I spent almost 2 weeks preparing food and cleaning the kitchen&dishes for more than 100 people.
sure- it wasn’t easy- but I enjoyed myself immensely, and moreover- I shall share my tips on how to – just in case you decide this is an adventure you would like to experience.
Mind you that only “old students”- no- not mature in age and wisdom- but people that have completed a 10 day vipassana course, can apply to serve in a course, so first- read my previous post on my 10 day course- 10 days I consider a beautiful and meaningful present I gave to myself for my 50th birthday last year.
here is the link:The birthday presents I gave myself-part 1
for those of you who are curious to check if this is one of those cases where the sequel does not fall short of the original- here is part 2- that has absolutely nothing in common with this post- except for both being presents I gave myself for my 50th birthday.
so- why did I voluntarily submit myself to 13 days of hard labor and not the best sleeping conditions?
Told you in advance I am not about to start preaching about the benefits of the vipassana technique.
First, because I dislike being preached to, and every time I read or hear someone rambling about a certain religion/belief I simply shut down.
secondly, I did my first course on September 18 (aka my birthday, I believe I mentioned this before), and since I did a 3 day service in gardening, helped around a few weekends , sat every day for at least 30 minutes every time, and this round of dhamma service for 13 days. meaning I am by no means an expert on vipassana, and I think the best thing is to simply look online or read the book “the art of living” by William Hart ( I get nothing from anyone by writing this so).
last thing: I think the vipassana technique is well known, and frankly does not need my humble non-professional promoting attempts to thrive.
Having said all that- do yourselves a favor and read a little about the technique, and should you decide that you deserve some time off your hectic life, consider treating yourself to this 10-day course.
I am a known skeptic, practical and cynical person, ( I believe it is enough to say that until I retired 2 months ago I was a lawyer for more than 25 years….you get the drift), and I also happen to believe that, well, I know best what my problems are, and I will also be responsible for getting myself, with a lot of hard work, out of these problems, or if I can’t find a way out, then I, and only I, am responsible for learning how to deal with them.
So just in case you feel the same way – I totally respect that. (obviously).
I respect that so much that I need to mention that this, exactly, is what I find myself doing ever since I completed my first course in September’ and this exctly is the reason I find this technique so intriguing.
No guru. no religion. no one telling you what questions need to be asked, and what the right -or wrong- answers are.
Just Working very diligently on finding a way to deal with the problems I have.
I spent many years working hard as a lawyer, raising 3 children and taking care of almost everything- but never had the time- or the willpower, to confront me. myself. ( and I).
Time to Actually sit down and contemplate certain behaviors of mine that other people seem to have a problem with, other behaviors of mine that I have a problem with, and my general wellbeing.
The only tool vipassana gives you is the technique itself. learning to concentrate on your breathing and physical sensations, as a means to reach a stable and equanimous mind.
Being equanimous through every sensation you feel, every situation that occurs -no matter how pleasant -or unpleasant the sensation is- is the key to eliminating much of the suffering you go through because of the ignorant way we are accustomed to behave -to react- to every situation that occurs.
This is a very simplistic and unjust description of the technique, and if this by any chance interests you and you are willing to put in the hard work -sitting and diving into yourself- while maintaining an equanimous mind- well- try this out. as I mentioned the course is free of any charges.
But- and this is an important but-
Since an operation as big as this cannot live off air, contributions are welcomed, very welcomed, and when I finished the course I felt such gratification- that I immediately contributed some money, and decided that I will donate more- by serving in a course.
Serving, by the way, was even more appreciated by Goenka g-the vipassana teacher that spread the technique worldwide, since he contemplated that giving money is a sign of a momentary gratification whereas while serving you show your gratification all through the serving period.
Serving means you make sure that the meditators that come to the 10-day course enjoy a full-time meditation experience, without the need to prepare their own food or clean after themselves.
The food we prepared was vegan -including all the main dishes- and desserts too. vegetarians that eat dairy products could have cottage cheese, butter and yogurt- that were served separately- and not included as part of the cooking routine. imagine how delighted I was, to find out that the center I was ecological and minimalistic as well. so the laundry and all the cleaning supplies were free of detergents, and a special effort was made to reuse leftover food- for example- soybean stew was served on one of the days- the little that was left (it just turned out so good with the cumin)- was turned into soy hummus the next day.
A chocolate cake that turned a bit dry- became chocolate cookies the next day and so on.
I also got to join- like all servers- the meditations in the hall- 3 times a day at least- most days it turned to 4 times a day-including hall duty- (the meditation hall is open for meditators from 04:20 every morning’ and the servers had shifts -that included opening the hall and monitoring that everything is ok with the meditators- until 05:30 when our kitchen shift began).
Another cool thing is that servers are so appreciated that their meditation cushion is located in the front of the hall, close to the teacher (*to be exact- all teachers beside Goenka g are called assistant teachers or a.t).
The servers are not obligated to “noble silence”- that is the 10-day silence and no contact vow that all participants take. they are committed to “right speech” instead- meaning no-nonsense talk- only work and meditation conversations and a special effort is made to separate genders- as much as possible- we all worked together in the same kitchen and naturally, knives were passed and dishes were washed -but I still thought it made sense – and I am by no means a puritan- because a person comes to the center to concentrate on dhamma work- as a way of showing appreciation to the gift of vipassana he got ( at least that’s what I did) and trying to fit in some internal work too through the 3-4 hours of meditation with the course, and many times the mere presence of other people -can be a distraction.
I am an introvert- so the permission to speak was something I would gladly give up- I didn’t mind the noble silence at all during my course, but I can imagine that extroverts find it even more distracting to be able to meet like-minded people- and not to be able to chat with them freely.
And a few more things weren’t easy.
I didn’t mind waking up at 3:50 am- this is my usual wake up time at home, but- I go to bed at around 20:00- read and fall asleep by 20:50-21:00.
The problem was there was an evening discourse every evening until 20:00′ and then the servers could join another meditation session- and then the servers would join in the hall at 21:00 (……) for meditation and end of the day session with the assistant teacher.
The assistant teacher was wonderful, and the access to him- for any questions or trouble- was a gift. but I had some serious trouble functioning after 20:00 every evening, after a long hard day at the kitchen…
Another thing is the accommodations…
Sleeping in a shared room was one thing, but sharing the bathroom and showers with 5 other women- well that was a real bummer for me.
I am 50 and an introvert- I believe these two were quite clear -it was definitely not easy for me to adapt to this no privacy -having to wait for the toilet-using a shared shower- thing.
But- on the last day the meditators were allowed to talk again, and many of them approached me and thanked me so much for serving them with delicious food and making their meditation experience so good, that every difficulty was gone with the wind, and I was filled with such joy that makes it possible for me to consider the next time I will serve in a course.
The thing about giving back- is that it actually gives you back- so much more….
enjoy your day-the cooliflower.