(note... I wrote this post on the plane coming back from Madrid, but then got so wrapped up in preparations for the Raw retreat Experience I have only just had a chance to add some photos and publish 10 days later!)
I've just spent two weeks volunteering within the Hare Krishna community in a little town called Brighuega just outside Madrid. This time it was not a solo adventure as I had planned the trip with Mike, a fellow coach and life explorer within a similar philosophy to my own. It was a beautiful opportunity to share this experience not just physically but on every level since there was plenty of opportunity for discussion and reflection.
As with all my Workaway experiences, I was volunteering in return for my bed and board. This time it mainly consisted of cleaning but there was actually a lot less needing doing each day that I am familiar with. Just 2-3 hours of work with the rest of the day left open for us to create whatever wanted to.... Mainly a lot of reading, writing and thinking!
One my daily tasks I was sweeping and mopping the main temple space. It was actually a very meditative experience and something I came to look forward to. The quiet spiritual energy, soft music in background. I also had to dispose of the flower garlands when they dried up... instead of putting these in the refuse I took myself off on a walk across the hills and had something of a flower ceremony where I through the petals up into the wind. A very special experience... I shared a little video here.
If you read this blog post, then you will already have got a little understanding of community life in relation to the protected cows that form a huge aspect of their lifestyle, but there was so much more. Volunteering within a community offers the richest of experiences since there are so many people to observe, to learn from, to speak to and be 'one' of. There were around 20 in this community, some were English speaking, but the majority we Spanish with very little English knowledge and this made me wish more than ever that I knew the language, and it made me more determined than ever before to step up and learn Spanish (watch this space!)
One of the things that surprised me most was how quickly and comfortably I fell into their routines. Mealtimes were twice a day with a little snack in the evening. For someone who is used to snacking little and often all day long, this was a huge change for me yet one I enjoyed and didn't struggle with as I thought I might. Very interesting... Something I will consider more once I'm back into my familiar home surroundings. Is the little and often approach serving me? Or is time to change things up?
The biggest benefit I soon became aware of, where there is no food available between mealtimes, is how little I think about food, and more importantly, how little I procrastinated! I had taken my laptop with a view to do some work and reading etc in spare time. I was amazed just how productive I could be since there were literally no distractions.
My discipline when I am at home is often very poor.... my mind can be hyperactive like a child... I get an idea for a recipe so rush in to the kitchen to make it there and then, or I nibble food unnecessarily even when I'm not hungry in a act of self sabotage to put off doing a task. At the ISKON centre (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) where there was not source of distraction by way of food, plus a very minimal bedroom set up, it became the optimum productive environment. It has me curious as to how I could re-create this for myself back at home.
Breakfast and lunch were huge meals... I've haven't eaten as big a breakfast in as long as I can remember. Literally the size of a dinner you'd eat in a restaurant. But in contrast the evening meal with no more than a light snack... Sometimes just a small bowl of fruit and a slice of cake (though I couldn't eat any cake due to the dairy). Many of the devotees skipped this 'meal' all together. I couldn't help but note it would have been very easy to follow an intermittent fasting style diet eating between the hours of 9am-3pm.
Even though dinner was tiny, I never felt hungry between meals (I guess in part because the other two were very generous). The bread was amazing as well. I rarely eat bread but I ate it almost everyday there, it was homemade sourdough with a beautiful light and melt-in-your-mouth crumb, so very different in texture and digestibility when compared with regular bread high in gluten and additives. That's now another thing on my list to make (I've been meaning to make my own sourdough for ages to this is a good prod to do so!)
The most meaningful part about mealtimes, and something I've noted everywhere I've been, is the sense of community. The time that everyone comes together to share the experience of food, to sit together and talk. Sometimes these talks would go on for a couple hours after the meal had ended and last all afternoon. One couple who arrived on our second day were particularly interesting. Hare Krishna devotees and travelling Kirtan performers, that had a wonderful history and stories to share. It's hard to describe, but life feels so much richer having known them. We plan to keep in touch.
At every meal time you couldn’t go and help yourself to food as someone would always serve you. When it is offered and accepted, the food becomes prasadam. When Krishna accepts what we offer to Him, it becomes prasadam. The word prasadam means “mercy". For me, the act of being served at specific mealtimes, instead of helping myself whenever I felt like it was a very meaningful gesture of mindfulness.
Aside from the food, other elements of the was of life that I particularly enjoyed was the flow of the day... Early starts and early nights. The devotees would typically wake up between 4:30am and 6am for their service and personal practice, and so by 9:30pm every evening the entire place was dark and silent. It was beautiful. It created a space and the 'permission' for me to also go to bed much earlier than I would at home. At home, if I choose to go to bed at that time- around 10pm, the TV is often blaring and lights are on all over the house and I find it hard to allow myself to settle and end up keeping going till much closer to midnight.
At the ISKON centre, when all is quiet, dark and still by 9:30, it's as if my body is invited to simply join in and sleep. That said, I did not get up as early as they did, but in an ideal world I'd love to wake naturally at around 6am. This is another area I am more motivated than ever to find a way to create in my own everyday life, so that a strong morning routine can be built around it. I know from experience that life flows so much better when I have a consistent, powerful morning routine.
The environment in its entirely was a beautiful platform for really exploring and questioning my life. The simple daily routines, the pace of life, the silence, the compassion of the devotees, the beautiful hillsides and the buildings themselves- beautiful old stone structures and wonderful old trees within the garden and courtyard- all served to really slow me down, to live from my heart.