"Whatever the question, love is the answer." -- Wayne Dyer
Over the years, I've heard about the beautiful ServiceSpace community emerging in India
during the past decade. I was so deeply grateful to finally have the opportunity to experience all of the generosity and love in action first-hand when I attended the Gandhi 3.0 retreat in Ahmedabad last week :)
A Lesson in Learning to Surrender
Like many of the past gatherings in India, I almost had to miss this retreat as I came down with the influenza virus a few days before I was supposed to leave from London. For a few days, I frantically read about many natural remedies for flu and tried each one, in turn, persisting and hoping that somehow it wouldn't take the full 7 days that it took my younger daughter Ariyana to recover from the very same virus the week prior. As each day passed, I kept having to delay my departure one day at a time until I finally reached Tuesday and decided I needed to surrender to my body and it's need for healing at this time and mentally let go of the need to go to India (although my husband was still hopeful and moved my departure by yet another day, just in case I felt better).
I had an inspiring text exchange with our dearest Kozo
, who was home recovering from a life-changing surgery as part of his journey of healing with cancer. I had reached out to offer my gratitude to him for teaching us how to love every part of ourselves and embrace every part of our journeys with presence of mind and heart, seeing each moment as a blessing, including the seemingly challenging ones that might bring us down. He shared with me how he was recently inspired to not rush back to service before first taking care of himself in a book he was gifted following a ServiceSpace retreat called Soil, Soul and Society
, by Satish Kumar. In it, Satish shares how the words medicine
are derived from one of the same root words which means "to pay attention" and "to take care." He reminded me that my meditation of the moment was to pay attention to what my body needed and to take care, and to see the blessing in this. This exchange shifted something in me and I truly surrendered to what was unfolding organically and was present with my illness as I stayed in bed for most of the following day. Somehow, the following evening, after a full day of rest I came out of bed feeling great and largely recovered and decided to make the journey to India after all -- nature has beautiful ways of teaching us the blessing in truly surrendering.
Experiencing the Joy of Togetherness
One of the opening lines of the first email we received from the retreat organisers for Gandhi 3.0 read... "The traditional culture in India is Atithi Devo Bhava ("Guest is God"). Even today, when you go to the villages you will see the embodiment of this value. While the host is waiting for the arrival, the whole house is prepared for the warmest welcome. Every part of the home is cleaned, decorated with beautiful humble rangolis and there is a festivity in the space. In a similar spirit, our campus (Environmental Sanitation Institute) in Sughad is like our home, and our on-the-ground volunteer crew is a-buzz with preparations, excitedly awaiting for a warm welcome of everyone."
This spirit was embodied by each and every person who was part of the volunteer team that hosted the Gandhi 3.0 gathering. From personal, warm welcomes at airports and train stations for every attendee (irrespective of what crazy times they arrived, including several in the middle of the night!), to arriving in a room prepared with so much love and thoughtfulness including bottled water, snacks, teas, and of course beautiful gifts and notes, we all felt lovingly embraced by the spirit of "atithi devo bhava".
Imagine a retreat with 65 people where nearly one-third are volunteers? The rock star volunteer crew was most certainly a dream team and there was so much joy and love in each act of service from this team throughout the retreat: connecting with each participant as they arrived to make sure they were comfortable and feeling at home, preparing nutritionally balanced meals cooked and served with so much love and care (from different varieties of smoothies every morning at breakfast to a healthy international menu for lunches and dinners daily!), tagging everyone on a daily basis with an inspiring gift in their rooms when they least expected it and holding space throughout the retreat for deep and meaningful conversations to unfold.
It was beautiful to see that along the way, the volunteer crew even had the heart space to lovingly support and ladder each other in so many visible and invisible small ways. For instance, we heard that those who were on their feet all day had little angels appear in their rooms at night to massage their tired legs. If something was forgotten it was invisibly taken care of by another volunteer without any words even needing to be exchanged. The cooking team was encouraged to take food first at meal times, so they had a chance to engage with the retreat participants while others filled in roles in the kitchen, and those who were working hard late into the night for many days were served freshly made tea and snacks to nourish them into the late hours. I shared with the volunteers later that there was so much joy in their togetherness that I only wished one day I would have a chance to serve alongside all of them to experience this joy with such an inspiring group.
Feeling Grateful for Deep Roots
As the retreat got underway, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for all of the seeds that were planted before the gathering over the past 20 years and probably even many more, which formed a deep network of roots that enabled this incredible circle of noble friends to come together for 5 days in this beautiful oasis called Sughad.
Years of seed planting and tilling the soil done collectively by many including seeds Nipun and his family planted in the early days of starting Wednesday meditations and ServiceSpace, seeds that Jayeshbhai and his family had planted together with his father Ishwar Dada in serving so many communities unconditionally, seeds that Rev. Heng Sure planted over the last 60+ years of cultivation that have deeply inspired so many, seeds planted by many who weren't even at this particular gathering, who did small acts with great love again and again, tirelessly over the years. Gratitude to all of you and all that came before us, which forms the strong interconnected roots of this ecosystem that serve as invisible bridges between a many to many network of noble friends.
Highlights of "Goosebumps Per Hour" :)
There were so many highlights for me personally throughout the Gandhi 3.0 retreat. I was reminded of Sairam's "goosebumps per hour" metric from our most recent ServiceSpace retreat in August
, as we experienced so many moments of inspiration throughout our time together. Nipun shared an inspiring statement in his opening talk, that laid a beautiful foundation for further conversations that unfolded. In response to the question, what would Gandhi do in our current times, Nipun responded, "To cultivate community with acts of service to create resilience for inner tranformation." The mobius strip also made a reappearance at this gathering where we talked about how the outside is in and the inside is out, with infinite surface marking this unique shape and how this model represents Gandhi's 3.0 model of social action.
The first day's sharing was structured around Vinobha's representation of society as the palm of a hand with five fingers representing Community, Education, Business, Good People (NGOs, etc), and Government. Various folks from the retreat shared their wisdom and learnings on each of these themes about how we can bring elements of unconditional love and service into each of these aspects of society, with Parag talking about his own shift in business from "return on equity" to "return on ego" and finally to "return on equanimity" and Anarben posing the question "Can systems change hearts and minds or do people's hearts and minds need to evolve to shift systems?" Sheetal shared his profound realisation and lesson to "Be selfish, but realise where your self-interest lies," while Preeta opened up about her own personal journey from the outside in and then back outside to share the ripples, as her story evolves from the story of "me" to the story of "us" to the story of "now." In an experiment of trust, Min invited her staff to decide their own salaries recently and was amazed to see that greed didn't drive the process and everyone only wanted to take what they needed.
The next day invited pairs of speakers to share a dialog and their different perspectives on various themes from Leadership and Laddership to true Education. Rev. Heng Sure spoke on the theme of education and shared from his experience in laddering the community at Dharma Realm Buddhist University. He offered insights on Confucius's path to learning, which entails bringing to light your inner virtue, being in kinship with people and holding to the highest goodness. He reminded us all to repay our parents' kindness -- as trees stand on roots, so too do children stand on the roots that are our parents. Virtue, he shared, is that connection to the roots which manifests in the branch tips.
Following on, we all had a chance to reflect on what fearless experiments are emerging within each of us and five themes were identified from the collection of 65 shares that we all wrote down individually. It was beautiful to see what had collectively emerged by this point in the retreat between all of us and to have the space to share with each other in small groups our intentions and hopes.
We were blessed with not one but two beautiful Community Nights, which were a wonderful opportunity to widen the circle and keep the ripples from the retreat in motion while being inspired by many speakers who shared their personal journeys and wisdom with the group. Each of the evenings was organised and offered with so much love by Jayeshbhai, Anarben and the community, we were all quite overwhelmed and moved to pay the inspiration forward. The second of the community nights featured a very exciting preview of Nimo's upcoming "Ode to Women" music video, which was so beautiful and uplifting!
Making the Journey from Head to Heart
What a gift to be in the presence of such an amazing mix of people at the retreat from social change makers, to spiritual teachers, to social entrepreneurs, to heads of companies, to artists and musicians, to Himalayan yogis with no phone number or address, to students of life and everyday heroes being the change. There were many "accomplished" people amongst the retreat participants, people with larger-than-life bios who have done amazing things to create external impact in the world, and also many extraordinary everyday heroes who are planting seeds in their communities to practice and keep the values of compassion, generosity, kindness, stillness, gratitude and service alive and flourishing to nurture and support inner transformation in the hearts of many. It was very inspiring to watch this beautiful mix of "somebodys" come together at a retreat with no agenda for 5 days where they were essentially invited to become "nobodys," to surrender and trust the collective wisdom that emerged while continuing their own journeys from their heads to their hearts in some small way.
Many people shared about how the retreat was heart-opening for them in ways that they had never experienced before in their entire lives. Someone shared the morning after the first community night at the Gandhi Ashram that it was perhaps the best day of their life, while many of us felt that the retreat had somehow shifted something quite deep within us, which even if we weren't able to articulate in words, we could feel in our hearts. And the journey didn't stop with the retreat, for many it was just the beginning. As the five days came to a close, many people felt that they would never be able to repay the love, kindness and generosity they experienced at the retreat and how they felt even more inspired than ever to pay it forward through the way that they live their lives.
Finding Stillness in our Minds and Love in Our Hearts
As the final day of the retreat approached, we were blessed to hear from two deeply inspiring people, Jayeshbhai and Rev. Heng Sure before we began "Three Steps and a Bow" to mark Gandhiji's death anniversary that day. Jayeshbhai invited us find that place within each of us where there is stillness in our minds and love in our hearts, so that gratitude may flow naturally.
He reminded us to honour the seeds and not to worship the fruits because while we eat the fruits from trees that others have planted and watered, it is ultimately each of our responsibility to also plant and water more seeds for others, as the fruits of practice are far sweeter than the fruits of impatience. The call of our times is to transcend the boundaries of organisations, people, systems and frameworkds and to move towards maitri
(selfless love), which spreads like fire from person to person, wherever it needs to go. "When we become empty (zero), collectively we become whole (complete)." In saying Jai Jagat, he encouraged us to drop the "Jai" which means victory as this seems harsh -- he suggested we moved towards "Love Jagat" which means love to the world.
It was a blessing to hear Rev. Heng Sure share stories first-hand from his own bowing pilgrimage and then actually demonstrate for us exactly what he says when he bows and how he performs the act of bowing at each step of the way. He shared how bowing increases one's inner virtue, our wholesome roots, while dispelling ignorance, and interestingly I noticed feeling much lighter after we completed Three Steps and a Bow. The act of bowing brings us closer to the large magnetic field of the earth, and brings up false thoughts, such that the act of bowing is an act of sweeping up inside and cleansing ourselves. Through his bowing pilgrimage, he learned that outer change can only result from inner change.
With each bow, as his head rests on the earth, Rev. Heng Sure recites the following, which I found deeply inspiring and also reminded me of the practice of asking for forgiveness in Jainism:
For all the harmful things I've done, with my body, speech and mind, from beginningless greed, anger and stupidity, through lifetimes without number, to this very day, I now repent and I vow to change entirely.
Before we all began Three Steps and a Bow, as the final practice of surrendering and expressing gratitude, Nipun shared the following, which really resonated deeply for me: "A bow is a way to empty ourselves and to express our gratitude to the infinite." What a beautiful blessing to have the opportunity to do Three Steps and a Bow together with everyone at the retreat AND with Rev. Heng Sure bowing at the very end of the line, laddering all the rest of us in the process with his presence. I remember feeling so full in my heart as we approached our final bow and were received in response with bows from several others facing us, including many who have deeply inspired my own journey over the years. And then we all collectively had a chance to bow in Rev Heng Sure's direction as he was the final person to make his way to the end of the path, what a gift.
We may never know why and how this particular group of 65 people from 16 countries came together for the Gandhi 3.0 retreat in Sughad, but I am deeply grateful for the blessings that brought us together and I feel especially inspired to keep the ripples in motion in service to the community back home in London. At the same time, now that I've been to Sughad once, I'm sure it won't be long before I feel called to return in the spirit of service.
As Jayeshbhai beautifully shared, when his father Ishwar Dada envisioned creating a space like Sughad, he wanted to show the world that sanitation work can be done in beautiful spaces and with that intention he set out to create the beautiful oasis that Sughad is in an otherwise hectic city in India. Once he embarked on the project, he said he wanted it to feel like a home away from home in terms of the unconditional love and beauty the space holds for everyone who comes and set about planting trees around the perimeter before doing any further development on the site. Jayeshbhai realised that home away from home implies that there is still some sense of distance, some place else you actually consider home and that somehow Sughad is separate from that. So he set out to make Sughad genuinely home for each and every person who came there and as such, he has put so much love and attention into every detail throughout the space from signposts to room/space names to inspiring quotes in the most unassuming places like under stairs and tucked away in corners of rooms, hearts hanging from trees as you walk along beautiful paths, and traditional decor in each room made by local artisans. Despite this being my first visit to Sughad and with this community, it truly felt like we were all just coming home, and I look forward to coming home again soon :)
We began the five days without an agenda, and as we looked back on our time together we felt grateful for all of the agenda-less ripples that transpired from the collective sharing. There was a joy of togetherness that was palpable in everyone's hearts, and we all wanted to think of ways that we could take a piece of this spirit home with us to keep the ripples in motion. As the African proverb goes, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." May we all remain connected in this spirit as we walk on together, alone on our own paths.
** Here are a few photos from my camera both at the retreat and my visits to a few projects in the community afterwards, in case they offer any inspiration :) Highlights of Gandhi 3.0 2017