Last Saturday’s beautiful east coast retreat at Ashish and Manal’s home was an experience in love and meditation, one of which took the form of a live forest call with Ashish himself. One of the original super volunteers of Service Space (then Charity Focus), the best way to describe Ashish is “Zen Master.” “My suffering is my practice. What is the use of equanimity if you don’t get to practice it,” he mused at one point during the call.
Here is someone that quietly and calmly described to us one of the most (if not the most) difficult periods in his family’s life. While sitting in the same space as Ashish, you could sense the pain that he has experienced….yet at the same time you also could feel a peaceful strength emanating from his spirit.
Unconditional loving kindness from his parents, meeting, meditating, and serving with the Charity Focus gang, and gleaning wisdom from the Zen master Les Kaye are three primary influencers of Ashish’s approach to spirituality in his life: practicing and generating universal love, compassion, and peace. After spending time in his presence and learning of his life experiences and insights, it seems that these three life sustaining elements are always present in Ashish, touching everyone and everything he comes into contact with. (He asks himself everyday what he did today to make a difference in someone else’s life.)
1.There is no “off” switch for loving kindness
Ashish described his mother as a manifestation of unconditional and constant loving kindness. When he was a teenager jamming to Metallica and Death Leopard (sometimes at painfully high volumes), his parents never complained. Instead, his mother gave into her son’s choice in music and continued to replenish Ashish’s supply whenever the latest cassettes hit the music store aisles! Ashish recalled a time as a young boy. India’s annual kite festival was around the corner and he really wanted to fly a brand new kite. He discreetly tried to take money out of his parents’ drawer, but of course they realized what had happened. Instead of lecturing, they taught him about Swami Vivekananda and the value of honesty. “This is all for you so what is there to take,” they asked their son. You can tangibly see how the patience and acceptance that his parents practiced with him in every moment of his life have influenced the upbringing of Ashish and Manal’s two beautiful daughters. “We are trying to raise mindful children and we always ask ourselves, what kinds of values are we trying to instill?” Manal will share a video every week from Karmatube with their daughters and every two months, Ashish will browse through Kiva.org and let his daughters pick two people that they would like to lend money to, discussing their logic for whomever they chose. Just imagine the impact of these exercises on the minds of young children!
2.Presence without Reservations: “For You I Have All Day”
Zen Master and one of Ashish’s spiritual teachers, Les Kaye, spent 30 years working at IBM while he lived as a monk in a monastery. Their numerous conversations and his book, “Zen at Work” has had a profound impact on Ashish’s acceptance of circumstances and people in every present moment. “The first time I met Les Kaye with Viral and Nipun, it had slipped his mind that we were supposed to meet. We found him in a garden covered in dirt and in the middle of a huge project but when he saw us and remembered his appointment, he dropped everything just like that and spent the next few hours giving his full physical, mental, and emotional attention to people he didn’t even know.” As he continued to cultivate his own compassion, human nature led Ashish to wonder why he questioned whether people were taking advantage of his kindness. He remembered going to Les Kaye with this question. He had a full schedule that day and when Ashish asked him if he had time, Les responded, “For you I have all day.”
3. Living in the “Real World”: Developing Personal Filters through Meditation
“We are physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional beings and these elements are fully tested in the real world everyday. How do I teach the universal values that I believe in to my children? How do I continue to cultivate my own awareness and become a mindful leader?” Ashish described the challenges he has faced in sustaining deeply rooted spiritual values within a work environment that is not always compatible. Meditation is a powerful tool for developing filters and strengthening the mental will power for following the all knowing voice of your heart.
“Meditation is more about getting out of the way than doing anything. Imagine a glass of water with mud mixed in. If you were asked to separate the two and if you were given a spoon to try and accomplish this, the water would just become murkier. The only way to separate the mud from the water is to let it stand. All the heavy murky stuff will eventually float to the bottom. Similarly, sitting allows natural forces to help clarity to rise to the surface. Meditation is not about being able to achieve a certain state. It’s just being present and letting nature do its work.”
From this short recap, I’m sure you can gather that Ashish is a very complex individual….complex yet deeply calming and humble. The recorded forest call contains many more insights into Ashish’s world….how he is able to maintain a beautiful fine balance between his heart and mind and live with such powerful presence and acceptance? Listen to the forest call to understand more of his wisdom:).