Karma Kitchen London: Being The Love We Wish To See
Posted by Trishna Shah on Mar 24, 2017
We were warmly invited back to host Karma Kitchen at London's first "Happy Cafe", The Canvas Cafe, by the owner Ruth, who has also attended Awakin Circles since our first Karma Kitchen :). As she loves the values and intentions behind Karma Kitchen, she thought it would be a wonderful way to bring community together to celebrate the International Day of Happiness. Seeds were planted just three weeks before this experiment unfolded and the days that followed were filled with lots of co-creation, synergy and behind-the-scenes planning on all fronts :)
Joy Is In The Journey
Initially, we had almost double the number of volunteers sign up relative to diners -- something that's reflective of the ServiceSpace community around the world, as people are deeply moved to serve and give of themselves. Several organisations that are friends of ServiceSpace, like Museum of Happiness, Wake Up London and Action for Happiness, got involved by spreading the word and before we knew it, not only did we have double the number of volunteers registered then were needed, but we also had two fully booked dinner sittings with long waiting lists for both!
Along the way, Ruth shared some wonderful stories about how generosity was spreading in her circles and creating a genuine sense of community and abundance when she told people what Karma Kitchen is all about. She spoke with the folks at a local charity called Providence Row, who run a Catering Training Scheme for homeless people and rough sleepers to gain skills in cooking/baking -- they immediately resonated with the intention and spirit behind Karma Kitchen. Instead of making an offering of pay-it-forward desserts from their social enterprise Rise Bakery, they felt moved to send 3 volunteer cooks over to Canvas Cafe all day on Monday to team up with her 2 cooks to prepare the main meal! In the end we had 5 volunteers cooking with love, all the dinner and dessert offerings for Karma Kitchen, which included vegetable curry, daal, rice, mixed salad, vegan slaw, vegan banana bread with chocolate, vegan cinnamon muffins with bright pink happy frosting :), blueberry tart and some incredible brownies too :)
From the ServiceSpace community a young chef and his wife were really moved when they heard about Karma Kitchen. Initially he wanted to volunteer to cook for the day, but sadly had to work during the day, so he asked if they could gift all the breads for the dinner from his restaurant! I spoke with him over the phone to plan some logistics and learned more about his journey and how he's felt called to be of service in a more hands-on way. After I got off the phone and was searching for his restaurant's exact location, I learned that this humble soul who offered to gift some lovely French breads was actually the "Head Chef" of an upmarket French restaurant, Aubaine Hyde Park :) Vijay is really excited about the possibility of joining the volunteer crew as a chef for the next Karma Kitchen, so stay tuned for some fine dining at KK London in the future -- he specialises in Italian, French and Mediterranean cuisine :)
It's beautiful to see again and again how simply holding space with unconditional generosity at the centre can move so many different people from all walks of life to tap into the fundamental generosity in their own hearts and inspire them to serve and give of themselves.
A True Labour of Love
Over 20 volunteers came together to cook and serve dinner with love to nearly 90 guests at Karma Kitchen, offering them an opportunity to experience generosity on the menu. Six volunteers were part of the Canvas Cafe team and the other 15 were ServiceSpace volunteers, many of whom have attended Awakin Circles locally over the years and some who even had written to us about wanting to volunteer with Karma Kitchen through the website a couple of years ago. The whole planning process was such a beautiful labour of love: one volunteer's daughter baked beautiful shortbread cookies with "Karma Kitchen" stamped on the icing to offer for dessert, while another volunteer brought adorable house-shaped candle holders with Love on them to put on tables, someone else made little jars containing a "dose of happiness" with little inspiring notes inside, another made loads of colourful signs to put up on the walls while another volunteer stepped in to help at the last minute, just hours before our first sitting, to cycle over and collect parcels from the post office containing items we needed that evening, which somehow weren't delivered. It felt as if we were coming together more than just as a team of volunteers -- we felt like a family preparing to host our friends and loved ones for a special dinner together :)
As we arrived at the Canvas Cafe to set-up, we followed the trail of amazing aromas leading to the kitchen where we were met with big smiles, as we introduced ourselves and met each of our five volunteer cooks! They had come together to prepare a meal with love for guests at Karma Kitchen and they said it was such a wonderful experience just being together to cook and serve others in this way! We were blown away by their generosity and the genuine love they added into every part of the cooking process.
As volunteers put their hands, head and hearts together, in just a couple of hours they transformed the atmosphere in the basement with so much love, Karma Kitchen style, or as Ruth later described during our closing circle -- they made the room look and feel so magical :) Quotes, fresh flowers and heart-shaped name signs appeared on each table, rangolis made with rose petals adorned small spaces, inspiring quotes were sprinkled around on the walls and gifts overflowed in baskets waiting to be shared with guests. It's always beautiful to see how things flow so beautifully when everyone involved shares the same intention -- to cultivate generosity in their hearts, moment by moment. Following a circle of sharing where all the volunteers reflected on their intentions for the evening, we were ready to open the doors and welcome our first guests to Karma Kitchen!
Love and Service In Action
Ani and Shamash, our chief huggers for the first sitting, warmly welcomed guests as they arrived and made them feel right at home as soon as they stepped inside Karma Kitchen :) Unlike some of the other Karma Kitchens, only a few of the guests came in set groups, so we had several community tables around the room where perfect strangers soon became friends, as they talked about what came up from them as they reflected on the evening's theme: How can we "be the love" we wish to see in the world? Ani welcomed all of the guests and shared with them the intentions behind Karma Kitchen, while Ruth also welcomed them to her second home :) The volunteers were beaming with joy as they served guests with food, drinks, gifts and Love. The kitchen team, who was busy plating food and washing dishes with love, had their hands full because our anticipated 15% no-shows all showed up to this sitting, which was amazing to see especially on a rainy, cold Monday night! :)
As the evening rolled on, Leo Johnson shared the beautiful story about how he brought his local community together following a tragic event he read about in the news where an old woman passed away and her body was discovered in her own home 6 years later. Leo was deeply affected by this news and through a few serendipitous interactions brought his entire neighbourhood together to get to know each other so that something like this would never happen again where he lives. He went on to share what inspiration has rippled out since he first planted these beautiful seeds of togetherness in his community. Marta, who was the cook responsible for baking all the amazing desserts on offer that evening, also offered some music from her heart :) As the first sitting came to a close, the guests were so blown away with cups of gratitude overflowing -- one woman even followed her server into the kitchen to come and personally thank her and give her a huge hug before leaving :)
By the time we were ready to welcome guests for the second sitting, the volunteer team was feeling even more settled into the flow and ready as ever to serve with love. Esteban offered his signature hugs as he got all the guests checked in while we turned the space around for the next set of guests. I had a chance to welcome them all to the space with warm hugs together with our joyful team of servers. As kitchen team members became servers and servers went to the kitchen to plate up and wash dishes with love, everyone chipped in to fill gaps and help each other out as needed. It always amazes me how this happens so effortlessly in a place where service is at the heart of everyone's collective intentions.
During both sittings, our dish washing volunteers took a break from their duties :) to come out and share several beautiful reflections that our guests had written about the evening's theme "How can we be the love we wish to see in the world?"
One of the highlights of the second sitting was a musical offering by Joe Holtaway, a friend we know from the Wake Up London community, who blessed the evening with his beautiful singing and guitar accompaniment. He engaged the whole room in singing the chorus of his first song, which drew everyone together so beautifully. When he asked if everyone wanted to hear another one, a joyful cheer erupted for more of Joe's inspiring music and so he shared one more beautiful piece. Later, during our closing circle, one of the volunteers even shared that Joe's musical offering was the highlight for him of the entire evening!
Ripples of Generosity
As the evening came to a close, all the volunteers circled up together once again to share highlights of our experience at Karma Kitchen. Several people mentioned how much joy they experienced in giving and receiving so many smiles and hugs throughout the evening, whether they were in the restaurant welcoming or saying goodbye to guests, or in the kitchen where they received hugs from fellow volunteers and hugs from a few diners who made their way behind the scenes to express their deep sense of gratitude! One of our chief huggers :) even commented on how he noticed people's reserved nature melt away when he approached them with a big smile and arms wide open to give them a hug as they were welcomed to Karma Kitchen, as if the hug released something that was holding back their love and enabled joy and happiness to flow. Others were blown away by how gracefully the entire team of volunteers collaborated, never having done this before for the most part. Hands appeared where help was needed (or when shoulder massages were needed, as a chain came together in the kitchen during second sitting!) and hearts appeared where a little love and encouragement was needed :)
It was so beautiful to see the entire crew of volunteers collectively honour the intentions we had planted seeds for during the opening circle with such whole-heartedness and authenticity. As I looked through the photos the next day, the number of hugs and smiles I saw in each one was just remarkable -- there are such few places in the world where such a profound sense of joy and love in action is "just business as usual" :)
We hope you enjoy this collection of photos from the day -- Highlights of Karma Kitchen London - March 2017. We look forward to collectively welcoming Londoners back to experience generosity on the menu at Karma Kitchen again in the near future!