‘I am here to serve’. I remember saying that when I went for my first meditation course as a server in London, Hereford. I had been doing Vipassana for the last three years before the desire to serve arose in me. Since then, I have been doing a sit and serve every other year.
For those of you who are not familiar with Vipassana – it is a meditation technique. The more I do Vipassana, the more I realize it is a scientific way to understanding yourself. I can go into more details but best if you explore it yourself at the link. I have been doing it for decades now, and I am beginning to realize what a long journey it is – one can spend lifetimes genuinely knowing oneself.
For example, I am sure all of us have experienced situations where someone or a situation gets you angry, and you are unable to stop the train of thought. It is your mind, your body – correct? Then why can we not stop that – Vipassana helps you get to the root of the matter yourself. You will realize through your own experience the thought flow and how to stop it. Easier than it sounds, for sure.
So, back to service. Imagine running a restaurant that feeds 100 people, and you have a 100% staff turnover every two weeks. And add to it the COVID restrictions – that’s the summary of the situation in service. A dozen or so people who practice the Vipassana meditation show up to serve a course united by the desire to serve other meditators as they were served. Research has shown that conflict is bound to arise anytime you put together more than four people in a group. And in a tense situation when food had to be on the table three times a day – the soil is fertile for such conflicts to arise, and on top of it – you are here to work on yourself as you serve.
Since there are no external distractions, you have no choice but to watch yourself as these conflicts arise and put the meditation into practice. The idea behind serving is that you can practice in the outside world. For me – one bothersome situation was that one of the servers insisted on efficiency over service when serving students the food. There is no right or wrong, but I could feel the ‘resistance’ sensations arising in me every time coworker suggested something. A part of me wanted to tell that person to listen to me as I knew I was ‘right’, and a part of me knew I was not in the right frame of mind to have that conversation. In the end, I surrendered – I did how she wanted to do it, and I felt such peace in me. I am sure you are wondering if I did the right thing by surrendering or not – but the point is that I felt at peace by my decision, and that is a much better position to take action from. This was a direct experience that I had – and I am sure I picked up many such insights while serving, which will ripen when the time is right.
A lot of people ask me why I do this when this is clearly not a vacation. This is back-breaking labour from 5:00-9:30. I can give many answers like ‘Paying it back’, ‘Service’, ‘I get many benefits’, but the honest answer is in the quote, ‘If buddha were a barber getting a haircut would be enlightenment.’ There is no question in mind whether I should serve/sit – it is not a decision; it is deep knowing of how life has to be. For this, I am eternally grateful – it is grace. And Goenka Ji says – what price will pay for the teaching it is truly invaluable.
What do you do in your life that is akin to getting a haircut from Buddha?