Her Story: Volunteering Experience At A Buddhist Center

Her Story: Volunteering Experience At A Buddhist Center

Let me tell you a little story first. I had grand plans for this summer – I was going to go to London, find an exciting internship, experience it all... The carrying out part of this plan, however, proved to be extremely stressful. I was crying every day, I was so stressed out it was physically exhausting. Luckily for me, life has its funny ways, and it brought a two-week volunteer camp at a Buddhist/meditation centre instead.

My brother and his girlfriend were applying for artistically oriented volunteer work camps, and I figured I had nothing to lose, so I went for it. Filling in the application, little did I know this was the beginning of what would be one of the best experiences of my life. It all sounded kind of stressful at first – pay this fee here, fill out that form there- and by the time I was off the plane and sitting on my first train, I was panicking. What have I done? What if no one likes me there? What if I mess something up? I am an anxious ball of nerves, not exactly good at making friends, I’m telling you – a disaster waiting to happen.

Except it wasn’t a disaster. From when I got off my train in Ulverston things only went uphill. The manager of the centre was waiting there to pick me up. They then introduced me to the volunteers at the centre who all seemed lovely. I was feeling the Hogwarts fantasy of the centre which is located in the Conishead Priory. We also got to go to a Buddhist prayer ceremony in the evening, and even though we knew approximately none of the prayers, it was a great experience.

The fun and games ended on the next day, as it was our first work day. Okay that’s a lie, it was still pretty fun. First, we got shown a video about the history of the Conishead Priory and Kadampa Buddhism. Then we were split into groups and sent off to do some cleaning. The way a stay at the centre works is that you get accommodation and food at the centre for 25 hours of volunteer work per week. Since you don’t work during weekends, it’s 5 hours of work per day. The work is divided by tea breaks, so you’re working 2 hours without a break at most.

Throughout the first week our work mostly consisted of household work – making beds, cleaning (yes, toilets too)- and a little bit of gardening. The main task was to get the centre ready for the arrival of teachers from all over the world for an international teacher training programme. The following week, I switched to work in the centre’s art studio. In the studio Buddhist statues and ornaments were made to be shipped to Buddhist centres all over the world. Fun Buddhism fact: the statues are hollow, and after they’re finished, a rod with rolled mantras which line up with the chakras is inserted into each one, as well various relics such as books and precious gems, and the rest of space is filled with flower petals. The monks then pray to the statues to bless them.

Not to say that the work wasn’t rewarding, because it certainly was, but what made this experience unforgettable were the friendships that I formed. I believe I couldn’t have wished for a better group of people to volunteer with. All the trips we went on, the adventures and the laughs we had, all of that is going to stay with me forever. I sound like a right sap now, but I am not exaggerating when I say none of us wanted to leave after those two weeks were up. We were volunteering at a Buddhist centre, but we were also being your average youngsters, going down the pub after dinner and smashing it at karaoke night on Thursdays. It’s easy to see why volunteers keep coming back, some spending months and months at the centre.

It was genuinely the most stress-free time of my life. When I came home, my mum claimed I was a new person. As cliché as it sounds, I felt so positive and recharged, I just had this deep inner sense of peace. I do miss the life at the centre, and I do miss my friends, but luckily, we have managed to stay in contact, and I believe many more adventures lay ahead of us.

 

Dear readers, if you ever decide to volunteer, I hope your experience will be at least as good as mine.

HCXO

All photos are Barbora’s own.

About The Author

Fourth year Business management & Psychology student, shameless One Direction fan and a fashion enthusiast.