Friday, November 27, 2009

On Volunteering


After some fits and starts I've decided to start volunteering at a food bank on a weekly basis. I'm incredibly excited about this. The truth is that I have way too much time on my hands and this feels like a great way to spend my spare time. I'm also mindful that this could be the beginning of something much more meaningful in my life.

It's not like I've never volunteered before. I've been known to lend a hand at soup kitchens every now and then, particularly around the holidays. But hey, the number of hot chicks whom I've met over the years at these places always seemed to justify my participation. I've also done my share of pro-bono work as an attorney, though I probably was more focused on meeting the pro-bono hour requirement my firm demanded in order to “qualify” for a bonus.

The bottom line is that after close to 2 years of intensely personal, sometimes painful, changes in my personal and emotional life I'm ready to move on to something more essential. This, I think, is the inevitable result of embracing simple living.

Emerging from the harsh glare of materialism, consumerism and never-ending excess, my first instinct was to focus on the physical. Even as all the de-cluttering, the selling, and the donating progressed I began to confront a much more internal and much more personal journey, one that I suspect (hope?) will continue for the rest of my days. It is now, in the mist of this journey, that certain things have become too hard and too clear to ignore:

*I do not live in an island. What I do and what I DON'T do affects everyone around me.
*I am a person because I am defined by how others are born and how they live, work, survive, and die.
*Most importantly, this journey that I am on, a journey that has brought so much joy, beauty and serenity to my life...this journey cannot be made alone.

And so, I choose to volunteer. Not so much because “I want to help.” No. It's too early to say that. I want to volunteer because I recognize that I can understand more about myself and my relationship to the rest of the human race by giving my time and labor to others.

It is still a rather selfish endeavor, but I am hoping that greater empathy and understanding will follow.


Isa said...

Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth....Anyone can be an angel, that's my philosophy

Anonymous said...

Living without money

Former teacher Heidemarie Schwermer has lived without money in Germany for 13 years.

TravelingOnTheOutskirts said...

Volunteering is a great way to let your brain step back and go, "Crap, I had it all wrong!"

I used to volunteer (or rather live) at the local Horses for the Handicapped Ranch. These kids made me realize I had NOTHING to be upset about. Some of the kids had terminal cancer, some were mentally or physically handicapped, but every single one of them lived in the moment - and enjoyed every minute of it. They taught me so much about myself and my fellow man.

Nothing bad can come of this - even if it's for selfish reasons :)

Helene said...

"Nothing bad can come of this..."

I couldn't agree more. Jack, if you want to volunteer, consider volunteering as a CASA. There are very few male CASAs, and there are very few males in the lives of the children who are assigned a CASA. It is a true need.

(A cautionary note; I've noticed that lawyers have a hard time functioning as a CASA. There are just enough similarities in vocabulary that they instintively put their lawyer hat back on.)

Me said...

Hey hey... volunteering is one of the most enlightening experiences I've had.

My friend Sarah and I used to run a food pantry bout 5 blocks from where I lived. It definintly involved ALL of my emotions... pity, sadness, happiness, anger... everything.

If you volunteer and get to know some of the people you work with and FOR, it's a much better experience.

Cassia Chen said...

I too have too much time on my hand. Instead of doing volunteer work, I chose to idle, contemplate and meditate for the time being.

At one time in my life I worked as a manager for a non profit organization and had to decide whom and how many volunteers to take. Usually I limited the numbers 5 to 1, i.e. 5 paid workers to 1 volunteer. The reason I did this was based on the fact (or assumption) that one could not maintain productivity (capacity) over volunteers. I could always make up for the lost productivity when a volunteer quit if the total productivity made up by the volunteers is less than 20%.

With this experience, I tend to view volunteers as a burden rather than help. Of course, all depends on what type of volunteering it is and how committed a volunteer is. I am presenting a point of view that might have escaped the minds of those who decided to volunteer.

Ruthie said...

I like what you said... "I want to volunteer because I recognize that I can understand more about myself and my relationship to the rest of the human race by giving my time and labor to others."

Guess I can follow your lead, yep, I will volunteer, let's see...I can volunteer to lessen your financial burdens (of having too much money). Let me lighten your load, Jack.

Maybe a "greater empathy and understanding will follow." You are an odd creature to me but I love ya!!! Hey, maybe we can trade lives for a week!!! LOL

Jack said...


That's a great philosophy.


I'll check it out.


That's sort of how I feel. How did you get involved in that?

Jack said...


I actually had to google CASA to figure out what they do. Super interesting. Let's see where this first step takes me. I kinda want to work with my hands for a bit before doing something else.


That's exactly what I'm looking for. I want to FEEL my experience at this place without forcing anything. That's why I sort of feel as if this whole thing is a bit selfish but for the right reasons.


That's very interesting. It's from the manager's perspective and definitely makes sense. I can't quite evaluate where my commitment level is right now, but I guess time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Good for you. Somehow focusing more on the mental than the physical (getting rid of stuff) becomes much more rewarding in leading that life we want to lead. Go with the flow and see where this leads you.....

Anonymous said...

Check out wwoofing ( if you want to work with your hands.

I have also heard habitat for humanity ( is good.

Jack said...


I'll let you know if I ever need help in that regard.


Will do.


Yeah, saw that site awhile ago. Don't think I won't use it.

Randy R said...

Ran across this site yesterday. I'm not suggesting you should have to pay to do volunteer work, but the different stuff they do is interesting and might give you ideas.
I was reading the blog of someone that helped out women in India:

Jack said...


Thanks. Always nice to have options. I ran across this a while back, but didn't think paying was the right way to go. I've since realized that it's pretty standard.