By Zara Khan
BELLAIRE HIGH SCHOOL
While many students spent their holidays shopping and unwrapping gifts, high school senior Alexander Chu was at the Chung Tai Zen Center in Houston.
Chu was immersed in a seven-day meditation program that had an estimated forty participants. His duties at the Buddhist temple were primarily in the kitchen, where he volunteered by washing dishes, mopping and aligning all of the plates and bowls in the proper manner.
“Volunteering in the kitchen is considered an act of meditation in and of itself,” Chu explained. Doing the same task 50 or more times helps to sharpen concentration and inner focus.”
Chu followed a strict schedule. He had to wake up at 4:35 in the morning in order to prepare for breakfast for all of the participants in the program, numbering about 40 in total. Food had to be served according to the instructions of the monks in charge – vegetables had to be poured correctly and tofu was delegated a certain position on the plate.
The tasks, though seemingly simple, were quite complex in reality, Chu said.
“Those participating in the program were not allowed to speak to one another as we served food,” Chu said. “Communication with the outside world would break the concentration on meditation.
“Instead, people would indicate how much food they needed by pointing and by moving around their bowls. If a bowl was on the right side, it could mean something totally different from a bowl on the left side. For example, a rice bowl at the 11 o’clock position translated to the message that a person wanted water.”
Perhaps the most stressful part of the program to Chu was balancing his time between the activities in the temple and the other things that he needed to do. He recalls the difficulty he had in finding the time to work on completing his college applications.
“I had multiple applications to finish before the January 1st and 2nd deadlines and I often found myself working on them in the spare few moments that I had, when I wasn’t working or meditating,” said Chu.
Overall, however, Chu reflected on the experience with a sense of satisfaction.
“I feel as though I gained a lot by spending my holidays this way,” Chu revealed. “I learned about myself and was able to strengthen myself spiritually. Also, I particularly enjoyed how the program really required everyone to work together as a team, even as they focused inwardly to meditate.”
Chu looks forward to participating and volunteering in other programs with the Temple in the future.