doug Duncan Sensei here. After your application has been approved and you have made a deposit, you will be sent more details on your stay including a reading list.
How can I get to Clear Sky from the airport?
You can request an airport pick up from the program manager. We ask that you request this as soon as you know so that we can plan in advance for someone to welcome and collect you.
I do not have a car, how can I get around?
Often there are people on site with vehicles that you can ride-share with and offer money for gas. You will need to communicate and plan in advance in order to make this a workable option for all involved.
Where will I stay?
Over three month periods, a number of retreats and events can take place at Clear Sky. For this reason, you can expect to change rooms more than once. There may be small windows where you have your own room. At other times you can expect to share with at least one other and up to three others. During the summer months you are welcome to tent if you enjoy sleeping outdoors and watching the starry skies.
What kind of meals will you serve me?
Many folks are surprised that we serve meat every second day and that they will likely be asked to prepare and serve meat dishes during their stay. For this reason, we ask all participants to come with a mind of curiosity and non-clinging to preferences. For vegetarians and vegans, you can expect to be well fed, however there will be less options as we do cater mostly to omnivores. We are all encouraged to use our relationships with food for meditation and exploration. We source our food from our gardens, food forest, local suppliers, and eat organic as much as possible. Most people who visit rave about how nourishing the food is.
Can I have a friend or family come and stay?
We welcome guests who are genuinely interested in what we do. Since we are running a working monastery with a particular purpose and focus, we ask that you get approval from the on-site management team before inviting family and friends to visit you.
We have set aside the following dates for the arrival and orientation of karma yogis in 2018:
To ensure we are a good fit for each other, we have a thorough application process including an initial application form, and two or more online interviews. In addition, we recommend to get to know our community, as well as our root teachers.
- spend time exploring Clear Sky blogs and vlogs
- spend time on our root teachers website www.planetdharma.com exploring their videos and blogs
- join our foundational 6 week online Ignite Your Spiritual Life program when available (see our online program listings).
- Ideally, join one our root teachers 4 week online courses if you have not met them before.
How can you contribute?
The program is open to any sincere seeker. If you have particular skills or interests, let us know on your application. Along with general karma yoga as part of the community, we typically look for particular areas where a karma yogi can best contribute and learn.
This can cover a wide range. For example:
- learning and/or sharing knowledge of food forests, organic gardening or farming, or permaculture (find out more about our farm here: Clear Sky farm website)
- learning and/or sharing handyman and maintenance skills
- learning and sharing recipes and kitchen skills
- engaging in sharing and promoting our programs and offerings
- learning and sharing IT and technical skills
Many karma yogis discover new skills and talents through the path of karma yoga, or learn new dimensions and expressions of existing abilities. This is part of the beauty of learning together.
We’re looking for a commitment of three months. We invite eligible candidates to join us for a one-month trial period, after which we ask for a minimum commitment of two additional months. Staying longer is a possibility, to be discussed towards the end of the three months. (For those who stay longer, there are opportunities to include some personal retreat time in your stay, too).
We don’t offer stays of less than three months because of the commitment of time and energy to orienting, training, and supporting someone new. For shorter stays, you are welcome to register at our regular daily rates in a program that includes a mixture of Karma Yoga and meditation time, currently called the Clear Sky Experience.
No religious affiliation or meditation experience is required. Come join us, learn how to engage, enliven and grow yourself and those around you!
Tuition is $650 per month. Karma Yoga programming, food and accommodation are included in this price.
While at Clear Sky you will also learn about the ancient transformative practice of dana. Additional classes and programs offered by our founding Teachers, Doug and Catherine Sensei, are given on the premise of this practice.
We welcome all applications including those from people who have little or no experience with meditation, and are looking to explore spirituality – or however you’d like to name your call to exploration in this lifetime – in community.
- Applications are welcome at all times, and we can be flexible enough to fast-track entry based on mutual benefit.
- For greatest chance of acceptance into the Karma Yoga program, we recommend applying six to nine months prior to the time you wish to join us.
- Those with the most flexibility may receive priority placement in the program.
If you want an experience that helps to wake you up and brings you greater personal mastery, we’d love to hear from you today.