“I saw your ex at Basket Club last night…” Adrian continued with a big grin . “She was pretty stoned and seemed to be looking for candidates to take her home”. Adrian was hardly the most attractive in any group of males, but for some reason he had a list of phone numbers of future girlfriends to call as soon as he would break up with the “next ex”. So he must have thought I was over her. I was not. A night with 3-4 hours of sleep was a good night. Every day was a huge struggle. I was counting the minutes to 7 pm so I can watch a rerun of Dr. Quin The Medicine Woman on Hallmark. In my parents’ living room. I don’t know why it had such a soothing effect on me. One day, between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (the time of the year with the highest alcohol consumption per capita in Bulgaria) I got drunk in the afternoon with my Dad and uncle. Then took a nap, coffee, shower, went out with friends and drank the night away. Those were the days.
Fast forward, February the following year (2004) – a friend/relative offered me an early birthday gift – he was too shy to go to a Yoga course alone, so he wanted me to join him. I was still single, on anti-depressants, living with my parents’ in a tiny apartment. I had nothing to lose but two days of my life. So I went. Boom! – WTF? The Art of living course was something else – I have always been a pretty reflective person and it was like this course took me to another level. As though my own reflections and inquiries had taken me from point A to B, and then this new Knowledge took me to C, then D, E, and I wanted more and more. It was like the layers of an onion; but unlike real onions, this one gave me tears of relief and gratitude. I had found MY THING. Turned out this was a huge organization focused on improving people’s well-being, present in pretty much all countries, with special status at the UN Council. And they needed volunteers to translate lectures, audio cassettes, to organize and translate anti-stress and meditation courses, and to do many other things beneficial to society. So I took more and more responsibilities. I felt so rejuvenated….
Fast forward, late 2004 – I had effortlessly quit the anti-depressants, drinking, smoking and eating meat. I was dating a lady that I would not have dreamed of asking out in my “previous life” (we have been together since then, by the way, raising a beautiful boy). I volunteered regularly and more and more good things continued to happen – people wealthier than me paid for some courses that I wanted to join, but could not afford. I moved in with my beautiful girlfriend. I found ways to earn some extra cash (no small deal in a country with dying economy). Life was finally good!
Fast forward, early 2006 – the Art of living was celebrating their 25th anniversary and many of my fellow volunteers in Bulgaria insisted that I go to India with them. “No way”, I thought – it cost more than $2500…. Guess what? Somehow, they did an internal fund-raiser and paid more than half of the expenses. The two weeks in India were hands-down the time of my life. Since then, I have moved to Canada (2008), managed to get the Canadian authorities to recognize my teaching diploma (English as a second language) so I would not have to go back to school (which is super rare in Canada) and somehow obtained the exclusive rights to proudly represent for Canada three exquisite lines of healthy food products (2014-current). Might not sound like much, but for a guy whose greatest joy at one point was to wash his Dad’s car just so he gets to drive it around a little bit in return (OK, I was 15, so I did not have too many options), this is nothing to sneeze at.
Bottom line – volunteering is an altruistic but also egotistic I dare say. Life (or the Universe, or whatever you call it) finds ways to reward you. Sometimes the rewards come from a place or person completely unrelated to the benefactor of one’s charity/donation/volunteering. But also the very act is so rewarding… just the feeling that you are part of something bigger, that you are helping to make the World a better place, cannot be compared to anything else. And it cannot be explained until you try it. This might sound a bit naïve to some of you…. For, “You know, you have to work hard on your thing, nothing comes for free, if some people are lazy and stupid, why should you help them if you can dedicate the same amount of time/effort/money to your own family and progress in life”. Well, sometimes people just need someone to offer them a hand. Just like that guy offered me a hand in 2004…. So I will keep offering my hand to anyone who needs and wants it.