As part of Freemavens’ corporate social responsibility policy, each employee gets a day off to volunteer at a registered UK charity of their choice. This is one of the many ways Freemavens encourages us to give back and to broaden our perspective by connecting with people and causes we might not get the chance to interact with otherwise. 

I chose to spend my day at Dhamma Dipa, a meditation centre run by the Vipassana Trust Charity, which promotes the study and practice of Vipassana meditation via courses and other services. These services are all free of charge and only made possible thanks to the goodwill of old students who, having found value in the practice, choose to donate money and time to volunteer. 

My personal experience with Vipassana meditation 

My commitment to this cause came from experiencing the benefits of Vipassana meditation for myself, and especially from witnessing the positive repercussions it had on my mental health. In June 2021, I sat one of their 10-day courses, the purpose of which is to develop equanimity or, to put it another way, to learn the art of not reacting, by observing the constant flux of sensations in the body. When you become aware of the impermanent quality of your sensations, you slowly learn not to get attached or to want to change these, and you start accepting your living experience for what it is. This is taught by practicing 11 hours of meditation daily and observing noble silence throughout the 10 days, all while being completely disconnected from the outer world. While having to sit with both extremely unpleasant and, at times, enjoyable sensations at length was incredibly challenging, the realisation that these always come to pass was liberating. This became even more apparent in the months that followed the course, as I noticed subtle changes in the way I interpret and react to the curveballs life throws my way. 

Serving to express gratitude 

Serving at a meditation centre perhaps isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about volunteering. I certainly never thought about it until I took the course, during which I experienced such gratitude for the warm meals and clean facilities, tokens of the intrinsic generosity of others. Not only did these small, sometimes invisible, acts of care make the open-surgery I felt I was performing on my psyche much more bearable, they cumulated into a layer of positive energy and kindness that draped over the whole centre, calming the inner turmoil we, the students, were all going through. 

Coming out of the meditation, I wanted to extend my gratefulness and make it possible for others to experience this for themselves. Having a CSR day was a great incentive for me to do so. In November, I returned to Dhamma Dipa for four days to experience it from the other side, helping behind-the-scenes by cleaning sanitary facilities, doing laundry and other ad-hoc tasks.  

Volunteering as a way to re-connect to others and to ourselves 

During my time volunteering, I met beautiful people with whom I most likely would’ve never crossed paths otherwise. I spent most of my time with the other volunteers that made the household team, which consisted of two fifty-something year old women, one from India, the other from Germany, and myself. We couldn’t have been farther apart from one another in terms of our backgrounds and personalities, yet we connected over our shared experience and I learned a great deal about patience and letting go of the misconceptions that so often divide us. It’s moments like these that make you realise that there is so much more that connects us to one another than our demographics. 

My biggest takeaway from these few days is how inherently kind and giving people are. We often forget that, especially when living in big cities where individualism and loneliness generally seem to prevail. We’re so often caught up in our own heads, constantly trying to plan our next move or to stay productive by fear that we will become obsolete if we don’t. Charity days are a sweet reminder to pause and to step away from the daily grind. Volunteering, in general, is a chance to let go of the ego and to devote a couple of hours, or days, to others and to a cause that exists beyond ourselves. It is a way to return to one of the fundamentals of what makes us human: to connect and to feel connected. 

Making space for compassion 

The full value of volunteering does not only lie in what you give of yourself whilst you are performing the action, it also lies in what you bring out of it after you step back into your everyday routine. The compassion that naturally develops as a result of undertaking benevolent actions is a key example of how volunteering can really change the way we relate to one another, within our family, in our circle of friends, with strangers, and also in the workplace. By creating the space for us to explore the meaning of giving altruistically, Freemavens is favouring a culture where we can all show up for each other and for ourselves in the most compassionate way.