Bowing In The Line Of Grace

Posted by Trishna Shah on Sep 1, 2016
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Last weekend, as a part of our annual retreat with coordinators from around the globe, we held a small community night.  Words fall dismally short of capturing all that transpired between the welcoming hugs at the start of the evening, and the lit-up-hearts at its close. There was an ineffable quality to the whole evening.

With the sky for canopy, and the trees as silent witnesses, John, Aryae, Bonnie and Anuj led us through with a beautiful opening ceremony. As we walked in silence and in single-file on a candle-lit, petal-strewn path back to the main room, the sense of sacredness was palpable.

To start, we invited three first-time retreat participants to share.  With his youthful exuberance, Vishesh shared one-liners from the retreat: "I heard about a new metric -- goosebumps per hour."  And made us all laugh in a way that only an intern can. :)  On the other end of the spectrum, in her vintage Reverend-Bonnie way, Bonnie invited us to meet in the circle beyond "not enough and too much" so perhaps we can touch the "hem of the infinite garment of absolute reality."  In between, Shari, a DailyGood volunteer, offered her powerful experience the night before, with this opening: 
I sobbed last night. Here, as best as I can put the ineffable into words, is why.

I've heard of an African tribe where, when a woman is pregnant, she goes into the jungle with the other women of the village, and together they pray and meditate until they discover that child's song.When that child is born, the community gathers to sing his song. And at each of the major stages of his life, they will sing his song--as he becomes a man, marries, and finally as he meets death to accompany him on the journey. When that child commits an anti-social act, the community will not focus on or be fooled by the mistakes or the dark, broken or ugly places within him but will gather around him in a circle to sing him his song, for the answer is not punishment but to remind him of his true identity, his unique place in the community.

This is such a lovely picture of service and community and being seen and valued as a unique individual. I long for that place. But in this world in which we find ourselves, often we don't know our song. Or we sing someone else's song. Or our song is drowned out. Or we are too busy, distracted, or afraid to sing our song. Or, frankly, we just mouth the words.

So then you come to a place like this where everyone is singing their song.  [...] I've found ServiceSpace to be this incredible space with people from all areas of life, not limited by gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, or religion, but all joined together by a common goal to serve.

After that, three guests were invited to share reflections.  Melissa opened with how she had walked in last year, not knowing anyone and left with a lifelong impression -- Pancho's look of love. She elevated us with her inexhaustible joy for the "wheeeel of kindness" and a new service class she's poineering at her school.  Shiv had us cracking up over the profound notion that inner transformation is caught, not taught.
I came to ServiceSpace without an agenda. A friend asked me to come, I forget how many years back. I didn't have an agenda saying "I'm going to go to learn this or learn that, to get this."  Much to my surprise, I had come to a place where there was no agenda either. That's very confusing. I don't want anything out of this place and this place says "I don't want anything out of you." Where does that leave us? 

What I learned is you don't come into this place saying, "Today I'm going to learn Kindness 101, I'm going to take down notes, and go to work tomorrow, and practice exactly this. Then I would call myself a graduate of Kindness 101." That's not the way it happens. You don't say "I have learned gift economy today, I shall practice. Tomorrow I shall also call myself a teacher and probably call myself a professor." I learned that that's not the way it happens. 

If you watch yourself, what happens are subtle transformations that you cannot claim credit for, that you completely owed to others, but you can watch it happening and it's very funny. 

ServiceSpace ​M​om lovingly concluded th​at ​session with​ stories of her backyard garden​ where squirrels have eaten more of her squash than her human family: "Dear squirrels, please keep coming.  You are as much a part of our Awakin family ​as anyone else."

Then, the ever-inspiring Ferose then introduced a man whom he first met via a book.  "At a meeting with Gary Zukav in Santa Cruz, I saw a book lying around on a coffee table. Now, I love books -- and read about 100 books.  But this book, I didn't anything about it and it just grabbed me, like a vortex of energy.  I then read it.  People ask me to write about my top-10 books on marketing or strategy or inspiration.  I still have those, but now, I also add -- if there is just one book you read in your entire life, read Highway Dharma Letters." [Also available online.] It was the first time he was meeting Rev. Heng Sure.

Rev. Heng Sure then shared some fresh thoughts on filial respect, and invited us to "give shape" with universally held values and "hold space" across divides. As he frequently does, he moved so many of us so deeply. [We'll be sharing video of the talk shortly, but till then, here's the audio recording.]

We were also blessed to have Grace Damman join us.  During the height of the AIDS epidemic, she was a revered physician who tirelessly served AIDS patients.  In May 2008, however, a catastrophic head-on collision on the Golden Gate Bridge, put her in 48 days of coma. Yet, after multiple surgeries for broken bones and injured organs, doctors were amazed when Grace miraculously awoke with her cognitive abilities intact. Her journey of rehabilitation was chronicled in the inspiring film -- States of Grace. She's been a great friend of ServiceSpace, often holding space for profound conversations, and spoken at Awakin Circles in Santa Clara and Oakland.

And tonight, she shared stories of finding inspiration in unsuspecting everyday moments. She ended her talk with a deeply moving encounter, during a time when it was hard for her to utter any words and yet she went up on stage to deliver a public talk ...
I started to talk and my microphone was all off. Dalai Lama walked over and said, "Just stop, Grace." He readjusted my mic and he started stroking my cheek. And he just stood beside for all ten minutes, stroking my cheek. At the end of my speech, I said to him, "You've the best reason I've ever had to practice. You've been able to do phenomenal things in your life, with such equanimity, and now you've touched my head -- which is afraid that I'm going to fail, that I'm failing right now, that I'm somehow damaged goods. But I'm not. That's just a story I have in my head.

Practicing is about dropping below our stories. That's what I try to do, every moment of my life -- just pay attention to what stories I'm telling myself. And if you ever worried about what impact you're having in the world, you can always ask the sun and the star, 'How am I doing with you?'"

In between, Pranidhi lifted us with a collective chant, Deepa brought in the spirit of Tagore via his song on "walking in oneness", ​and ​​Reverend Heng Sure fittingly closed with the Dedication of Merit.

​Our cups were full and running over, and there was still more to share.

Pavi ​spoke of ServiceSpace's unwritten ethos, 'The ripple didn't start with you, and it shouldn't stop with you', and illustrated this perspective with the story of how a certain set of ​prayer ​beads ​had traveled from Rev. Heng Sure to Jayesh Patel to Viral to ​John, to 3 runners on a 500 Mile Spirit Run, including a young woman named Monika. Monika's electric experience with the beads spoke to all of us, and in many ways, spoke for all of us:
This leads me to the most intense experience I had running with the prayer beads.This is the part that I've been afraid to write. This is the part that I'm not sure I can put into words. This is the part that I will never forget that has left a deep imprint on me. So I continued to run that mile. I wanted to pray into the beads, to leave more of myself, my spirit and good intention in them. But before I could finish any specific prayer I would feel a huge. overpowering rush of prayer back to me.

The best way I have come up with to describe it is to imagine you are on a beach at the edge of the water. You throw a grain of sand (your prayer) into the ocean and before it hits the water, a tsunami comes back at you (the tsunami is made up from a billion prayers from the universe for YOU). And this happens every single time as you continue to throw grains of sand into the ocean.

This is what kept happening to me as I prayed into those beads. By the time I passed the staff to the next runner I was completely overwhelmed and humbled. I am nothing! Who am I to receive such beauty and goodwill from the universe??? I was crying. Through the tears I had to find John. I found him and told him "I can't do it!" They won't let me! Every time I try to pray into the beads, they give it back to me a million times more strong. I don't know what to do!

He told me that was why I was the right person to run with the beads.

And then we got to Memorial Hill and I ran up that hill.All the way. Without stopping. Praying the whole time and thankful for the guidance from all directions that I received to do it.

To me these prayer beads are alive and they crackle with the energy and "life" force for lack of a better word. It's more all encompassing than "life" force though. How about a "universal energy" that knows no boundaries? When I think of the those beads I feel like they are my old friends smiling at me without judgement and welcoming me into their own dimension where everything is peace, everything is love, and we are all immediate family.

Immediate family -- that's what the whole evening felt like.  Bowing in the line of Grace.

[Few other posts from our retreat that you might enjoy: Video Montage (community night stories), Compassion as a Service (Sairam's journey), The ServiceSpace Effect (Shiv's hilarious stories), There but for Grace (Mia's poem), Turning the Wheel of Kindness (Melissa's journey), Hem of the Infinite and A Deeper Yes (Bonnie's anecdote from one morning)]

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Comments (10)

  • Birju Pandya wrote ...

    thanks for making it feel like i was there - wow!

  • Michaele Premet-Rosen wrote ...

    A beautiful and sacred sharing. Thank you for this.

  • Shari Swanson wrote ...

    Tears in my eyes all over again remembering this incredible night and retreat!!

  • Anne-Marie Bauer wrote ...

    So Beautifully captured some of my favorite moments! :) Thank you for this writeup! BIg hugs! And miss you already!

  • Matt Perry wrote ...

    WOW what an amazing time just so well captured - you all sing my song and I can not express how much I/We all need that. Beautiful :)

  • Amit Dungarani wrote ...

    So beautiful that even a skeptic would become a true believer! So glad our young'ens are tracking important key performance indicators ...just reading this i was at "1000 goosebumps per hour"..."6 smiles per minute" ...and feeling ready to give "5 hugs per day"!

  • Alan Zulch wrote ...

    Such an amazing event, just to read about it!! I'm sorry to have missed it, but like Birju's comment, I feel like I was there. Thank you!

  • Khushmita Sanghvi wrote ...

    Smiling big all day today reading this :):):)

  • Sima Sanghvi wrote ...

    Thank you so much for this write-up Trishna, and transporting me there at the retreat. Really missed you guys!

  • Meghna Banker wrote ...

    This is simply WOW!!! I really felt like I was there. And yet I feel like there are so many silent spaces (between the words) that I'm yet to understand / read / witness in the days, months, years, lifetimes to come. Thank you for the beauty that you all reflect and keep reflecting in your small beautiful ways!