Initial Proposal Overview

Filed under: — Matt @ 12:28 am


  • The Wilderness Dharma Center will be a 501c3 educational organization promoting personal development for adolescents and adults through experiential training in mindfulness, leadership, and wilderness experience.

Program Offerings

  • Wilderness Meditation Retreats
    • 5 - 8 day mostly silent backpacking meditation retreats
    • incorporating mindfulness meditation, experiential exercises in Nature, and group sharing
    • designed for adults of all ages (18 - 70)
  • 2-12 week intensive practice periods
    • systematic training in entire curriculum
    • primarily aimed at young adult (approximately 18-27 year old) population
  • 10 day adolescent rite of passage program
    • 4 day group preparation
    • 3 day solo
    • 2 days group integration
    • community celebration with families
  • 3-day weekend workshops
    • teambuilding and leadership training for corporations and organizations
    • focused training in specific areas:
      • meditation
      • wilderness awareness
      • communication
  • personal retreats
    • with or without staff guidance
    • short-to-long term
    • meditation
    • healing
    • writing
  • rental of land and facility for other groups’ programs (e.g. for yoga and other spiritual practice retreats)


  • Ideal Permanent Location
    • within 4 hours of metropolitan area (SF, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles)
    • bordering a National Forest (optimally containing a designated wilderness area)
    • 40+ acres (especially if not contiguous with public land)
    • access to both riparian and mature forest ecosystems
    • suitable climate for long term goal of use 9+ months of the year
    • after infrastructure is available, winter conditions are
      less important and a more remote location might be possible (or even
      more desirable)
  • Initial Locations
    • Wilderness Meditation retreats using mobile model (backpacking/camping) in public wilderness areas
    • any large parcel of private land (by rental or donation)


  • Wilderness and Nature
    • local ecology, plants, animals, birds
    • medicinal and useful plants
    • awareness exercises
      • sit spot
      • solos (fasting)
      • silent hikes
      • blindfolded & barefoot walking
  • Mindfulness and Dharma
    • ethics and precepts
    • sitting, walking, standing, eating meditation
    • integration of practice into daily life
    • body awareness through yoga and Qi Gong
    • history and culture of mindfulness
  • Leadership and Community
    • creating a culture of mindfulness and integrity
    • communication training
      • council practice
      • right speech
      • non-violent communication
      • deep listening
      • inquiry
    • consensus practice
    • teambuilding
    • initiatives & low-ropes
    • drum and music circles
    • sweat lodge


  • Teachers
    • long-term commitment to dharma practice
    • skilled and experienced group facilitators
    • experience with and love of wilderness
    • additional specialized skills (e.g. yoga, communications, experiential education, natural history)
  • Student Populations
    • 15-18 y/o - rite of passage to adulthood
    • 18-25 y/o - leadership and personal development
    • 25+ - integrated and multidisciplinary dharma life studies
    • corporations/organizations - leadership and teambuilding
  • Supporters
    • core staff
    • board members and advisors
    • active volunteers
    • major donors
    • general supporters


  • Donations
  • Grants
  • Tuition (variable levels, from high to low)
    • corporate programs
    • programs for academic credit (assuming affiliation with accredited university)
    • adolescent rites of passage programs (paid by parents)
    • young adults out-of-pocket
    • young adult work-study
  • Rental of Facility as Retreat Center
    • assuming basic infrastructure of kitchen and central community meeting area
    • providing food, shelter, and logistical support for dharma and other teachers wishing to offer their programs in rustic settings close to Nature
    • program run by a core staff member and several young-adult work study participants


  1. Wow, ambitious and very interesting! I’m glad you’re looking into it. My suggestion would be to start “simply", emphasizing initial workshops rather than the more paperwork- or fund-intensive activities such as 501c3 status and such. You could avoid non-profit paperwork by finding a “fiscal sponsor” which I’d look into. I’d also test out interest at various price levels, and take that experience into account before counting on any long-term financial projections.

    In general I love the outdoors and dharma, so keep me in the loop!



    Comment by Brian B — 11/3/2004 @ 10:27 pm

  2. Matt,
    I would love to be involved in some way in this project! It sounds fantastic - a combination of some of the most important things in my life as well. I’m studying education in Vancouver, B.C. and I won’t be finished until next August, but I sure would like to stay in touch and perhaps come down once I’m done. I wish you luck during the next few months, as you create your dream!
    Ian Giles

    Comment by ian giles — 11/4/2004 @ 6:05 pm

  3. Great project idea. I think this will fly. Be careful to spend your
    energy in the right places since you will carry a lot of weight for
    some time.

    Advice is cheap. Here goes.

    I echo Brian’s comment (don’t worry about paperwork or committees before you have it off the ground; the lawyer
    volunteers will come in time).

    Also, myself having done this already with one non-profit organization, it is important to have more than one core adult (you and someone else) who has a multiyear committment.

    Finally, the sooner you pick a place, the easier it gets. Fishing around in 4 major cities is very draining. Setting up retreats and then disassembling is very draining. Finally, young people come if you have a place for them. Before that, all you may get is babyboomers (?). See where the support is (probably Bay Area), then try to get to borrow some land in a place near where land may come available. Four hours is far; but cheaper. Two hours is better. But then the habitats are not maybe what you want (your technical terms elude me).

    Finally, ask Ajahn Pasanno what he thinks. He loves forest
    conservation and has been supportive of young people in the past.

    Comment by Santideva — 11/4/2004 @ 6:41 pm

  4. Based on my experience with the Voter Rite of Passage Concert I worked on, there is no way I will ever start (even the second step)
    another logistical project without a solid and reliable partner, so I echo Santideva’s comment. This experience showed me it was much more vulnerable for me to find a partner than to just try to do it all myself.

    Also, an important practice I became aware of is what activities are essential to meet the nearest goal, and which would simply be nice to have happen. They probably won’t happen, so the essentials are a key place of focus. It is not easy, I find, to tell which is which. So, as said before, start small. It will certainly grow from there, according to the natural principles of our universe :)

    Comment by Sky — 11/5/2004 @ 9:40 pm

  5. Hi Matt,
    Inspiring, creative, thorough. It’s a natural, and I think you’ll find response. Re: naming. In my work of creativity and meditative awareness, I decided to not use ‘dharma’ ‘dhamma’ or any terms that could exclude. I’m open about the grounding of the meditative part of the work in Buddhist practices, but I think using ‘dharma’ adds a layer of exclusion. Of course, there are different views of this.

    I agree with commenters who advocate finding/making partnerships with others. This is a very personal matter, but very helpful. That reminds me, just on a talking-to level, have you contacted Terry Gustafson, who has a long dharma/wildernness practice, though not the leadership component as far as I know? He might have some pointers about some practical things. And, I echo those who suggest keeping things simple and small at the beginning.

    You’re a very good writer: clarity and sincerity shine in your descriptions. If you feel the need of input or feedback on a word level, I’d be happy to look at any text. It’s fine that you don’t take me up on this; I just know as a writer sometimes it’s helpful to have an editor-enabled person look at things.

    All good wishes for continuation and fruition on your path,

    Comment by Carolyn Dille — 12/2/2004 @ 1:09 pm

  6. Matt,

    First I want to say that your interest in and pull to do this work is very inspiring. I’d be very interested in talking about it with you in more detail. I agree with some of the comments so far and disagree with others. I agree with starting small and getting some kind of program going initially, and I don’t think it makes sense to start with looking for land. My guess is that initially it’ll be about offering a couple programs until it picks up enough steam. For that, all you need is a location, private or public. I have a good friend who leads wilderness quests who does very well with national park and national forest land. At any rate, kudos for launching this and let’s talk soon.


    Comment by Art Jolly — 12/17/2004 @ 10:25 am

  7. Great idea Matt!!

    Your enthousiasm and vision are very inspiring. The core idea is exciting, it is very similar to a dream I’ve had for a while, and it is delightful to see it actually manifesting! I think that holding a few programs in National Forest or Wilderness Land might be a good place to start, and then as word gets around and support builds up, the logistics of looking for property would become clearer.
    In any case, I would definitely be interested in assisting, as my life revolves around dharma practice and nature.
    Keep up the good work!


    Comment by Adam Kane — 12/29/2004 @ 5:32 pm

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