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Iceberg Principle: What's Below The Surface?

Ani and Awakin London community hosted a full day retreat yesterday in London.  More than 100 folks(!) had signed-up for a spot in the Devlia's open-hearted living room.  About 25 of the participants themselves had contributed to making the evening possible.  Seven laddership circle alumni were silently creating ripples in the background.  Needless to say, it was a feast of love.

As always, we opened the day with a circle of sharing around how people reconnected -- with themselves, others, and systems around them.  In that circle alone, we laughed (a lot!), we shed a few tears, we hugged those next to us, we felt reconnected.  "I gave up the last piece of dessert to a person in line, and we got connected."  "I hitchhiked all the way from Spain to this gathering."  Founder of a very famous nonprofit in London said he was at the site of a GreenFell Towers (where a recent fire killed more than hundred people): "A kid rode up on his bike, got down, raised his hands towards the sky and screamed. We all stood there, bearing witness to his pain.  I wanted to help, but I felt so helpless."  Many spoke about their kindness experiments.  "I paid for the person behind me at the supermarket.  My daughter was on the phone and I overheard her saying: 'My mum's lost it.'"  Hearing all the stories of compassion, a woman who was homebound for a decade due to a disability, summed it up quite well: "I think what I want to say is thank-you.  You may realize just how much your acts of kindness mean for others on the receiving end.  For the majority of my life, I have been invisible to most people -- and whenever someone pushed my wheelchair, I can always tell how much they care.  So thank you for caring."

In the afternoon, we had breakouts.  And after some out-of-the-world Hemant chai, we spoke about labor-of-love projects we want to fail at.  :)  Then, Maki closed it out with her prayerful tears, inviting all of us into a space of great compassion.

In the dozens of thank-you emails after the event, it was easy to see the many things we can be grateful for.  But the metaphor that comes to my mind is the iceberg.  For the visible bits of the iceberg, there's the 90% below the surface.  That's 90% is what we're all working on.  Here's a beautiful quote by our friend Meg Wheatley who sums it up well ... 

In spite of current ads and slogans, the world doesn't change one person at a time.  It changes as networks of relationships form among people who discover they share a common cause and vision of what's possible.  This is good news for those of us intent on changing the world and creating a positive future.  Rather than worry about critical mass, our work is to foster critical connections.  We don't need to convince large numbers of people to change; instead, we need to connect with kindred spirits.  Through these relationships, we will develop the new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that lead to broad-based change.

But networks aren't the whole story.  As networks grow and transform into active, working communities of practice, we discover how Life truly changes, which is through emergence.  When separate, local efforts connect with each other as networks, then strengthen as communities of practice, suddenly and surprisingly a new system emerges at a greater level of scale.  This system of influence possesses qualities and capacities that were unknown in the individuals.  It isn't that they were hidden; they simply don't exist until the system emerges.  They are properties of the system, not the individual, but once there, individuals possess them.  And the system that emerges always possesses greater power and influence than is possible through planned, incremental change. Emergence is how Life creates radical change and takes things to scale.

It is, then, no accident that the opening circle was filled with deep shares, with generous laughter, with emphatic vibrations.  Lots of "farmers" were silently tilling the soil.  And for those farmers, the retreat didn't start at 9AM nor did it end at 5PM.  I offer a bow of gratitude to those farmers, which allows 10% of the iceberg to shine in all its glory. :)   

Posted Jun 19, 2017 | permalink

Getting The UK Parliament To Stop -- And Meditate!

How do you get the government to make society more mindful?  That's the question that Jamie's been holding for many years now.  We had dinner tonight, and it was beautiful to learn more about his journey from advertising to the biggest online platforms for mindfulness (HeadSpace) to now transforming government.  As a start, here's what he got the entire UK parliament to do -- meditate!

His remarkable report, Mindful Nation, provides very lucid policy recommendation for governments to adopt -- in healthcare, education, workplace and criminal justice.  Given it's wild success, more than 40 countries(!) have reached out to him to start the dialogue with their government leaders.

Mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. There has been a huge increase in academic research on the subject with more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific journal papers now being published every year. Meanwhile developments in neuroscience and psychology are illuminating the mechanisms of mindfulness.
Most recently, they (as Mindfulness Initiative) have come out with Mindful Workplace report -- which zooms into sensitizing our workplaces with mindfulness.
We spend more of our time working than doing anything else, and researchers have found that these hours are on average the least happy of our lives. Endemic stress in knowledge-based industries accounts for a large proportion of workplace absence and represents a huge loss of national productivity. Meanwhile, success in most organisations relies on the very things that unhappiness and stress erode – collaboration, creativity, cognitive flexibility and effective decision-making. New perspectives from psychology and neuroscience are increasingly helping leaders to see that the cognitive and emotional resources of their colleagues determine the health, resilience and future performance of their businesses and institutions.
Jamie is keen to get more engaged in various ServiceSpace conversations and also visit India soon.

Posted Jun 17, 2017 | permalink

Fifth Monk Circle

Whenever I have a couple hours, I find an excuse to do a circle. :)  This afternoon, it was a Fifth Monk Circle -- which created a really rich field of inquiry with about 25 of us.  Here's the invite:

We're calling it the Fifth Monk Circle, based on this parable that invites us to see more upstream solutions to personal and societal challenges. Questions like -- what edges are you holding, at a personal, community or systemic level? If you had a billion dollars, what would you do? :)  Are you being called to any "fierce urgency of the now" action? What is your most recent labor of love project? How you have experimented with multiple forms of wealth (for inspiration, see Zilong's post)? Where have you seen the most recent example of many-to-many possibilities? What is the collective story you're listening into these days?


Posted Jun 17, 2017 | permalink

Masami's First Awakin Circle

Tonight was a special evening.  It was Masami-san's first ever Awakin Circle.

Her spiritual teacher, Masahisa Goi, told her that she would give birth to three daughters who would steward her immense work in the world.  But her daughters, although not shy of speaking to 10 thousand people or general assembly at the United Nations, were always reluctant to embrace such a leadership role.  It perplexed Masami-san.  Few years ago, when she first heard about ServiceSpace design principles, she couldn't sleep at night.  She realized that it was the era of "many to many" networks, and what the world really needed was "laddership" in place of leadership.  As a towering spiritual personality in Japan, the nuances of this new approach were rather foreign to the structures around her.  But she made a promise to herself to unlearn, relearn, innovate and whatever else it takes -- to embrace the new.  Over the years, she has been steadily stepping into that frame of mind, and today was a culmination of that.

An intimate circle.  In a living room.  No prepared remarks.  No agendas.

And it was a riot!  Read more in Trishna's post.

Due to her decades of deep spiritual practice, whenever Masami-san sees someone in need of help, she has involuntary reflex to help them.  Subsequently, intimate circles are exhausting for her.  But not today.  Her daughter, Maki, told me today was the first time she felt more energized than before she entered the circle.

At one point, Ani says out loud, "I'm feeling an urge to bow to her and request her blessings. May I?"  And to that, the 76-year-old Masami herself goes flat on the ground and bows to all of us!  Such abundant compassion, humility, and love.  

Posted Jun 16, 2017 | permalink

Mysterious Coffee Conversation :)

Every so often, conversations take on a mysterious turn. :)  That's what happened at coffee today.

Myself and two lovely ladies from a big Church in London.  For the first half hour, we spoke about inspiring topics.  Then, one of the women started to get the "goosebumps of inspiration".  We continue for another half hour.

And then, in the second hour, as we got more comfortable with each other, one of the women asks me, "Do you see what's next to you?"  "Um, this coffee table?"  "No, it's Kuthumi."  "Huh?  Next to me? Where? :)"  "You don't know who that is."  "No, never heard the name."  You can imagine where the conversation went from there. :)

By the end, no matter how diverse our mental frameworks, we felt very deeply nourished by each other's presence.  When they insisted to pay for my coffee, I invited them to help me pay it forward.  First we brainstorm about it, then find a candidate for expressing our kindness.  Then, the waitress comes over and is confused.  "I'll need to ask my manager if I can do this."  After that permission, mission accomplished.  We all left with a vibrant smile, of knowing that we tried to make someone smile.

Sometimes we think we are meeting for certain reasons, but all too often, I get this nagging suspicion that there's a lot more under the tip of iceberg. :)

Posted Jun 16, 2017 | permalink

At Shishukunj: Cultivating CQ

Last time I was in London, Mita and Sanjay had organized a big auditorium talk around a very personal dialogue.  This time, Mita arranged a talk at Shishukunj -- a really well respected public charity that was inspired by Maria Montessori and Gijubhai Badheka.  (I later learned that Gijubhai was Arun-Dada's teacher in school!)

I shared stories around building CQ (Compassion Quotient) and how it can't be manufactured.  Since lot of people were inspired by Swami Vivekanand, I opened with his quote "Relationships are more important than your life."  Precisely because relationships afford us resiliency until compassion blossoms naturally.

The audience was really sweet and resonant.  Laxmi, one of the organizers, later tallied up various kind responses and sent it to me, with this preamble: "What an inspiring evening you gave us all.  It was full of love and positive energy.  The two hours passed so quickly!  All the guests were so tuned into the present moment!  Your stories and examples really gave us an opportunity to witness and re-evaluate ourselves, in light of our service journey!  Thank you for your gift of delivering powerful messages in a simple way that gently touches the soul."  Lot of hugs, ripples and stories.

For me, one of the big highlights was listening to Trishna and Zilong share -- as much as they tried to run away from the mic. :)  With her vintage clarity, Trishna spoke about how she does 21-day challenges with her daughters and holds circles every night; and ultimately underscored the principle that these values aren't taught -- they are caught.  People mobbed her by the end, wanting to stay connected.  And similarly, Zilong closed the evening with such poignant humility.  I'm frequently moved by him, but in the context of this particular vibe, his sincerity, presence and grace felt even stronger than usual. :)

Thank you, Shishukunj!

Posted Jun 15, 2017 | permalink

Algorithms And Love, In Germany

Today, I spoke at Wisdom Together in Germany. It is open-heartedly convened by Alfred Tolle, former CEO of Lycos and exec at Google, who feels an alarming need to cultivate discourse on technology and values. With a stellar crew of speakers, ranging from chairman of a German bank to a famous actor and mesmerizing singer to a b-school professor and a neuroscientist, it made for spirited conversations about the future of technology. I was the last speaker of the conference, going right after Google's brand evangelist. And my topic was unabashedly "Algorithms and Love". :)

Algorithms are everywhere, but they are also dangerously opaque to most of us. As they automate the status quo, it's not such great news if you want transformation. Particularly, if you care for inner transformation. So I invited an inquiry about shifting from "big data" to "deep data" -- and considering the unique value-add that human beings bring to the table. Like compassion. :)

For what felt like a very-long-time, :) the crowd applauded and happily cheered for these values I spoke about. At the end, as all the speakers came on stage for a farewell, I spontaneously invited everyone to ditch the stage (below) and come together in a giant hug around the chairs. I wish I had a picture of it. Astrid Brinck, a dear sister from Chile, had everyone harmonizing by singing different notes. I'd imagine most of us had the chills. Love trumped algorithms.

Lots of gratitude to Alfred for courageously tilling the soil. Former chief of an 18 billion dollar company is now in the trenches, organizing conferences as his labor of love, and trying to give wings to a different kind of narrative. Big hugs, bro!

The interactions from the conference have continued on. I was particularly touched to receive a note from Klemens, a fellow I met in the lunch line, the day before: "It was wonderful to see how humbly you went through the event. Going to each and every place where help was needed, not making a difference between "important" and "not important" people, bringing joy and beauty into this event! Simply beautiful!"

Posted Jun 14, 2017 | permalink

Martin In Munich: Everyone Matters

In Munich today, I met Martin Kalunga-Banda (next to me, in the photo below). We immediately felt like kindred brothers.  After he learned about ServiceSpace, he said he couldn't sleep that night as he emailed his family and friends about how Karma Kitchen could work in Zambia.

His humble demeanor and generous spirit immediately caught my attention, and while I didn't know much about him, I knew there had to be a story.  And there certainly was -- an amazing story of love's inexplicable ways.

One fine day, Martin feels called to cold call the President of Zambia. "Can I speak to the president?" he asks.  "Do you have an appointment?"  "No."  "Please hold."  Elevator music.  For a long time.

Someone else picks up.  "Um, hello, I'm trying to get to the president please."  More elevator music.

Third person picks up, and he figures he should be a bit more aggressive.  "Look, I've been waiting a long time and I really want to speak to the president."  Voice on the other side says, "President speaking."

That then led to a remarkable series of ripples, and Martin actually became the president's Chief of Staff for 2 years!  And Martin, being Martin, implemented a rule that a president couldn't make a policy without actually having hands-on experience with the matter -- visiting at least three NGOs doing farming work, for instance, before changing farmer laws.

If you ask Martin, he'd say that he doesn't exactly know how he became chief of staff.  But knowing is not all that it's made out to be. Love is an emergent phenomena.  "Our body is the apparatus to tune into that signal," he says. "And once we tune it, we simply act in an instant."

Nelson Mandela, one of Martin's heroes, operated this way.  For Mandela, everyone mattered.  He knew that everyone was connected to field of consciousness.

"It so happened that Mandela's foundation applied for a grant.  Of course, we can't just send him a letter -- so we invited him for a breakfast meeting.  My colleague Peter picked him up and brought him to breakfast.  Right as they sat down, Mandela asks, 'Peter, weren't there two of you?'  'No, Sir, just me.'  'Let me get him,' Mandela gently said. He then proceeded to bring the driver to breakfast!"

Everyone matters.  

Posted Jun 13, 2017 | permalink

What Are Your Personal Practices?

[A very sincere young man recently asked me what practices I cultivate.  I had written it several months ago, and since he found my response helpful, I'm sharing it below as well.]

At this point in my balding life, :) most of my actions probably fall in a certain form of practice.  It becomes a mindset.  Without it, I think I would be totally lost.  If I had to share some, let's see ... 

--Many practices are part of my routine, like the infamous example of me making tea for Guri at 5:30AM (just now!) -- although she tells me, with the recent travel gap, I've lost my touch with the ginger-mint combo. :)  Or that whenever I leave my home for a meeting, I'll try to take something I like from the house to give away.

--Some practices are more contextual, like saying yes to anything that someone asks me at an Awakin Circle (this has led to many funny anecdotes, but sometimes it leads to great emergence, too -- like when a woman asked me to be back-up speaker and that ended up being a popular TedX talk).  In the epic Mahabharata, Karna goes on a morning walk everyday and gives anything that someone asks for.  Mine is a rookie version of that. :)

--Some practices are earmarked with a timeline, like spending 30 days every year in silent retreat (mostly Vipassana).  I've done this for most of the last decade and it has been an unparalleled anchor for me.

--Some practices are conflicting -- like gatherings where people use my participation for fundraising, or gatherings where there's alcohol.  I don't have an easy answer for this, but I enjoy the struggle. :)

--Various practices I fail in, like doing 2 hours of meditation everyday.  Some practices (even failures!) build over time.  For instance, last year, while spending time with Brother David (a Benedictine monk), I felt a strong intuition to shift from 30 days/year to 90 days/year of silence, and I'm hopeful it'll build over time. :) 

--Some are simple practices -- like feeling a sense of 'metta' before responding to emails, even if it's the hundredth time I'm saying the same thing.  Or the practice of adding links to emails, to seed a ripple effect, even when I know that the chance of a reader clicking on it are quite low.

--Some practices are short termed.  On Ishwar-Kaka's first death anniversary, I gave up sweets for the next year.  One day walking down the streets, I felt very stingy not giving to a homeless man; so I decided to give something every time I saw a homeless person (and there's a lot of them in Berkeley) for a while.

--Some practices have no term, ie. "no exit strategy".  Like cooking for the monastery every week, which we've serendipitously been doing since the first week of our marriage, 13 years ago.  Or taking Wednesdays off for the simple service of cooking with my parents for our local Awakin Circle (that they've hosted every week for the last 19 years).  When we went on a pilgrimage, we intentionally booked a 1-way ticket with no return plan.  It lasted for 1000 kilometers, but it was a very different experience when we couldn't just look forward to the destination.  You then really learn to lean into your pain or pleasure, and find a different kind of light at the end of that tunnel.

--Some practices are subtle. Like talking about death in 99% of the conversations I have with my parents. Or not putting a price tag on my labor (for me, this emerged organically -- but then I met the likes of Nirmala Didi and many other Gandhians, like Arun Dada and Meera Ba, who have done this for their whole life.)

--Another practice is to go to the edge of my circle.  So many times I want to retreat to my comfort zone; two years ago, during my India trip, I was exposed to something that my body was allergic to, and I had intense rashes all over my body.  I was burning up, constantly.  Great Vipassana practice. :) Subsequently, I couldn't generate as much love as I typically could -- but I bowed down and humbly worked at the pace of my conditions. That capacity to be fluid means that you can engage in many diverse spaces with many diverse mindsets -- which ultimately leads to growth in skillfulness.

--One very fundamental practice is to build an untiring mind.  I used to be quite lazy, but at some point (during my tennis days, I think), I learned to snap out of it.  Then, I used to work hard to achieve things -- and fortunately, I snapped out of that.  At one point, in high school, I got into the stock market and really started making a lot of money; it was a bit addictive, but by some grace, I left that.  Same thing happened with women, in my second year of college -- but fortunately, it lasted for a very short period of time.  Finally, I landed in the field of service, and learned that hard work leads to untiring mind only when we cultivate detachment to outcomes.  So that's a constant practice -- even in this moment. :)

--Lot of practices are centered around patience.  A zen teacher beautifully said that when his monastery burned down, he noticed that some seeds sprout only under the extreme heat.  Similarly, many of our latent capacities are unleashed only when we can "sit like a mountain and let the river flow through" (like Hanuman, who didn't know his capacities until he really needed to).  Practically speaking, Guri tells me that I never give up on people -- which just means that I am surrounded by people whose lives are often messy.  That offers me a great field to practice equanimity and detachment, while cultivating relationships of deep care.

--Another fundamental practice is to lead with noble friendship.  Guri and I started coming to India, solely to support our noble friend, Jayesh-bhai.  So much, including Moved by Love, emerged from that.  Who knows, maybe a whole lot more will come out it before we're done.  But when we started, it made no sense to the casual eye why I would do so much when I had so many more opportunities to have much more impact elsewhere.  My practice was to support noble friendship.  I would say that 99% of the major decisions in life are led by this practice, even when it goes against the grain of all logic. :)

--At some deep level, another practice I'm trying to build is to not wish for anything.  If you had the Midas touch, would you care for gold?  Since my childhood, I've noticed some wishes unexpectedly manifest; even though they were for others, I don't know if I had the wisdom to know if those are actually helpful interventions.  Many years ago, for instance, I went to help a friend move -- and he was sharing how his racists neighbors have been troubling his parents for decades and if we could pray together (for the neighbors!).  We did.  Next week, the neighbors decided to sell their house.  Just like that!  Few years even before that, a friend was going through terrible personal crisis and I prayed that he find a significant other -- soon after, at the only Awakin Circle he ever attended, he met someone who had the same birth date and year as me and they're now very happily married with two kids.  Those sound like good things, but it can be scary as well.  Over time, I have learned that I don't want to wish for anything -- instead of twisting life to bend to my will, I want to dissolve my will to surrender to life's flow.  Of course, I'm not perfect in that practice, but it's a strong practice.  For instance, last year, when my brother was close to death, I didn't pray that he get better.  Initially, it was tough, but then I grew subtler wings by knowing that equanimity is so much stronger than the Midas touch. :)

I can go on -- but all that may not be particularly helpful for your life context. :)  If you're thinking of what you may be able to do in your life, for me, it all falls in two broad categories of service and stillness:

Give what you want for yourself -- if you want money, give money; if you want happiness, make others happy; if you want to be connected, learn how to be invisible (ie. give away your connections).

Deepen awareness -- meditate, quiet the mind, find an intelligence beyond the mind.

Practices in both of those spheres create the foundation for cultivating noble friendship, which affords us the resilience to either wake up entirely -- or fulfill great vows of compassion we might've undertaken.  Of course, it does take time to "change entirely" as Rev. Heng Sure's song reminds us.  After almost 3 years of bowing on the streets of California, he told his teacher that he still doesn't know how to bow.  He asked if he could practice for another 3 years!

Fortunately, there is no rush, so slow stories are just as good as any other story. 

Posted May 20, 2017 | permalink

Bonjour From France!

Last couple days, I participated in a TED-style event in France -- L'echappee Volee. In a gorgeous setting in Chantily, the event brought together entrepreneurs, innovators and investors for an idea-filled, 3-day event. This year's theme was Exponential Happiness. Most of it was in French, but there were various English speakers as well. It turned out that Emmanuel Macron was also invited, but he texted saying he was a bit busy, considering that he had to deliver the President's inaugural address. :)

The speakers had a very Singularity-esque flavor of technology solutions for society's progress. One speaker spoke about curing humanity of the "disease of aging", another gave a live demonstration of "AI replica" to communicate with someone as if they hadn't passed away, another spoke on hacking someone's memory to make them forget past experiences, another on colonizing Mars. Most of them had companies dedicated to the cause. Although all their narratives invariably led with a humanitarian intent, I couldn't help but ponder the alarming ethical dilemmas. Instead of contemplating theories of change, though, I suspected that most of these entrepreneurs enjoyed solving problems. Still, I dreamed about a future dialogue on: "Yes, we can. But should we?" :)

I was the closing speaker of the conference. In the Kurzweil-Fukuoka spectrum, ServiceSpace is working on the Fukuoka end of things while this audience anchored itself on the other end.  And that offered a fantastic opportunity to skillfully build bridges. The essence of my remarks focused on how we can use generosity to reconnect, at the personal, inter-personal and trans-personal level. It was quite illuminating for many who hardly had any exposure to non-market innovations that can uplift humanity.

Skillfulness also keyed various 1-on-1 interactions, where I frequently used questions to evoke deeper nuance without necessarily imposing a world view. A very-sweet young man who is mobilizing 30 thousand volunteers in France came up and said, "I've never been able to explain what I'm doing. Today, for the first time, I get it." As we probed deeper, I asked him if scale can be thought of as an externality and not a destination. With another young entrepreneur (who has built a really cool app that does live transcriptions of audio on your mobile so deaf people can be part of conversations) I posed the question of "big data" versus "deep data" (data that is deeply contextual, and hence perhaps partly subjective and unmeasurable) -- which he hadn't considered before. At lunch, I sat with a gentleman who is the founder of a 30-year-old company (publicly traded company on Nasdaq) that does "gene editing". Back of his sweat shirt read: "Editing Life". He introduced me to his wife and raved about the talk as the "best I've heard". Given our philosophical differences, I was a bit surprised and asked him what resonated with him and he pointed to themes of simple living and abundant giving, which he also tries to practice. "Less stuff, more happiness." Building on that, we then pondered renouncing mental accumulations like our ideas and beliefs. It opened up a beautiful conversation.

Generosity generates tons of heart-warming ripples too. One woman came up to me, with her husband, and said, "My husband is a giver. But I'm more of a matcher. Today, I've decided that I want to start becoming a giver." I suggested that they may like to do a 21-day kindness challenge and share stories at dinner everyday. They got so excited about it that they are even going to email me the story everyday! So sweet. The organizers also gave all attendees a Smile Card, so I'm sure the ripples will continue on.

Underneath all this, as always, there were ample waves of serendipity. Like, after dinner one night, I was attempting to beeline straight to my room but ran into one of the performers, Valencia, near the exit.  We said our hellos. Amidst live background music and hundreds of people talking to each other, our conversation unexpectedly turned deep. At one point, she opened up about this sacred experience she had in her teens: "I was dancing, and all of a sudden I lost myself. I felt like all my movements were led by a gentle wind as I swayed with a tender lightness. I've never experienced that since then, but I can't forget that, because in a very real way, I felt like I was being guided by my roots." You can imagine where our conversation went after that. Forty minutes later, we said goodbye and she added, "You know I had a cab waiting outside. I was just heading out as we met. But some things are meant to be." Indeed. To top of it, she happens to be moving next month and will be my neighbor. What are the odds!

Then again, what are the odds that I would've gone to this conference. It happened because many moons ago, two college-going kids attended the Awakin Circle; they were studying "collective intelligence" and we had a short, agenda-less chat. One of those young women was now the curator for this conference, and she remembered that evening. Eight months ago, when she invited me and referenced our Awakin Circle hug, I knew I didn't have to think twice. :)     

Posted May 17, 2017 | permalink

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Projects I'm Involved With

"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."