Heaven's Kitchen

Imagine being appointed head chef and asked to cook for 250 people for 10 days with a random group of strangers who have never worked in a kitchen before.

Nothing quite like being thrown into the pressure of a kitchen to learn about leadership, teamwork and resilience!

The other week, I drove to Hereford for my annual 10-day silent vipassana meditation retreat. This retreat turned out to be a very different experience.

I like cooking for people, I said. Next thing, I was asked to be head chef. What!?!

The meditation centre is run by volunteers. They need kitchen and household staff to keep the whole thing running smoothly.

Normally, we aren't allowed to talk on these retreats but the kitchen was different. We had to communicate. But this was no Gordon Ramsay set up, no swearing or harsh words. Trying to build a kind and co-operative atmosphere was an important part of our working together.

We were a diverse bunch of ages and backgrounds. But one very important thing united us. We all practiced vipassana and had agreed to serve in support of the 250 meditators who were taking the silent retreat. 

The first day was madness. Somehow, we fed 250 people breakfast, dinner and tea. By day three, I was in my stride. The team began to gel too.

We meditated with the rest of the students three times a day for an hour at a time.To my surprise, I found that I could meditate strongly and then switch back into full on kitchen mode. And those three hours of meditation sustained me. I found a deep well of energy and joy that spilled over into everything including the food that I was cooking in a giant Bratt pan with a spatula as big as a canoe paddle, which we affectionately called the lovespoon. I worked 14 hours a day from 6:30am for 10 days straight.

Yes, we had our difficulties. There were a few strong team players, some passengers who checked out at times and some who found the pace difficult. Normal stuff which we see in any team. Only magnified, given we had to perform and deliver from day one. And, no one could be sacked since we were all volunteers and no-one held power over anyone else. The only way it could work was by getting to know each other fast, building real connections and creating a truly shared sense of purpose.  And when people unite their personal will and motivation to a higher will for the greater good, amazing things can happen. 

"The quality of the food was so good, we thought the centre had hired a professional chef". Wow. That feedback from the students blew me away.  It must have been the lovespoon! 

And no, I won't be swapping coaching for an apron anytime soon. But, I do know first hand, the tangible power of sincerely harnessing your motivation for a purpose beyond self-interest. And, when a small bunch of people do that together, I am in no doubt that it can change the world not just your bottom line.

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