Full and Empty From the East Coast

June 2013

Dear ServiceSpace Fellows,

Just returned from a trip to the East Coast. It was a week, filled with hundreds of amazing ripples. I'll share some of the poignant ones for our collective.

The trip was initiated by BALLE -- Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. 11 years ago, they coined the phrase "Local First" and turned it into a movement that Business Week appropriately called "Davos of Main Street". From their 30 thousand mom-and-pop-shop small-biz owners, about six hundred convened for their annual conference. I opened with: "Local honors community, which leads to relationships. But not all relationships are made equal. We have loose, deep and noble ties. So today, I want to talk about this bridge from local to love and how that affects the quality of our relationships." In particular, I spoke about leading with inner transformation instead of impact. The talk was well received, with a generous standing ovation. And then, Birju really brought it home with his stories in our session (whose room has to be shifted since way too many people wanted in) about lemonade stands and venture capital. :) All together, with supporting arguments from folks like Janine Benyus -- who shared how profoundly generous natural ecosystems are -- it shifted the collective conversation.

Renowned MIT professor Otto Scharmer blogged about it as a "watershed moment" for the movement. Etsy co-founder spoke about how they are building a happiness index within their company; how they want to factor in distance between consumer and producer in their search results; and he is now exploring Karma Bucks (a la HelpOthers) for their million sellers. Designer Eileen Fischer spoke about how she studied Kimonos in Japan which have been the only fashion trend that has for survived for 1100 years, and how she starts each of their meetings with silence, and how all their leadership had watched the SSp video. :) For her restaurant, entrepreneur Judy Wicks would buy milk from a goat farmer who said that she kissed her goat's ears because she thought it made the milk sweeter; she later told me, "We started BALLE with the idea of love. But it took us 11 years to actually speak about it. Thank you. I'm now entering the next phase of life and I'd like to volunteer with ServiceSpace." Mayors of couple small towns talked about starting Karma Kitchens in their community. Couple of foundations brainstormed on what "generosity entrepreneurs" fellowships would look like. Smile Decks and Cards spread like crazy, as people kept reporting stories of kindness -- for instance, Susan Witt, who founded the Schumacher Society and the BerkShares currency in MA (and was thrilled that I referenced Kumarappa in my talk), came up to me excitedly: "You won't believe what just happened to me. I was talking to a complete stranger, and I mentioned that I'm going to be in Toronto next week and she literally handed me a key to her house!"

A FaceBook group has been formed, and a budding decentralized movement (a la Awakin circle) is emerging in various cities, to continue the conversation of business and transformation.

On the weekend, our NY posse had organized a full-day Awakin East Coast (previously known as "Super Soul") retreat. It was wait-listed with 40 folks! It opened with a beautiful reading, which I later realized was by Guri, :) and focused on the theme of abundance while inviting couple hours of meditation throughout the day. It was very diverse, with at least one person in 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s and 20s. Practically everyone was moved, as several teared up at various points in the day. Stories were abundant and profound. Mani spoke about how he got stranded in the rain only to receive an umbrella from a homeless man; next time it was raining, he bought four umbrellas and handed them out as pay-forward tribute. Anne Marie spoke beautifully about how she was going through a very rough patch, when a friend just gifted her a kitten; in taking care of the kitten, she ended up taking care of herself. Charlie heard that story and made a commitment to buy a kitten for someone he knew was struggling with life. In his Irish accent, Danny shared some touching stories of doing development work in Africa during the times of famine and learning that the givers are actually the receivers. Anita spoke about how a recent conference she attended distributed $100 to each of its 1000 participants to give away; she started doing Smile Card acts at a coffee shop -- and just loved it. (By the end of the day, someone had tagged her with another hundred bucks!) Will spoke powerfully about his experience working with emotionally disturbed children and how radical empathy is what the world needs now.

Servant ladder Amit has really been the quiet glue for holding together these gatherings so elegantly -- by subtly weaving together so many threads in his usual Dunga way. Ashish (a SSp veteran since 1999) and Manal have been hosting these gatherings in their home, and spoke about how its impact rippled into their youngest daughter -- "I recently gave my daughter 5 dollars to buy lunch. She never brought back the change, so I asked her about it and she said, 'This girl at school didn't have lunch or money, so I just gave her the money.'"

The next night, Birju held an Awakin circle. Genius was clearly flowing. The circle reflected on how the fundamental ServiceSpace technologies of "listening, laddering and loving" are the antidote for today's dizzying tools, that are quite frankly going haywire. Awakin Brooklyn host, Jenny, spoke about an article describing a woman crying on the sidewalk, and how hipsters with their mobiles simply didn't know how to help her -- "Um, there's an app for that?" We also spoke about not seeking the high of giving, and not allowing "interesting" to seduce us away from the present moment. The power of circle isn't about seeking some kind of resonance but about learning to hold still with all that arises. We all left inspired to say yes to circles, as Gerard completely bewildered the after-party with tricks like spoon-bending (which totally blew everyone's minds). Never a dull moment. :)

The next morning, I had various meetings. Tracy from Parabola Magazine told me of a famous NY chef she had interviewed once, who believed intention made his food taste better, so whenever people came to learn from him, he first started by teaching them how to sweep the floor -- "It grounds your intention." My meetings merged with one another, as the vibe kept building. By the time I got in my airport cab, I was silent and grateful. As serendipity were to have it, my cabbie named Ijaz gives 25% of his income for the needy. "I have four kids so I can't give more, but I know this old couple who are poor but give 60% of their income! That's what makes the world go around." Right then, I gifted him a box of cookies someone had given me an hour before: "This is for your daughter, and this Smile Card so she can do something for another stranger." He liked to serve others, but in a depressed voice Ijaz reported, "You know, I never I wanted to be a cabbie, but 16 years now, and its too late to change." We spoke about turning cab-driving as an expression of generosity. Before I left, Guri gave me a hundred dollar bill: "Just in case you need it." I never needed it on this trip. Except now. I gave it to Ijaz to pay forward cab rides. In the context of our relationship, he was completely shaken up. Stuttering, fidgeting, he refused it at least half a dozen times. "Ijaz, you're like my father. And it is to do what you love -- give." Then he just storms out of his door, hastily fixes his drooping pants in half a second, comes over to give me a huge hug at the airport. It was almost like he was saying goodbye to a family member.

A full week, and an empty wallet. What a perfect way to return. Reminded me of a George Bernard Shaw quote -- "I want to be thoroughly used up."

With fullness of emptiness,



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."