Blessings from LA
It was my last of three nights in Southern California. Awakin gathering with about 20 people. A woman keeps on her sunglasses in the circle, although it's well past 9PM. Then, it's her turn to speak: "When I lost my vision, I felt like I started losing everything. I felt worthless, not needed, invaluable. But it was the work of ServiceSpace that brought sanity to my life." She had come to express her gratitude. After the circle, she asks me privately, "Do you think there's a way I can be helpful? I don't know what I can do, but I want to help." Naturally, I suggest various ideas. Right before leaving, her face is not looking squarely at me, but she's holds my right hands and says, "I don’t want to be embarrassing but your work has saved my life. Like, every morning, I wake up to DailyGood -- my computer reads me DailyGood, first thing in the morning. Thank you."
People are always amazed how we are able to do so much without anything. The thing is that it's not anything. We have blessings, like that of this lady.
My trip was catalyzed by an invitation from a Church in Ventura. I had spoken there last year, and it really ignited their community to act -- they started doing Smile Card acts, attending Forest Calls, subscribing to newsletters and sharing it on their bulletin boards, driving to Santa Clara for an Awakin gathering and then starting it locally every week. Basically, being the change. They really wanted to me come again, so I agreed. Typically, I don't agree to do ticketed events (where I'm the only attraction), but I was happy to support this community. It drew a couple hundred folks, but the organizers apologetically told me, "Somehow the turn out has been low this year." I told them what they already knew of me -- that size didn't matter to me. They laughed and told me what I already knew too: "You know, if we said, Nipun will share the 'Secret' to service, everyone would flock. But we know that's just not you." I cracked up in agreement. "Yeah, imagine an unexpected janitor rolling up on stage and sharing that one story from his personal lived experience. He doesn't have any products to sell, but his story feels raw and real, and it just sort of stays with you. I aim to be like that janitor." :)
I went to the restroom and a fellow says, "Aren't you the speaker? My wife came last year and said I had to come tonight, and I'll be transformed." I LOL'd. "Hardly so. Transformation comes from within, when the time ripens. We can all just hold space together, and water each other's seeds and see when Nature wants to give it fruit. You know?" He agreed, before giving me a hug. Nothing like a 30 second bathroom conversation. :)
A local "Hindu rock" band opened for me, which is -- well, an experience in itself. :) I started with a minute of silence, ServicSpace kind of rock. :) I shared some stories around the four shifts. A standing ovation followed. Larisa Stow (and the Shakti Tribe) came back on stage to offer couple chants. Before starting, Larisa unexpectedly bursts into tears. "I just feel SOOOOO much love right now. This is what the world needs." They've been playing together since 2007 (including local prisons), singing wholesome lyrics of devotion and spreading love. "How many of you are feeling that something profound has shifted within you? How many of you are going to take on the 30-day kindness challenge?" A sea of hands go up, hers included. After the songs, we do Q&A. Some great questions, as Larisa herself asks: "I want to do this with my music, but how do I still pay for my gas? Sometimes people give us a banana, you know?"
Very real. Essence of my response was: "Our culture doesn't know how to differentiate between free and gift. What we need are trail blazers. We don't know the answer, but we need experiments. Some will work, some won't. You might pay the price for bitter seeds that others might've planted in the past, while your nourishing seeds of generosity might take multiple generations to bear fruit. But are you willing to take a hit for the team? If so, come on board. A monk in Berkeley gave out his music in return from acts of kindness, an editor runs his magazine without a price, ServiceSpace operates entirely without fundraising. Let's build the field. Are you in?"
She was. Many years ago, she had a near-death experience when a vision of "Kali" saved her life and inspired her to serve. Next day, she wrote on FaceBook: "Last night was life changing. I pray that Giftivism will anchor into my cells and that I will further this inspiring practice. I would love to implement this revolutionary heart centered practice with Shakti Tribe. Who has heard of this walk and how are you integrating this into your life?" She also offered all her CD's as a gift that night, and I silently snuck all the unexpected monetary offerings from the ServiceSpace table into their stash.
The next day Popat had organized a circle of sharing. He has been a ServiceSpace volunteer since its early days, always hosting us lovingly in his house. "I sent it to my whole list, but I'm not sure how many will show up. Maybe 15-20." As we walk into the room, 150 people are there. He turns to me and says, "I think I'm going to cry." I give a spontaneous talk and do Q&A -- for the next three hours(!), as the room still-fully held a solid vibration of service. Later, I hugged lots of people. "My daughter has volunteered at Karma Kitchen," "How can I bring Smile Cards to my school?" "I have been to Wednesday", "I used W-A-L-K for my daughter's wedding", "I'm an MBA, also volunteering with Skidrow -- how can I be more humble?" "I translate Awakin readings to Hindi."
Somewhere along the trip, I wrote a quick note to my parents: "I don't really know what's at play, and what exactly I'm even doing, but I'm just blessed to be an instrument of this kind of unfolding."
Met some interesting folks the next days, including my buddy from high school -- Bao. I hadn't seen him in many years, but it was like we never skipped a beat. "What's been going on?" Last year, he donated his kidney to his sister. A guy who had a 40 inch vertical in high school, now would huff and puff after a walk in the park. His own 6-year-old daughter has kidney challenge, so family members asked him if it made sense to donate to his sister. "If you think about what could be, you will miss what is," he casually says, as is his usual style of dropping wisdom. At some point, I was sharing a powerful story from Heng Sure's pilgrimage, and right at the climax of the story, there's a loud thump on the roof. "Oh my God, I've never seen such a bird here," the host tells us. It was a hawk mightily gracing our conversation. :)
That night, the vintage Awakin gathering.
Our theme was spirit of service, as Suzanne elegantly opened. A woman sitting next to her husband shares, "My husband and I got caught in the rat race but realized that we just want to serve the poor. So we left and moved back to rural India, but with two young kids, it was just too hard." She cries uncontrollably, as her husband finishes her statement. "We moved back." A doctor shares how she placed a deaf mother's hand on a machine and asked if she could feel her unborn son's heart beat -- she could. A college girl spoke about going through a hard time in college only to take on a practice of smiling at strangers, which is now a daily practice. Another young girl eloquently contrasted doing development work for pay, and service without getting anything in return. Popat closed out the circle with a series of powerful stories of small acts that changed his life, "Decades ago, I bought a cantaloupe for my wife on a rural farm. The parents of the farm were out, as a little kid was sitting in their hut -- 4 sticks and a plastic tarp on top. I asked him if I could take the cantaloupe, and he gladly said yes. Out of gratitude, I took out a 20 rupee note for the fruit. And the kid refused to take it. No commerce, just a pure gift from a child who had nothing. My wife started crying right in front of him, and it changed our life."
The circle was ordinary, and yet everyone was moved. Before closing with two minutes of gratitude, I added my usual, "I hope all of you continue to say yes to circles." More stories unfolded around the dinner, like how Suzanne takes a pot of tea to a local park and offers to have tea with stranger -- in silence! Or how Kristeen's car was stolen, and she was tagged by ServiceSpace posse with kind letters that totally moved her. And of course, a solid serving of Pancho stories. Kalpana (the host) came upto me and said, "I'm going to meditate for an hour everyday. And every Wednesday, I'm going to leave the door open for whoever else wants to join. Even if its just me, I will hold everyone in my heart."
Beauty all around. Not enough sleep, :) lots of invisible service, lots of small gifts, lots of smiles, and lots of blessings.
At the airport, I open my wallet to take out my ID. Earlier, I had received a check for ServiceSpace, which was also in my wallet. I hadn't looked at the amount until now. Five thousand bucks. I come home and there's a fancy letter on my desk: "It is our great honor to inform you that you have been selected to receive recognition as an Unsung Hero of Compassion. Congratulations! His Holiness the Dalai Lama will present this accolade to you at a celebration to be held on February 23, 2014."
I don't know how all these things are connected, yet I sense that they are. Perhaps as they say, life is not a puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.
With a full heart,
P.S. On the way to a meeting at USC, I saw this graffiti on a wall that captures the essence of ... well, everything: https://instagram.com/p/b1d_moxusw/