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Collective Cultivation

Having been to so many homes in recent days, I am seeing how cultivation isn't singular.  If, in a family, more than one person is leading a wholesome life, it naturally supports others.  And hence, if one member of the family experiences a micro transformation, it effortlessly ripples into the hearts of others as well.  It's hard to draw a causation map of this, but I've been feeling this repeatedly.

Today, I went to the home of one such family, who have been long-time supporters of Swami Chinmayananda.  Last year, in Delhi, we had a spontaneous-- and memorable -- Awakin Circle at their home.  Since then, Nihaarika hosted a few other Awakin Circles as well. This evening, they hosted another one with about 30 of us.  It had a great strength.  So many offerings in so many directions.  As is often the case, people thanked me for DailyGood and various other Servicespace offerings. Gayatri Aunty later wrote me a note saying, "My New Year's resolution is to hold such circles everyday."

A young woman spent 4 hours commuting, simply to say thank you to ServiceSpace and how it changed her life.  Next year, she is embarking on a "shukriya yatra" (gratitude pilgrimage) and in that spirit offered two beautiful shells:


Posted Dec 8, 2016 | permalink

Four Exclamation Points In Delhi

Anshu Gupta is last year's recipient of the renowned Magsaysay Award for "creative vision for transforming generosity in India".  He and his team upcycle donated waste material, and then, instead of just handing it out in the villages, they ask the villagers to first volunteer in their community and then receive the material as a gift for their labor. 

That process unleashes very unique consequences. 

For instance, in order for folks to receive some upcycled material, they have to get together with others and build something that their community really needs.  Like a bridge or a road or a well.  Value multiplies from waste to upcycled material to community capital, time capital, natural capital and so much more. 

The most amazing part is what happens once villagers realize they can work together to solve their own problems (instead of waiting for a government, NGO or corporation to do something) -- they continue to do it, even without the incoming gifted material.  Goonj now works in 400 villages, has a staff of 600 and alchemizes thousands of tons of waste into self governance. 

Today, in Delhi, we held the first Awakin Circle at Goonj, with their staff and community of friends.  Ever since coming to their first Awakin Circle in 2005, Anshu and Meenakshi have always wanted to host an Awakin Circle in their community -- and it happened.  After an hour of silence, I opened by saying, "Very few organizations grow big and still send out emails with 4 exclamation points.  I'm delighted to be here, because your hearts still have their exclamation points."  Then, to this hands-on service community, I pushed the bounds a bit by reflecting on Vinoba's maxim of M2A -- two parts meditation and one part action. :)  Several others followed with very sweet stories as well.  After some samosas and ras goollas and more, :) we all shared ample hugs and built many new friendships!

The thing about Awakin Circles, though, is that its spirit doesn't end when you leave the venue. The overflowing gratitude spills over into the car ride and various brainstorms (like "Goonj Fellows", which maybe coming soon), and in this case, into my conversations with their adorable daughter, Urvi. :)  

This is all of us, still feeling the love, next morning at their breakfast table ... 


Posted Dec 7, 2016 | permalink

Small Acts Of Beauty

We held a beautiful circle at Vandana-Didi's home today, where we all explored the idea of what art means to us.  The gathering featured lots of unique people, including Ellie who beautifully described art as "my 1-year-old son trying to catch the rays of sun with his hands."

After the circle, we got to see one of her lovely inspirations -- she creates one quotation of art everyday.  In hospitals, for instance, they put one in each room and then the janitor rotates it around daily, so every patient gets to see a new quote (and artwork) everyday.  Small acts of beauty.

Given Ellie's prolific capacity to create, we have decided to create a new newsletter that features her art.  Coming soon to an inbox near you. :)   

Posted Dec 6, 2016 | permalink

Seeing Behind The Wall

For breakfast, a group of TCS employees came over.  We sat in the "Hriday Kunj" sanctuary on our Sughad campus, and talked about Ishwar Kaka's maxim, "We must learn to see behind the wall." 

That is, wisdom lies in knowing that there are multiple causes of every effect, most of which we will never know.  It gives birth to humility and reverence.

It was amazing how deeply we all felt connected, after just an hour-long interaction and circle.    

Posted Dec 5, 2016 | permalink

Inclusion Retreat -- Disability To Dilability

Over the last couple days, we held an "inclusion retreat" with differently abled folks, NGO's working in the sector, and related innovators.  It all started with one dynamite, blind girl, who asked me: "I'd love to help others but I don't know how. Will you help me?"  She not only got busy giving, but then started to build a field around her -- and this weekend, about 40 of us came together for a retreat.

The retreat was just pure magic.  At one point, everyone put on a blind-fold and the emcees said, "Okay, guys tea break.  See you in 15 minutes."  We all had to self organize with a new form of intelligence, and our blind friends were leading the way. 

Here is Priyanka riding a scooter for the first time in her life (with Jaideep guiding her from the back):

People who are typically extremely introverted started blooming like never before.  A deaf and mute kid said he wanted to give a "spirited talk" (which he did in sign language); seeing this, a wheelchair bound fellow said he can script a play if others can act it out; bunch of blind folks agree to step it up and dance it out.  Nirav, the emcee of that little play, cried as he introduced everyone -- it was the first time he cried since his accident made him wheelchair bound, many years ago.  Kiran, our blind poet laureate, was firing out "shayri" left and right -- as she taught Gitanjali how to "laugh like no one is watching."

The whole thing just filled your heart, again and again.  Here is Suchi's beautiful blog post with more stories.

A huge percent of the participants might say that these were the best days of their life.  After the closing, Priyanka herself sobbed on my shoulders.  Jaideep and Sridhar have renamed India Inclusion Summit's fundraising dinner to "dilability" dinner, Meera and Youth 4 Jobs (the largest NGO in the country in this space) are redefining scale from breadth to depth.  The ripples are inevitable. 

Perhaps what was most touching was many folks remarking, "And this whole thing was run by volunteers?!?"   

Posted Dec 4, 2016 | permalink

Inexhaustible Patience Of Bhawana-ben

Bhawana-ben has been working with the mentally challenged for 37 years.  "When I first walked into a special school, a kid pulled my hair strongly and wouldn't let go.  Slowly, someone else pulled his hair, and he understood the pain and let it go.  That day, I decided I wanted to serve that community," she shared.  These kids, she added, are her teachers.  "Every so often, I will get angry with them and send them out of the room.  They will go out and come back with a glass of water for me.  Their love, forgiveness, kindness is bar none."

It's easy to imagine how people might burn out in her position, but Bhawana-ben is full of joy.

"Everyday, I would do a prayer in class. Right as I close my eyes, this kid would come up and spit on my face.  First time, it was jarring -- especially since he would do it many times everyday.  Bit by bit, though, I would take him with me to wash my face and would wash his face, and he started to empathize.  Instead of spitting on my face 8-9 times a day, he reduced it to 2-3 times.  And now, he doesn't do it at all!  It took 2-3 years, but you know, nature takes its time. We must cultivate patience if we want to tap into nature's bounty." 

Posted Dec 2, 2016 | permalink

Paying Forward An Awakin Circle

Tonight, Anarben and I shared some personal stories at Awakin Ahmedabad.  The circle has been anchored every week by service rock-stars, from Nimo to Neil to Kishan, and lovingly held by the one and only Meghna! :)  

Many moons ago, Meghna landed up at an Awakin Circle, while she was still a college student.  "As a typical starving artist, sometimes we'd have coffee to suppress our hunger. And then one Wednesday, we went to an Awakin Circle in Santa Clara.  After meditation, our minds felt quieter; after circle of sharing, our hearts felt more connected; and then Aunty fed all of us, unconditionally, and gratitude overflowed. I decided that when I grow up, I will pay-forward this love to others."  

For the last 8 years, she has consistently hosted these weekly circles in her home -- no matter what else is going on in other parts of her life.  A pretty amazing embodiment of paying-it-forward.

Recently, in Baroda, Meghna spoke about home-schooling her 6-year-old daughter -- for the first time!  She touched everyone with her sincerity and clarity.  And just a few days later, Trupti had promptly typed up the transcript! :)

On top of that, the event where Meghna spoke was hosted by two other Awakin Circle hosts in Baroda -- Rachana and Jignasha (below). Big hugs and gratitude to both of them as well!


Posted Nov 30, 2016 | permalink

Asking The Hard Questions

Today, I visited NDDB -- the National Dairy Development Board.  They have done a truly remarkable job of supporting millions of farmers.  Their chairman introduced his role to me as, "I work for 300 million buffaloes."  :)

In an auditorium setting, I spoke to many hundreds of their staff about the principles of laddership.  Then, Parag and I had a great interaction with their executives.  At one point, one of their execs says, "ServiceSpace ideals are so inspiring.  I understand how to practice this at an individual level, but what can we do as an organization?"  And my response to them was, "Ask the hard questions.  You can measure the fat content in a liter of milk, but what are your metrics for the well-being of the cow?  You can optimize supply-chain process for economic gains, but how can you build non-market capitals?  Those are hard questions, but if you push the envelope in that direction, it can yield some very transformative innovations."

By the end, they wanted to send their staff to Moved by Love retreats, they wanted to Parag to visit as a guest faculty and they want to brainstorm how to bring ServiceSpace values to rural India.  I'm hoping to introduce Ari (a vegan giftivist :)) for some creative co-creation, along with Preeta to pilot her circle-app with their cooperative circles.

Beyond the breadth of ripples-in-motion, the depth of resonance at the level of values was incredibly disarming.  At lunch, NDDB's executive chairman, a devout Jain (and hence resonant with non-violence), shared a very beautiful story: "Growing up, I used to have a cow.  Then one fine day, I had to move and would have to leave everything behind.  I hadn't told too many people, but four days prior to my move, my cow started crying -- literally. She knew I was leaving."   

Posted Nov 30, 2016 | permalink

Ripe Fruit That Can't Be Plucked

Serendipity shouldn't surprise, but it still does. :) 

This morning, Anand Bhave (who said he was Vinoba Bhave's nephew) and Teji Tai (who was with Vimala Tai on her death bed and for many years prior) and couple of us ended up at the same breakfast table!

Lots of great stories were shared, like this one ...

Ramana Maharshi used to say that the same energy that works through him is working through Gandhi, and likewise, when sarvodaya workers in Gandhi's movement would be burnt out, he would send them to retreat in the Arunachala mountains (where Ramana resided). When Gandhi was assassinated, Ramana was spontaneously in tears -- and stayed teary-eyed for two days. At one point, Gandhi passed by Ramana's ashram and instead of stopping there, he stopped at another ashram next door.

When devotees asked, "Why didn't Gandhi stop here?", Ramana responded, "Paaka hua phal yaha aata tau yahi gir jata." (If such a ripe fruit enters here, he'd never be able to leave.)"

Made me smile at the wonderful Boddhisattva spirit Gandhi held for the benefit of so many. :)   

Posted Nov 29, 2016 | permalink

Cultivating CQ In Schools

Spoke to a big group of school principals in Pune today, on the topic of "Compassion Quotient."  All educators are clear that kids in this era are disconnected -- which is leading to many problems, ranging from bullying to depression to attention deficit.  However, what educators don't know how to do is cultivate the antidote of compassion.  The crux of my thesis went like this: we have turned schools into assembly lines of manufacturing, but growing compassion requires gardening.  Consequently, we try to manufacture compassion and that's a losing battle.

Across various cities, this is a topic that is resonating with educators. Originally, today's gathering was supposed to be an intimate circle of 20 folks, but they shifted the venue, and someone said that close to 100 schools were represented in the room.  Two nuns drove 4 hours, one way, to join the circle because their head nun had joined a similar circle in Mumbai and immediately incorporated a lot of changes into their schools.  In ServiceSpace, everyone sees an exemplary island of possibility -- and while not everyone may have the conditions to grow such a farm, we can all certainly experiment with a rooftop garden.

During the Q&A session, lots of inspired comments and ideas emerged.  Sheetal tagged everyone with a Smile Deck.  Folks started sharing stories of compassion that kept building on each other -- and one principal then offered how she has a graduating class of 237 students, and she has decided to hand-write a personalized gratitude letter to each one of them!   

Posted Nov 28, 2016 | permalink

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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."