It's no secret I've struggled this summer. The lack of routine and infinite free time to think set my anxiety on overdrive. Add in my attempts at dating and I'm sure you can see how I could go from loving the freedom of the holidays, to suffocated by the expanse of nothing stretching ahead.
Ever wary of my triggers, I hadn't anticipated this one. So I guess at least now I know! I really do need to stay active and keep busy. So that's what I did. I popped off to stay in a yurt for a few nights, went lavender picking I even went for a walk in the forest I've lived 10m from my entire adult life. But when the dust settled and I had had one too many rejections, I still wasn't feeling like me. So I talked to a friend (more than one actually), who listened to me cry for over an hour before I fell asleep on his sofa, but ultimately I knew I needed to sort this out myself.
And as fate would have it, I’d already signed on to volunteer with the same group I sat my 10 day silent mediation in Malaysia in July last year. Sometimes I really do think the world works to help you out when you need it most. I had signed up to serve, to help a group of 250 people experience the sheer peace that I found in Malaysia last year. I'm not sure what I expected really, a bit of cleaning, maybe help in the kitchen; certainly I assumed there would be lots of mediation.
But what I actually experienced was a world away from what I expected.
Firstly I want to lay out the rules; this time round they were slightly different from when you sit the course. Most obviously is you can talk, but your speech should be “noble “ – no swearing, gossiping, singing, humming, whistling, lying or shouting. There are no phones, no internet, no books, Male and female are divided everywhere but the kitchen and everyone who serves sits 3.5 hours of mediation everyday. You literally stop whatever you are doing and head to the mediation hall.
So I turned up a day early ready to help and needing a peaceful place to get back to my happy place and it kind of was. I'm disappointed in myself for letting my mediation slip gradually to a few minutes here and there. The sessions immediate sent me internal to feel who I was and where I was. A sense of peace drifted itself over me after the first day. But it wasn't quite smooth sailing.
On day 2 I was asked to be the kitchen manager, not really knowing what that was I agreed wanting to help in whatever way I could. It turns out the kitchen manager is responsible for the entire kitchen; getting food out, preparation for the next day, organising the kitchen team, health and safety, seting up the dining rooms; even taking meals to the teachers. It was NOT a small job. I was supposed to be trained for 2 days but the person I was relieving was ill and had to take 4 days off, so I got the equivalent of half a day! So its just Me, a kitchen, a very detailed recipe book, 10 other volunteers and 250 mouths to feed. It was initiation by fire (literally when we set a box of matches alight).
I think it took 3 days for me to be ready to go home, I had had a confrontation with another volunteer who didn't like being told what to do and believed they'd be better than me. I didn't ask for the job, I didn't even want it, I was stressed. I spent my only break in the day (we have 30 mins for each meal and 1.5 hours after lunch, otherwise it's 9 hours of working) crying my eyes out and planning how to get home. But was this not the exact thing I had been worried about starting work again? I've been petrified I won't be able to handle the stress and here I am in a stressful situation, not handling it. I needed to see if I could do it.
It's a gorgeous atmosphere in these places, you're never really alone, just when you think lunch is going to be late, 3 more people will turn up to help you finish everything off, even though they're on the cleaning team not kitchen, or its their day off. So I let my stress be known, I asked for help (not something I do very often) and help came. It was there in the words of encouragement, the random helpers, the innocuous conversation and the late night motivational speeches.
Before I knew it the course was over and I had survived. Everyone was fed, the food was even complimented and most importantly no one got food poisoning (my food hygiene certificate from way too many years ago clearly helped). It wasn't the peaceful escape I wanted, but it was the stress test I needed. I feel like if I can handle that, I can handle anything.
I’ve been home a week now and while I've not kept that busy my anxiety has been almost non existent. I learnt that I don't need other people to be happy and that's easy to forget; especially with modern dating and social media. I just need to accept everything as it is and let my path unfold, wherever it may take me.
And possibly take a few brakes from my phone a bit more often! I can't tell you how freeing it was to turn it off for 12 days! No facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Google (we had to ask other people for answers to our questions) or even texts and calls. Modern liberation. I highly recommend unplugging for a day or 2.