Karma Clinic Turns 3, Rawality, Overcoming Fear...What
Posted by Bela Shah on Nov 9, 2011
This past Saturday, the weekly forest call was held with the special presence of Dr. Aumatma Shah. Aumatma is the founder of Karma Clinic, a network of health clinics that offer holistic services on a gift economy basis. The conversation below, in which Aumatma very honestly shared the hopes and fears that come with running a gift economy based clinic, includes a few points of wisdom that went even deeper during the call.
Before Aumatma began to tell her inspiring story, a few people described their most recent experiences in gratitude. Guri’s reflection revealed the great contrast she experienced between her recent stay at Plum Village and the weeks leading up to her retreat. The entire focus of the Plum Village experience is on the small actions of our lives, and learning how to be present in every moment through ordinary activities such as walking and chewing food. Imagine arriving at this retreat after spending the weeks leading up to it successfully cramming as much activity as possible into every waking moment in order to launch the new website for Service Space. “After the frenzy of the Service Space website launch, it was very interesting to go from this level at the mind to another level where you are “visiting how you walk”. Practicing mindfulness by chewing between 10 to 20 times on every bite makes you very conscience of what you’re eating. After the first 20 minutes, it’s a lot of work and it could take you an hour to finish the meal. You think about so many things while chewing very slowly. Am I eating in a way that supports other people? Am I worthy of this meal?
“I remember before arriving in Plum Village how I wanted the experience to be an intense retreat and I thought, “When are we going to get to it. I realized it’s almost tougher to be gentle than to be tough. I realized the beauty in that gentleness. It was a huge lesson for me to be gentle with myself and I learned that it isn’t always about the intensity because there are 355 days outside the 10 day retreat and how do you live, how do you eat, and what do you think during those other 355 days?”
Amit expressed feelings of frustration because he wasn’t finding enough opportunities to serve. However, opportunities arise when you have a genuine intention. Last week he saw an elderly man standing next to a brick wall, trying to hold onto a shrub with one hand while clearing the snow and ice with the other hand. Amit and I were on our way to meet a friend but invited the man to join us inside the warm coffee shop. But the man responded, “No, I just want to sit for a few moments and gather myself. To be honest, I can’t find my car and I’ve just been walking around.” Amit described how the man seemed lost in so many ways and part of him thought, “This could be real or maybe he’s going through Alzheimer’s. I told myself to give him the benefit of the doubt and asked him what his car looked liked and where he parked it.” What he really wanted to do was ask the man for his keys but Amit held back since he was a complete stranger. But then in the very next moment, the man was so overcome by Amit’s kindness that he asked, “Why don’t you just take my keys? I parked my car near a church.” Amit wasn’t sure if there was going to be car and he looked for about 25 minutes and went to two or three churches. But the ringing of church bells became a sign. As Amit followed the sound of the bells, he spotted the green car that the man had described – he not only found the car but even decided to fill the tank up with gas. The man was so overjoyed when I relayed the news to him. While Amit was searching for the car, my friend and I brought the man into the coffee shop. We discussed his life, his children and even shared a conversation around vegetarianism. When Amit brought the car around, I walked the man out to the car. The man asked us both, “How do I thank you? How much do I owe you?” Of course, we couldn’t take anything. The man then explained, “When you’re kind, you end up meeting other kind people.” Then he asked Amit if he could give him his blessings? Amit said, “That I will take!”
Then the conversation turned to Aumatma, who described the history of her connection to the Service Space community and ripples that have taken place since. About 10 years ago, while visiting her friend on the Bay area, she met Viral and Nipun for the first time. Her friend, who also happened to be Viral’s and Nipun’s cousin, invited Aumatma to attend a Wednesday meditation. Although she was new to meditation, she ended up having a really incredible experience. The most interesting part of this story is that just before meeting them, Aumatma had a vision that she would one day run a free clinic. This is before she attended medical school or even had any desire to attend! But it turns out that life did lead her to medical school and after graduating and living in a monastery for a few months, it became clear that she needed to integrate service into her life. At the monastery, the vision that Aumatma saw ten years earlier was deeply present and she was constantly thinking of how a free clinic could fit into her life. In medical school, she had worked at free clinics on campus but she noted why they didn’t really work. People that came didn’t value what they were getting. They would come in week after week and say, “No, I didn’t take those pills you gave me and no, I didn’t change my diet.” So Aumatma was in this place where free clinics didn’t make sense yet she knew that the vision meant something. But how to realize it?
A few months into a traditional medical practice, where patients were charged hundreds of dollars, Aumatma felt her heart dropping. “I didn’t go into this to charge people so much money for an hour of my time.” After about 5 months of this she got an email from Nipun, who remembered the vision that Aumatma had shared with him ten years back. The email described a karma hospital on the west coast. After reading the serendipitous email, she decided to move to California with the impression that the karma hospital was already under way. However, when she arrived, Aumatma realized that she would be the one initiating the whole thing! Karma Clinic was just a conceptual idea that floated around conversations but it was waiting for someone to commit to it.
In her search for an office space, Aumatma met a woman who had never heard of the concept of a gift economy and quite frankly, didn’t really believe it could work. Nonetheless, she was so taken aback by Aumatma’s intention that she offered a small, 80 square foot space to her at whatever price she could afford to pay. It seemed that the universe was conspiring to make Aumatma’s vision come aliveJ. “I had colleagues that spent months looking for an office space and so for this to fall into my lap was incredible. It’s a blessing. I feel that when things are meant to be aligned, the universe helps make it happen.”
On the call, Madhu, who joined all the way from India (!!!), asked Aumatma to share any challenges and insights that surfaced while keeping the Karma Clinic alive and running.
“I think the main challenge has been for my own growth in terms of trusting that I’ll be provided with whatever I need when I need it. Like a lot of people, I have had moments where I question “Am I going to be able to pay my rent and other expenses?” You go into fear mode and in those moments, the key is being able to sit and say to yourself, “Ok, this is what the mind does and just observe it instead of reacting to it with actions based in fear.”
Karma Clinic turned 3 years old on November 1 and every single month there has been enough to pay the rent and cover the basic costs. So there has never been a problem, but at times, I have still freaked out in reaction to my fears. Last summer for about a month, the fear consumed Aumatma to the point where she was worrying about everything. “What if I become homeless? What if I don’t have food to eat?” In reaction to these extreme thoughts of fear, she told herself that she just needed to find a job. Aumatma rationalized, “What if I have a job that pays regularly and I run a free clinic?” Of course, she knew deep down that her only purpose should be to focus on service through the clinic, but when the job offer came, she took it.
The night before her first day at work, she came down with the flu. Although she made it go way, a few nights later she began to experience back spasms that prevented her from moving. After somehow making the spasms go away, a few more nights later Aumatma tripped and fell and busted her knee cap. After kneeling on the floor, screaming in pain for about 10 minutes, she just started to laugh. Her friends thought she was going crazy. But Aumatma got it. She understood why she was on the floor.
“I was not listening to my spirit. I was reacting to my fears. But these series of painful events brought me back to my senses. I moved into a moment of deeper trust and realized that I would be taken care of if I am of service. This has been my biggest growth spot, to just trust. So then I quit that job and went back to the Karma Clinic full time.”
Now Aumatma is busy with her next project, Rawality. The vision is to have a center in the city that supports people in reversing and preventing preventable diseases, specifically Type 2 Diabetes, which usually occurs in people that don’t have access to grocery stores and the right kind of food. It’s a disease that is totally preventable and has to do mostly with diet and life style. A rawality diet consists of lots of fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, and meals made out of raw foods but prepared in a practical way for people living in Oakland. For the diet to work, it takes about 30 days.
In its initial stages, Aumatma and her colleagues are working on the type of model through which the vision of Rawality can be manifested. There are three types of strategies: the conventional, nonprofit model (fundraise, invest in the nonprofit, and offer services for free); gift based model (people that are receiving services support others by paying it forward); the Arvind model (based on self-sufficiency, people that are able to pay it forward sustain the clinic for those that are not able to). But right now, Aumatma and her team are trying to find enough start up money to pay for the first month of rent and utilities since the idea is to have a live project in which the people on the Rawality diet live together in an enclosed environment for 30 days and support each other through the process.
Ending the call by sharing each other’s intentions for the week, Madhu expressed how grateful he was for these calls and his intention was to stay connected with the ServiceSpace blog because we are all interconnected and so interconnectedness leads to innerconnectedness. Guri expressed how she wanted to continue practicing mindfulness in every small aspect of her day-to-day life while Aumatma felt her intention was to simply move through the week with the joy and excitement of a child. Amit explained that he wanted to explore the extraordinary of the ordinary similar to Guri's focus on mindfulness….and also come to Karma Clinic via Skype!
Happy 3rd Birthday Karma Clinic!