Why I really started a nonprofit

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may know that I lived as a Buddhist Nun for three years at Tara Mandala Retreat Center in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Truly, it was one of the most healing times in my life. So why did I leave? My renunciation for suffering and the cause of suffering – what drove me to take monastic vows in the first place – is as strong as my desire to do something about it. One of the vows common to many traditions of Buddhism is:

A Tibetan Buddhist Nun, Ani Pema (Arwen Ek) using incense as an offering in a Tibetan Buddhist ritual.

“Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them.

Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them.

Dharmas are boundless, I vow to master them.

Enlightenment is unattainable, I vow to attain it.”

-A version of the Bodhissatva Vow

Like this vow, I felt stuck between my despair at the human condition, and pursuing that which would give my life ultimate meaning. Toward the end of my monastic vocation, I was becoming restless in my relatively easy life in contrast to the overwhelming suffering of the world. I had to get off my butt and do something about it.

Therein lies the rub.

How, exactly, can we help each other? What is the greatest need, what are my skills, and what are the most effective ways to meet those needs? Fresh out of the protective walls of my monastic life, I got involved in an abusive relationship. A mistake, for sure – but now I have a beautiful son and some wisdom as a survivor. In the meantime, we were living in poverty, and we just couldn’t afford to either be sick or to pay for expensive therapies and medicines. We also couldn’t afford good food, and most of the time the food distributed from food banks is high in calories, fillers, stabalizers, artificial colors and flavors – and low in nutrition.

I created a model for what I needed most

I started foraging for food and medicine. I used my knowledge of edible and medicinal plants to supplement my diet, and my kiddos diet, with nutrient dense wild foraged plants. Dandelion, nettle, raspberry leaf, red clover, wild strawberry, cleavers, arnica, pine needles – all these plants became my allies and protectors. I also relied on my knowledge of Homeopathic medicines, and the home pharmacy that I had collected over the years, to keep us healthy.

Most importantly, I learned that if I needed access to affordable natural medicines and wholesome foods, there were certainly others in my community with the same interests and needs. In 2013 I started sharing my knowledge with some friends, and learning from others. We started meeting every month at the coffee shop where I worked to drink herbal tea and talk about natural remedies, DIY home health, self-sufficiency and sustainability. The “Tea Parties” generated so much content that I started publishing a newsletter to go along with the events and highlight the recipes, books, and ideas that came up.

Tea Party fare featuring Mountain Mama and Deep Breath teas, Achy Joints Ointment, and Nettle Me Seasoning.

The regulars at the Tea Parties became The Holistic Homestead’s founding Board of Directors. We shared a passion for self-sufficiency, and natural health and wellness as a part of one’s local ecosystem. We also believed that healing our selves, our families, and our community was intimately linked to planetary health, and we knew that required integrity every step of the way. Together, our community has built the Homestead into the amazing nonprofit it is today, with a mission to improve health and wellness through education, outreach and advocacy.

The Holistic Homestead continues to nourish me and my growing family with accessible and affordable wholesome food, wellness products, education and resources. And now, in 2021, it is doing the same for hundreds of other families in our small rural mountain community.

And as for my vows….

While I did give up my vows not to drink, smoke, swear, or have sex – I will never abandon my deepening concern for the welfare of others. The other side of running a nonprofit is seeing the limits of your work – I can invest in all this beautiful, fresh, local, organic produce, but if nobody comes in to buy it, we won’t be able to sustain the Market. I can donate fresh, organic produce to the food bank, but unless individuals choose to take it home and make the effort to cook it and eat it (rather than just opening a can!) that food gets thrown in the trash. When I hit that wall – the wall of my ambitions outpacing my human limitations – I am reminded to meditate more, to cultivate deeper compassion, to pray more for others:

“May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness

May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering,

May all beings never be separated from supreme happiness free from sorrow,

May all beings remain in boundless equanimity free from hope and fear.”

-A version of the Four Immeasurables

Ten years out of the monastery, I again find myself longing for the peace and simplicity of monastic living. And I’ll tell you, it’s a hard habit to break. Or, as they say, you can take the nun out of the monastery but you can’t take the monastery out of the nun. Or what do you call a holy woman that runs a nonprofit? Nun of your business. Sorry for the nun puns….I had to get in a little nun-sense! I try to avoid making nun jokes, but it’s a farce of habit.

“Always be very kind, and don’t take yourself too seriously.” – Lama Thupten

But seriously….I’m really proud of how far we’ve come, and there is always more work to be done. So I will keep showing up for my community, as my community keeps showing up for me.


One Comment on “Why I really started a nonprofit

  1. I am trying to reach Kalakantha to connect her to some similar work being done at McCauley Farms, combining local ag products with environmental education. I don’t know Kalakantha’s non-Buddhist name, and don’t have her email address. Please write to me–Kalakantha told me she wants to make this connection.

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