” My loving wife Manal, beautiful children Anha and Kehna, my father and I had the wonderful opportunity to host an event at our home this past weekend for a group of us to spend some time sitting in silence, finding stillness within and creating an atmosphere of loving kindness. Perhaps my father captured it best when he asked us all "What is destiny and what is will power?" and then later went on to answer his own questions: Will power is the ability to get out of your own way to allow destiny to occur. As this space of love was co-created with all of us planting seeds, it naturally follows that in this reflection I should share the harvest of our crops of collective wisdom which came via the inner-lense of some of our participants.
This past Saturday, twenty kindred souls from New York City, Boston and Washington D.C. gathered in Princeton, New Jersey. Everyone was welcomed with smiles, hugs and a big poster that said, "Welcome to Super Soul Saturday!" (created by
Ashish and Manal’s sweet daughters). All us came for different reasons -- to practice meditation, good conversations or contemplate life -- but we left in an entirely different state.
We began our first sit at 10AM. We meditated in the living room of our kind hosts -- Ashish and Manal -- and were put at ease by the inherent energy of their home. After reading a short but powerful passage, one of the gracious organizers, posed the question "what brought you here?" One moving share by brother Will included him being so moved by the very idea of this event that he decided to change the “economic model” of an upcoming yoga and spiritual retreat he was going to lead from a traditional economic model to a gift economy one =)
During the Forest Call, we were showered with "aha" moments from around the world and the wisdom of Ashish. For lunch, we enjoyed fresh squeezed orange juice, veggie burgers, peanut butter chocolate macadamia cookies as well as chocolate banana-nut cookies made with love and served with smiles. Our next sit -- though challenging because our bellies were more than satisfied -- was only possible because of one and other. We followed our second sit of the day with writing and sharing letters about self-acceptance and love.
By early evening, we were enjoying our final sit in the twilight of the evening. We closed with authentic, sincere and powerful shares about love, compassion and gratitude. For example, Upen Shah, the father of Dr. Aumatma Shah
(Visionary behind KarmaClinic
) openly shared with us his daughter’s love. He was inspired to join this retreat by her loving encouragement even though he was feeling incredibly anxious about the meditation. The night before, he wondered how he would be able to meditate for three hours throughout the course of the retreat. But he knew that this was something that he had to do. Aumatma’s father recently lost his loving wife...and now he is working hard to create a community of love around him....he doesn’t have to try very hard because the goodness in him emanated so powerfully in that space we all shared....being able to hold our next retreat in his home will be such an honor.
What could have been any other Saturday became far more.
“Live from New Jersey, It’s Saturday Afternoon” by Bela Shah
Ashish shared heartfelt stories from his life as our special guest on the weekly forest call
. It was amazing to be a part of this “live in-person” call and experience Ashish’s Zen like demeanor as Amit and others from around the world put forth some very thought provoking questions. And while the 20 of us around Ashish and intently listened and watched, he calmly reflected and humbly shared even when he was thrown some difficult questions about his past. It’s no surprise that in his bachelor days, he would go "monastery hopping" with Nipun in the evenings while other people their age were out at parties! As a loving son, husband, father, and friend, we all learned so much from Ashish’s wisdom and insight. You can hear and read more about this call here
“KarmaKitchen Princeton Junction” by Audrey Lin
After concluding the Forest Call, Amit rushes off into the kitchen and starts flipping veggie burgers on the stove. Birju, Anne-Marie, and Arathi rush in to clear and set up the kitchen table. Dinika and Smita clear the counter. Bela toasts the buns. Ashish fields questions of where everything is--from aluminum foil to strainers to extra cups. Homemade cookies, breads, salads, fruit platters, chips, and sparkling orange juice appear across the table, as Erin tallies dietary restrictions and food preferences in the living room. As burgers fly off the grill, invisible hands gingerly assemble plates to the eater's taste and carries them to the conversation in the other room.
It's just lunch. It's necessary. But it's a beautiful thing to witness something as simple as a meal carry so much care, cooperation, and love. Even lunch comes together and finishes as seamlessly as the rest of the day. And in true ServiceSpace (Wednesday
and Karma Kitchen
) style-- at the end of the retreat, everyone eagerly jumps at the opportunity to do the dishes. :)
After lunch, we even had time for a group photo:
â€‹â€‹“Becoming My Own Best Friend” by Arathi Ravichandran
For seven minutes, all you could hear in the room was the noise of pens to paper. Letters and words flying from the hands of 20 individuals sitting in a circle together, bearing their souls to themselves. Erin, our resident writing professor, had posed the following as our writing theme of the day - “write about a time when you have thought you were not good enough”. Not. Good. Enough. The air hung heavy with the silence of self criticism as we obliged, our raw, vulnerable selves spilling out onto the paper in black and blue ink.
Erin’s soft, clear voice then rang through the room, as she asked “now, pretend you are your best friend. And write yourself a letter, in response to the one you have just written to yourself”. The tables had turned. Pens back to paper, we wrote and wrote, we consoled ourselves, we became our own deepest source of support, love, and compassion. We became our own best friends.
The next half hour was priceless, as brave souls stepped forward to
read the letters of inspiration they wrote to themselves. After two hours of silent meditation, a circle of people who had just met each other witnessed each other’s weakest, and strongest moments. We gleaned inspiration and shed tears of hope and joy from those letters, and in the end learned that we all shared common threads of doubt, fear, hope, and love.
The writing exercise was just one of the many amazing pearls of beauty that was shared. Erin’s leadership and grace were truly remarkable, creating a safe space for all of us to be brave, and to write.
“What Would a Consultant Say: The Takeaway” by Birju Pandya
As part of the closing circle, I shared some thoughts on the days ‘takeaways’-
Focusing ‘between the lines’
– it’s a rare treat in the lives of most to be able to sit silently and practice our own path for many hours in the company of others. For all the wonderful comments and reflections shared, there is something profound in the deep space between the words. It wasn’t the ‘excuse’ for us to be together, but the main purpose, and its’ effects were evident throughout the day.
“I Don’t Know”
– A theme stated by many (including Silas and Bela, each with poignant reflections) and built off foundation of the iJourney reading
. It spoke to the openness of the day, recognizing that answers weren’t always available or necessary.
Writing as Catharsis
– Erin’s role as spirit guide during our 1 hour writing exercise had reverberations for remainder of the day and beyond. There was something uniting about recognizing that everyone’s deeply personal struggle, against their own high standards, was not as lonely as originally thought. As more than half the group decided to share their thoughts, it felt healing for the collective each time.
Zen Loving Patience
– During our lunchtime conference call with Ashish
, he shared a wonderful tidbit that struck as major highlight of the conversation. In private audience with famed Zen leader Les Kaye
, Ashish came with a barrage of questions for a supposedly 5 minute Q&A session. Despite having a full plate of responsibilities throughout the day, when Ashish posed the question ‘how long can you talk?’, Les’ response was ‘For you, I have all day.’
May we all come from such a space of service as to respond to today’s requests with an intention of ‘for you, I have all day’ :)
As everyone left for the day to return home, many of us had been secretly tagged with gifts of sour candy, dark chocolate, books, notes with kind words and even a picture album of collected memories. We could do this all day =) ...just take a look at the surprised look on Bela's face when she was tagged :)
The entire photo album can be viewed here!