Work as practice is what Lama's Pyjamas, the charity shop for the London Buddhist Centre, is all about. If you are looking for ways to build spiritual friendships in the Sangha, develop your Buddhist practice or you just want to practise Dana (generosity), why not consider offering a few hours of your time or a whole day per week volunteering?
We are a women's Team Based Right Livelihood Business, based in Bethnal Green, not far from the London Buddhist Centre. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact the team at email@example.com with your name, contact details, and a little information about yourself and your Dharma practice.
Here, Stephanie, one of Lama's Pyjamas' volunteers, shares her experience of working in the shop, and how it has helped to develop her Buddhist practice off the cushion.
It’s four minutes past six and the man standing in front of me is changing his mind about the scarf that matches the hat for the third time. ‘Actually, I’ll take both’ he announces, ‘but I’m sure you can take some money off the pair’. The man is a customer and the shop closes at 6 pm and the policy of the shop is to not offer discounts. Even if he is a regular. Even if the items match. Even just this once. I’m explaining the facts, trying to keep my voice soft and not let the repetition catch a tone of negativity as it comes out again. But I’m becoming more aware of my rising frustration that feels like it’s coming from a fire somewhere near my ribs and the tightening behind my eyes that wants my eyebrows to knot. And the clock that now says we should be closing. On some level I want to sternly say ‘We are a charity shop, go away’ and on another I’m curious about the experience of my own patience that this moment is so obviously presenting to me. To my joyful surprise, patience wins the battle for my interest and the whole experience feels positive and calm. And this time the man bought and paid in full for the hat and the scarf.
One of the things that emerged for me when I started volunteering with Lama’s Pyjamas, was the extent of my judgement of people and how those feelings spill into the way I am with them. A customer walks in and I immediately warm or turn from them. Greetings could be a moment of simple joy or confusingly harsh aversion, depending on some unconscious story or familiarity, or just because I happened to have had a really disappointing lunch or it’s raining outside. Sitting at the till after a few hours I decided to experiment. What does it feel like to say a bright hello to everyone who walks in? What about when it’s someone I don’t immediately feel like smiling at? What effect does the action of smiling have on them and on our later interactions? How does it change my own experience and feelings? I found myself able to practise being curious about my thoughts and feelings and experimenting with letting go of assumptions and ideas that I clung so tightly to.
In my time of attending classes at the London Buddhist Centre (LBC), I’ve heard lots about setting up the right conditions. I’ve often found myself reflecting (mostly on the journey back from a retreat) on a feeling of having more than one side of myself and questioning how I’d ever be able to ‘live like this all the time’. My increased awareness from meditation so often seems a million miles away from my everyday life and behaviour. Volunteering in the LBC’s charity shop is a glimpse into what it would be like to bring deeper awareness into everyday life. The whole shop is set up and worked in a way to spur on and support practice. Sometimes in obvious ways - like taking time each day to rejoice in each other’s merits and our own. Sometimes it’s more spontaneous and subtle, like a fellow team-member skilfully noticing some pressure and offering relief. It’s a space that shows what Buddhism can offer to teamwork, communication and relationships, in a setting that’s fuelled by the generosity of the local community and the importance of sustainability. It’s the LBC out in the ‘real’ world.
The gulf between knowing that all beings just want to be happy and living in a way that treats them like I really believe it, is still pretty wide for me. Helping at Lama’s has allowed me to look at the gap and find ways of bringing the theories to life. Within this context, I’ve learnt what the word ‘practice’ can really mean and felt the enormity of the potential benefit of the teachings. I’ve felt myself taking practice out of the LBC, via Lama’s and into my ‘non-spiritual’ life. More and more now, I feel how lucky we are to be able to practise and that we need places like Lama’s to be able to take those scary steps off the cushions.
Please contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, contact details, and a little information about yourself and your Dharma practice.