Karma Kitchen In Ubud, Bali!
Posted by Nipun Mehta on Apr 13, 2015
On the island of Bali, in Indonesia, there's a small town called Ubud. More recently made famous by Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love", Ubud has long been known for its "taksu" (spiritual charm). During a dinner at the Royal Palace, the Prince of Ubud eloquently shared what their elders believed to be the source of that 'taksu': Tri Hita Karna. It is a three pronged design philosophy that mandates mindful relationship to human beings, nature, and our subtle essence.
Few months ago, at an event in Malaysia, Stephanie Hermawan invited us to speak at a conference in Ubud -- and when she told us that they were going to step it up and host a local Karma Kitchen (after a strong pilot in Jakarta), it became an invite we had to accept. :) As a part of the EO network, about seventy established entrepreneurs from around the globe convened in Bali for a unique "Awaken" gathering -- to explore the intersection of entrepreneurship and values. Hosted by the local Indonesia chapter, these global leaders spent couple days learning, engaging locally and cultivating friendships. In the morning hours, diverse speakers, ranging from chairman of a publicly-traded, multi-billion dollar company to founder of the viral "Notes from the Universe" campaign, shared their personal journeys; in the afternoons, we engaged with the local culture and community, and evening hours were slated for group activities. By the end of the couple days, many commented how it was a transformative few days for them.
On the last evening, we all came together to host Karma Kitchen! A celebrity chef in Indonesia, a participant's father, got the group connected to a hip, local restaurant in the center of town: Casa Luna. About 25 folks from the participants themselves signed up to volunteer, as the doors opened to the entire public and local community. It ended up being a deeply energized evening of inspiration!
In the orientation, Guri and I reiterated the basic concept -- of how everyone pays forward for the person after them -- but stressed the importance of the spirit of service. One of the volunteers asked: "What should we be expecting them to pay?" to which we responded, "Nothing. Outside of one or two people in charge of handling money, rest of us have an opportunity to just serve unconditionally with love. We'll let the outcomes take care of themselves." Most of these people had never waited tables at a restaurant, but they were all action-oriented doers. One of them ran a family business in Indonesia, another was the founder of cutting-edge software company, a woman headed an ISP in Bali for the last 17 years. Our aprons were custom designed by a fashion designer, Cindy Gozali, who was herself volunteering. All around were big Karma Kitchen posters that articulated the cycle of giving and on each table were placemats with quotes on generosity.
We had five greeters at the door, and Chokro and Henrique spontaneously decided to go on the streets and invite random passerbys. "Even if they don't come in, if they understand the pay-forward idea, that's a great ripple," Chokro remarked, who was also celebrating his birthday. :) Given the joyous zeal of greeters, in multiple languages, bunch of folks walked in. Soon, the 70 person capacity of the restaurant was full, and we had to open up the bottom floor to handle the overflow capacity. Live musicians were jamming, nervous first-time waiters were doing their best to multi-task, restaurant owners and staff were still trying to grok the concept, and anchors from previous KK Jakarta were helping cross pollinate ideas and conversations from one table to another.
"Since the founders of Karma Kitchen are here, we are all more nervous, because we want everything to be perfect," Stephanie joked. By the age of 30, Stephanie had already started and sold a business -- and now has found her calling to create a change-maker institute in Indonesia. As much as she wouldn't like to take the credit, she is one of the invisible "ladders" behind KK. Subtly and consistently, many of us kept plugging in wherever necessary and amplified the emerging ripples. For instance, everyone had brought many gifts for the kindness table. Seeing the overflowing table, Guri engaged a couple of kids, who then found a gift, attached a Smile Card, and tagged random tables. Initially, the kids were shy, and then they would joyously report back: "They gave us a hug! They even took our picture." By the end, they couldn't be stopped! For Peggy Dubro, a renowned "practical mystic", that process was a big aha moment: "What if the whole world was like a giant kindness table?"
As always, the ambiance naturally changed the nature of the conversations. People were busting out a Smile Decks cards and implementing it right then. "Learn thank you in another language," was a card that one guest drew and immediately the waiter introduced them to a French couple on another table and they started chatting. Vinod was thinking about Aravind model in the context of his opthalmology work, Nimo's CD's (and story) were in play, Martin was brainstorming around Otto's work from ego-system to eco-system, Amrit found himself scheming ideas for "wisdom crafts" with his tee-shirt company. The next day, James wrote in about sharing his skills for a wisdom-photography commons. Brendan was excited to start Karma Kitchen in Dublin, Walid wanted to join the existing one in Dubai and try out a 10-day meditation retreat, Chang knew a restaurant owner in Netherlands who would love to do this, and first-time guest from Australia took down all the information to start in their community. Lots of seeds were planted. :)
Finally, by 11PM, we all got together for a closing circle. Everyone was feeling a natural high. "I will never look at waiters in the same way," "I'm feeling so blessed," "Those street hawkers, I will at least smile at them every time," "I've discovered a new way of giving, beyond money." Sri, herself a partner at Ernst and Young, was our over-qualified and ever-smiling cashier -- even while juggling more than dozen tables in parallel. When she reported the numbers, we were all happily surprised -- a 150% surplus! In gratitude, they offered it to ServiceSpace, and we paid it forward to the next Karma Kitchen. So many people were keen to jump in for the next KK, and Amrit, in particular, is stoked about making it happen every month.
Both Guri and I felt incredibly grateful to just witness this whole unfolding. All of us do our little bit in our corner of the world, but it's awe-inspiring to see how you can take a 22 hour flight, land in a small town, and still find that people are motivated to raise the love-capital and that even strangers on the streets respond to our shared human values. Jai Jagat, indeed.