Week 2: Designing For Collective Transformation

Posted by Liam Chai on Jun 23, 2016
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This week’s Laddership Circle theme is "Inner Transformation", and with the seed question of, “What is one small way you pushed your edge this week?” We began making our way round the global circle, laddership-style.



Diving deeper within, John shared about spending more time meditating this week. He noted how challenging he found it, but also how tremendously grounding and peaceful he feels after doing it. Joserra shared his practice of stillness in action. During the last Karma Kitchen Burgos he reflects, “it was really beautiful to see, when people were almost shouting at me and I was still quiet and calm.”

Offering a very reflective moment, Laurie shared about doing yoga and meditation for many years, but “about a year ago I decided that I had to stop all practices.” She shared how the questions themselves challenged her, “I’m always asking myself if it’s time to re-join a practice of some sort.” Similarly, Meghna, shared about the difficulty of letting go. "For some reason this whole week, everyone was short of change. From the grocery store, to the rickshaw driver, to the cab driver… I was looking at the pattern of what really was manifesting. Where is that stemming up from?" The next time she got into a cab, she “just let it go. I said fine, do whatever nice you want to do with it.” The moment she did that a shift happened and everything started to click.

Mihir then chimes in with a question, “How do you trust without being taken advantaged of?"

Ani shared about the doubts she had offering support to a homeless man. “Is he telling me the truth? Or is he trying to take advantage of my [kindness]? In a similar shift to Meghna, she “just let go… I’ve offered everything I can, and I am just going to step back now.” And as soon as she did that, there was such a relief, and a shift in her energy. She continues, “that discomfort came because I was expecting something to happen - that I’m helping him... Am I doing this for myself or am I doing this for him?”

Reading the instructions this week, Samar says, “Great, they want me to do something I’m not comfortable with. Great! I need more!” She realized it was easy for her to go into the zone of discomfort, but what is actually going on there? She reflected on needing to think more about balance, and “about stability and change, familiarity and newness.” She reflected further, "I'll never be a person that is not curious and always looking for something new… But the thing is somehow being comfortable in the newness in some sort of comfortable familiarity.”

Mihir milling on what Samar shared, recalled a call with one of his clients. “This time when I made the call I just shared with him… What went wrong, what I learned, what were my mistakes… Something touched him and he started sharing his journey and all the mistakes he made along the way and how they got out of it.” The more Mihir realized what stories he was telling himself, the more he was able to come out of the grip the stories had on him. And the more that happened, the more innocence came out- where one story breaks down and isn’t replaced by another story.

Bill, adding a twist to the task this week, "I wanted to not only try to actively participate but I thought it might be interesting to see if I could make others have some discomfort in the process.” He shared how offering candy to children did the trick, and in the end he met “dozens of people that I did not know, who felt comfortable enough to let down their guard and be receptive.”

To end the first round of sharing, I spoke about my discomfort with interacting with strangers in public when I am alone and my nervousness during the Awakin’ call. I shared about the “two second rule” that my friend Nisha keeps to - how within two seconds of noticing an opportunity (especially one with strangers) she acts on it immediately, tapping into serendipity capital.

Starting the popcorn-style round, Nipun reflected Meghna’s story of going on a walk with her daughter where she stopped a hundred times, but was continually patient, “What would happen if you had that deep patience [in all situations]?” Other questions offered were, “More than what happens on the outside, what happens on the inside? And how does that translate into the designs that we create, for our lives, for our kids' lives, for our organizations or even for society? How do you balance Inner Transformation with External Impact?”

"Be selfish, be generous" - Dalai Lama

Nipun continues, “if I have five apples and I give you four, I will be left with just one. But as soon as you bring in the inner component, I'm actually exercising something on the inside. And the inside can be very generative. So you can actually be selfish and generous at the same time if you look at the inside.”

Audrey planted more seeds by sharing the impact of one's presence. "Last week I was at this talk where this monk shared about a monastery he was staying at. That morning he walked out of his little hut and he saw this rabbit just chomping away at this leaf, very very close to him.” The monk reflects, "You know, it was strange. the rabbit just looked at me and then went back to chomping on it's leaf!" Rabbits are really timid creatures. Yet here was this rabbit that wasn't running away immediately. It just said "I'm going to keep eating my breakfast, you can do whatever you want - I know you're not going to hurt me."

How do the vibrations that I carry impact where I am, who I'm around and how I show up in the world? And what about the context of the environment? Is it the presence of the monk that soothed and calmed the rabbit, or was it the environment of the monastery that made the rabbit feel safe?

With questions like these, Mihir shared a quote from Spirituality and Social Action, "The human mind is the result of the collective human effort" He continues sharing, “Based on my story, I act outside. And the way i act outside, affects someone else's story. So it is obvious there is no such thing as my mind or your mind, there is just the human mind. So the question is, is there anything private? How much is external and how much does the inner affect the outer?”

He then shares a story of seeing a beggar sleeping with his back towards him, and he saw his feet were blistered because he had no shoes. "I don't know what happened but I just took off my shoes which I was wearing at that time and put it next to him and went away".

Samar shared a similar moment of inner transformation with a story of how a friend complimented her earrings, and without even thinking she took them off and said, "Take them, they'll look good on us". She then shares about a deeper experience that she has no words for where “there's absolutely no inner or outer. There's no me or them. There's pure spontaneity and that category collapses.” She ends her share with “when one is seeing the beauty in the other person, the beauty of the connection, then I am finding that the outer just does it. It’s axiomatic. It happens. When someone is waiting for a chair and they’re angry because they’ve been waiting a long period to be seated, and you see the beauty rather than the anger, something happens.”

Laurie chewing on a design issue within World in Conversation, where there is a very open space - people are sharing and meeting each other with lots of presence. But because the things that come up are so personal, there are times when she needs to have one-on-one conversations, and during those moments, she closes the doors. How do we design for that, especially when other students are still coming in, but all they see are closed doors and not the open space of sharing? "Do we need to close the doors? Do we need to approach the way we close the doors? Do we need to open the doors, always? Do we need to close the doors in a sort of inner way?"

In response to Laurie’s questions, Ani reflected on a story from Karma Kitchen London, where the chef, Maria, was very busy with all the guests in the morning before Karma Kitchen started. “And as we were setting up, she felt very cold towards us. But as the day went along, and more interactions happened it was almost like Maria got infected by the presence of all the volunteers and the atmosphere created. By the end of the day there was such a shift in her and it was nothing the volunteers had consciously intended.” Throughout the day people had tagged her with heart pins and put garlands around her neck. By the end, she was beaming and even moved to offer Karma Kitchen again. Everyone had acted in concert to change the collective behavior.

Bill shared about being asked to ‘prove it’ after he had made a decision to give a gift. Feeling 100% internally determined, he found himself having to prove it externally - even having to talk to psychologists to prove he was mentally sound! He found that the more people asked him to prove his external actions, the stronger the desire he had to do it.

Meghna shared about Wisdom Crafts, a space where value-based gifts are displayed and people pay from whatever they are moved to offer. Referring to this week’s reading on Giving Freely vs Free, she found herself feeling judgmental and disappointed with how little money there was in the till at the end of the day - it felt like people didn't get it. The next month she experimented with sharing the intention and the story of each item that was displayed in the store - where it came from and why it was there in the first place. When she counted the money after that day, it was a lot more than the three consecutive days. “It wasn't about how much people contributed, it was my internal satisfaction of making sure that the messaging or the intention of what the idea was went through.”

Joserra thought about how many organizations in the past have carried the message of generosity and kindness, especially in the beginning. But after some time, they have not been able to keep it as pure. What are the internal practices that keep this kind of purity alive? How does the inner and outer of the individual and the collective work?



A lot of institutions and movements start pure, but that purity of intent somehow seems to wane - consistently across practically all organizations. What is it in the flavor of how we organize our pure intentions that seems to get watered down?

While writing this recap and in response to Joserra, I am reminded of the Bystander Effect. While more specifically to do with victims, the same might happen as organizations get larger - employees pass off responsibility for calling out corruption or dishonesty within an organization because they feel someone else will.

With the added pressure of concluding the call, John shared a story of a man who came into a coffee shop and asked for a coffee. He looked really well to-do, but when he went to pay for it, he did not have his wallet. The barista offered him a suspended coffee, and when he asked why would you do that, she said, why not? They ended up having a conversation and the man shared how his wife had left him that day and he’d been walking around Sydney aimlessly for several hours before walking into the coffee shop. The following Friday, there was a check for $500 to the coffee shop with a note that read, “Please continue to do the work you are doing. It had a massive on me just when I needed it.”

“Society and the inner voice would tell you that this guy is the last person that needs a coffee, but he was probably the one that needed it the most. [Giving] from the pure place of love regardless of what the inner voice says is what matters.”

With that beautiful end, we sat together in gratitude for a minute silence - rippling out the merits of this space beyond the nine squares and four corners of our screens!   

Posted by Liam Chai | | permalink


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Comments (5)

  • Laurie Mulvey wrote ...

    Thank you for this detailed reflection. It's so helpful to be brought back to what we discussed.

  • Samar Zebian wrote ...

    Liam, although you are doing the writing, I don't see you. its such a gift to give voice to others without having the need for "voice overs". thank you.

  • Mihir Kaji wrote ...

    Beautifully re-capped, Liam! Thanks! It was an enriching conversation...didn't want it to end! :)

  • Nilam Chauhan wrote ...

    So much gratitude for including us in the circle ! I felt, as if I was right there listening to the talk :)

  • Meghna Banker wrote ...

    Wow!! This is such an amazing re-look into everything I heard. Suddenly I feel there was so much I missed out on.. From Mihir to Ani to Laurie to Samar to Audrey to John to everyone, I feel grateful for your collective understandings and pieces of wisdom. It feels like an account of one person's overflow into wisdom.. :) Thank you Liam for putting it so beautifully!