I went to volunteer at Harvester’s with a Buddhist group that goes there every month.
Harvesters is a local charity here in the Kansas City area that distributes food to needy people throughout the area. It’s a big charity that does a lot of good here.
Anyway, there’s a Buddhist group from the Rime Center that goes there every month to volunteer. It’s a good way to serve our community, to represent Buddhism, and to just do work that needs to be done, to help people that need it.
It was a good experience and I thought I’d write about it.
It was a two hour shift and our job was simply putting things in boxes to be sent out and distributed to needy people. Harvesters has shifts like these throughout the day that people sign up for. Churches, civic organizations, boy scouts, girl scouts, etc. Lots of people care about helping at Harvesters.
At the start of our shift I was a little disappointed. There were only four of us devoting our time to this. It’s the third Saturday of every month and I wondered if all the Saturdays have low attendance.
Anyway, two extra people came to join us, a boy and a girl from a college called Benedictine, a local Catholic college. (aside: I knew I was middle aged when I started thinking of people in their early 20s as kids).
These two students were there as part of a World Religions class. They had to do charitable work with members of another religion and then do a presentation about it. Sounds like a wonderful idea, doesn’t it?
Anyway of course we welcome anyone that wants to come do charitable work with us.
So, we’re putting bread into boxes and they’re (awkwardly at first) trying to make conversation with us. The girl asked me: “How did you learn about Buddhism?”
I get asked questions like this sometimes and I try to have answers prepared. Some people are curious, some people just feel like they should make conversation and act interested, for whatever reason. I wasn’t expecting to answer questions and I wasn’t in that mindset.
So the whole thing just made me uncomfortable at first.
Imagine: People are engaging me, trying to talk to me about one of the few things that I really love to talk about, and there I am, just being uncomfortable and wanting to get this work done.
I thought to myself, “I just want to be open hearted and do this volunteer work. This is bodhisattva action! Why do I have to be bothered with these kids asking questions?”
I think pretty often in life we have that kind of rigid-for-no-reason mindset. That mindset that values expectations over what’s really happening. I think we tend to push people away that are trying to engage us more than we should.
I had a lack of awareness about the whole situation. But then my perspective shifted. I was able to relax and meet these kids with an open heart and mind. They were actually interested.
I talked with them about the anxiety and personal struggle that led me to find Buddhism. I talked to them about my desire for more practices and talks that are based on real world things that help people. I talked with them about how I really just take the practices that work for me, how I study with different teachers and don’t settle on one sect or path.
I became open with them. And that’s a good thing, I think. Because they’re not going to meet a lot of Buddhists in their lives. They should meet someone who is open with them.
We should all try to be as open as we can with the people around us, because in a lot of cases we will be the only Buddhist at work or at school. Or one of only a few Buddhists volunteering at a local charity.
Manifest the bodhisattva way, even if you can’t do it in exactly the way you want right now.
if you’re in the KC area and interested in volunteering with the Buddhist group at Harvester’s send me a message here:
Daniel Scharpenburg is a meditation instructor and dharma teacher in Kansas City. He regularly gives teachings through the Open Heart Project, the largest virtual mindfulness community in the world. Find out more about Daniel on his website and connect with him on Facebook.
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