Wendy Garner discovers the joy in making offerings

On the last day of a week-long retreat at Sravasti Abbey, I commented to a friend that I’d enjoyed every aspect of the retreat. However, it didn’t start out that way…

On the first day of the retreat, I am surprised when one of the Abbey residents informs me that I am going to be taking care of the food offerings on the altar. It is arranged that I’ll meet with her the next morning to go over what is involved and see how it is done. I must admit that my first reaction to finding this out was not a positive one. Internally my mind was having quite a good grump about being asked to do something that would make me get up earlier than I wanted. This is one of the really awesome benefits of doing a silent retreat. I get to dig into my own grumpiness without sharing right away.

The next morning, I meet her and get directions about how to prepare the food offering plate for the altar, the additional food I need to bring, and all about my dusting duties. Once again, my mind went into a grump as I found out there was more involved than fixing a plate of food.

As the last meditation of the day is ending, my mind is hollering at me, “Quick, run, leave, go to sleep before you get more to do!” The same resident caught my eye and motioned me to come with her. Then I found out part of my duties were also to help empty the water bowls and remove the large food offering from the altar. Yes, my mind went into another grump. It didn’t last long though because once I was done I got right to bed and fell asleep.

The next morning, I woke up what I thought was early, only to find both my roommates already out of bed. I prepared the food offering, gathered the other items I needed and went to do what I was asked. She had explained the visualization and what I need to be thinking when I made the offerings. I did my best to take my time and do as I was instructed. I didn’t feel grumpy this morning. Instead I was somewhat displeased with my own attitude about it all.

As the week went along, I found myself looking forward to my altar duties. I didn’t think much about it but by the end of the retreat I realized I was going to miss taking care of the food offering.

Before the retreat, my practice of offering water bowls at home was inconsistent. I knew it was an important practice for me to do but it felt like I was doing it because “it was good for me” instead of because I wanted to do it.

But after the retreat it felt different. I really thought about what I wanted to offer. I found what I thought was the prettiest silk flower at a local craft shop and set my bowls up a lot like the small bowls in front of the large Buddha in Sravasti Abbey’s meditation hall. I have a candle for light (For safety sake I blow it out when I leave the room so I get to offer again when I return.).

I add a drop of perfume to the water bowl that represents the offering of scent, like I did while making offerings at Sravasti. (I stopped wearing perfume a long time ago and was wondering what I could do with it all. Now I know.) I have sticks of incense standing in a bowl of tiny colored rocks and I offer actual food that I really like in the bowl for the food offering. At some point I’ll find a bell that seems right for the eighth offering. Until then my voice will have to do.

What tickles me the most is that the very thing my mind was getting all grumpy about at the beginning of the retreat has turned out to be one of the biggest benefits and most positive results from doing the retreat. My offering practice feels invigorated and alive now. I look forward to making offerings in the morning and to taking them down in the evening. I have fun figuring out what would be the most delicious and precious food offering to make each day. Today I even added a larger bowl of candy besides what I usually offer.

So in the end, through being challenged with responsibility and offered the opportunity to observe my own mind, I have brought home with me a very precious gift – the gift of a deeper experience of and strong enthusiasm for my daily offering practice.