Planting Seeds And Blessings: InnerService Retreat
Posted by Trishna Shah on Jul 9, 2013
Last Sunday, while Andy Murray made history on the tennis courts in South London to become the first British player to win the men's singles Wimbledon title in seventy-seven years, a small group of 17 noble friends came together at Ani and Hemant's home in North London. Our intention was simple: to hold space for collective inner transformation and offer ourselves time to reflect using our minds, cultivate gratitude with our hearts and serve selflessly with our hands in the company of kindred spirits who share our commitment to being the change we wish to see. Our first-ever InnerService One-Day Retreat in London was inspired by seeds that were planted many months and years leading up to this day, from the very first Awakin sits in Santa Clara, to the more recent East Coast Super Soul retreats, Moved By Love retreats in India and the Youth Retreat in Oakland.
As Ani and I began planning the day, we were gifted so much wisdom from the ecosystem to support our planning journey here in London, we couldn't help but feel the gratitude overflow in our hearts and pour right into the making of the retreat. We were energised by all the ideas, which we incorporated into the flow, and were moved by all the love, so we sprinkled their entire home with love and inspiration to create an ambiance for the day that would leave everyone feeling as heart-ful as we were. From an entrance walkway lined with inspiring phrases, to a sign on the door that read "I have arrived I am home" to handmade crafty quotes sent especially by the Moved By Love team from India to Jayeshbhai's famous toilet inspiration, featuring a quote on the bathroom mirror that read, "Be Beautiful Be Yourself" :) and even writing boards handcut and decorated with inspiring quotes for each person to use as a support for the writing exercises during the retreat.
As each person entered the room and was gifted a heart pin and a water bottle with an inspiring quote along with warm, welcoming hugs from Ani and Ana, you could feel the collective energy in the space transform, infused with love, as the circle took shape, one by one. Led by Daniel Nahmod's "Planting Seeds", our first hour together was spent in silence and followed by a heartfelt circle of sharing offerings and personal journeys with each other. Ana offered a wooden heart with "Love" inscribed on it, as she felt moved to offer all her love to the group. She was so grateful to be a the retreat all the way from Chippenham and shared that she had to pinch herself at times to believe it was really happening and to believe how lucky she was to be connected with noble friends throughout the ServiceSpace ecosystem. Samir, who came from the Moved by Love family in India, shared how his journey has led him to move continents 6 times in the past decade and that he was hoping to not only keep planting seeds but also holding space in his life to support the seeds to germinate. Mita offered a humourous card to the circle, which read "Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world" :) -- it was a card she received out of the blue from a close friend who wanted to offer her love and support at a time when she needed it, and it reminded Mita to dig deep within herself to regain the positivity in her life. Karishma went on to share how she hoped this retreat would help her to remember, to remember to take time out and get back in touch with things that she values in her life like service and meditation, while Kiran offered the power of healing crystals to the group. Devika, the youngest member of the circle, experienced her first ever meditation on this day, and her mother Ani offered two roses to the circle - red for love and white for peace - as she shared how her personal journey has evolved in recent years and how it's never too late to take your first step on the path. Hema's humorous yet deeply moving stories of lessons she learned from raising her 20-year-old daughter Urvi were really touching and transformed her own personal journey when her daughter was only 11 and asked her mother why she was waiting to start her journey until the kids had grown up when she could start now. Jeeva offered a reading from Dhamma Padda, while Els explained that her background as a scientist led her to believe that meditation and service weren't for her, until she heard the Dalai Lama speak, which gave her a whole new perspective. Rakhee, who is about to become a new mother in a month, was hoping the retreat would help her to realign herself to be fully present in the exciting journey she is about to embark on, while Stan beautifully offered "nothingness or emptiness" to the circle. Caroline, who lives in Paris and just happened to be in London for the weekend, felt "I had arrived, I had come home" as she entered the retreat space and she instantly knew why the universe had aligned to bring her here on this day. Amisha's personal journey began as she questioned her existence at the age of 18, and her friend Preeti, who knew she had to come to the retreat after attending her first Wednesday meditation recently, shared her intentions to bring the values we cultivate in this sacred space to the not-so-aligned culture of the corporate world she works in everyday. As our circle of sharing came to a close, Hemant had the entire room in tears as he offered the circle a wedding photo of himself and Ani from 27 years ago, when he embarked on a journey that would fill his life with so much happiness.
With such a heartfelt opening to the retreat, everything we shared throughout the day just flowed naturally and authentically, deeply connecting people to each other and with themselves in ways they could have never imagined. After the circle, we took some time for personal reflection, and opened with the reading Interludes of Life. Each person then spent time on their own, reflecting on the current season of their life and putting together their Tree of Life: the Roots,
which are supporting resources that nurture our growth, the Soil, made up of values that ground us and nourish our journey, the Trunk, consisting of natural strengths that enable us to live authentically, and Branches, which are the areas of life that are currently most prominent and in which we spend our time. Most people felt very positive about how clear they were on what values make up the soil that nourishes their trees and agreed that strong relationships were the key to having strong roots. Many shared how this was a real eye-opening exercise for them in that it revealed missing priorities in their lives that they hadn't realised had been sidelined by other commitments. For some, the exercise enabled them to identify certain branches that needed to be pruned in order to make time and space for branches that are more aligned with their values, while for others it reassured them to see the strength of their tree as a whole along with all of its various elements.
In the spirit of all things in this beautiful ecosystem, lunch was also a collective offering featuring dishes prepared with love by different people. From napkins featuring different inspiring quotes on each, to wholesome, healthy dishes to fill our tummies with nourishment and our hearts and minds with gratitude, it was a feast in every sense of the word :) And in true ServiceSpace style, the Kindness Team was on it, tagging every participant with a small anonymous gift to share gratitude for their collective presence. Following on from lunch, together we embraced the very rare British weather and embarked on a walking meditation in the garden. Inspiring phrases and quotes lined the walkway as each person, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "kissed the earth with their feet" and practiced living mindfully with each step. Many of us observed afterwards how you notice so much more when you walk mindfully, and how the grass literally felt like cotton balls under our feet as we made our away around the garden.
In the afternoon, we explored how we could use our hands to bring to life one of Mother Teresa's famous sayings, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” In the spirit of selfless service, we set out to connect with homeless clients of a local day shelter in London through the medium of bright and colourful hand-written personal messages filled with love. Along with the personal uplifting notes/cards, we included inspiring quote cards and placed them together inside 50 individual toiletry bags that the West London Day Centre can gift to each client who comes in. It was beautiful to see everyone dip into the creativity of their hearts, filling the cards with colourful drawings, glitter paint and loving words to share. :)
Following on from an afternoon tea break (we're in Britain after all :)), which again featured a collection of delightful homemade treats offered by everyone there, it was time to dive into the depths of our hearts to cultivate gratitude collectively. We opened with a beautiful video featuring the moving words of Brother David on the central role of gratefulness in our lives, produced by filmmaker Louis Schwartzberg, followed by a reading that Hemant shared by Brother David called Wholeheartedness, which offers his perspective on how to practice gratefulness mindfully. This was the perfect introduction to what followed -- we all spent time writing personal notes/letters/cards of gratitude to someone in our lives, whether it was someone close to us like a family member, friend or colleague, or someone less known to us who offers their services with love like a postman, garbage collector or bus driver.
As we approached the final hour of the retreat, we shared noble silence together after listening to a moving Native American song called Yeha-Noha (Wishes of Happiness and Prosperity), whose lyrics translate as follows:
Let us eclipse the the sun and the moon with our spiritual and emotional being,
and let us transcend these physical barriers and negativity which have made us a nation of one.
May the winds of time put into motion this feeling we share with our Mother Earth and this universe till the end of time.
May the creator bestow upon us a grand sense of unity and peace which we will continue to pass on to our people, wherever they reside.
We continued the closing circle with our eyes closed, as each person was invited to open their eyes in turn and offer a one-word sermon to the circle, which described their reflections and experience from the day. I opened and offered "Grateful" to the circle, as I was truly overflowing with gratitude about how the universe aligned and brought together so many different people and things that made this beautiful day possible. Kiran shared "Love", which summed up what she received from the day, while Devika offered "Enlightenment", as she reflected on her first-ever meditation experience and found it to be eye-opening and deeply transformative. Ani offered "Oneness" as the whole day evoked a strong feeling of unity and togetherness in her, and Hema shared two words "Peaceful" and "Insightful", as she described how the retreat brought up reflections from her personal journey that she was previously unaware of. Samir brought in a little humour as he offered "Mischievous" to describe how he was feeling in that moment, while Ana offered a very heartfelt message of "Infinite Love" and "Gratitude" to everyone and everything that brought her here for the retreat and made it all possible. Mita felt very "Connected" both to herself and with the others at the retreat after spending such a beautiful day together and Hemant offered his "thank you" to everyone for holding space collectively.
While everyone's eyes were closed, an anonymous kindness bee tagged each person with a very special parting gift: an anonymous love letter and adorable heart-shaped chocolate filled with love, as something for them to keep, along with a small packet of flower seeds, as something to pay forward the ripples from our retreat, where we were "Planting Seeds" together. We invited everyone to join the kindness experiment and consider either planting the seeds in a public place somewhere to share the love with the community, or perhaps plant them in a pot and gift the floral plant to someone anonymously. Ahead of our final few minutes of silence together, we channeled Rev. Heng Sure's inspiration across the pond and shared the "Dedication of Merit" followed by a few minutes of silence to send our wishes of goodness and gratitude that we had cultivated together over the course of the day, out into the world. And like many other such gatherings, we ended with a big group hug of gratitude to everyone there for sharing their presence with each other, followed by an amazingly thoughtful and quick group clean-up of Ani and Hemant's home, returning it to the original beauty we found it in :)
Since Sunday, many participants have shared really moving notes of gratitude and it's been beautiful to see how people's lives were deeply touched simply by the intention to hold space and allow the ripples to flow naturally. Rakhee, a soon-to-be mom, shared, "It was such a beautiful space, with generous hearts and minds. Your organisational skills are truly admirable and the attention to detail was incredible. I'm touched by all the gifts you gave me - the bonsai treat, the Buddhism for Mothers book and the lovely gift book with hand-written messages." Jeeva wrote saying she thought "the day was amazing" and is keen for us to share all of the materials, readings and music offered throughout the day. Hema's got us thinking about the next retreat with the note she shared :) "Just wanted to say a big thank you for giving us the opportunity to share such a beautiful day with such noble company. What was wonderful was how much care and love had gone in to organising the day and the warmth and generosity of our host. What stood out was the attention to detail at every step of the way. One of the best retreats I have been too! I look forward to the next one."
The experience that Els shared really moved us and brought home the deeper intention behind coming together to hold space in this way. As she arrived on the morning of the retreat, Els apologised that she was really sorry to have to leave early, but she had just received some sad news overnight that a dear friend of hers was in the hospital unexpectedly with a brain hemorrhage and was probably not going to make it -- her only chance to visit was at 1pm that day when visiting hours started. Despite all of this, something inside inspired her to come along that morning, just for a couple of hours, not only to collectively hold space, but also to bring along the offerings that she had planned to share, including a hearty fruit salad for lunch and some scrumptious vegan flapjacks for breaks. Her presence, especially in such circumstances, was truly a gift to the circle, as she shared her radiant smile and heart full of love with the group. The next morning, we received this note from her:
" I just wanted to say thank you so, so much for the brief time I was able to spend with you yesterday. My friend passed away yesterday afternoon but I was expecting it, and because I was able to spend the morning in a such a tranquil and beautiful environment around such positivity and community I felt much more able face the inevitable when I reached the hospital. I so wish I had been able to stay because from what I saw I imagine the day was a wonderful success; there were so many details that made it clear how much effort you had put in and just being there for the morning meditation was a real blessing."
After I read Els's note, I was reminded of the blessings we all receive in the array of unexpected moments that life presents to us, and how these types of gatherings help to ground us and enable us to accept all that life offers mindfully. As Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said, "Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from."
I'll leave you with the words of our host, Ani, who shared these reflections the morning after the retreat...
"I came downstairs this morning like I do every morning, and all was as it always is. It could even be that it had all been a magical dream ... that I'd imagined a retreat had taken place here. Yet the entire space felt so different from any other morning. I felt a very powerful vibe everywhere. I could hear the resonance in my ears... and still feel the tingling. The clean up Angels had been efficient and brisk but had left evidence ... a few rose petals here and there ... forgotten to pick the quote off the cactus plant... the heart of stones outside :) Even the grass felt different as I walked around with the watering can... I felt the energy of all the souls that had graced the earth with their feet. It was a beautiful and perfect day. There had been no intention... Only an intention to serve love and hold space."
We offer you these photos in the spirit of sharing the love and inspiration we all experienced during the day :)