Vipassana, to see things as they really are, refers to a particular buddhist meditation system, a practice dear to my heart that I have often discussed before. Short and long-term volunteers keep dedicated meditation centres alive around the world. And so, I decided, after having been an attendee in two ten-day courses and one of three days, it was time for me to do my bit and volunteer.
En route to the Hereford centre I was thinking that, surely, I would not be expected to clean toilets and the like. But, as many say, what one thinks… And sure enough I arrived to be advised that I had been assigned to the household team. I had that afternoon off, however. And so I wandered in the beautiful Herefordshire surroundings (see left and below). When warm and sunny, these Isles of Britain have such beautiful sights for one to behold.
Next morning I joined the 04:30 meditators. Enjoyed the 06:30 breakfast. And then… I was shown where the requisite cleaning supplies could be found. Green cloths for floors, yellow for surfaces, blue for kitchen – red for toilets. With my supply of eco-friendly cleaning products, off I went to the main block, E and F blocks to be tackled next.
The intense mediation practices of Vipassana are essentially a focused scrutiny of one’s deepest, inner being. Meditating on my cleaning rota for the day was certainly that. I struggled. My ego ensured that everyone knew that this was not one of my usual pursuits. I was a senior professional in the oil industry, I had to let slip. I had lived all around the world. I had drivers and cooks, staff to do all these sorts of tasks.
By day three I really did not think I would see day nine. What was I learning after all? There were enough volunteers to manage without my contribution. I wouldn’t be missed. There was a three day coaching course in London I had thought of doing, surely that would make more sense. On and on went my thoughts.
But something shifted. I began to enjoy the camaraderie of my follow householders. People from Australia, Germany, Ireland, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Wales… All ages, all types of backgrounds. All with one intention, to give back. Suddenly I was approaching my role with gusto. An efficient system emerged. I was a little sad to leave by the end. I have discovered that there are multitudes of volunteering opportunities available the world. Not all involve cleaning toilets. I’m wondering, where next?
As for now, I’m packing just a few essential items. Tomorrow morning, together with my son, I fly to Porto. One evening there, no doubt imbibing and enjoying the local fare. And then… to follow the many pilgrims in whose footsteps we will tread along this coastal route to Santiago de Compostela and, if time permits, walk the added leg to Finisterre. And as we stare out from the Spanish Land’s End, I am sure we will be counting our many blessings. I look forward to sharing my musings along the way.
( Barbara set out for Porto on Thursday 2nd June – Ed. )