Setting down his burrito, he leaned across the table and, looking me in the eye, said, “Richard, how can I serve you?” This caught me off guard. Not that I was especially on guard. It’s just that no one had ever said that to me before. And I’d only met this man twenty minutes earlier. But I’d heard about him, and from a very good source, stories so intriguing that finally I’d said, “Paul, I’d love to meet this guy!” And now here we were, the three of us, having lunch
at a taqueria in Berkeley. We were all in high spirits.
What takes place in the lively territory of psychic exchange — very lively, in this case — can be so much more than meets the eye. Later on, when I tried to explain what had happened to some of my friends, they were cautionary. They looked at me with some alarm. You’re going to do what? Give your magazine away?
Let me backtrack…
I’d been struggling with an art magazine I’d founded, works & conversations
. I’d tried many of the suggestions I’d be given, but nothing much had come of it. There was always a shortage of money and sometimes, when I’d get depressed, a shortage of energy. But each time I felt like giving up, some new gift appeared. One day I got a subscription from Harvard, an actual check from the Fogg Museum! That kept my spirits up for quite awhile. All along gifts mysteriously seemed to be parceled out just at the right times. And they came in many different forms, all except in the form of dollars.
By the time I met Nipun at the taqueria that Sunday afternoon, I’d been at it for fifteen years. When he asked how he could serve me, I just laughed. It was a laugh of gratitude and delight, and of not knowing how to respond.
Then he said, “I’m serious.” And added, “What you’re doing is a gift and you should be giving it away.”
That stopped me. What I was doing was a gift. I should be giving it away.
I had to let those words sink in a little.
While I was pondering this, he said, “What do you want?” I could see he was serious. This was nothing like how I’d imagined our meeting might go. I thought I’d hear some fascinating stories. That I’d be impressed. That I’d want to interview this interesting stranger. It would be another example of how the adventure of my little magazine was often a real joy.
Our conversation that Sunday afternoon took place almost three years ago and it was all of the things I’d expected, but quite a bit more. I don’t know what it was Nipun
saw that moved him to make his challenge to me: “If you’re willing to give your magazine away, I’ll help you.” But it didn’t take me long to accept. Perhaps it surprised him when I said, “Okay, I’ll give it away.” It was a rare moment. I don’t know if there were high fives, but there was some version of that. And I did join forces with CharityFocus, the umbrella organization that Nipun founded along with a few friends.
But of course, there are layers and layers to things. Lest I misunderstood his offer of help as some kind of certain solution, Nipun qualified, “I can’t guarantee that it will work out. One has to be willing to have something fail. But I believe the universe responds to genuine acts of service.”
It would be a great exaggeration to say that my acceptance of Nipun’s challenge was the unmixed response of a pure spirit. In part I’d been giving the magazine away, anyway, through subsidizing its unmet costs out of my own pocket. And making money had never been the motivation in the first place. Over the years I’d adjusted my goals to aiming for some future break-even mark where basic costs would be covered. And I’d accepted the recognition that my rewards would never come in the form of dollars. Instead, I held the cautious hope that the magazine would have some value in a larger sense. And it was already a source of satisfying surprises. But what had suddenly materialized in front of me was of another order. Trusting my intuition, I realized an alliance with the young man sitting across the table would be a very dynamic event even if I had no idea of exactly what it would look like. Everything inside simply resonated with its obviousness. In truth, I realized I’d be crazy not to accept this wild and spontaneous offer the universe had served up.
It has been a joyful ride. And continues to unfold. My reservations—and there were reservations—have progressively been set aside. Although my wife was supportive of what I’d been doing all those years, it was essentially a solitary enterprise. While all along I’d held the unspoken hope of finding a like-minded partnership with someone, over the years, none had appeared. On that day at the tacqueria, I found two partners, Paul and Nipun, a gift from the universe impossible to quantify.
Over the past three years, my participation with CharityFocus has been a door into a larger community, one that continues to grow. And without getting into names, let me just say that the people I have met through CharityFocus have given me a new feeling of hope for all of us. Just a few weeks ago I had the first glimmering of a new sense of things, that perhaps there is an abundance at the heart of things. It was a feeling entirely new in my experience and utterly at odds with the conditioning of… of what? This culture? Of my own past? Of a western, secular view? Hard to say. But not hard to welcome with gratitude.
[Just last week, conversations.org crossed 25 thousand active subscribers to its bi-monthly newsletter.]