A Reflection on Service

By | 2/23/2024

People typically come to meditation with a purpose. Whether or not we know of the First Noble Truth, suffering is an intrinsic part of our experience, and the desire to alleviate that suffering is powerful. In my own case, I took up Vipassana out of desperation, not really understanding what I was getting into. Difficulties at work and at home seemed insurmountable, so I turned to a technique that seemed – to a neophyte – esoteric but promising.

I wasn’t disappointed. My first 10-Day Course changed my life. It saved my relationship with my children and allowed me to redirect my professional life. But the field of mental impurities is vast, and there was a great deal more to be done. I kept up my daily meditation, and I maintained the determination to progress along the path. I signed up for a second 10-Course, a third, and a fourth.

Yet it wasn’t until I served a 10-Day Course that I realized what my practice was missing, namely, an opportunity to step out of a subtly egoic attitude toward meditation (goal-oriented and focused on my own desire for progress) and into a space of caring for others. I understood intellectually the value of service, to be sure, but the persistent pull of my ego for personal liberation kept me stuck in the idea that I needed to sit.

I suppose it required four courses and several years of practice for my ego to give way enough that I felt the need to serve. Interestingly, that desire came at a particularly important moment in my life – at the end of a decade-long relationship that had meant a great deal to me. I signed up to serve my first course in November 2022, not really knowing what to expect. Like my first 10-Day Course, the experience was transformative. I was assigned the role of kitchen manager, a position that seemed rather lofty given my modest ability to cook. Still, this was a chance to put the Dhamma into practice in a new way – to help others cultivate their own equanimity in moments that could be surprisingly stressful. Success wasn’t measured by my own role – by my own ego. Success was about creating a supportive experience for those who had come to alleviate their suffering, just as I had done several years earlier.

Although I didn’t meditate as many hours a day as if I were sitting a course, my time on the mat was deep and meaningful. I grieved the loss of my relationship, and the path of my life became clearer in a way that is difficult to explain. I also learned much from my fellow servers, was grateful for moments of humility and humor, and I left for home with a feeling of deep peace.

Service isn’t secondary to my practice now, it is essential. For those who haven’t yet served, I encourage you to take that step and deepen your practice. You’ll be thankful you did.

Bruce W. Fraser


Date: 4/16/2024

Thank you Bruce for this lovely testimonial :-) Indeed, a lot of growth can come from a 10-day service!

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