Super Soul VII: Wisdom In Everyday Service
Posted by Bela Shah on Mar 14, 2013
There is not one activity or person that individually created this space of love and truth in the home of Ashish and Manal and that’s what makes it so powerful. “Seed our Roots/Intentions and Branch out to our Community”, the Tree of Intentions read on the wall overlooking the circle of thirty or so that had gathered on that day. Some knew what they were seeking and others were drawn by curiosity, but regardless of the reasons, there was an emergence of deep, co-created wisdom.
“If we simply looked at the day, the schedule consisted of meditation, sharing, walking and eating. But beyond the schedule, the transformative space of authentic sharing and vulnerability enabled each of us to simply be. Whether it was our first time or whether we were returning, we each intuitively knew that we longed for a place to live and practice our values,” described Krishan.
Eight-year old Cielito (“Little Heaven”) quietly held the space for his mother to meditate and reflect. Anne-Marie’s artistic signs and wisdom bookmarks awakened the walls and cushions with beauty and love. The Zen-like presence of Ashish and Chris vibrated ripples of calming waves throughout the day and Sadi’s joyously wagging tail made everyone feel immediately welcome.
Dying into the Unknown Mystery of Being
“It was clear that as soon as they walked further into the main living area that there would no longer be a pronounced distinction between who was who, where you came from, or even why you arrived. Names on red paper "hearts" labeled us individually, but in essence, we all walked in and sat down with the same collective heart - a heart that wanted to open, surrender to the moment, and most importantly a heart that shed some of it's boundaries in order to feel abundance,” reflected Manal.
Anne Marie opened the first circle of sharing with a beautiful passage by Adyshanti, "Movement of Love." One excerpt, "Freedom and love arise when you die into the unknown mystery of being," inspired heartfelt sharing by many.
"I imagined a bubble of love around all of us. I am imagined each of us breathing in love," expressed Chi, the mother of Cielito. And when Michael, a local music teacher, reflected on his experiences of losing so many loved ones, many of us in the circle remembered the pain that he was feeling from previous gatherings. It was awesome to experience his inner transformation. At one point Michael summed up beautifully an intention that all of us could relate to: “Stop looking for something…just look.”
“In a time where we keep trying to rationalize things and find that "something" that will give us peace, an identity or a sense of security or permanence in our path, Michael's share gave us all the space to simply observe our experience,” explained Krishan. Sarika summed up the nature of this path: “It is the long and challenging journey from the head to the heart.”
A "fishbowl" activity or "witness circle" refers to a group discussion technique designed to allow a few members of a group to explore deeply in conversation in an inner circle (the "fish," if you will), while the rest of the members in the outer circle listen (the "bowl"). The outer circle's task then, is to bless the inner circle with witnessing, non-judgmental attention, and the inner circle's task is to bless the outer circle with truth-telling.
Effortlessly facilitated by Chris, the inner circle was made up of Anika, Janis, Will and Ashley. “Turns out we couldn't have picked a better subgroup. :) All were first time SSS attendees except for Will, but you wouldn't have known it: they conversed like old friends, sharing authentically and deeply from the first moment,” commented Chris.
The opening question, "What does everyday service mean to you?" seamlessly flowed into the subsequent ones: "How does it show up in your life? How do you find small, genuine ways to serve on an everyday basis? And what shifts have you begun to notice, both internal and external?"
Reflections from a “Fish” (aka Janis)
“The Fishbowl exercise was a magical experience for me. I entered it knowing two things: we would be completely supported in a non-judgmental atmosphere, and something important would reveal itself at the right time. That is exactly what happened. I felt pleased to be of service to that process and to all of us present. In addition, it was fascinating to watch the energy in the fishbowl. Some of us shared through humor, some through pain. I could observe the energy flowing wherever it needed to, like cream meandering through a cup of coffee--creating swirls, reaching out in beautiful arcs--until everything became one.”
Reflections from a molecule in the bowl (aka Joel):
“In two concentric circles we sat, in silent rapture, as the soft waves from the four discussants rippled outwards. As their words lapped at the shores of our hearts I felt their questions: "How to serve without ego? Where is the line between giving oneself and loosing oneself? How to cultivate authenticity and sincerity as an act of internal and external kindness?
Surrounding the four voices we sat with more than a few hands resting upon hearts, breathing shallowed, and a tear or two snuck past fixed eyes. The exercise was designed as a reflection between the inner speakers and the outer group. However, as hearts opened up and stories poured out a second reflection began - an internal reflection from each listener in the space between their words and our experiences.
Through the layers of internal and external sharing, I felt my own struggle with trying to live values of community, kindness, generosity and integrity. Their questions probed the depths of my own inconsistency in manifesting the internal growth I try to cultivate.
When the circle opened up, and it was time for the inner circle to listen to the outer, reflections flowed from open hearts as if we'd all been conversing over the last hour. I witnessed both connection and catharsis as personal stories were woven together with the stories from the inner group.
As the conversation came to a lull and hot food was delivered to hands and laps, eyes continued to connect across the room with little smiles and open hearts.”
A Rilke poem, shared by Chris, resonated with many:
“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years and I still don't know:
Am I a falcon, a storm, or a great song?”
Exploring Our Edges in Service
Inspired by Moved by Love retreats in Ahmedabad, we had an opportunity to engage in an “Edge Questions” exercise, where we met with small groups to discuss our views on the questions provided to us by our facilitators. These questions were geared towards helping us identify where and how service plays a role in our lives; and also, how we apply our personal wisdom to service.
“Do we bloom where we are planted or do we plant ourselves where we can bloom?” “Small Acts/Local Changes (Bottom Up) vs. Institutional Change (Top Down)” “Structure vs. Flow”
Small Acts vs Institutional Change
Sarika’s circle reflected on the challenges of focusing on one kind of change, and how to integrate the seemingly disparate concepts. For inspiration, they read about the small act done with so much love by Nipun’s grandfather, who used to leave pinches of wheat flour near anthills. These tiny droplets of service had a huge impact on Nipun’s life, as he began to understand the importance of service and generosity, at every level. “We reflected on how such a small act of service could lead to personal transformation in others, and how these acts have the potential to make ripples of change in society. Shanti shared how a small bird-house in front of a neighbor’s house attracted beautiful birds, and created inspiration and awe in those passing by, while Aaron reflected on how a woman in a grocery store, who gave him a heart-felt, “Bless you!” after he sneezed, forever changed his views on kindness and inter-connection. At the end of the share, we concluded that service, no matter what size, and done with true love, can have a ripple effect, leading to profound inner and outer change.”
Bloom Where Planted vs Plant Yourself Where You Will Bloom
And from Birju’s circle: “Around me was Bharti, Annika, Aom, Anu, and Joel. The first question we decided to touch on was on the idea of blooming where planted versus finding a good place to bloom and planting oneself there. In concrete terms, it is the difference between growing in ones values in the circumstances one is in vs finding a good X to make things easier to practice ones values. The views were diverse and wide-ranging, but the place where we all ended up was similar- there are times when each thought makes sense, but to call it a choice between the two may not ring true. The subtle edge that we got to was in exploring how to practice ones values while simultaneously exploring other avenues to practice ones values. No ‘answers’ of course, but sitting in the questions was quite valuable. We were all able to leverage each others’ experiences and think more deeply about how exactly to go about this values-alignment process in a way that feels authentic! It was an amazing opportunity, perhaps worthwhile to repeat at the dinner table in the future :)”
Some things are better captured by a poem☺
The morning after our beautiful weekend together, Ashish saw the following on the subway and couldn't help but relate to the elephant floating-- that's how he felt after the retreat! “So much went into making this retreat what it was. Seeing Anha join the final circle of meditation was like seeing her take her first steps when she first started walking. It's a feeling of profound joy to see her take her first steps in cultivating awareness. Who knows when the seeds were planted and how magically they seem to be sprouting. In gratitude to what is blooming.”
Indeed … so much gratitude to what is blooming … may each of us contribute to this new story, rooted in truth, infinitely branching out into the world through love.