No End and No Beginning: 2015's Ripples

Jan 8, 2016

As I browsed through a series of year-end emails in my inbox, I wondered about ServiceSpace's "Top 10 Moments of 2015". But I couldn't come up with a simple list. Every story I thought of was connected to so many other stories right below, above and around it. Bullet-pointing felt impossible. Still, I felt the great warmth of knowing that no story stands alone.

At our annual Team Ladder retreat last September, we did what our ancestors across the ages have done. We gathered around a fireplace and shared stories. Stories like this one: "When I was 2-years-old, I remember climbing up a bookshelf one night. I looked out the window, pointed at the stars and thought: 'I want to go home.' Forty-three years later, I found all of you and realized this is home, and I'm here to serve." Stories like this one: "I'm going blind and I haven't had the courage to tell anyone about it -- until now." And stories like this one: "Meditating recently, I felt myself transported to a horrific scene of pain and torture. I was surrounded by despicable people doing bad things. And then I looked at myself and realized that I wasn't much better. But even so, I still had some friends around me -- some of whom are in the room today. Thank you, for believing in me." As the circle continued the depth of these stories built on each other, charging the space, and moving many to tears.

Across our global ecosystem, hundreds of gatherings of various kinds take place each month. What is generated is intangible and powerfully catalytic. Theoretically, we know that every strand in the web, is connected to multiple other strands. But when you start to catch glimpses of the masterful way these stories weave together, it really changes your design principles.

In Indonesia, 25 CEO's turned into volunteer waiters and hosted the first Karma Kitchen Bali. But the story behind the story, behind the story, leads to a conversation between Min and Stephanie in Singapore. My blog post after a spring visit to Japan moved Masami Saionji to tears, but it was a story built on seven years of friendship, and her own lifetime of service. Right before I flew out of Germany, a camera taped this breakfast conversation with MIT professor Otto Scharmer; what the recording doesn’t show is how he’s been using ServiceSpace videos in his classes for years, and how that resonance is what brought forth my words.

At a Money + Transformation circle, on Father's Day, Jacob Needleman shared a remarkable story he'd never shared before. When a circle is held with deep love, it generates deep trust. But where does that love begin? To tell one story is to recall all its relatives. As the saying goes, you can count the number of seeds in an apple, but who can count the number of apples in a seed? Every fruit traces forward and backwards out of our line of sight, and far beyond the mind’s fathoming. It’s the same with these stories. They can’t be plotted neatly on a graph, or easily vetted for Best-Of lists.

Kozo took on a practice of washing the feet of the homeless. A few months later, we watched him embrace a cancer diagnosis with love and humility, refusing western medicine. Hiromi started Awakin Seoul while Audrey was "Moved by Love" in India. Birju not only inspired companies to take on the 21-Day Kindness Challenge -- but also had loved ones count down to his wedding with a gratitude challenge. Xiao dropped everything overnight, and flew halfway across the world to take care of an extraordinary everyday hero -- her mother. Meanwhile when my own mother discovered our house being pelted late one night, she opened the doors, not to berate the young vandals -- but to invite them in. It’s impossible to state exactly how Kozo’s humility strengthens Audrey’s love, or how Birju’s practice affirms Xiao’s commitment or how any of it leads to my mother’s radical generosity, but we know that it does.

Parveen went into labor right after an Awakin Circle, and came back the following week to share gratitude -- "Even when you can't control anything, there is one thing you can always be with: your breath in the present moment." Cherish told the story of pulling over on the highway to rescue a young woman about to jump from a bridge, while Nilam was moved to tears by 3 young men tagging Karma Kitchen Detroit with baskets of apples. Then there’s Nimo who held 100 concerts in the span of 5 months. He took a refugee camp in Jordan by storm and even inspired a school he’d never visited. And Pancho biked 5-hours-one-way as a pilgrimage to "the Kindness Temple" Awakin Circle each month, while Zilong finalized a deeply intentioned 3-year pilgrimage to China. A year ago, a well-wisher and friend was moved to gift us half-a-million dollars with no strings; we didn’t take the money, but the ensuing conversation gave rise to the vibrant incubator of transformation that we’ve dubbed Laddership Circles. And now, our generous friend has just applied to participate.

John Malloy calls these medicine stories. By holding them sacred, honoring the interconnections, and refusing to commercialize in any way, we restore them to the commons. And a healing takes place from the inside out. Like rivers to the sea, personal stories flow into the collective narrative. And vice versa. The collective field continuously births and fuels personal journeys. The boundaries are ever-shifting and porous. Everything flows into everything else.

As I look over the terrain of 2015, I see our countless streams singing together en route to the sea. I can't explain how the blessing of two oranges flows into the love of the KindSpring sisters (aka Mish and Mindy) flows, into outreach on the Today Show flows, into the joyful Moved by Love anthem flows, into the electric goodness of 30-days in India flows, into the inspiration of a KarmaTube video that's been watched 5 million times flows, into the silence of Awakin Circles flows, into riveting conversations at Yadollah’s tea shop and Ward’s monastery and Trishna’s living room flows, into the ripples from Kentucky to Guernsey Island and into the lilting notes of the Maitri Tunes we hear every Friday flows... into all that’s unfolding in this very moment.

A few months ago, I was asked to join President Obama’s council for offering policy recommendations on addressing poverty and inequality. Quite an honor. At our first White House meeting, we did an introductory circle around the question -- What gives you hope? My answer was spontaneous: "What gives me hope is love. What gives me hope is how one person paid for coffee for the person behind her in line, and 226 people followed suit. What gives me hope is that life unfailingly responds to the advances of love."

That kind of love has no boundary, beginning or an end. The love I have for that dog in Bhutan is indirectly what gives me resilience when my brother faces a life-threatening condition. The love with which you each serve in some corner of the ServiceSpace ecosystem is the love that helps change me, and the world.

It's all one story, with many parts. 2015 had many wonderful branch tips and new buds, and yet they were all connected to the roots hidden deep below the surface. Like a rippling infinity sign, these stories continue to revolve and evolve, implicating each of us in beautiful ways.

Thank you for your friendship in service.

Onwards into 2016! :)   

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