What reasons can you imagine that would motivate someone to volunteer as an unpaid worker in a commune and to face their inner abysses? I know a few good reasons for this step and I did it. I was driven by the desire to explore myself and to dare what you could call a lifestyle-experiment. I wanted to see what would happen if I – a pretty autonomous single, living in my own apartment – were to find myself in a setting where my opinion and my usual way of dealing with things are not the measures of all things. This idea grew on me when I came back to Berlin from a long trip through Asia early last year and had a hard time re-acclimatizing to our rather fragmented Western world. I suffered from emotional jetlag, which I have already described here in detail, and felt a strong desire to live with other people for a longer period of time and to contribute to the life of a community. And so I dared the experiment: I flew to the Greek island of Lesbos to the OSHO Afroz Meditation center to live in a tent and committed myself for five weeks as a part-time worker in the program “Work as Meditation” (WAM), working four hours a day.
Work as Meditation (WAM)
The program sounded very attractive and seemed to offer everything I was looking for: co-working and co-living. It sounded fun, easy and like a fair exchange. A kind of low-cost accommodation system with a supporting programme that would structure to my days. In bright colours, I imagined how I would work a little, meditate a lot, do a few freelance jobs on the side and otherwise just enjoy the summer, the Greek wine and the sea. I was prepared to be confronted with my ego and my patterns, but somehow only very vaguely. I completely underestimated how strongly it would affect me and how it would go on to have an effect on me, weeks and months later. Looking back, I believe that the program had a much stronger impact on me than all the meditations and workshops I participated in during my time at the center.
While I stayed the same on the outside, I discovered that my inner life resembles a colourful and slightly chaotic flatshare, occupied by a stubborn child, a little princess, a strict governess, a dogmatist and pedantic, a rebel, a perfectionist, a sloven, a slacker and a lazy bum. You can imagine that this mix can cause a lot of turmoil on a regular basis and that they often fight. And who knows who else is hiding under the bed and in the closet, just waiting to be discovered at the next opportunity?! To be discovered and accepted. Because even though it is not easy to love all your dark sides immediately, it is important to “let them be” without wanting to scare them away or tame them. Actually, it might be a really good idea to take the time to look at them carefully.
En passant, I also discovered that respect, fairness and reliability are among the values that matter most to me. I reacted strongest when I felt that these values were being violated, even if this happened without any bad intentions, simply because other people have different values and different standards – which I may not understand or consider not so important.
During my stay, I worked at four different stations: kitchen, dining area, bar, and the showers and toilets. Each of these stations had their particularities, challenged me in a different way and taught me a lot. This had to do with the structure of the place and the organisation of the workflow, but most of all – as so often in life – with the people I worked with.
Debacle at the bar
There are two particularly incisive episodes I would like to share with you here. The first happened during my time at the bar, a workplace with a certain hierarchy, as there is a bar manager who runs the place. In my case, this manager was a young woman who seemed pretty strict to me. But maybe this is just my own projection. When I was alone at the bar, I was happy just serving my guests coffee, cold drinks and sweets.
But when she was around she was all over the place: She cleaned the tables, put fresh flowers in the vases and always found some extra thing for me to do. Immediately I felt pushed around, controlled and patronized, plus some weird feelings. It was a mix of pressure to perform and a guilty conscience because I had not been proactively looking for further occupations and tasks. As bar manager, it was probably natural for her to do everything so that the area would be spotless and tidy, and I can imagine that she probably genuinely enjoyed her job. For me, on the other hand, the bar shift was a hard time. I felt trapped behind the counter. I don’t like serving people unless I explicitly invite them to my home. I don’t like to “have to” give them exactly what they order and would rather be free to decide who I serve what and when. Also, it’s an area where initiative is required. I’m really good at this when I love what I’m doing and see a deeper meaning behind it. If I don’t really care, I usually don’t make a great effort.
One day, she told me to sweep up the leaves when I had the time and to bring them to the compost. I should also not forget “that area back there”. I thought she meant the small pavilion right next to the bar. But as it turned out later, she was referring to a couple of couches under the pine trees. A little later she came to me and asked me with a stern face why the place was still full of leaves. I was irritated and immediately on the defensive. Hadn’t I done everything she told me to? Well yes, I did, albeit reluctantly. But she couldn’t possibly know that. I felt like a child who did something wrong, lied to her parents, got caught and got scolded for it. Although we were quickly able to clarify the misunderstanding, I felt like she was on my case from that very moment. Wrongly on one side, as we had simply misunderstood each other. But on the other hand, somehow rightly, because I was actually not keen on doing extra tasks and was very well aware of that … Internally, I felt a lot of resistance. This was the stubborn child, surfacing. I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to accept that someone would tell me what to do and I didn’t want to do more than was absolutely necessary.
Another time she asked me to bring a load of cups back to the kitchen, where they belonged. I promised to do it, but then “forgot” or rather postponed it until later, because it didn’t seem that important to me. Before I got to it, however, she intercepted me and stressed that it was important that I kept my word so that she could rely on me. That felt really bad, especially because as I already mentioned, reliability is very important to me! I realized that I went by double standards and that I had let myself „get away with it”, while I would have reacted the same way if I was in her position. I felt caught red-handed and exposed and really shabby and couldn’t think of anything else for the rest of the day. Even in the evening meditation, I could hardly switch off my mind, which is why I finally approached her to have a talk. In the end, I didn’t really talk much. Instead, as soon as I had opened my mouth and uttered a few opening words, I burst into tears. I told her, that I really wanted to do a good job and that I hoped she didn’t think of me as lazy. She reassured me and said she could see that I was making an effort and doing a good job. After this little chat, I felt relieved. In a way, everything was all right again. Mummy loved me again.
A painful realisation and a first real meeting with my monster
The whole episode really showed me how much I care about the opinions of others, how much I long for recognition and approval how unbearable it is to me that someone might not take me for a good hardworking girl. Yet, it also became obvious, that I actually only want to convey and maintain this image, because it feels good to be loved by everyone. In reality, though, I have a tendency to try and take the easy way, and I certainly don’t always behave perfectly responsible and comme il faut, and don’t care too much about fairness when it comes to myself. This realization was quite appalling, yet very human in a way and almost cute in the sense of a childlike naivité of someone still believing that no one will see you when you keep your eyes tightly closed.
In any case, this little story was quite a lesson for me. A wonderful and almost delightful emotional mess which showed me the patterns with which I go through life. Somehow I appear to feel very entitled to special treatment: I listen to music while riding my bike with no lights on, crossing the streets on the red light when the road is clear … because I am absolutely sure that the police will let me go without a fine or anything if I just smile nicely and say it won’t happen again. In a similar vein, I always assume someone will carry my bike up the stairs. That someone will fix my flat tire. That someone else will remove the hair from the drain for me because I just find it too disgusting … All those things that you let girls get away with, all those things that people do for the little princesses of this world …
Of course, there is nothing really really bad about this kind of behaviour, as you’re not harming anyone with it (except maybe yourself?), but I think it’s important to be aware of such patterns. Which I am now and I see it as a first step in the process of growing up.
So here I stand now and hold this little monster in my arms. It’s the first time that I look at it so closely. Usually, I just passed it by, knowing that it exists but without paying much attention. Now I feel its weight and while I look it directly in the face, I can recognize the colour of its eyes: They are of the same blue as mine.
The toilet keeper
Another quite memorable episode happened towards the end of my stay when I was assigned to cleaning the toilet and shower cubicle. This was actually a pretty pleasant task much to my taste because it was a lonely job. When the shift started, I closed the entrance with a sign saying “Closed for Cleaning”, turned on my music and got to it. The work was systematic and very repetitive and therefore much more meditative – in the classical sense – than many of the other tasks. It was also really satisfying because you could actually see what you had already accomplished: You started with a dirty surface and worked your way through and in the end, everything was spotless and your job was done. At least in theory. In reality, there was hardly a day without someone suddenly standing in front of the locked entrance asking for an exception because they needed to use the toilet.
The first time this happened, I was simply irritated. I couldn’t believe it. Really? The sign clearly says “Closed for cleaning”! It felt like my territory was being threatened, as well as the impeccable cleanliness which was already in sight. The first person, I have to admit, I sent away a bit brusquely, telling him or her to go to the next toilet-house at the other end of the compound. Inside, however, I felt divided: On the one hand, it felt as if I and my work were not respected. On the other hand, I was full of empathy and understanding. We’ve all been there. You need to use a toilet and you’re happy when somebody lets you use theirs. It’s a human right after all. Still, what mattered most to me was to finish in time so that I could go down to the beach to take my daily bath in the sea before I had to be back for the next meditation. Quite selfish, right? Besides: Hadn’t I myself stood in front of exactly this chain at least twice in the first weeks, asking for an exception? And so my inner resistance began to crumble and started letting everybody through without exception. Often though with a theatrical sigh and a stern expression on my face, ordering the people to leave their shoes outside the door and to please only use the cabins I allowed. I just couldn’t help it.
Behind this austere facade, however, I was laughing at and about myself, and I felt love, warmth and generosity. It can be quite enlightening and also healing not to take yourself too seriously. See: It’s always good to know both sides … and to remember that you once stood on the other.
The quintessence of my experience
Since my time at Afroz, a lot has changed in my life. I didn’t notice it right away because the changes are rather subtle. Slowly but surely, however, I realize that I am definitely more aware and that my attention has been sharpened: I pay more attention to my needs, notice faster what I like and what I don’t like and then act accordingly.
As mentioned previously, I think that this has definitely more to do with my participation in WAM than with all the meditations and workshops I did during my time at the centre.
Why is this so?
First of all, it is definitely due to the fact that in classic meditation I am by with myself and in my own bubble. The only possible „disturbances” are sounds from the surrounding or my own thoughts. The work in the commune, on the other hand, was so ordinary, so mundane, so unfiltered. Here, I could not avoid other people and withdraw into my bubble. I was not in control of everything but rather had to handle the situations as they came. There was simply no way out and no other option. Besides, and that’s what’s so interesting: the work itself was the mission. And this mission had no goal. There was no career ladder to climb, no salary increase or bonus to be gained. In our normal working environment, most of us strive for a goal and that’s what stops us from pausing and looking attentively. We tolerate and bear through situations which don’t do us good, we swallow what’s really on our tongues. For the sake of the career, for the sake of the job, for the sake of money and therefore for the sake of security. We don’t live in and for the moment but in the expectation of a better future, which we believe we can achieve if we just keep going. Like a good and faithful workhorse.
WAM, on the other hand, follows the principle “le travail pour le travail”, by analogy to “l’art pour l’art”. It offered the space and time to pause and notice. It allowed me to notice when I was triggered by something and to trace this sensation, like a laboratory in which we rehearsed the emergency.
Work as Meditation, Life as Meditation.
You are interested in Afroz / WAM?
Here is some general information
Afroz is located on the Aegean island of Lesbos in Greece. The best way to get there is to take a plane or ferry from Athens or Thessaloniki to Mythilene, the capital of the island.
The season runs from May to October. You can stay the whole season or just a few days, depending on what you want.
There are daily meditations in which everyone can participate: Dynamic Meditation, Vipassana, Kundalini, Evening Meeting. The Evening Meeting is the only meditation in which all guests must participate. There is also a great variety of workshop and group therapies to choose from.
Work as Meditation (WAM): You can work as a Part-Time-Worker (4 hours daily maximum with reduced price of food and lodging and accommodation in the tent) or as a Full-Time-Worker (6 hours daily maximum with free food and lodging in the tent). If you participate in the program for the first time, you must commit yourself for at least one month.
More information can be found on the website.
And this is what it looks like: