“We’re considered the bridge between staff and guests,” says Muktaali, also fondly known as Muks or Muki. She is currently experiencing her second work stay residency with Bethlehem Centre, after a four-month residency between January and April of 2019.
The Work Stay Resident program at Bethlehem Centre is a non-paid work/trade agreement where hours worked are exchanged for room and board. Residents live on-site, and commit to a minimum of four months.
There are usually two Work Stay Residents at a time working and residing at Bethlehem Centre, and these residents share tasks. These tasks encompass kitchen support (prepping meals, setting the dining room, serving and cleanup), guest services (check-ins, emergency contact, opening and closing, after hours security) and occasional housekeeping or small projects and yard/grounds/garden maintenance.
Deb, another Work Stay Resident with the Centre, says she was drawn to this unique experience because she wanted to live and work in a community with a positive and open vision. “I really liked what the centre stands for and what they’re doing. I wanted to be a part of it from a more intimate level.”
For Deb, this is also not her first experience as a Work Stay Resident, but it is her first with Bethlehem Centre. She was guided to the centre during a silent meditation retreat in Vancouver, where the meditation group was advertising for volunteers. “I thought I was applying to volunteer with them,” said Deb. “But their site directed me here! I think everyone who ends up here is here for a reason.”
For Muki, it was just the kind of experience she was looking for, during her off-season from volunteering/exploring community and farms.
“What first caught my attention was the slogan ‘Spirituality Without Borders,’” she says. “To me it means unity, and that all are welcome. I saw it as a chance to be of service to a non-profit centre that offered lots of personal time off to reflect.”
This expectation has not been far off from the experience itself. Muki says that while they’re always busy with work to be done, it can still feel like being on an extended holiday or as Deb puts it “every day is like waking up in paradise.”
“There is a gentle, serene and peaceful energy for those who slow down and tune into it,” explains Muki, giving credit to the years of love and prayer performed by the Benedictine sisters, who originally lived on the property and maintained the Centre and its grounds. “This energy is a constant to tap into any time and we have a great team. There are plenty of moments infused with lightness, flow and being playful. Smiles can be contagious.”
While Muki is a seasoned work stay resident and nomad, there’s been a few welcome surprises to this work stay experience that she wasn’t expecting.
“I did not expect feeling more connected as a part of the team, a family,” she says. “I did not expect to still be here after one year. I did not expect to have such a wonderful co-resident to share this last year with. I have co-worked with five Work Stay Residents, each a blessing in their own way, but Deb stands out as a kindred sister.”
Deb agrees. “It’s a great opportunity. Everyone is very supportive and encouraging and everyone has something to teach. It’s really helped me to see where I feel most myself and what I most enjoy doing”
Their greatest reward, however, is not in learning from each other or even the Centre itself. It’s in their interactions with guests that leave them feeling the most grateful for the experience.
“Seeing the faces and smiles of the guests,” confirms Muki, “and their transformation from arrival to departure. Some leave notes, give cards and bring flowers. It gives one a sense of a job well done being the bridge.”
For Deb, the most rewarding experience is hearing that guests had a wonderful time. “Then I know I was able to contribute to that in some way,” she adds.
With a fresh new year ahead, and hopefully an end to a pandemic that has made everything a little bit less warm and open, the work stay residents look forward to more guests, more contact and more social interactions. They also look forward to more reflection and insight into their own personal journeys, wherever those may lead.
“Life can throw so many circumstances beyond our control onto our paths. Especially this past year. So many changes and unknown factors to navigate,” says Muki. “The gift of this experience is that we can really put surrender and radical acceptance into practice.”
According to Deb, if you trust the spirit of Bethlehem Centre, if you relax into it, you’ll find guidance that will allow you to open up in new ways.