On Laddership: Retreat Reflections With Ashish, Arathi,

Posted by Audrey Lin on Jun 19, 2012
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“Be a ladder, not a leader.” –Jayesh Patel

Couple weeks ago, a group of us came together for a "Laddership" retreat. Last Saturday, we hosted some of the participants on our weekly Awakin Call to reflect on learnings.

We began the call with a question: What does Laddership mean to you? As folks from various time zones dialed in to share their answers, it was powerful to witness the wisdom of the collective:

Rahul started us off with an image of laddership as the attentiveness towards others that he observed in Jayesh-bhai. Amit shared that the first word that comes to mind is love. Sam and Pancho greeted us with “Jai Jagat!” good mornings, followed by Sam’s insights of laddership as shining light on others and Pancho’s gratitude for the ladders on which we stand. Bharat, reflected on how laddership shifts our mentality towards giving and thinking of others, whereas leadership focuses the attention on ourselves.

Sky observed how ladders replace hierarchy with reciprocity: “You can take a ladder, and you can turn it upside-down, but it still does the exact same thing. It doesn’t matter which side is up, either way, it’s meant to elevate.” Michael spun a series of humbling quotes from ladders like Lao Tzu, who said “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did this ourselves.” Siddharth brought up the journey towards becoming zero, and Geoff remarked that it doesn’t matter how tall the ladder is, every little step makes a difference. Neelam pointed out that when we are in positions of strength or power, it is important to lift those around us. Prakash drew parallels between a ladder and a tree, and Bela was reminded of the phrase, “You Bloom, We Bloom” of BloomBars.

At the end of the half hour, Nipun tied it all together with a powerful quote from James Perry, and added that servant leaders have the capacity and courage to listen to their inner voice. He shared the example of our host, Rob, who, after learning about the spirit of ServiceSpace, was so moved that he decided to host the forty of us in his beautiful home on a gift-economy. From offering the invoice: “$0—Karma Kitchen style!" to agreeing to our post-retreat volunteer clean-up, Rob’s inner conviction gave him both a firm resolve and gentle openness to allow our spontaneous space to unfold in his home.

On the tailwinds of such powerful collective sharing, Amit introduced our lovely ladders, AshishArathi, and Birju, to speak about their views on laddership, inspired by their experiences at a recent ServiceSpace retreat, as well as from their own service journeys.

From Monastery Hoppin’ to Be-the-Change Parenting: Ashish Mehta

Having been around ServiceSpace since the early days of monastery-hopping and building websites for nonprofits, Ashish spoke about the evolution from ChariyFocus to ServiceSpace, and its influence on his own path.

He pointed out that in the late nineties, serving with CharityFocus was an after-work type of thing. “There is the idea of doing our jobs during the day, and then serving.” But today, he noticed, more people are asking, “How can I serve?” at every moment, both in work and outside of work.

And the values generated from serving with ServiceSpace have and continue to influence the direction Ashish decides to take in life. He offered an image of a person climbing a ladder, reaching the top, and realizing they are on the wrong wall.

“Being of service and being involved in ServiceSpace gives me that flashlight to focus that ladder on the right wall,” he pointed out. And that ladder extends to how he is a role model for his children. A parent of two beautiful girls, Ashish points out that the seeds of generosity were never consciously planted in him.

“My parents were just a constant presence of loving-kindness,” he explained. They never intentionally did kind acts to teach their son how to be kind. “They just were that way.”

Quite naturally, this be-the-change spirit has naturally rubbed off on Ashish’s own parenting style. Rather than telling their daughters to be generous, he and his wife, Manal, simply show it. For example, Manal recently tagged their daughter's violin teacher with a flower bouquet, just for the heck of it. Every few months, they host a “Super Soul Saturday” mindfulness and meditation gathering in their home.

It’s not so much about planting these seeds with the intent of the other person being generous,” Ashish summed up. “It’s more about me, as a parent, just being the change. …And letting the rest manifest and take care of itself. I have a lot of deep faith in that.”

Laddership in Corporations and Beyond: Arathi Ravichandran

From Ashish, we then moved to Arathi, who highlighted the concept of laddership in corporations. At the retreat, we had broken out into different discussion sessions on topics of Technology in Laddership, Compassion in Corporations, and Bringing Online Inspiration into Offline Spaces.

From the Compassion in Corporations discussion, Arathi recalled a surprising statistic: Only 28% of Americans feel engaged at work.

This begged the question: How do we align ourselves deeper in our work environment?

One answer, the group concluded, is by tapping into our own values and organizing principles, and staying strong in them, even if they seem out of place in our work environment. For instance, Arathi shared how inspired she was to hear that, Birju takes a moment of silence before eating every day, even though he works in a high-powered, fast-paced New York City setting. By staying true to his values in this small way, he not only gives himself permission to maintain that internal alignment in his work environment, but he gives those around him the opportunity to also express and share his values as well.

Another key insight was centered on patience. “Things can take up to 5,000 years,” Arathi recalled. “That’s the kind of patience we need to be having. And the faith of knowing that if you provide value to others, things will organically grow.”

One insight that she continually returned to throughout the week was a story about Gandhi. One day at his ashram, Gandhi was meeting with important government officials about India’s independence. During their discussion, a boy came in and informed Gandhi that a goat had hurt its foot. In response, Gandhi swiftly excused himself from the meeting to go tend to the goat’s foot. At the time, everyone in the meeting had thought that Gandhi had lost it—that he had finally gone senile. Yet, when we look back today, no one remembers what was discussed in that meeting. What moves people is the fact that Gandhi left such an important discussion to care for a goat’s foot. For Arathi, the strong commitment to inner values and the 5,000-year fruits of our efforts displayed in this story are strong reminders that can guide us in our daily efforts to maintain inner alignment in the workplace.

On top of these gems, Rahul eloquently shared five principles for inner transformation at work that emerged from the discussion.

Reflections from Living Ladders: Birju Pandya

Throughout the four days of the retreat, we were blessed with two individuals who, as Birju put it, “have spent decades, not just investing in results, but primarily investing in process”: Rev. Heng Sure and Jayesh Patel.

One of the key lessons for Birju arose simply from Rev. Heng Sure’s presence. When you looked into his eyes, “he knew who I was, and he hadn’t seen me in 18 months… When anyone asked him a question, he would respond to that person by name.” Though he hasn’t spent a lot of time with any one of us, the sheer compassion behind his presence made people around him feel completely seen.

A particularly humbling story came from a bowing pilgrimage that Rev. Heng Sure took in the late 1970s. He recalled a stretch of bowing past a school. Every day, when school let out, some teenage boys would make a game out of throwing rocks at him and his bowing partner, Heng Ch’au. Rev Heng Sure had revealed with great humility that he found himself reciting prayers with ill-will. Even though he was going through all the motions of sanctity— bowing and reciting verses from an ancient scripture—the intention he held underneath it all was nothing short of anger.

Simply put, “He’s out there bowing—he’s doing the right thing, he’s speaking the verses of compassion, and yet his intention is: Geez, I really hope somebody strikes this kid down."

It was then that he realized the power of intention– that no matter what outward actions we express, the intentions behind those acts reverberate onto those around us.

“That was just a huge take-away for me,” Birju said. “The level of subtle intention that we must bring throughout our own process of becoming ladders is so key.”

In reflecting on another living ladder, Jayesh Patel, whose lessons were spontaneously woven throughout call from various speakers, Birju shared one simple story:

During the retreat, Jayesh-bhai pointed out a piece of cloth on the side of the room and remarked, “We have to be like that. We have to become like rags. We have to think of our lives as things to be used for the benefit of others and even to be thrown away. There is no credit that we must seek. We are all on a process of becoming zero.”

With so many pearls of wisdom from so many voices this past Saturday, it was as if the Forest Call itself was a ladder, in which each share was a new rung from which we could all see a little further out into the horizon. More than we would have seen on our own.

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Comments (5)

  • LiveWell wrote ...

    Thank you Audrey -- yet another beautiful write-up, sending more smiles :-) your way. Be Well.

  • Shweta wrote ...

    Its soo inspiring. We all have that "compassionate aspect", sometimes buried deep inside us. Your articles and acts help bring out that compassionate onto the surface. Thanks for sharing. I so wish I could have attended that retreat :)

  • Kanchan wrote ...

    Awwwdrey!! I love this post, especially the pictures! :) so much love!!

  • Bela wrote ...

    This is so wonderful Audrey...and thank you for including all the additional links:)

  • sheetal wrote ...

    what a beautiful write up.. thanks audrey!