Week 2: In The Presence Of Quiet Revolutionaries :)
Posted by Audrey Lin on Nov 11, 2016
Over a dozen of us huddled across space and time, dialing in last week from Vietnam to Romania, India to Japan to Canada and across the U.S. – our Brady bunch-like screens beaming in Saturday morning sunlight and Friday evening glow. :)
Hard to believe it’s only our second actual circle together – with the depth of reflections ringing out in a chorus of shining sincerity.
Building off our first week’s deeper dive on stories, our Week 2 theme delves into “Inner Transformation” – a topic, Judy joked, “I’ve been working on this for 25 years -- I hope to complete it this week.” :) Online, our Week 2 curriculum describes:
"Sustaining a project or endeavor for the long-haul requires inner resources for regeneration. Balancing inner transformation with external impact can pose interesting edges and opportunities for growth. Tuning into those invisible reserves invites us to navigate subtleties of ourselves, skills, and spaces."
In our 90-min circle, we shared our own experiences throughout the week, and dove into emergent edges and questions that we continue to hold. Hard to capture all the rich gems shared, but below are a few highlights…
Transformation Shifts Us Towards the Extra-Ordinary
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” [Marcel Proust]
In our circle of sharing, Pavi observes, “We live in a culture of novelty—how it’s the “new thing” that’s the answer; it’s the new place or person or experience. We’ve forgotten to look for the mystery in the familiar— to look for the unknown in what we see everyday. “ While conversing with a friend with a deep-rooted wanderlust, they spontaneously decided to practice finding the ‘magic’ in each day – and in the last week, she reflects, “It’s been so sweet to be tuned in to awe, to surprise, to feel the wealth of it.”
Judy, too, adds, “It’s so beautiful, the ordinary is so beautiful why can’t we see it?” With a chuckle, she notes how it’s easier to share with those who are “peaceful, loving, and agree with me” :), and much harder to do in populations where the prevailing culture encourages people to lead with ego. Later on, Maki illustrates this transformation from “ego-system” :) to ecosystem with a beautiful anecdote of long chopsticks:
"When I was a little girl, I asked my Mom, “What is the difference between Heaven and Hell?”
"She said, “It’s the same thing,” and then she gave me this example that perhaps you know. In Heaven and Hell, there is lots of food in front of you, and very, very long chopsticks. In Hell, people are trying to feed themselves with these long chopsticks, but they can’t eat, because the chopsticks are so long, the food can’t reach their mouths. But in Heaven, people are using the long chopsticks to feed others. So if you give it to others, you are fed with the food others are giving to you."
“I realized I can only support others’ transformation by transforming myself,” Maki shares. “How can I realize that, using these ‘big chopsticks’ to feed myself inside? If I’m feeling hungry, but I think others are hungry, then I think, ‘Let me feed others.’ Then, that shift allows you to connect to yourself with the environment around you…”
Transformation Organically Ignites a Flow of Giving
“When the gift I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself - and me - even as I give it away.” [Parker Palmer]
Along the lines of long chopsticks, many of us stepped into small shifts as we deepened in our acts of giving. While in Japan last week, Philippe forgot to give his gift to Maki, and spontaneously decided to give it to a stranger in the street. Speaking minimal Japanese, armed with reserves of smiles and bows, he describes a heartwarming “bowing contest” with an elderly woman on the street, who received his gift after many gracious bows. (:
I knew it would be an unusual moment since Japanese people are the most polite people I know, many don’t speak English, and I don’t speak Japanese. I was a in little town, in a quiet street when came a little Japanese grandma, who seemed so loving and a with a good heart.
I called her with my only Japanese word “Sumimasen” which kind of mean sorry/excuse me. I took out the gift from my bag and handed it over to the grandma. She back off, with a face so surprised, and started talking very quickly in Japanese with big hand movements. And I started doing the only thing I could do: bowing a lot, not looking at her face, handing my gift again and saying many times “Sumimasen” and “Giftu” (which I terribly assumed was maybe a way for her to understand the word Gift. She was bowing as well, talking a lot of Japanese. So I bowed again, with more “sumimasen” and “Giftu”.
She stopped and looked at me, so I thought, Yes she is accepting. And she grabbed her purse and took out her wallet. She wanted to pay me! So I waved at her, and bowed again, and “Sumimasen” again, and handing the gift again. We had a bit more of a bowing contest, and apologizing contest and after a while, she stopped and smiled. I had won the politeness battle. She took the gift. I understood she asked me where it was from. I said “Minakami”, the little town in the mountains where I had bought it. We smiled at each other, thanked each other, bowing again, smiled a last time. And that was it... The experience was such a human moment, I didn’t want to give up, it was indeed a bit long, but so insightful. Using empathy and body language, observing around you, you can learn a lot.
Across the world, at the Los Angeles airport, Angela is seated at her gate, doing Laddership homework and— after reading Maki’s week 2 reflections on connecting with a subway cleaner— wonders, “What do I have to give? What’s to be given from me? How can I dig deeper?” And what bubbled up was: “Trust.” So she asked the young man in sweats carrying just one plastic bag next to her if he can watch her things while she goes to speak with the agent and use the restroom. A look of astonishment washed over the young man’s face, as he accepted the request. “I came back and he smiled in such a radiant way. I smiled back and expressed my gratitude for his help. It felt like flipping a social norm by assuming trust,” she reflects. “The good feeling from that connection has stayed with me.”
On the lines of “assuming trust,” Eva wondered, “What kind of affection do I show up with towards my neighbors?” It doesn’t always come naturally to ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’. Earlier this week, she hosted a class of young children at Casa de Paz (“House of Peace”) where she lives. While they were all enjoying a snack of melons together, a neighbor in tattered clothing walked inside, and remarked, “Wow, you are so busy! There are so many children here!” Without thinking, Eva walked towards her and welcomed her in, offering fruit. And while this neighbor’s unconventional appearance may be off-putting (she has no teeth, her shoes were worn and pants had holes in them), because of the respect with which she was welcomed, the children also welcomed this stranger as a friend, offering to share their melon with her. In retrospect, Eva realized that she didn’t have to push herself in that moment to be nice to her neighbor—it arose naturally, without thought, when she was in a space of losing herself in service.
From engaging with strangers to those closest to us, Sabin in Romania shares an aha moment of learning to accept the flow of generosity. While working on installing the central heating system in his home, he found himself unexpectedly out of funds, and without a clear path forward, but a heart full of trust in the process. That same day, while speaking with his parents on the phone, they over-flowingly offered their generous support. In that moment, he noticed, “For 15 years, I’ve been blocking a huge, loving energy from my parents… My parents express their love through giving me different presents,” he explains, and having found himself in a 15-year pattern of refusing his parents’ gifts, in the last year, Sabin’s consciously been flipping that norm to receive the flow of his parents’ love. “And, since then, many things have fallen in place.”
Can Inner Transformation Influence Systems? Can Systems inspire Transformation?
"What you are, the world is. And without your transformation, there can be no transformation of the world." [J. Krishnamurti]
What is a conversation on inner transformation without a look at it’s potential opposite: systems? :) At the start of the open-mic dialogue portion of our circle, Sidni wonders, “What’s the difference between change and transformation?” Building off of Greg's question on creating depth over a short amount of time, she elaborates, “For me… you can have change, you can have revolution, but it isn’t sustainable unless there’s transformation.” On the flipside, sprinting towards inner practices can skew our lenses more from we-to-me. Greg shares about a period of time where, after spending months deepening in inner practices at a monastery, he realized that his seeking of deep and lasting peace was itself an ambition not unlike his other more worldly ambitions. Over the years, "as I've gotten older, I've become more at peace with my patterns of ambition," he reflects. "In the end [of my time at the monastery], I felt that I had run away, and being back in the 'real world' and having things come up" in relation to others, can be a reminder of how we are all interconnected-- how we affect each other in obvious and subtle ways.
What is the balance between ‘being of the world and in it’? Can broad systemic designs facilitate such inner work? Or is that just meant to be an oxymoron? Birju points out an example where, in some countries in the world, upon turning 18 years-old, you’re drafted into the army. In other countries, when you turn 18, you are drafted into a monastery. Chandni, too, put it quite aptly, when she describes this balance as “creating moments in your mind and body what your heart already knows.” This manifested as a quiet moment in stillness this week, where she asked herself what she really wants to know, and found that she wishes to “feel more deeply what I believe to be true.”
Giang adds that transformation invites a quality of unity and harmony. Her husband works a lot on the policy level – and whenever they talk about the big picture of politics, economics, etc., it’s easy to feel disheartened. “My husband always says that despite whatever progress we make, a lot of regress is also made.” Yet, in their personal lives, they see so many good things happening, with rich friendships, transforming their own relationship with their parents, and they themselves striving to be the best parents that they can be. Philippe, too, notes that he simply tries to “get a little bit better” nurturing seeds of transformation to bloom when and as they are ripe. (Like the video Sidni shared!)
For Giang, the bridge between our minute moments of transformation and systems-wide impact is simply to trust in their unity. And science backs her up, :) as Birju cites a Harvard study that traces happiness through social networks, finding that one person’s joy can ripple out to up to 3 degrees of separation: when you’re happy, your friends are likely to be happy.
An Invisible Revolution? :)
"Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it." [Gandhi]
In the same trust in the collective power of our own micro-transformations, Pavi remarked, “We have a whole bunch of quiet revolutionaries!”
Upon reading everyone’s reflections on our feed, as well as hearing more during our call, she notes, “On the surface, some of these actions might seem like such quiet, subtle, small things – and yet, when you learn the stories behind them, and the intentions with which you’re practicing this…it’s not just the act, but what went into the backstory behind it, and the ground from which it sprung.”
With our eyes sharpened and horizons broadened by the diversity of lenses on our own inner resources, we closed off the call with our labor-of-love intentions palpably refined and subtly strengthened. With a still minute of gratitude, and overflowing virtual group hug and smiling waves goodbye-- we stepped back into our Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, and onwards to Week 3!