Amirta - Divine Nectar Retreat Cabin
by Venerable Lobsang Gyelse

What is a The Great Retreat? It is a 3-year, 3-month, 3-day silent meditation retreat for peace. This Great Retreat will be held in the high desert of southeastern Arizona. To do this retreat I must build a space to do it in. Much of the groundwork has already been completed. The septic system is in, the plans have the blessing of the county building dept, after many long hours of learning how to draw my plans, and we have started to level the area where the kitchen cottage and retreat hut will be built. It will cost a good deal of money to complete as well as a lot of hard work and laughter. After the retreat, the cottage will become one of the retreat cottages at Diamond Mountain (where the retreat is taking place) that will serve others following in our foot steps giving them a place to do long retreat as well.

Now I am working on the foundation for the earth bag. I had to enlarge the trench for the foundation because I had forgotten that there is 3" of plaster on each wall and I needed that to be added so that the interior space isn't smaller than planned 9'6".  It was down to a little under 9'. It is now ready for inspection, either tomorrow or the next day.

With the help of some friends we made test bags of earth for the earth bag house today.  They will need to sit and then we will see if the tamped earth from our excavations will be usable in the earth bag meditation hut.

Bert and Bogden came up and they started on the foundation. In 5 hours, with the three of us working, we dug the foundation.  Wow, and is it pretty! What you see here in the picture of the foundation is the main room and the bit closest to you is where I will sleep and then over on the other side is the porch.

I am working almost every day up at the site, coming home feeling energized and tired at the same time. 

If I put in as much thought to thinking about all the things I have learned here at Diamond Mountain in the last 6 years that I have in planning this retreat cabin I might have some realizations by now.  This building business takes up a lot of thought time as well as physical time.  It is bound to pay off!

We had 2 days to prepare everything for the foundation to be poured.  Today was quite amazing, people just kept showing up to help build everything we needed so we can pour tomorrow after the inspector comes and looks at it and says it's beautiful.

Attaching the masonite to support the rubber foundation forms.

Placing the rubber foundation material.

Bending rebar for the concrete.

We almost got the pour done today, but the building inspector didn't come.  Somehow my request got lost, BUT, they verified the construction was sound  looking at digital images we sent them and we can pour tomorrow.

We made a big push and on Saturday; about 13 of us gathered in the orchard and poured two foundations.  It took us all day; we were working as dusk fell.  Exhausted all of us, and happy to have it done.  This whole project has been a community effort, so many people have helped and the list only grows longer with each day.

Well here is the finished foundation.

With the help of my friend Vilma we applied a tar vapor barrier to the foundation to keep it from wicking moisture up into the earthbag.  I am working on my lumber order list and have ordered the earthbag tubes from Cal-Earth.  Hope to really get going by early next week.

I had three people working with me today to move the lumber that was brought by home depot this morning.  This is almost all the lumber I will need to build the door and window frames, the roofs, and the porch.  We were able to move about 1/2 of it today, the rest we will have to move in the next few days.  Tomorrow the bag for the earthbag should arrive and the adobe earth to put in it.  We will start on building the bucks for the doors and the form for the arch in the earthbag tomorrow.  Once that is done, another inspection before we start to lay the bag.

In this picture, with my friend Nick, you can see in the background the form for the arch into the sleeping area and the frame for the front door.







Here is what the finished arch is planned to look like. >








Finally began building our earth bag walls. 

We got one 20' length laid on the 2nd work day of the term.

We have completed three rows; the big window frames are now in position and we are beginning to rock and roll, moving much faster.  Hope we can keep it up. 

On Saturday, the last official work day for the students of Diamond Mountain we had an awsome crew and almost completed 2 full rows of bag.

Viet, Clete and I got another 1 1/2 rows of bag on today.  We are half way done, and up to the spring line for the arch into the little anti room. 

At the end of each work day, our work has to be covered in plastic; what a job that is. I had built one of the arches to go over the window yesterday and made a major mistake in my measuring, so today with Kim's help (another friend from Tucson who has come for the weekend to help), we took it apart and made it correctly.  It went faster this time around, in fact we got both arches made today.

Geoff and Viet finished the big arch today, we even got to lay some rows of bag. 

Almost there; Geoff tamping the bag into place.

We have been working on the earth bag for the last two days.  We are making some progress.  We got the lintel over the window and the bag is ready in the bump out for the form for the bond beam.  Now we have to get the rest of it up to height-8'.

Laying the top bag over the fan blocks on the arch.>

We had 8 of us on the work site today. Wow, totally unexpected and  between eating the ripe peaches off the tree we got a lot done. We had two teams bagging.  One was making the fan blocks over the windows, the other laying bag.  The rest of us were mixing earth.


The fan blocks going in over the window.

We are very close to being finished with the walls.  The high window bucks are in place and now it is mostly short runs of bag. We are hoping to finish tomorrow and pour the bond beam on Friday, but I think that may be pushing it a bit.

21 inches to go. We are very close to being finished with the walls. 

We are so close to being done building the earth bag walls.  It has taken us longer than we thought.  We hope to finish the walls tomorrow.  A couple of days behind schedule but still shooting for Monday to pour the bond beam.

That's me screwing in the velcro plate that the lintel over the door is sitting on.

We finished the walls under a double rainbow. I think that's a great omen!

Yes we got all the earth bag walls up.  They ended up being about 10" higher than I had planned, but it is easy to adapt and it is not a problem.

Saturday, Sunday and today we worked on forming the forms for the bond beam and adding the rebar.  It was a hard and finiky job.

Shimming up the sill plate. We  spent the day working on putting the roof up, we got the 6 major rafters up.

We are almost done framing the roof.

My brother, nephew, Geoff and Viet worked on putting the plywood on the roof today.

WE did it, the roof on the earth bag meditation house!

Susan and Viet smeared mud on the earthbag in preparation to cob and plaster it.  I burned off the bits of bag that were too thick and where the earth was loose and not well packed. >

Viet and Tiana tested some earth plasters, different combinations of earth, clay, sand and straw.  I tried a new one today and we will see how that one fairs.  They all seem pretty good.


Before we plaster we are filling all the big voids with cob-earth and straw, then we will put an earth plaster over that. Note the finger marks, they help the next layer to have something to key into. We are still plugging up holes and shaping the openings of the windows and doors in the earthbag in preparation for plastering.





Today we took the arch supports out.  Wow what a difference and so exciting after all these months!


Today we got 4/6 of the roof on the earthbag covered before we ran out of material.  We will have to wait for more to arrive. I have to have everything finished in 2 months.  Doesn't seem like much time, and so much to do. My hands are tingly every day from overworking them, it is hard to continue, but I must.

Blue Jean insulation in the roof of the earth bag.

It got so cold it snowed inside the earthbag, then we had to smoothe all that snow out...well marble chips.

Then start laying the adobe floor on top of the marble chips.

I was hoping to raise $25,000 dollars towards building the retreat house.  And we did it ! My Lama's gave me $8000 and that put us well over the top.  I think every penny of that will be spent. Now I need to raise money for upkeep; food, propane, firewood, you know stuff like that. So if you can help on a monthly basis, any little amount please let me know.  With the last 3 year retreat people pledged $1/day or a set amount, and that is how we supported those who went into retreat. 

The first date to have the final inspection has come and gone and the next will be wednesday and we are not close to ready for that.  I find myself anxious about whether we will finish in time for the beginning of the retreat.

We have earth plastered the outside of the earth bag meditation hut, we have almost finished plastering the inside, the sheet rock is up on the ceiling, though not finished yet, the sub adobe floor in the earthbag is laid and the stove ready to put in.

The meditation hut clothed in earth plaster.

The bottom layer of the adobe floor in the earthbag.

Putting the mud on the exterior or the earth bag - Nile, Chandra, Tianna, me and Rich.

Sheet rocked ceiling and cob filled holes between wall and ceiling

Inside of the earthbag--first coat of earth plaster.

Laying the final earth floor in the earthbag round; Benito, myself and Serg.

Laying of mud.


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