This month is national volunteer month, but what does that mean for mindfulness practitioners? It can mean different things to each of us, but as meditators the very concept of spending our time and energy helping others with no direct gain for ourselves reflects and embodies a fundamental shift that happens within us as we realize the truths that the dharma points toward. The move from an independent, small-self centered reality to an interdependent ‘community’ focussed reality – a reality that includes the small-self but is so much bigger, richer, and more connected. Volunteering allows us to practice being in that heartspace in a very real way, but it’s not always an easy journey to make in a society so focussed on individuality and our own desires being met.
At 32 years old, after practicing meditation daily for three years under the guidance of my teachers at the Satyananda ashram in London, I decided it was about time I had some face time with the head of the lineage in India. Just before Christmas in 2002 I set off on a 4000 mile journey for a small village 100 miles outside of Rishakesh via plane, train, bus, rickshaw and finally by foot for the last mile and a half. But rather than discussing the finer points of metaphysical philosophy with the spiritual master I was immediately scheduled to clean toilets and change beds from 5am till sundown to make sure the retreatants could focus on their practice. This was followed by a plate of dhal gruel and a jet-lagged semi-sleep until 5am the next morning, at which time I would start the whole process again. Needless to say, my hangout time with Swami Satyananda Saraswati never materialized, but I learnt a spiritual truth that has informed and enriched my view of life ever since.
In the South Asian spiritual traditions the word ‘seva’ – selfless service – is fundamental to spiritual practice and, just like volunteering, it is premised on the understanding that by giving without expectation of reward, both the giver and the receiver benefit. My naive journey to India led later to a weekly volunteering gig in Los Angeles that lasted years and it has changed my life for the better. National Volunteer Month is a great month for all of us to ask ourselves, ‘as part of my practice, where else can I help others sustainably by offering my time, energy, and insights?’
Here are some volunteer opportunities within the InsightLA organization to help bring mindfulness-based teachings to the world. And here are some volunteer opportunities in the broader Los Angeles community (please vet them yourself before volunteering).
|Darin McFadyen is a Dharma/Yoga practitioner & teacher, husband, business professional, mindfulness consultant, and music producer. He has completed the four-year Tibetan Buddhist curriculum of the Asian Classics Institute, and the three-year ‘Mind Illuminated’ Samatha Vipassana teacher training under Theravadin meditation master Upasaka Culadasa. He has spent much of his life working as a professional in the music and music-technology spaces including touring internationally as a music producer and DJ for most of his adult life.|
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