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Serving at Vipassana

It was November 2013, and I was on the bus to serve at a 10 day Vipassana course at the Dhamma Surabhi center just outside of Merritt, BC. I remember making an intention to serve those who were sitting - with LOVE. Having been through two previous 10 day sits myself, I knew what they were in for and had a deep sense of compassion for everyone who was choosing to sit this course. My mission was to do my tasks and do them well. It was that simple.

Or at least I thought.

Upon arrival, there was a bit of a stir because the female manager had cancelled last minute due to an unexpected circumstance. I had signed up to serve in the kitchen, and it being my first serve, I was feeling quite nervous. I had also arrived the evening before the course started, so was amongst the first few people to arrive. I met the people in charge of the center and the Assistant Teacher (AT) for the course – Hans. He was a lovely, soft spoken gentleman who had a very fatherly demeanor, and we shook hands and shared a broad smile. Later that evening, he summoned me and asked if I might consider serving as female manager because he sensed I had the necessary qualities for the task. At first, I wanted to tell Hans that I would rather be in the kitchen to learn more there. Then something from deep within prompted me to say, “I’d be open for that”, and so it began – my first serve, and as female manager no less.

The first 3 days my learning curve was extremely intense. Somehow, I had to memorize the names of 29 females, plus 5 female servers, their seat in the meditation hall and all their room numbers. It was quite overwhelming! I would stay up later at night and on every break trying to learn the names – wanting so badly to get them into my head. By day 4, I knew them all and was starting to become deeply involved with them and each of their individual progresses. Because Hans was a male AT, he required the presence of another female in the interview room when he was holding noon meetings with the female meditators. So, I had the privilege of sitting in on every interview and witnessing Hans’s incredible compassion that he shared with everyone. It was also an honour to be in the presence of these women – through all their ups and downs, their excitement and their tears. They were giving their all during those 10 days, and it was not easy.

There were some challenging moments during those 10 days. A woman became seriously ill with a chest cold and would come knocking on my door at 3am for medication to help her sleep and calm her coughing. I would need to call and wake up Hans at that point and schedule to meet him in the interview room, at which point he would ask me questions and even ask for my opinion on the situation. Medications were given, and I was told to keep a close eye on this woman and if her condition escalated, we would call the ambulance. She came very close to being shipped off to the hospital in Merritt, and through sheer determination to complete her sit, she managed to pull herself back onto her cushion and finish the course. I felt such relief and happiness for her at the end of the course! There were also challenges on the men’s side, which I would hear about during our evening meetings with Hans in the meditation hall, after all the meditators went off to bed. The kitchen staff and servers, Dhamma Surabhi staff, male manager, myself and Hans would gather and have a look at how each day went, and what areas or people we needed to focus on with loving attention. It was up to us to hold the course together – working together silently in the background to ensure a smooth-running course for the 60 determined Vipassana practitioners taking the course.

I chose the timing of this course because it corresponded with a rather powerful full moon, which peaked mid-course. I remember there being an explosive fragility in the air as we all ramped up towards the full moon. There was a heightened energy in the air, and it was palpable. Again and again, I found myself pulling back towards my center – towards my breath, towards the reality of ‘what is’. Keeping myself grounded was of utmost importance, and I was instructed by Hans that during my breaks I needed to rest, not to help in the kitchen. When it was time to eat, I would eat and then leave the kitchen – nothing extra – conserving all my energy so that I could best be available to the women and their needs.

I learned that I was so much stronger than I ever knew, and that my gifts offered were valuable. After the course, the women surrounded me with such excitement about their progress, and such appreciation of my calm, motherly demeanor towards them during the course. Hans called me into the interview room before he left and congratulated me on a job well done. We worked so well together as a team, and he really emphasized the importance of that – for each other, and for the group of women as a whole. When serving, your ‘stuff’ needs to be put aside so that you can be fully present to the other. This was so important, and Hans was very grateful that I demonstrated that fully.

I personally couldn’t have done any differently – there was no time for my ‘stuff’, and that was perfectly fine with me. I would serve as female manager again in a heartbeat and am planning a time when I am able to do so again. The rewards went straight to my heart and have stayed with me.

Since that serve in 2013, I have sat one more 10 day course, plus many one-day sits in Vancouver. I practice Vipassana meditation at home on my own cushion and reap the benefits of the practice in my daily life. I am calm and happy, and I wish for all Beings to be happy!

Lokāḥ Samastāḥ Sukhino Bhavantu

This article is also published in the Spring 2018 issue of Canadian Yogi online magazine

(All images taken by Leah Marie Serna )

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