Just in the Last Week
I tend to write updates when I'm traveling. But these days, every day seems like a travel from the known to the beautiful unknown. :)
Few days ago, I met a six foot eight inch man in his late 60s. Alan had introduced us a year ago, with this note: "I met Mark the other night at a Native American event and pretty much instantly felt like I'd known him for ages. Mark has an illustrious past, as co-founder of Friends of the River, International Rivers Network, and WorldWise, and was international coordinator for Earth Day in 1990 and 2000. In 1979 he captured national headlines when he chained himself to the bedrock of the Stanislaus River Canyon as a new reservoir filled. While his action forced only a temporary reprieve for the Stanislaus, the growing movement to protect rivers brought a halt to major dam building in the United States. And, for all of his exemplary work past and present, what is was most striking to me about meeting Mark was discovering his profound commitment to Gandhian principles of nonviolence and oneness, both personally and as a (r)evolutionary way forward for activist organizations. Plus his heart filled the room."
Right as I met him, his presence immediately drew him out to be kind -- and an elder. Before anything, he stoops down to hug and thank me for the work of ServiceSpace -- that he had been following for years. We interacted effortlessly with an uncommon vibrancy. He quipped quotes that resonated with his being, like this one from his friend's grandpa: "Whatever you keep, you lose. Whatever you give, you keep." Mark's life has been a practice of giftivism. When he pitted himself against the US Army Colonels, with publicity that landed him on the front page of the NY Times, he faced a lot of vitriol but "you know, I never felt any anger towards anyone. The world thought of me as an activist, but I was coming from a different space. I didn't have language to express it, but it was giftivism."
At the end, I opened my wallet to hand him a Smile Card, but then spontaneously crumpled all the money I had in my wallet into my palm, and then placed it in his: "Brother, this is a humble offering -- whatever little I have in this moment." He knew I would be richer for having made the offering, and graciously accepted. It was a powerful culmination of our three hours together. He later wrote, "As I drove... and thought of you... my eyes leaked... and it felt like my heart expanded... such a wonderful honor sharing deep time with you! and ALL that ServiceSpace is holding, living and expressing!" Before he even wrote that, I was thinking -- you know you're on the right track, when such elders come to bless you. :)
Offerings come to us in all shapes and sizes, from around the world. Like Zilong from Mongolia, who graduated as college valedictorian last year and then "biked from Massachusetts to San Francisco, knocking on strangers' doors every evening to ask if I could camp in their backyard. While biking, I read the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Quran, Moby Dick, and the Book of Mormon." I asked how he selected those books, and he said, "Those are the religions I knew the least about, and I wanted to explore how others experienced spirituality." Before we even started our conversation, he made me an offering -- a hand drawn piece of art from his grandma! "She used to architect tanks and now she makes art for peace. I told her about ServiceSpace and she felt moved to offer this," he said.
The day before, I met with a fellow who had written me an email a few months back. It was an unusual email, which essentially said that he wanted to cover mine and Guri's costs for the entire year. "What prompted you to make the offering?" I asked in person. "To be honest, I woke up in the middle of the night one day, wrote you an email, and went back to sleep. I'm not sure what prompted me." It was very touching, so I told him that I received it, and then asked him to pay it forward. When it was time to depart, he tells me a story of Buddha Kassapa's disciple: "His chief donor was a potter named Chatikara; he was very poor, but Buddha would send even the kings so they can learn generosity from him. One monsoon, the monastery roof was leaking so Buddha asked the monks to visit Chatikara's hut and get the straw from his roof. When the monks visited his hut, Chatikara wasn't home so they explained the situation to his blind parents, to which they responded, 'Please take all the straw.' When Chatikara heard of this, such a deep happiness arose in him that it did not leave him for a full two weeks." I was very moved by the story, only to be outdone by this young man's final sentence: "Whatever I have is yours. Whenever you want to tag someone, just let me know and it'll be done."
Speaking of Buddha, in Australia, Rev. Heng Sure inspired a young student named Phal to volunteer with us. She signed up, and was quite moved by our orientation (put together by Trishna, couple years ago). Among other things, she shared this story: "Like the Julio Diaz story in the orientation, when a local temple was being robbed once, the monk handed everything over -- and then offered the guy some dinner. The robber was hungry, so he ate before leaving. Eventually, he was caught and put into prison. After being released from prison, the robber wept upon remembering the kind gesture of that monk years back, and decided he wanted to learn how to be kind. He went back to the same place, and ordained as a monk."
At the same time, entrepreneurs also continue be attracted to the innovative spirit of ServiceSpace. An established dot-commer from UK, listed by Forbes as the 30th richest Indian, came to the local coffee shop in Berkeley to chat about doubling his focus on generosity. Two young women from Singapore, Min and Audrey, brainstormed about their 7-person enterprise. "Here's the core question for you to explore: are you in service to Play Moolah [their organization], or are you in service to the larger movement to change people's relationship to money? If its the latter, you have to build roots that will last a thousand years, and trust that the shoots will take care of themselves." They were so pumped, that by the end of the night, they had created this amazing diagram, started a "wisdom council" and were thinking of a 1000-year plan. On another day, I chatted with a Harvard B-school alumnus who was keen to amp up the use of social media for change, later meeting with a sincere environmentalist with 1.2 million Facebook fans who is now looking for a plan B after FB's algorithm changes nixed his engagement by more than 50%.
Then there's the local Awakins in the area -- the Santa Clara one, David's Thursdays, Pancho and Sam's Fridays, Berkeley Tuesdays, and Aryae's monthly Half Moon Bay gathering. Seventy people came by last Wednesday to Awakin Santa Clara, with another 15 on the waitlist. Lynne's 19-year-old son came for the first time and right before dinner, she jubilantly noted: "Just look at him. He's come alive." It holds space for incredible stories (like Thuy!) to emerge. Last Wednesday also happened to be the first time in six months that the entire sixpack was in the circle! :)
Keith held down the fort at Karma Kitchen again, where this week a family from Switzerland was so rocked that they interviewed Ron, Ram and Keith on an iPad to share the story with their business communities; where two mothers brought their 4th grade sons to teach them about cooperation and teamwork; where Chirag pinned a heart pin on one gentleman, who naturally remarked, "I will keep this for the rest of my life." I anchored the dishes, and Audrey summed it up well, "I'm tired but I feel like I have even more energy." :) And similarly, this week's Awakin Call featured Suresh Parmar, a 30 year old who has served in 700 villages in India. Without knowing stellar English or having a positive net worth, he rocked the callers with his stories of moment to moment generosity. "Let's go towards internal purification, not external achievement," he said.
This is just from my lens. Then there’s so many of you. At a 50th anniversary conference of Decision Analysis last week, Somik introduced Ron Howard and then went on to give a provocative talk that spoke about leading with abundance and generosity. Joel and Arathi spread stories at a local event in DC. Bela inspired 'Quadgrama' to paint rocks as her act of kindness, as Leena inspired Emily to spread gratitude journals. In Europe, Catherine started Awakin Grasse in France and Joserra started Awakin Burgos in Spain. Swara and Manjit launched Karma Kitchen in Baroda. Birju inspired billionaire Tom Steyer to put his companies through a 21-day kindness challenge. Alongside Sheetal's compassion ride, Yogeshbhai is walking many hundred kilometers to reach the "peace pole" in Sughad, as he prepares for an India-Pakistan friendship walk. Nimo just released a new video about his Empty Hands Tour on kindness, as he gets ready for a pilgrimage across the US. A "66 years young" volunteer wrote to tell us why she wants to volunteer with us: "I'm grateful to KindSpring for letting me know who I am. If I could say one thing about KindSpring, one thought about how I feel and other members feel, is that it brings happiness to us.... I'm always blessing all the people who make it possible. We have no idea how some people's lives have been impacted. I'm sure a lot of people have really come out from under because of this site."
Rich stories everywhere. Stories need to be honored, storytellers need to be cultivated. We try to do that. But most importantly, we need to build the stories -- and that, we do in spades.
It is no surprise that lots of people wanted to engage with our inside-out service. In the last two weeks alone, more than 20 enthusiastic volunteers joined our various teams: Pree, Zilong, Radha, Hillary, Fernando, Kajal, Aryae, Nikhil, Stephanie, Deven, Denise, Lavanya, Felicia, Tejal, Ankana, Chitra, Phal, Bhumika, Michaela, Vilma Luiz, Neeta. Each of them registered, created a profile, completed an online orientation, and engaged personally with a volunteer coordinator. Amit and I also "interviewed" Tim's dorm-mate, Vishesh, as a summer intern; studying at Stanford, he did an internship with Google in his freshman summer. "Why ServiceSpace this summer?" I asked him. "All these people doing great jobs, I asked them why they chose that job and the best response they can come up with is, 'It’s coooool.' I'm so sick of that. I know there has to be a deeper answer, and I think ServiceSpace can help me find it." That’s coooool. :)
With smiles, :)