31 May, 2016

The Buddhist Institute

Hello again. I'm very behind on this blog. I started writing this post a couple weeks ago in Siena, but neglected it until now. I'm currently back in Rome, wrapping up my class this week.

A lot of you have asked me about my time in the institute. How did I end up there? Was it weird? What was it like? What did you do? The whole thing is a little crazy. I can't believe I got to have this experience. Here's the story.

Back in Tennessee, I am a work study student in our performing arts centre on Pellissippi's campus. My director/boss and I were talking one day about my trip to Italy and how I was spending a little extra time there prior to my class. He mentioned he had an aunt in Pisa, and told me he'd contact her and see if I could stay with her for a few days. I graciously accepted his offer. I was soon connected with his aunt, and found out she did not live in Pisa, but was a teacher at a Buddhist institute in Santa Luce. She told me they'd be happy to host me, if I would like to volunteer there. I had nothing to lose in this offer. I was (and am) so grateful for their accommodations.

I booked my flight to Rome and traveled to the institute the next morning. It was a gorgeous stone building in the middle of the Italian countryside. There were beautiful gardens, walking paths, and cats everywhere. I was greeted with such kindness and hospitality by the entirety of the institute. I was given a bed in a dormitory, and told to relax until dinner. I'll admit, I was nervous. I had no idea where I was, no clue how to behave, what to wear...I didn't know if anyone knew English, who were students, who were volunteers...you get my point. I sheepishly walked to dinner that night, not knowing anyone or how the process of getting food worked. I was greeted by the head of the institute with a huge smile and hug, but she spoke only Italian. We found another volunteer to translate for us, and I got the run down on how things worked.

As a volunteer, I was required to work a certain number of hours a day. The jobs were divided up among the volunteers, some of them having different jobs every day. I was placed on the cleaning crew.

A day at the institute looked a little like this: breakfast at 8:00, meditation at 9:00, work from 9:30-12:30, break for lunch, then back to work until around 3:00. It was a lot of physical labour—sweeping, moping, cleaning showers and toilets. We cleaned the entire institute. Daily. It was pretty exhausting, I won't lie. I took a lot of naps. But again, it was a learning experience, and entirely worth it.

I had to learn to communicate pretty much on the fly. Many of the volunteers spoke solely Italian. A few of them knew a bit of English. On the first day, I worked with a girl named Ingrid. She knew a bit of English, and asked about my life, my travels, etc.. Sometimes she'd have a word she didn't know, so we'd work together to find a way to translate our ideas. This was anywhere from acting it out, to pointing, to descriptive words or sounds. It took time and patience, but we figured it out.

The following days were pretty much the same. Get up, eat, work, eat, work, sleep, eat, sleep. It was nice. It was hard at times. The quiet gave me a lot of time to think. I had a lot of time to reflect on what I was learning.

I sat outside the cafe on my last day and made a list:

Things I learned while volunteering at a Buddhist institute

* Kindness triumphs over all
* Drink a lot of tea
* Wear comfy clothes
* Schedule time in your day to sit and have a silent moment, sans phone
* Meditation is a great tool to combat daily demons
* Skip the makeup for a few days. Let your hair fly free. Be at peace
* Everyone has a need to communicate. Sometimes all it takes is a little patience and a willing attitude. Trust me. You can do it
* Appreciate nature. Sit back. Breathe. Listen to the wind and the birds. Take out those headphones
* Ask for help when you need it
* Work hard. Be honest in your work. Shortcuts don't always make for best results
* Be kind to everyone and everything—including yourself
* Make friends with the chef. They'll make you laugh. They'll take care of you
* Respect other cultures and religions. Even if you don't believe in the same things, you can respect another's beliefs
* Clean up after yourself. Remember you are responsible for your own actions
* Experience everything to the fullest. Take every opportunity to explore
* If you are uncomfortable, stop what you're doing. Respect your own boundaries
* Never stop learning. Do not put up walls in your mind
* Choose to be good in this world. Smile. Love. Be friendly. You have nothing to lose in being kind


1 comment:

  1. Great post! I can't say I'm anot avid blog enthusiast, but you kept my attention 'till the end. I'm sure you are thoroughly enjoying your travels and I hope you're doing well!

    -Alex Tulsie: stranger from
    the 4th grade

    ReplyDelete