Two Trips to Bombay

February 2014

Following a 10-day course in Igatpuri (featuring 23 of us!), we got ready for a fun joy ride ...

  • In Sughad, Yuka and Maki helped inaugurate a beautiful Peace Pole!  The Rajasthani man who made the pole was so moved, that he insisted on offering an elegant water-fall Buddha statue (hand-made by him) as a pure gift from him: "It belongs here."  Alongside, Meghna, Lahar and Vandana-Didi also launched a Wisdom Crafts store that will house inventory for 30 of our smiley products -- including many new items like Wisdom Frames and 21-Day Gratitude Diary!  As we build out the online platform, we will distribute the inventory and head towards peer-to-peer wisdom art.   Sughad campus now also has a new website (go Audrey!), WiFi, upgraded public bathrooms, hot water, remodeled meditation hut, and inspiring word/quotes in even more corners. :)
  • At the end of January, we experimented with a "Gandhi 3.0" Maitri Space with about 60 of us, with folks from different parts of the world.  It was very diverse, and many of us felt it was the most powerful MBL gathering to date.  Madhu's opening video moved even Pratyush and Nimo :) to tears, Meghna's artwork added the wow-factor to the opening slides, Sheetal-ben helped lead breakouts on Gandhi's panch-shakti, Guri and Nimo's evening of kindness rocked Seva Cafe as did next day's silent dinner and community night (with great stories).  Watching elders insist on doing 3-steps-and-a-bow on the last day and feeling the sincerity of the collective, many first-timers like Amitabh were moved to tears.  Ellie's all-nighter meant that we could cap the retreat with an awesome video recap.  Consistent acts of kindness, like Harsh's shawl, sensitized all of us to subtler and subtler vibrations, as many wrote how these four days changed their life.  To this day, the ripples continue.
  • Right after the gathering, elders at Vinoba Ashram in Pavnaar (Maharastra) invited us to be with them -- so ten of us went for couple days.  Vinoba felt that progress in today's society needed women's spiritual empowerment, so he setup a nunnery with 28 women; 20 of them are now over 70 but still full of vigor and wisdom.  In an evening circle, Tracy remarked: "I've been seeking Truth my whole life and I feel like I am, inexplicably, in its presence on this campus." In every corner, there were stunning stories.  While farming, we met a nun who spent 12 years on pilgrimage across India without any resources.  Twelve years. While helping Gautam-Dada make chapatis, I learned how Vinoba told him once: "Instead of learning a foreign language, first learn how to make local chapatis."  Fifty years since, he has been making chapatis for everyone at the ashram.  Fifty years.  At lunch, the great grandson of Jamnalal Bajaj came to meet us because coincidentally he happened to be in town and two others had told him about ServiceSpace just this week.  "I have this strange feeling that our meeting is karmic," he said.  Our whole trip felt like that. :)
  • Next afternoon, Nimo, Anne, Tracy and I got stuck in terrible traffic -- just 4 kilometers from the airport.  To make our flight, only option we had was to carry our bags and walk.  En route, a policeman stops us: "What are you doing?"  I explain.  He then proceeds to stop traffic and ask random cars to give us a lift!  A minute later, we're in a bus with uniformed workers who even offer us a seat, as we get dropped to the airport. :)  Khushroo, whom none of us had ever met, is waiting for us there just to say hello and give us a hug before we board.  As we depart, he says: "Thank you.  Today, all that I am is because of your work."  Receiving love from all sides.  With her radiant joy, Anne aptly summarized it: "This whole trip, I've just been learning the art of receiving.  Now I have no choice but to keep paying it forward."
  • Next morning, Tracy, Nimo and I went to address 90 employees of GoZoop, crammed in a wonderful little restaurant.  Rohan, the founder, started the company with this intent: "Let's get some happy people together, and then we'll figure out what to do."  He met bunch of us at an Awakin Circle on my last trip, and heartily asked us to speak to a genuinely-happy (and rapidly growing) Internet company.  Two of their staff have "Happiness Officers" as their official title.  Nimo was in the zone as he sang the closing song, and it opened everyone up.  Among the several notes of gratitude was this one today: "This morning I was reflecting upon how the last few days have changed something within. Friday morning, you all simply triggered a nerve of kindness that's been leading me into sheer happiness, peace, inner completeness and an overwhelming confidence of being able to leave  this world a little better with pure love and kindness.  The feeling is beautiful.  Last weekend, I probably laughed the most, in a long long time. I felt an insane wave of energy. And I want to take a moment to thank you guys for this wonderful feeling.  I've always dreamt of making lives around me better and now I've found my path. Thank you!"  Twenty of them held a circle after our interaction to turn inspiration into action in their own context, and are soon going to send us stories. :) 
  • That afternoon, about forty of us went on a kindness drive on the streets.  Shaheen wanted her friend, Wendy Kopp (celebrated founder of Teach for America), to get a flavor of inner transformation; so we said, "Best people to teach it are the teens from our local posse."  So Bhumi, Shraddha, Darpan, Drishti, Ratandeep and the whole gang came together to crafts smileys and posters and what not; Bhuvana even hand-made some ladooos to give out.  And we took to the streets.  Lots of inspiring moments, including how Anu Aga (a prominent entrepreneur) received her offer of smiley button with an angry scowl and instead of reacting, she simply apologized and moved to the next person.  Or how a typically introverted Tracy walked around with Hindi poster that read, "Keep smiling, Keep laughing."  Or how Dr. Abbas, visiting from Pakistan, pledged to carry this forward in his hometown.  For Wendy, it raised some great edges :) and later provoked a great dialogue around privilege, service and inner transformation.
  • That evening, Srila held her first semi-Awakin Circle.  She came to the Gandhi 3.0 retreat without knowing much about it.  Day 1 she felt it was an overload of love. :) Day 2 she started warming up to it.  Day 3, she came to me and thought of integrating it in her life: "This is great, but it won't work in my hardened Bollywood world.  If I hosted an Awakin event, would you come?"  Of course, I would. :)  On Day 4, she wrote to me about how sore she was from 3-step-and-a-bow. :)  Couple days later, I got this note: "My daughter Srila attended the Gandhi 3.0 Retreat.  I would like you to know that ideas shared and basic belief in love and joy have touched even those who may not have been physically present at the retreat, but who have been moved by the effect on someone who was there, and who has passed it on -- advertently or inadvertently.  Are there any audio books that I could get, which would provide an opportunity to hear which I can no longer read due to loss of eyesight?"  One never knows the ripples.  Siddharth, Nimo, Tracy and I went to the circle.  For many, it might've been the first time sitting in silence.  A conversation prior to the circle: "Shall we have an open-bar since that really helps create quality bonds?"  "We've found that spirit of generosity is more than enough to create the deepest quality of bonds."  "I don't know about that, but what the heck, let's experiment."  Experiment rocked with a presence-filled silence.  Bunch of wonderful folks were there (like producer of Swades), and the whole evening was elegantly hosted with great care.  In the after hours, love was in the air, music jamming happened, stories were told, hugs were shared.  Before the night is over, there's already an email waiting in the inbox.  It ends with: "Thank you for the light you all bring and the magic it makes.  May the Force be with you forever!  Lots of love, Srila"  Funnily enough, as I write this paragraph, there's an email from her about various ripples from the night. :)
  • Next day was the Awakin Talks event, which emerged in a random conversation with Ramesh-bhai from Caring Friends -- when he was speaking about service work of those "with a divine spark".  Sachi and I wondered if we can bring a few folks together to share.  Month or so later, here we were.  Our opening batsmen, Jayeshbhai, kicked off the event with a vintage-MBL vibe and gently invited others to plant their stories on those waves -- and everyone did.  Diverse speakers.  Nivedita never married so she could serve whole-heartedly in rural Maharastra -- as she has for 30 years.  And this was the first time she was invited to speak about her journey.  Dr. Satav was another speaker who has brought medicine to remote areas for decades; even before he spoke, I was somehow got teary eyed.  In her first public talk, Tejal moved many to tears with her authenticity.  Siddharth shined as an emcee, Nimo delivered again with his deep sincerity, and lots of seed-planting happened (see comments).  The listeners also weren't just random people who filled up the halls but rather folks who had attended Awakin Circles and/or had roots within the ecosystem.  Together, all those invisible exchanges created a field that Ganoba (an elder mystic who is not prone to giving compliments :)) described as this: "It was such a delightful evening. Love was in the air like a beautiful mist. Felt so happy see that the values I stood for all 80 years of my life were not only taking root but blossoming. Their fragrance was intoxicating. Thanks to all who are associated with this movement."  Many are now ready to a second helping of Awakin Talks. :)
Throughout all this, you can imagine the stories of love.  As Tracy left yesterday, she told Guri, Jayeshbhai and I: "I leave here a changed person."  Raising her hands up towards the sky in surrender, "Please use me for this movement of love.  I can read, write, tell stories, I don't know -- whatever it takes."

Indeed, whatever it takes, :) 


Two Weeks Later ...

Last few ripples from this week ... just so everyone is in the know.  And this will be the last edition ... until the next India trip. :) 

--On Tuesday, had lunch with a small circle of friends I hadn't met :) at a place called Wellington Club.  Super cutely, they had print outs of couple of my talks, as our intellectual conversations veered into topics of social change and scale and Gandhi -- and love. :)  "I like the idea of small acts of kindness, but people take advantage of me.  As soon as I give my visiting card, they look at my name and then it's over.  I'm not sure how to handle this privilege and still personally grow."  Another happy woman agreed: "Exactly.  And outside of this circle, I don't even know anyone else who wants to behave in this way."  My suggestion was for them to go out and do some acts (like sweeping or cleaning up) and see what happens.  "If you put too much stock in the idea that you're a blue eyed person, you will frame yourself as a blue eyed person.   Sure, you're a trustee of those eyes, but that's just temporary part of your complete self. So if you lead with that part of you that wants to love unconditionally, everything changes.  You might be surprised, but people may not even ask for you name and just be happy to share a connection with a fellow human also trying to find their way out of suffering."  Without equanimity, privilege can make one under privileged.

--I got an SMS request for a radio interview.  I rarely engage with traditional media, unless it's rooted in a personal relationship.  So I figured if someone has my phone number, there must be a tie.  I agreed.  In the process, I asked the host: "So how did you get my phone number?"  "My mother is a secretary; while arranging the morning event, she shared your story and it moved me.  I hope it's okay."  I smiled.  Ultimately, I didn't get enough time to do the interview, but I felt grateful to be connected with the host.

--In memory of his 26 year old daughter who passed away, Pradeepbhai holds an annual talk to spread positive ideas.  First time, I met him at a lunch with someone else, he drew a Smile Deck card to build a relationship with a homeless.  Although 79 years old, he had never done that and "to be honest, I was a bit afraid."  By that night, he did the act and it transformed him -- and sealed our friendship. :)  So when he invited me to speak at the memorial event, I just said yes.  It ended being at a very nice hall (Chamber of Commerce) with couple hundred people!  By the end, it was a love fest.  Smile Cards and Decks were everywhere, close to hundred folks wrote down email addresses to stay connected with our movement.  Lots of elders came to bless; one person reported having some spiritual experience; another read my aura.  Never a dull moment. :)  A radiant 80-year-old who had come from Pune said, "My faith in good is renewed.  I can now die a peaceful death."  Sameer, whose Somaiya schools are attended by 30K students, also came.  "After we had last met, I had told my 14 year old daughter about Smile Cards and the Deck.  Right then, she had gone online and requested the same.  So when I told her tonight that I was late because I was listening to you, instead of complaining, she said that she herself would've loved to come listen!  Amazing."  He's already started a kindness program at his schools/college, so more ripples will unfold shortly. :)

--The next day, Parag, Deven and I headed to a finance event at a fancy hotel with a fancy budget.  Lot of the Dalal Street honchos were there.  Following Google MD and preceding RBI governor (and Rahul Dravid!), they asked me to speak in the longest slot.  I opened with a Bloomberg headline from that morning: “Divorce rates point to improving economy.”  And then an experiment by a couple to monetize all their interactions, like putting their kids to sleep and doing the dishes. “Many institutions are paying kids to go to school, to even eat their vegetables.  There are apps for parents to streamline paying their children for their chores.  Can we afford to lose faith in our capacity to respond to non-financial incentives?”  Throughout the 90 minutes, there was a kind of stunned-and-attentive silence in the room.  One guy in the front row seat ran the largest fund in India, 50 thousand crore rupees (yikes! how many zeros is that?!?), and has (remarkably) outperformed the market for the last couple decades.  More importantly, he is known for this ethics and simplicity on the street.  He came just for my talk, at the hearty recommendation of a friend, and left with three Smile Decks – one for each of his kids and two for himself.  Next day, while meeting investors looking for opportunities in India, he starts by telling him to forget about economy and retells insights and stories of generosity from the day before. Afterwards, lots of hugs -- and questions.  What I offered was very simple -- but still super radical for this context.  From a blank check offer, to getting fund managers to be excited about small acts of compassion, to the $650K-for-warren-buffett-dinner fellow's ripples of Infinite Vision, we have many outrageous stories to share over a bonfire someday. :)  But the most touching was the admin person who told us, "Sir, there were so many people around after the talk so I didn't want to come up but I kept getting pulled in.  I hadn't even heard the talk, but I just felt drawn to it somehow."  Love does its magic. :) 

The day after, Guri and I left for the US -- after a powerful four months.  We landed into a family reunion, and then came home to a series of super-sweet tags from the local posse (and one tag all the way from India!).  Today, we head out to visit the Dalai Lama.  Tomorrow, an incredible nun is coming home.  On Tuesday, I finally show up to the class that I'm supposed to be teaching. :)  Tuesday night, we're excited to return to veggie chopping with my parents.  And by Wednesday night, we'll be full circle with Awakin -- awakening with kin.  

Awakening with kin, :)



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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."