Gandhi 3.0 -- Vortex Of Noble Friendships
Mar 4, 2020
A photographer in Spain captured an image he didn’t realize he had taken. While reviewing his camera after, he saw it: A giant murmuration of starlings had spontaneously come together for 10 seconds to respond to a predator, and the formation dissolved in another 10 seconds.
The collective flock knows what no single bird knows. This is not an unusual phenomenon in the natural world; yet such emergence is scarce in the realm of human cooperation.
Last month, 40 global luminaries came together in India for Gandhi 3.0 retreat, where Gandhi stands for leading with inner transformation and “3.0” stands for many-to-many networks that are popularized by the Internet -- and the murmuration of starlings. :)
To awaken compassion in the world, what emergent formations are we capable of co-creating?
What transpired was utterly unpredictable and unimaginable, yet with a native familiarity resounding to our core. In the opening circle, we shared stories around “an unexpected encounter that altered the direction of your life” and by the closing circle, an overwhelming majority of the circle would say that this retreat had become precisely that encounter for the rest of their lives.
"A crack in the cosmic egg. I'm cracked open and I never want to close again," David Bonbright wrote on his flight back to London.
It would be relatively easy to articulate the remarkable bios of participants, the thought-provoking content that was shared, or the retreat ripples that are bound to touch millions of lives. But that’s not the deepest story to tell. The “what” pales in comparison to “how” -- context is what empowered the content.
The context of Gandhi 3.0 starts with the intention of what people brought to the circle.
If there was a common refrain in the opening circle, it was, “I don’t know exactly why I’m here.” It made for really entertaining stories, but after a while, it became clear that no one actually knew. That, in fact, was the point. As the invite read: “This retreat isn't about leaders coming together to create more collective power towards an anticipated solution set. Rather it's the opposite. It’s a circle that finds its strength in surrendering the known to trust the emergence of collective intelligence -- en route to building noble friendships.”
Paulette echoed what many felt: “Every cell in my body immediately knew I was coming, and then my mind rushed in to find reasons. Perhaps the heart knows today, what the mind will know tomorrow.” And folks made tremendous sacrifices to listen to the whispers of their hearts. One participant shared that she left her 9-month-old’s side for the first time, “because I knew that I would return a better mother, and be able to pay forward the love to my daughter for the rest of her life.”
A banker joked, “My calendar for 2024 is getting full, but somehow I’m here.”
That “somehow” can be easily glossed over, but that’s a huge part of the context. How do 40 pioneering leaders, with extremely busy schedules, travel around the globe, with full trust in emergence? It’s a slow story, with deep roots. It surfaced after 20 years of ServiceSpace.
When people come together to support each other without agendas, the relationships go deep. And in the cocoon of such multi-faceted bonds, a certain “law of love” is ignited.
Gandhi’s successor, Vinoba Bhave, was very explicit about this: “The sole purpose of my work is to connect heart to heart.” This, in fact, was the basis of Gandhi’s genius. “Whether humanity will consciously follow the law of love, I do not know. But that need not disturb us. The law will work just as the law of gravitation works,” he wrote.
In a world that frames love as mere sentimentality, Gandhi elevated its mechanics to the precision of gravity. He, thus, invited us to ask -- what principles guide the flow of love? Who do we have to be to engage with that flow? How do we create systems that trust its intelligence?
THROUGHLINE BETWEEN INNER AND OUTER CHANGE
“You heard his words, but did you listen to his heart?” Paula Underwood’s father asked her once. “If you really pay attention, you can not only hear the other person’s heart but also what the Universe is saying.”
At Gandhi 3.0, our attempt was to hold the microscopic experience in a way that would expand our view of the telescopic. And vice-versa. Rather than accumulate knowledge and resources to scheme up solutions, the spirit of this gathering was one of subtracting -- of dissolving preconceived notions so that we can be more greatly informed of the intelligence of the larger whole.
If we really paid attention, we could see the throughline between inner and outer change.
In accordance with such organizing principles, everything at the gathering operated beyond the 3 M’s -- markets, media, and military. Or money, power and fame. To compensate for money’s emphasis on transactions, we expand to multiple forms of wealth that are more relational. Instead of merely broadcasting messages to large networks of loose ties, we “deepcast” a ripple effect that is held by the strength of deep relationships. To balance traditional hierarchies, “laddership” teaches us to skillfully navigate networks of distributed power. Everything happening at the edges propels the center to shine. In such a context, inner transformation naturally blooms, and leads.
Thirty hours into the retreat, one participant told a coordinator, “Thank you for a beautiful day. I started writing a story for my daughter on the plane here. It doesn’t yet have an ending, but maybe I’ll try to write it tonight.” The next evening, he read his completed story at community night with incandescent sincerity. In lyrical rhyme, it chronicled the journey of a gardener and a builder, originally at odds, finding forgiveness in the human condition, and forging friendship over tea. In a vacuum, logic would have invited him to share from his preeminent background in technology, but in such an ambiance, he elevated us with a surprise start to his story’s ending: “A key for a tree sounds good to me. But what if first, we sit and have tea? I’d like to know you before the day ends, For I cannot go on without a good friend.”
Like a fractal, we were living into these values and exploring how it affected the whole. The 40 participants were enveloped by 30 seasoned volunteers. Behind all those love warriors were a few dozen local volunteers, serving offsite. And it was rounded out by a couple hundred community night guests from across India. All put together, it was a dynamic, living organism with an immeasurable lineage of blessings.
SERVING WITHOUT POCKETS
The bedrock of this joyous spring was the heart of the volunteer. Not merely a volunteer trying to change the world, but also someone being the change. As we build the road, the road also builds us.
Gandhi 3.0 volunteers often used a phrase internally, “serve without any pockets.” That is to say, serve without expecting a return. Even as you get a return, as is inevitable, let it slip back into the field. Double down on love. That certainly sounds like a great individual aspiration, but the real magic happens when a group of people start practicing that together. It becomes ridiculously regenerative. And infectious.
Unidentified volunteers “tagged” others with gifts left and right, unleashing a tidal wave concentration of small acts of love, whose chain reaction took off exponentially. A “secret service” of selfless love. Someone somewhere overhears some opportunity to make someone’s day, and an invisible army is mobilized to go through any and all measures to make it happen. Before breakfast one morning, a woman was in quiet tears upon hearing her best friend had another miscarriage -- likely her last chance to bear a child. Later, in her room was an anonymous love letter to that unborn child. One night, Ravi G. sang a stunning Kabir song with the disclaimer of a sore throat. The next day, a myriad of remedies came at him from many different hands.
Another evening, a local artist showed a photo of a painting on her cell phone, and one of the participants really loved it. You guessed it: that piece of art soon managed to find its way on his bed. During a bus ride, one volunteer overheard that Sallyann had never spent her mom’s birthday away from her -- in her entire life! Come Saturday, a group of volunteers hatched a plan to collectively sing and send a birthday song. By the end of the day, not only had Sallyann’s mom in London watched the video multiple times, shedding tears of gratitude, but both daughter and mom felt deeply connected to an infinite spirit, oceans apart.
One morning, a participant hadn’t come for breakfast. Turns out she was meditating in her room, and when she opened her eyes, a fresh fruit smoothie with a handwritten note was waiting for her. While spinning cotton at Gandhi Ashram, Yuko recalled weaving years back, and a conviction arose to share the art of spinning cotton in Japan. Soon after, someone anonymously gifted her not one but two portable spinning wheels -- because how can you teach others with just one? :) At dinner one night, the temperature dropped, and couple folks immediately scoured the campus for spare blankets to offer folks during the outdoor evening program. Next day, one of them noted, “In the process of providing warmth, I realized I didn’t feel cold anymore!” It got to the point where Amir joked, “Every night I went to my bed, and I knew something was going to pop out of my pillow.” By the end, he actually took a touching vow for life, inspired by the unending deluge of small kindnesses.
It wasn’t just acts of kindness, but that each act was contextual. If Miyagi-san speaks Japanese, the note written for him was in Japanese. In fact, at lunch, Yuko taught Nimo a phrase in Japanese -- and he turned it into a song with a hip-hoppin’ beat, that the whole group turned into a gratitude dance for her: “Arigato gozaimashita! Arigato gozaimashita!”
When small acts are so deeply contextual, it not only shows that someone cares but that everyone is listening in. And when it’s done anonymously, without any expectation, it awakens a field of kinship with deeply intertwined roots.
Imagine repeating that hundreds of times, over just a span of a couple of days. The exponential effect of that is quite literally mind-blowing. You start to bypass your head’s circuitry, and open up the heart’s circuitry. The law of love awakens.
STRENGTH OF DEEP TIES
Pulled into such a vortex of noble friendships, our sense of identity starts to subtly-but-significantly morph. “With each passing day, I am feeling smaller and smaller. By the end of the retreat, I hope to just dissolve,” one philanthropist noted in our circle.
We are not merely what we do, but who we become by what we do. As we empty of our agendas, the winds of nature play its song through our lute.
One young participant confessed, “Before coming, I read the bios of the participants and I thought, ‘Oh boy, who are these people?!? And now, after spending a week with all of you, I’m thinking, ‘Who, really, are these people?!?’ I’ve gone from awe for what you’ve done to reverence for who you are becoming.”
The unique caliber of everyone’s identities and backstories were simply splashes of color along a universal throughline of selfless love. We were universal first and unique second, and that order made all the difference.
Sister MIgs, a highly respected Catholic nun who runs one of the most prestigious schools in the Philippines, wrote to her community: "My week at Gandhi 3.0 opened windows, doors and even roofs for me to experience a concrete breaking down of barriers. The participants were from a wide spectrum of life -- from those who own private jets to those who choose not to have a bank account; from those who helped craft the constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq to those who plant Earth Flags along borders to advocate for a ‘One Earth Family’; from those who represent various faith traditions to those who do not have any religion. We were along this spectrum yet felt the same unity, sharing our ONENESS with one another."
The spectrum spread in so many directions. Well-known Hollywood actress is doing dishes with someone who has given up TV. An investor building a trillion-dollar fund is riveted by a conversation with two Vietnamese farmers who flatly state, "We live on 2 dollars a day, and we don’t want the third dollar." A mother homeschooling her daughter is cracking jokes with a man who has an engineering school named after him at UC Berkeley. A former interrogator for the CIA is tearing up while hugging a gentleman born at the Gandhi Ashram. Co-founder of Pinterest says goodbye to a French youngster by saying, "We never spoke with words but your silence taught me something significant. I don't yet know what, but I will someday."
No matter which corner of the ecosystem you zoomed into, you would discover layers and layers of gems. One would never suspect that the quiet guy operating the sound system runs an organization that serves every government hospital in India and impacted policy for millions in the country. Or the kitchen coordinators are trained engineers and bankers who graduated from the highest-ranking colleges in the nation. Or the dedicated drivers picking up participants at all hours of day or night run companies that oversee thousands of staff.
Such details are beside the point, when the premium is on who you are becoming -- when our shared intent is to see what shapes emerge in our flock of birds.
What becomes obvious, though, is that the strength of the flow is directly proportional to the selflessness of its connections. In sociology, the "strength of weak ties" is a well-established principle that explains how information flows through a social network. At Gandhi 3.0, we uncovered the “strength of deep ties”, that explained how compassion flows through a social network.
EXPECTING THE UNEXPECTED
In such a diverse and vibrant ecosystem, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. From the point of view of the parts, it implies that we always have to be ready to be surprised. We not only learn to roll with emergence, but we start to count on it.
We didn’t have a welcome song planned, but a few minutes before a guest arrival, Bhumika spontaneously came up with a smile-inducing rhyme: “Aap ka swagat hai! We welcome you to your India home.” Unplanned. At the Gandhi Ashram, one woman went into a minute of silence, and had a moving vision of Gandhi that left her speechless for most of the day. Lakota elder, Ejna, had a prophetic dream on her first night on campus, and the next day, she met a stranger at the stepwell wearing the same royal blue sari from her dream. Beyond the inspired sites, the exterior destinations we encountered became mirrors for the interior walls inside ourselves to expand into a greater whole. During a visit to a mosque, Bijan started chanting an Arabic prayer he didn’t even realize he knew; he would offer profuse gratitude, with tears in his eyes, “I cannot thank you enough for reconnecting me to my faith of Islam.”
After spinning cotton for the first time in Hang Mai’s life, her spinning mentor casually suggested: “You can tie the thread on the wrist of your husband.” Incidentally, her husband was right beside her, and also keen to learn hand-spinning. When finished, they respectively tied their khadi threads on each others’ wrists, with an air of stillness. In their quiet, matter-of-fact style, they remarked, “We never had a wedding ceremony.”
Serendipity after serendipity. Transformation after transformation. All unplanned. Surprising yet expected. :)
The first five days included local immersions to a village without electricity, a 500-year-old intricately carved stepwell, a stirring museum of Gandhi’s life, an artisan craft fair, a renowned mosque, a fun chai stall, the Gandhi Sabarmati Ashram, kite-flying on terraces during the celebratory holiday of Uttarayan, a pay-it-forward restaurant in Seva Cafe and much more.
Night after night, we found ourselves circling up, arm in arm, as the airwaves of gratitude filled the air.
To pile onto the magic, some volunteers pulled an all-nighter to wow us with some clips from the immersions:
INTEREST TO BEING INTERESTED
Following five days of optional local immersions, we started our formal retreat with interfaith prayers from different parts of the planet.
Our opening circle felt like resumes of serendipity. Rohan and Audrey, our emcee’s for the retreat, asked everyone, “What was an unexpected encounter that altered the direction of your life?” For Gandhi, being thrown out of a train in South Africa was that moment. Our personal narratives are typically biased in the direction of our personal effort, but more often than not, it is unforeseen emergence that ends up shaping our destinies.
A podcaster from Missouri described writing a thank-you letter to her brother, which, seven years after his unexpected death, introduced her to meditation and sparked a redefinition of her life purpose. Hang Mai said, simply, “Books are dangerous.” :) Encountering Fukuoka’s One Straw Revolution propelled her to publish a Vietnamese translation that created a national movement and turned her from a lawyer to a farmer! Tez from Dubai recalled a man she met years after her father died, who told her, “You don’t know me, but I’m alive today because of your father.” A young entrepreneur described sitting in a boardroom of a company that had become a household name, and quizically, not seeing himself in its future. Another participant described the unexpected encounter of a shattered vertebrae, and how three months of sitting still in recovery led an uncanny inner guidance to surface -- one that has pulled him to unexpected places, including this very gathering. :) “I’ve learned the universe has a sense of humor,” he chuckled. Similarly, Shirish from Los Angeles pointed out, “It seems there are no unexpected encounters -- everything happens for a reason.” He poignantly offered a touching moment after his mother died, when he found an unopened letter with a post-dated message she wrote for her children twenty-five years prior, saying:
“Our deepest purpose in life is to serve, so at the end, we can be fully used up, and depart with our bodies disintegrating like burned incense to the sky.”
Listening to such stories filled us with a humbling sense of awe.
Throughout the retreat, we continued to learn from each others’ journeys and fascinating experiments in values-led innovations.
On the first morning, we had a panel reflect on the shift from transaction to relationship: “At one point, we brought borrowers and lenders together to determine their own interest rate. Once they got connected -- I have seen it with my own eyes -- borrowers would even offer higher interest when they felt that lenders needed it! We moved from interest to being interested,” Mark Finser shared.
The more “interested” we are in the other, the deeper our connection -- and lesser need for being rewarded with “interest”. Yet, our extrinsically motivated world of transactions often crowds out intrinsic motivations, leaving us with gaping blind spots, individually and at-large.
That afternoon, we split into several thematic groups, to explore blind-spots in education, technology, community, business, environment, politics, and nonprofit sector. Given the wide range of views in the circle -- sometimes on polar opposite ends of the spectrum! -- it made for a very engaging dialogue.
Our evenings were usually about “stories from the heart”. In such a shared ambiance, people surprise themselves with the kind of turning points that bubble up in their consciousness. Stephanie Cox, a 30-year-old elected member of Austrian parliament, recalled how an act of kindness shaped history. “A kind and courageous woman in her sixties won the nomination for a seat, but she literally gave me that spot because she wanted to encourage the younger generation. Then, she went on to do the same thing with another young woman, my friend Alma. Just two weeks ago, Alma became the Minister of Justice, and the first refugee in Austrian history to become a minister. It all started because of an act of generosity.”
BUILDING BRIDGES BETWEEN LOVE AND POWER
The next day, we dived into the intersection between love and power. Calling in her law background, Preeta invited us to reflect on “wise restraints that make men free.” How do we balance “fierce urgency of now” with trust in the ripple effect? What does it mean to flip the traditional theory of change (of resistance first, then constructive programs, and eventual transformation) to leading with inner transformation first? What is simplicity on the other side of complexity? In reflecting on her personal journey, she concluded with Anne Lamott’s quote: “Lighthouses don’t go running around looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
Following that, Dacher Keltner gave a stirring presentation on the neuroscience of power. His research has been unequivocal -- that power corrupts. It deactivates compassion and empathy circuits in our brain. (Yes, low powered cars almost always stop for pedestrians, while SUV’s and high powered cars -- and Priuses! -- only stop 52% of the time.) Moreover, powerlessness poses tremendous health threats, and societal risks. As inequality rises, those on the bottom rungs of power are more likely to die of cancer, suffer from chronic pain and contract auto-immune disease. We can’t do away with power, but we can distribute it. As Hannah Arendt said, “Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of the individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.”
It all spurred a dynamic springboard of questions: How do you institutionalize love and compassion? If I’m holding privilege, am I not just corrupting someone else by giving it away? What is the responsible way to hold power, without deactivating compassion? Does power corrupt, or does it reveal our underlying tendencies? How can system and network designs help to amplify compassion and virtue over human frailties?
Beyond power, we all surfaced further questions that we were holding. How do you distinguish between impulsive and intuitive acts? How can I be rooted in my uniqueness and my insignificance? Do systems change from inside-out or outside-in? How do we ignite the ‘law of love’ in the ‘temple of greed’? How do I disarm? What is the thin line between effort and effortlessness? Is the truth within us? What does it take to tune into the flow of emergence? How do we bridge the form and the formless? And Jayeshbhai added his own Zen koan on interdependence, “Newton’s law of gravity tells us how the apple falls from the tree. But how did the apple get up there in the first place?’” :)
As preconceived notions dissolved, organic bridges were forming in our flock -- and beyond.
Very early each morning, Abid drove Sister MIgs and Maudie to church. One morning, Sister Migs reflected on how she saw a disabled Jain pilgrim being carried by others. At first she thought, “Why would he go on a pilgrimage when he can’t walk?” Then it hit her: “To learn how to count on other people’s love.” Listening to the moving story, what also struck everyone were the invisible bridges it reflected -- a Muslim man driving a Christian nun and teacher to daily mass, all of whom found themselves inspired by the sincerity of a Jain pilgrim.
In that spirit of bridge building, we had two community nights with 200 friends and volunteers from across the country. Powerful stories of journeys dazzled the air.
A former CIA analyst recalled a striking moment while interrogating a prisoner of war: while her mind told her to see him as the other, her heart couldn’t stop seeing him as a brother. Soon after, she went into peace-building, shifting her life’s work to a new kind of CIA -- “Compassionate Intelligence Agency”. :) Stephanie and Kartik performed a beautiful and humorous skit of going on a pilgrimage. Hang Mai described the story behind her and Chau’s home built entirely with discarded material, and constructed with friends. Our guest of honor was Gandhi’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi! As if he was everyone’s grandfather, he sat on stage recounting a childhood story of his grandfather’s simplicity. “What would Gandhi look like today?” someone asked. He shared a spontaneous list of all-encompassing characteristics, summing up: “A world citizen.” In perfect harmony, inimitable volunteer came up and gifted him the earth flag, on behalf of all of us.
The next night, Prahlad Tipanya-ji infused us with songs of Kabir, and 17 local youth dazzled us all with a dance-theater performance of Jai Jagat.
At the end of the night, everyone formed a unifying circle -- the spirit of oneness electrifying through all of us. One hearing-impaired volunteer in attendance was in full bloom and said, “Though I was not able to hear anything, I felt kindness all around me.”
PEACE IS NOT AN ABSENCE OF TENSION
After one of the elevating community nights, Stephanie found herself walking in the dark, and fell into a 7-foot cylindrical hole. At 11:30 AM, she was rushed to the ER, and needed 50 stitches. (FYI, she will heal fully.) During her sleep, she was subconsciously moaning in pain. Yet, the next morning, she showed up with a giant smile on her face, “I’m so grateful.” Later, she wrote:
So, why do I call this my "Beautiful Fall"? On the last day of the Gandhi 3.0 retreat, we walked around the premises with 3 steps and a bow. I remember Guri telling me that in bowing, we put our hearts above our heads and thus lead with our hearts. As we circled around, I found myself crying in gratitude for being at that amazing place with those amazing people -- but also for my fall, and how this injury helped me learn how to RECEIVE. I've been good at offering but receiving graciously has never been a strong suit for me. I will always find a way to deflect a compliment or return a favor -- but here, the nature of the people around was of such loving service, that to receive with grace was the most appropriate and loving way to complete this sacred connection. I just couldn't stop crying at the beauty of it all. The gratitude and love I felt was so powerful -- and something I'd love everyone to experience as often as we experience hunger, anxiety and shame.
Apart from being an actress featured in over 100 productions, Stephanie is also a very seasoned meditator. (Even Harvard has studied her brain!) Her beautiful response to her beautiful fall was no accident; it was borne of cultivating profound equanimity in countless hours of meditation. Swara, who was with her in the hospital, later wrote to Stephanie:
Little did I know that your sense of humour wasn't limited to your happy morning days. Despite the immense pain, there was absolutely no change in the width of your smiles. Instead, it was you who cheered everyone up, from the random passersby’s in the lobby to the doctors and nurses. Even in that condition, you were just offering your radiance and levity -- and love. I simply can't forget that. In my mind, even at that time, the thought that kept coming up, "How could I be like that someday?"
It moved so many of us in a similarly profound way.
“Peace is not an absence of tension,” Martin Luther King Jr. once said. It is actually holding of the tension with unwavering equanimity. Bereft of that inner resource, we disrupt the flow of ever-evolving transitions of tensions -- and compassion. When we are foolhardy in solving and dissolving away our tensions, we forget the wisdom of Rachel Naomi Remen: “When we help, we see life as weak; when we fix, we see life as broken; it is only when we serve, we see life as whole.”
To respond to life’s suffering with compassion, instead of reacting with sympathy or empathy, we need to be nestled in a web of noble kinship. That’s what affords us the resilience to hold our tensions long enough to glimpse into the heart of service. Without that strength of deep ties, an entire solution set stays hidden in plain sight. But with that capacity of equanimity, we shift from direct reciprocity (transaction) to indirect reciprocity (relationship) to infinite reciprocity (principled action without foreseeable reward).
Reflecting on infinite reciprocity, Hang Mai shared a quote by Fukuoka: “Whether autumn will bring wind or rain, I cannot know, but today I will be working in the fields.” Equanimity gives us the strength to keep showing up in service, without an agenda. The larger emergence can then work its magic through us.
On the last morning of our retreat, our unstoppable media team had whipped up another montage:
SPEED OF LOVE
Coming into the gathering, there is always a lingering opportunity-cost equation about the impact of our time together. By the end of the retreat, that becomes a forgotten afterthought -- partly because the umpteen inevitable ripples have become tangibly visible, but mostly because the center of gravity of our consciousness shifts. It shifts from content to context.
In such a network of noble friends, the tensile strength of its bonds knows no bounds. Trust skyrockets, and ripples start to magnetize at the speed of love. And because such inter-connected transformation is non-linear, our jaws continually drop in awe.
Miyagi-san, who shared how he was "reborn" at Gandhi 3.0, happens to be closely connected to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics committee. Following the retreat, he is now moving forward with a lot of new ideas -- like inviting 50 thousand refugees to hold up a small piece of art, that collectively makes the image of an Earth Flag. Couple of the participants are "heartstorming" a global youth movement with major influencers and support from Gates Foundation. Another connected him to CTO at Apple, another to Steven Spielberg. Post Olympics, he is set to host a "Gandhi 3.0" retreat in Japan.
In Dubai, Tez is exploring Karma Kitchen during Ramadan. Paulette is doing a three-part radio show about her India experience, while in North Dakota, Joe is doing media interviews about his "lessons from India", and Christina is publishing stories in upcoming OOOM magazine. In Vietnam, while Chau has started hand-spinning cotton, Hang-Mai writes: "April 30 was end of Vietnam-US war, and every year, we read about war heroes in the papers. This year, we suggested another theme to the Communist Party: healers and everyday heroes. And surprise -- they accepted! Twenty pages of their magazine will now feature stories of Giftivism!" In France, Jasky is plotting a local retreat with youth. Ravi and Naina started an Awakin Circle in their home and are architecting a Peace Garden at a local college. At UC Berkeley, Coleman and Dacher are keen to integrate circles for student well-being. In the Philippines, Sister MIgs echoed many others: "It is a gratuitous gift I received, an overwhelming experience. How do I begin to proceed from here? I continue 'heartstorming' with my teams, noting a quote I carry in my heart -- It is not what you do but who you become in the process."
Almost like a fountain, goodness rose up and is now sprinkling in distributed drops around the globe. Precisely Gandhi 3.0.
AT HOME, IN OUR ONENESS
No one could articulate where exactly the magic was coming from -- it was imbued in many-to-many laddering, the micro-moments of goodwill, in all corners of every room.
When no one was looking, invisible hands arranged flower petals along pathways and room centerpieces. One evening as the breakout sessions faded into a silent walk to dinner, the sun effortlessly went down and the glow of candles lined our path -- to a chorus of volunteers singing a sacred song whose words were an ode to our inextricable interconnections. In silence, dinner was served under the expanse of star-lit sky above, and as those standing gently served those sitting, the night sky felt like a visceral mirror of the constellations of acts of service in front of us.
“When we will all see our role in society as servants, we will all light up the sky together like countless stars on a dark night. Don’t think of society as the sky on a full moon night. The moon's harsh light blinds us to the true and humble work of the stars. But on a moonless night, the true servants shine forth, as though they are connected invisibly in this vast and infinite cosmos,” Vinoba Bhave once said.
On the last day, Coleman poignantly observed, “To survive my time on earth, I built up a lot of walls in my heart.” When a volunteer picked him up from the airport with exuberant words of Indian hospitality -- “Welcome home!” -- it hadn’t quite landed. But in the course of the time together, he heartily declared, “I am truly HOME.” By the end, the connection went even deeper: “I feel like I’ve got a lot of homework to do. Let’s get this inner transformation going!”
Home isn’t merely a physical place, although the backdrop of Gandhian legacy was quite a charged land. It wasn’t just the people, although we were awed by the group, and disarmed by the deep displays of care. Rather, “home” was more of a timeless plane, unleashed by transformation -- by moments of being able to touch the hem of the infinite living within and throughout us.
Ari poignantly reflected:
Zen master Basho once said, "It’s not like anything they compare it to -- the summer moon." Once we know something with extreme intimacy, at a depth where it almost doesn't seem separate from one's own self, all analogies fail to capture its essence. There is a knowing that cannot be captured by words. Like our shared experience at Gandhi 3.0 -- a gathering with deep intimacy where our individual selves blended with others to create, for a brief moment in time, an experience that words just won't do justice to. It's a felt sense, an embodied knowing, where we each played a small part in evolving the other's path, as well as in integrating our paths, into a more cohesive whole.
If Basho had such an opportunity to attend this gathering, the poem may have instead ended like this: "It’s not like anything they compare it to -- Gandhi 3.0."
A giant flock of blessings spontaneously came together to form a unique formation, and organically dissolved. It wasn’t anything we could hold onto, but in its passing, we awakened into the law of love -- and the law of flow. It didn’t feel like anything we could compare it to.