I recently became ill (and am still recovering) while working abroad, and needed to center and heal ASAP. My brain automatically brought Vipassana to mind, because as a student, I experienced sheer peace and happiness from the practice. However, I wanted to be on the other side, I wanted to serve at a course this time. I happened to be en route to Dallas, TX and was able to locate a center just 45 minutes outside of the city. I contacted them and applied to serve between the courses, as well as partly during a course.
I was so humbled when I was accepted to serve. As a student, I didn’t realize how much work the servers had on their shoulders, and how happy they were to be serving (the courses are donation-based after all). I also didn’t understand how the center functioned behind boundary lines. As a server, you are there to offer your services, your time, energy and to send Metta (loving-kindness) to all of the students sitting at the course, without expecting anything in return. You are there to ensure the students’ needs come first, and that they feel as comfortable as possible to have a successful sitting. I learned that everything in a Vipassana course is set up for a reason, and it made me appreciate the practice even more. Here is what I learned:
1. You are also working diligently.
As a student, your focus is to work hard on your meditation. You follow the gongs in order to wake up, meditate, eat, meditate again, eat again, meditate some more, drink tea, meditate yet again, and listen to the discourse. As a server, you are still doing a lot of that, but add in preparing meals and cleaning for sometimes hundreds of people, plus ringing the gongs. During the course, you are up at 4 AM and asleep at 10 PM. Between courses, you don’t have to wake up as early or go to sleep as late, and the focus may be less on cooking, and more on cleaning and maintaining the center. I never felt better mopping or scrubbing #workingmeditation
2. The practice of noble, or right speech
In addition to adhering to the same precepts as the students, you are allowed to speak in the kitchen, where students can’t hear you. This speaking is limited to “right speech,” meaning abstinence from false, slanderous, harsh speech or idle chatter. It is noted that right or noble speech, is considered more difficult than not speaking at all, and I completely agree. It can sometimes feel stressful in the kitchen, and it’s important to practice equanimity, and communicate with compassion.
3. Metta is so very important
As a student, I couldn’t understand why the servers would stay behind after we would finish with discourse. I soon learned, the servers remain behind to practice Metta and to send loving thoughts to the students in the course and to the world. How beautiful is that? I have made a great effort to focus more on Metta during my meditations.
4. How to Cook
Being a server is one of the best cooking lessons you will ever receive. I served alongside a few amazing women and men, who all, for the most part, knew how to cook with experience and skill. In attempting to show off my own skills, I would get a few head shakes, and then I would lovingly be shown a better way to chop or cut something. I was also given yummy ideas and recipes (the best meals you will ever eat are during a Vipassana course) to make at home.
5. You may still pass through storms
Storms are a common place for students in a course. Challenging emotions and physical sensations may surface. As a server, you may still experience storms because of the challenges and potential stresses in the kitchen, and because you are also meditating quite a bit each day. Anicha, anicha… The teacher is always there for the servers as well.
6. Dhamma brings amazing people together
I made a few lifelong friends while serving. Everyone I met was full of love and compassion. They were there for all of the right reasons and had such lovely energy and stories to share. Although we came from all walks of life, we seemed to share so much in common.