August 19, 2021
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” — Unknown
The definition of community is “a feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” The philosophy of living within a community is to give of yourself to others for the betterment of everything and everyone around you.
In terms of volunteering as a part of Zen practice, being of service to others is one example of practicing the perfection of giving — also called the perfection of generosity.
Understanding the perfection of generosity
“The Zen practice of volunteering is around mutuality,” said Susan O’Connell, Enso Village’s spiritual director, “which is understanding the interdependent relationship of giver and receiver. Volunteering isn’t a one-way relationship; it’s mutual. The giver and receiver of gifts are one thing, not separate.”
There are many ways to practice generosity: giving of your time, material goods, money, energy, work, and love. And there is virtue in both giving away what you have and in allowing others to give by receiving. As O’Connell said, it’s a reciprocal relationship in which the giving and receiving are interdependent.
While true generosity gives without expecting anything in return, volunteering in service of others often enriches the lives of those serving in addition to the lives of those being served.
“A lot of people who volunteer are in search of more than just spirituality. They are in search of community,” said Jeffrey Schneider, outreach and volunteer coordinator at San Francisco Zen Center’s City Center. “It’s not only about the practice of giving but the practice of forming deep, strong connections with people who share the same values.”
The experience of volunteering at Kendal communities
Anne Elder, a resident at Kendal at Oberlin in Oberlin, Ohio, and chair of the Oberlin Volunteer Coordinating Committee, said service is part of why people come to a Kendal community. “They hear that as part of the mission,” she added.
As it is in the Buddhist tradition, service is core to the Quaker philosophy and puts into practice several of Kendal’s values, such as taking responsibility for our role in maintaining the larger communities in which we live and work, and fostering a culture of generosity, encouraging and developing full use of our time, talents, and resources.
In some cases, service takes the form of being a change agent, which is a person with the skill and desire to transform an organization or a community.
O’Connell emphasized this is the same approach to volunteering future residents of Enso Village will be able to discover. “All of the people who are coming to Enso Village are pioneers,” she said. “They may choose to go outside the community and volunteer, but this is an opportunity to volunteer right here at Enso Village, which also shifts the idea of what volunteerism can be.”
One example O’Connell offered is providing Enso Village residents with training in contemplative care so they can learn how to be a companion to fellow residents. It’s just one possible opportunity to volunteer within the community and one example of where volunteers can give in ways they may formerly have been unfamiliar with or previously untrained for.
O’Connell said that’s the philosophy behind the perfection of generosity: giving with humility and without ego.
“It’s giving of yourself to wherever the need is, instead of trying to fit your expertise around a perceived need,” she said. “We may have something we can uniquely offer to the betterment of the community.”
Betty Warner, a resident at Kendal at Longwood in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, has come to prefer the term ‘engagement’ over ‘volunteerism.’ “‘Volunteering’ implies you are providing a service for someone, while ‘engaging’ implies you are sharing your passion,” she said.
Warner said the opportunities for engagement, shared passions, and learning give her a reason to get up every day.
“To all the people who are planning a move to Enso Village when it opens, I would say think about what your passion is and think about how you might share that passion. Begin to consider what is going to get you up in the morning with pleasure. What is it you can share?” she asked.
The many benefits behind giving to others
The obvious payoff of perfecting generosity is the social good we’ve done, whether it is easing a fellow resident’s social isolation, such as in O’Connell’s example, helping feed the hungry in our community, or turning a littered vacant lot into an urban garden.
Serving others makes a remarkable difference: You not only improve the lives of others but you improve your own life. Whether as an Enso Village resident or not, when you volunteer you can find deep individual value from giving of yourself, your time, and your talents to others:
- We discover a new sense of purpose. Many of us lose our sense of purpose as we transition out of a career or end our role as a caregiver to a spouse or family member. Volunteering can renew your sense of purpose and prevent the social isolation that’s a recognized health hazard as we grow older.
- It’s good for our mind, body, and soul. Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates and less depression along with a greater sense of control over their lives and higher rates of self-esteem and happiness. Recent research has shown that U.S. states with a high volunteer rate even have lower incidences of heart disease.
- It brings us closer to our community. Community service and volunteerism are an investment in our communities and the people who live in them. Volunteering allows us to build stronger social networks and social support, and allows us to invest in and give back where we live.
- We help save resources. Volunteering our time provides valuable community services so more money can be spent on local improvements.
You can be an active part of discovering a way to volunteer that is deeply meaningful to you.
It begins by reaching out to our staff to talk about what it truly means to choose a Zen-inspired senior living community. We’re available to answer your questions and help you learn more about life at Enso Village. If you’d like to share your contact information, we’ll reach out to you.
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