Easier Done Than Said: Ragu & Nisha's Jaw Dropping
Posted by Bela Shah on Nov 15, 2011
Though this write-up is a long one, I promise you it is worthwhile ...
This past Saturday a few of us experienced a true powerhouse call with many long time ServiceSpace volunteers that dialed into the weekly forest call, including our guest speakers for the week, Ragu and Nisha Srinivasan, who joined us around midnight their time on a Saturday all the way from India =).
As someone who is relatively new to the ServiceSpace community, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to meet everyone that dialed in on Saturday. Therefore, what I have found to be special about these calls is the virtual creation of an interconnected space across the global ServiceSpace community, which allows you to experience each person’s insights and personal growth until one day when serendipity will bring us together in person.
Below are some of the stories that were shared followed by selections from Ragu’s and Nisha’s narratives:
On a recent cold and windy New England day, a street activist struggled to attract the attention of those passing by. But standing nearby, observing the situation, Audrey wondered if she could do anything to help or lighten the woman’s day. Overcoming the uncertainty of how to help or how the help would be received, she decided to pop into a coffee shop and buy a cup of hot chocolate. The woman was completely surprised and so warmed by that small, yet significant act of kindness on that cold day when it seemed that no one was paying attention.
On the opposite coast, Prakash was busy working from home one sunny afternoon when he happened to glance out of his kitchen window to catch sight of a young man who appeared to be distraught and lost. It turns out that the man was stranded with car problems and the situation seemed hopeless. But Prakash knew that he had two hands and therefore, there had to be some way he could help. After working some magic, they were able to somehow fix the car. What was most striking about the experience was the shift that took place within the man. Moving away from an initial space of discomfort and hopelessness, he broke into a huge smile and enthusiastically introduced himself to Prakash for the first time during the entire exchange.
In New York City, a business executive was inspired by KarmaTube’s World Kindness Day video and decided to honor it by anonymously gifting a holiday party to a fledgling company. A few hours later, after purchasing some bars of dark chocolate, Birju’s guilty indulgence =), and reflecting on the man’s anonymous gift, Birju decided to gift the chocolate he had just bought for himself. It occurred to him, “If I really like dark chocolate, I should give these bars to others that might enjoy them.” While the first four bars were happily received by random strangers, the fifth individual immediately returned his gift after learning that it was dark chocolate. (I can’t understand this myself!) Because of his intention, Birju was able to enjoy the fruits (chocolates) of his kindnessJ.
In Vancouver and in San Francisco, the interconnected circles of life revealed themselves to Yoo-Mi and Rahul. Yoo-Mi heard about a “farm folk city folk” event that she decided to attend through one of the event’s beneficiaries who was featured on none other than KarmaTube! (For those of you who don’t know, Yoo-Mi is Karma Tube volunteer extraordinaire.) To top it off, it turns out the other beneficiary of the event had been interviewed by Richard Wittacker for Works and Conversations! The intersection of ServiceSpace circles reach far, wide, and deep!
Rahul’s interconnected circle produced a yummy falafel out of the blue! (Rahul, can you sign me up to your circle please?) While waiting in line with a friend for tickets to a film screening, he realized that there wouldn’t be enough time to grab dinner. Discussing Plan B with his friend, little did he know that standing a few persons back behind him in line was another friend who overheard their conversation. She got out of the line, popped into a nearby falafel shop, and bought Rahul a falafel for dinner =). When giving it to Rahul, she asked with a smile, “Remember a year ago in Los Angeles when you bought me a falafel?” Reflecting on the evening later with with someone, who jokingly commented that this would have never happened on the east coast (gee, thanks!), Rahul thought it wasn’t really an east coast west coast thing. It’s more about the people in your life “who dare to pay attention and recognize and honor that deep interconnection between all of us.”
A bouquet of roses from a wedding ceremony touched the life of a homeless woman in California. Newlyweds Afreen and her partner were stepping out of a car with the bouquet when a homeless woman who was walking by cheerfully asked, “Are those flowers for me?” Although the woman continued to walk past them in the pouring rain, Afreen followed her, took a rose out of the bouquet, and offered it with love. The woman was so touched that she was moved to give something back. With nothing to give other than the rose that was gifted to her, she offered the symbol of love back to Afreen. “It had nothing to do with the rose. It had everything to do with the pure volition of giving.”
In India, a passionate photographer recently quit his job and joined the Moved by Love community with no plan in mind for his future. Tagged with 500 Rs, Madhu described how the photographer’s passion for photography merged with the ripple effects of love, inspiring him to devote the money to capture 650 people on his camera and then gift the photographs to each of them. As a ripple of this act, he ended up getting a contract for a new job!
Outside Toronto, Manisha has been devoting several of her weekends to strengthening her service journey by volunteering at a Vipassana meditation center. Last weekend, a fellow server reminded Manisha of Jayesh Bhai’s living philosophy- “Meditation is a form of internal service and service is a form of external meditation.” At the Vipassana retreats, a lot goes on behind the scenes to create a flawless and peaceful experience for the students. While servers divide up the work, there was one server who volunteered to take out piles of smelly compost even though she wasn’t working the kitchen that day. She humbly explained that she was there to learn how to serve in any way that she could.
With the passing of Veteran’s Day, Amit’s story came from a good friend, a former U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret who now runs BlackFive, a military blog that has been given many blog awards and even landed him in the White House for a lunch with the President. Last Christmas, Amit’s friend received an email from a father who had lost his son in Iraq. In his email, the father explained his deep desire to stand on the very ground where his son was killed in action. The journey that resulted (mission complete), and the peace that the father was eventually able to find, was shared in the email that Amit read to all of us on the phone. Notably, the father concluded: "You can't really know much you love a son or daughter until you lose them. I pray that those who read my words or hear my voice will never know such love.' Always bear in mind when moments come that you might want to ring your child's neck to consider how good it feels to hug it. Make memories as you go and don't worry about trying to make them big and fancy. Disney World, and the like are great, but the everday unplanned moments are much sweeter. Memories sustain you in tough times. memories are always available where we may be, what we may be doing, 24/7."
Before sharing excerpts from Nisha’s and Ragu’s journey, following is a little background:
Ragu and Nisha actually grew up in India and met each other when they were young (apparently Ragu is one of those very lucky guys that got to marry the beautiful girl next door :) They lived/worked in India before coming to the United States in their late 20's to pursue what many would consider the "dream of living and working here. However, after 8 years something had shifted so deeply within them that they decide to change the course of their lives, move back to India, and walk a different path.
We were taken back in time to the night when Nisha realized that she and Ragu needed to move back to India. Five months pregnant with Aum, she woke up in the middle of the night and said out loud, “Let’s move back to India.” And surprisingly, since this is the first time either of them had ever brought up this possibility, Ragu replied, “ok”. A few months later, after Aum’s arrival into the world, Nisha and Ragu shared a special evening at Nipun’s place with a guest speaker. The speaker shared three principles that he lives by, which Nisha and Ragu carried with them all the way to India, and which they continue to live by each day. First, not to accumulate, second, to do something for the common good, and third, to spend some time alone in contemplation. After hearing these principles spoken out loud, Nisha recalled how she fell into a sort of trance and thought, “Haven’t I thought about this at various times in my life before?” But hearing it articulated inspired her to act. Their house went up for sale a few days later.
After moving to India and finding two acres of land (some of which was gifted), two things became clear to Nisha. The first was that in order to be the guardian of this collective space of land, it would take a lot of work but through the work, she would experience the real joy that is cultivated in the act of doing. The second point surfaced during Nisha’s time alone in contemplation. There came a moment when she realized her limitations in a very clear way. Even though she and Ragu had built a community center, Nisha didn’t feel prepared for all the external activities that they had planned. Even though they were ready to provide the right food (nourishing and sustainably produced in their garden), do the right work, and do it with the right sangha (community), another element, the element of right thought, was still coming together for Nisha. “Right thought is something I needed to perfect before we could do what we thought we wanted to do.”
As part of this process, Nisha and Ragu currently run a Karma Kitchen type camp on their communal grounds. They grow, cook, and serve meals and snacks 7 days a week to anyone that comes. Whatever pride begins to develop after performing amazing tasks like rolling out 500 chapattis in 2 hours immediately melts away after they bless the meals with prayers. In the beginning, there were 18 people and now there are 120 and this is with no advertising! Anchored in service between working on the farm, in the house, and home schooling Aum, Nisha believes she has found ample time for meditation. “I think I have a very luxurious life in some ways and I feel a lot of responsibility because of this.”
“The luxury that Nisha is talking about refers to the freedom that we have,” explained Ragu. He described how his life can be divided into three ServiceSpace stages. Before meeting Nipun, Ragu was working for a tech start-up and meeting people who had money, lots of it. Ragu assumed that since they had money (and more time to figure out what they really wanted out of life), all of these people would have a clearer sense of their higher purpose and was surprised to find out that most of them didn’t have a clue. In Ragu’s mind, this observation raised a very important question. “Is money really a route to freedom?” Soon enough, it was inevitable that Ragu would meet Nipun. After hearing him speak at a gathering for no more than five minutes, Ragu realized that he had learned all that he needed to know about Nipun. He then introduced himself and asked Nipun, “What is your wish list?” And so began the second stage of Ragu’s life, post ServiceSpace….
Since shifting to India, Ragu and Nisha have integrated three main elements into their lives: natural farming, natural living (eating the right foods by growing your own food and developing a natural connection to the nourishment you put in your body), and Vipassana meditation. In the course of living their lives over the last 3 years, close to 200 people have contacted them with a common question. They’re thinking of quitting their jobs or they’ve already quit and they want to do something meaningful and they ask, “How did you do that, how did you find the courage?” Ragu’s response: “Easier done than said….whatever we’re doing is easier to do than to explain.”
One day, he came across an article by a spiritual leader who classified freedom into 2 categories: freedom from and freedom to. While the leader didn’t have the freedom to do many things on account of his spiritual position and related expectations, he did have freedom from a lot of things, essentially freedom from cravings and freedom from aversions. Reading this illustrated to Ragu what freedoms that he and Nisha also shared, which is the freedom from major aversions (for example, religious differences) and major cravings (for example, materialistic desires). But the most important aversion that they have managed to overcome is the freedom from aversion towards insecurity.
“Everywhere we turn, people are led by some kind of insecurity, which is the biggest hindrance that they’re facing to do what they really want to do in their lives. Accepting that life is insecure anyway, that there is no real security any way you look at it, this is what did it for us. We used to be on a linear path, wanting to get from point A to point B, only creating a new point C once we reached B. The third stage in my life started when I realized life is not linear, it’s a circle. We drew a circle, sat in the middle, and said, ‘I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m done with ambitions. And we put all our values within this circle and let’s see what happens.’ The journey here is inward. So that is the luxury of freedom and how we arrived at it.”
On insecurity, Nisha admitted that she was not completely free from its grip in the beginning nor is she now. But there has been a change in degree. At some point during these long walks around the farm, something changed and now it’s so difficult to unlearn.
“For me, true wealth, if it has to be in an external form, are the trees above the ground and the water under the ground. This truth has become deeply internalized. I can’t change it now and I haven’t looked at my bank balance for more than 8 months now.”
Reflecting on Arathi’s summer bike journey and a key truth that Ararthi had discovered about selecting the right person(s) to walk the path of life with, Amit asked Nisha and Ragu to share with us how they keep each other going. As Amit elaborated, spiritual growth is unique to each individual and an obstacle for one person can be an afterthought for another.
Nisha described their candid approach to their relationship and the importance of communication. “To grow spiritually, you need to be mindful of what your partner is doing but at the same time, you need to be able to step away when necessary to give him or her space to grow. But even when you step away, you have to know when to share…communication is so important.”
Ragu responded by beginning with an interesting story from a Wednesdays meditation. An individual in the circle had a terrible toothache and while everyone offered all kinds of advice, one person said, “Your tooth is going to ache even more and it’s going to get worse. There is nothing you can do about it. Just deal with it and get over it.” Ragu has recollected that scene so many times and understands that for all questions related to love, romance, and finding a life partner, there is no real way to do it.
“It’s not something you can do because it’s in the realm of being who you are. We don’t need to network or seek out people. We just practice our values and let the network happen to us. I don’t think you can do anything to find the right person. If you happen to find someone and some kind of a relationship starts, every step of the journey comes back to who you are. At the core of it, who you are has more impact in nurturing relationships than anything else. So the “secret” of finding and making relationships has nothing to do with a partner. It has everything to do with you. Cultivate yourself, dig into yourself… that holds the power for everything else in your life, including finding a partner.”
Nipun then asked: “I’m curious to know how (your son) Aum has effected your inner and external ecologies of how you are operating?
Nisha recalled reading about a Wednesday where one of the guests talked about children essentially being “pirates” for the first two years of their lives that are going to take over.
I was scared I was not going to be a super mom who could balance everything. When my meditation suffered I was able to blame Aum with Gil's (pirate) certification. However, when Aum turned 18 months, the need to watch him every single moment stopped, some insecurity turned off within me (which means it was big in the first 18 months) and now Aum is "our cop, meditation cop, our Dhamma Cop”...if I am talking to Ragu and Ragu is talking back in English, Aum will comment: "You are debating...” or “Amma, too much confusion." When we don't sit for meditation every night, such as when we had construction work going on nearby and it was loud, Ragu and I cut ourselves slack on meditating, but Aum would make us meditate for at least ten minutes. He would say we are all going to die and so you better become wise by meditating. I think he is very afraid of death. I think it is because he sees a lot of things dying and being re-born every day. He has created his own worldview of second birth...when some insect or ant dies in the house he carries it with a piece of paper, buries it outside by a flower and says to the departed soul "be happy." He then is happy and becomes content. But in regard to his own death, he is very scared. He has probably asked me the same question in 38 or 39 different ways essentially asking how to beat death. It started when me, my mom and Aum were laying on the bed and he wanted to know where my mom's mom was. Aum says that the "Buddha transcended death by meditating a lot, so we should meditate a lot."
Amit's jaw dropped over the phone and stated in disbelief, "And he's only 5 (years old)?” Nisha laughs and says “yes, but this 'headache' started when he was three and so we have been 'suffering' a lot." Incredible how they have been able to instill such strong mindfulness in this child and more so, what does this say about the spirit soul within Aum.
By this point, it was 1:30 in the morning in India! Prakash asked, “What can we do from here for you?”
“Plant a tree. Create something. Right now there is a difference collective consciousness and there are different needs of the hour. Grow the on a neighbor’s patch and offer to take care of it. You can enjoy a garden even if you don’t own it. If you have access to land, enjoy it and make it enjoyable for others.” (Nisha)
We closed our call by setting and sharing our intentions with each other:
Nisha: "Treat everyone I come across as if they are a friend from CharityFocus :)"
Manisha: “Winter is a time for restoration. I intend to use this season to get into synchronicity with nature. Over the past few years I have also been thinking about gardening. I am going to educate myself about growing over the winter -- including reading Ragu and Nisha's wonderful blog :) -- so that I will be ready to plant seeds in the spring."
Kanchan: “My intention for the week is to volunteer at a community garden.”
Birju: “My intention for the week - reflection on 'freedom from...' during meditation this week :)”
Afreen: “My intention for the week is to be mindful of the things that I have 'freedom/luxury' to do even with a full time job and practice and leverage those freedoms in the path of service and kindness.”
Audrey: “My intention for the week is to weave insights from Nisha and Ragu's journey into my daily acts. Especially reminders on freedom, circles, and nature.”
Madhu: “My intention of this week is to make an effort to be closer to nature and have a conversation with plants and trees :)”
Meghna: “My intention from now on is to live knowing that That freedom is priceless and be more conscious of that gift i have been blessed with. Then let my heart serve with love and openness to all just like i serve reva :-)”
Prakash: “To conserve Earth’s resources.”
Amit: “Find courage to truly be the change like Ragu and Nisha have and remember the presence and mindfulness that the 5 year old “Dhamma Cop” Aum carries when I stray from my own meditation."
Immediately after the call, Manisha was so moved, she shared the following:
“Ragu and Nisha are inspiring in so many ways -- from their courage to follow their instinct back to India, to finding freedom in leading "luxurious" lives, as Nisha said so well. :) Considering that the earth moves on a strict "schedule" of seasons and uses its elements to direct their course, on the outset, it appears to be ironic that Ragu and Nisha find freedom by growing organic food -- a task that requires one to tightly follow the cycles of rain water, sunshine, and a myriad of other changes that are happening constantly. In this light, I found Ragu and Nisha's sharing to be a potent illustration of how living self-sustainably and in harmony with nature liberates one from the unnatural rhythms that we create by going against it -- whether it's going to bed too late at night, skipping a meal because we say that we are too busy, working overtime, or polluting the earth with toxic substances. I think Ragu and Nisha are doing something very important here...in the process of healing the earth by respecting its laws, they also seem to be finding happiness within themselves. And that is a wonderful way to express love, gratitude, and to be of service. In keeping with the abundance of nature, it makes sense that their goodness is overflowing into the hearts of others, inspiring many to "be the change".”
If you would like to listen to the 45 minute audio clip of Ragu and Nisha's sharing, click here.