Awakin London: One-Day Of Reconnection
Posted by Zilong Wang on Jun 20, 2017
It was an unusually hot summer day. It was a Sunday. Father's Day. There were International Yoga Day celebrations. For at least one couple, it was their 12th marriage anniversary. It was the grand final of this year's international cricket match. But none of that stopped 65 of us to gather in a normal living room -- our home, as the host insisted -- to co-create a day of "Reconnection".
The seed question from the event invite says:
Our world today faces unprecedented challenges, rooted in multiple forms of disconnection. By losing connection to nature, we have created an ecological divide; by diluting connection with each other, we have manifested a social divide; and by ignoring connection with ourselves, we have deepened our spiritual divide. As these chasms widen at an alarming rate, many are rising up to forge bridges that reconnect us. Whether you're working at the personal, inter-personal, or trans-personal level, how are you reconnecting? What have been the most promising examples of building trust in your community? In an era of decentralized movements, how can we "ladder" ecologies of positive deviance?
What came together was a diverse group -- young and old, near and far, first-timers and regulars. But by the end of the day, we were all (re)connected by an unspeakable buzz, a prayer for more than our own desires, and a new and ancient kinship.
There is no way to capture a comprehensive view of a day so rich with stories, song, and smiles -- and tears. So, instead of trying to summarize the contents from the day, I'd like to share some stories from around the edges, to offer a glimpse into the One-Day Awakin Retreat in London.
Seventy (Entangled) Peace Chains
The day started, well, before the day started :) On the Sunday morning, a group of volunteers gathered at Ani and Hemant's home to do final preparations before all participants arrive. Ani, Hemant, and family have of course been hard at work for many days beforehand.
A man in California gifted us with a bag of peace chains -- hand-made necklace with the word "peace" in world languages. The man has been doing this as a labor of love for decades, giving them away to strangers around the world. He even changed his name to "Joe Peace". Nipun carried the chains in his luggage from the USA to Germany to UK. We are excited to share the blessings with everyone coming.
However, we did an epic job in entangling the threads of the necklaces into an impossible ball of yarn -- much like Darwin's metaphor of an "entangled bank" -- half an hour before we were supposed to offer them to each participant. Spontaneously, five volunteers from four different countries -- UK, Japan, Spain, Singapore -- gathered around to untangle the "mess". And they looked like they are having so much fun!
I looked at the ball of threads, and then at my watch, and immediately gave up hope. We could never make it on time. But before I could verbalize my despair, sister Maki looked up and said with a smile, "Never give up hope!" She said it with such matter-of-fact conviction and ease that all doubt disappeared.
Later on, sister Maki shared in an email, "It was not just untangling the necklace, but for me the act of untangling was like doing the work for the whole world and humanity for peace; and while I was untangling, I wished for the peace of the world."
Through these prayers and the many helping hands, the peace chains are cemented into a "quantum entanglement", connecting anyone holding them.
By a mix of divine intervention :) and sheer perseverance, the ball of messy threads transformed back into 70 individual peace necklaces, and went around the neck of each participant as they silently walked into the room.
Similarly, sister Maki brought a hundred Peace Poles from Japan as gifts for the London family, bearing the prayer "May Peace Prevail on Earth" in various world languages. Volunteers in Japan knew that these gifts are coming to some very special people, and opted to stay up two nights in a roll to hand-make the Peace Poles.
"Generosity is regenerative," Nipun likes to say. And it is also sweet and delicious! The retreat is offered as a gift, a labor of love by many visible and invisible hands. The infectious spirit of giving has inspired over a dozen participants to volunteer to bring food for lunch. That's how we ended up with 18 desserts!
In addition, 25 participants volunteered ahead of time to help with tasks from setting up to cleaning up. That's not counting the spontaneous help offered throughout the day, as people pitched in to refill the water jugs, rearrange the cushions, etc.
Twelve Years of Tilling the Soil in London
"Values are caught, not taught." It takes time to build community, especially when you allow nature to take it course, and let a community emerge slowly based on shared values.
When Trishna arrived in London 12 years ago, she was the only ServiceSpace volunteer in the city. What she missed most from the Bay Area was the in-person connection of a local community.
So, true to her just-do-it spirit, Trishna started hosting Awakin Circles at her home. She clearly recalled the first circle of only six people in her living room -- she personally knew none of them -- all "strangers" brought together by serendipity. In the first few years of holding Awakin Circle, each week, about half to one dozen people would come. But number was never the goal. Trishna kept at it, focusing on small acts, just planting seeds.
For nearly a decade, those seeds seemed to stay happily dormant in this big city. But, as if a clock has struck, in the past two, three years, all of them started to sprout and blossom. From Karma Kitchen to Mindful Parenting Circles, to three Awakin Circles in three locations every month, to a torrent of events around when Nipun is in town. The spirit of service seem to have reached a tipping point. :)
A small group of us surrounded Trishna at 9pm after the full day retreat, and "ambushed" her with questions :) "What are the guiding principles of ServiceSpace?" "When the circle was so small, and so few people came, what kept you going?" "When there is no external measures of success or ulterior motivation, what keep you go above and beyond in your labor of love? Why not just do enough to feel good and then rest?"
Trishna shared straight from heart based on her 20 years of volunteering experience with ServiceSpace. She summarized the three "operating principles", and shared that when you get to ladder and witness other people's journey blossom, there is endless joy and willingness to do whatever it takes to support more of such inner transformation.
Whenever we thank Trishna for patiently and tirelessly supporting the emergence of the London community, she would say that she is just paying it forward, especially from what Nipun has gifted her. But then, Nipun would say exactly the same. :)
Labor of Love is a lot of LABOR
We may get a rosy picture of a life of service -- in ease and tranquility and infinite love and light :)
The past few days, I had the great privilege to live in the same house with Nipun and Trishna, to get a peek into the backstage of ServiceSpace London HQ. I am in constant awe, to say the least.
These full time volunteers are the most hardworking people I've ever known. For the days leading up to Nipun's arrival -- and throughout his stay, the team is running on restricted sleep time (except for me, who is sleeping on everyone's behalf). Nipun is still on his jet-lag, with a long email backlog from his Germany events. Trishna is a supermom to two energetic young daughters; her official work day starts after 9pm, after she has put the girls to bed, and fed the adults dinner. They are routinely up till late hours of the night, while repeated telling the others to go to sleep. :) Ani and Hemant, our gracious and generous host of the day, moved all those heavy furniture by themselves -- it took six strong men a good 15 minutes to move all of them back after the event.
Nipun promised to take a nap when he arrived in London, but ended up postponing it until his flight back to California. Even that, we could only infer from a momentary pause from his endless streams of emails … One afternoon, with tired eyes, Nipun chose instead to spend two hours creating a presentation deck for someone else, knowing that it might help them to share their stories with a wider audience in the future.
Trishna goes above and beyond in everything she does, from masterminding the whole weekend of activities, to printing out beautiful cards for each dish and dessert. She insisted on typing up individual name tags for each participant at the retreat, so that it may save them time upon arrival.
So many of the details they attend to, and the extra mile they go to, I would easily skip, invoking the rule of "good enough" and safekeeping my own eight-hour sleep. But these lifers, they are marching to the beat of a different drum all together. :) They couldn’t seem to bear to short-change the world by prioritizing their own comfort.
All the selfless and tireless efforts are not in vain -- not that the volunteers are expecting any particular "impact". Collectively, the small acts create a field of love so strong that we are changed just by stepping into the room, without even knowing why. Only now, I am starting to get glimpses of the magic behind the scene. :)
At the end of our 15-hour-day at the retreat, as Trishna, Nipun and I drove back at 11pm, I sank lazily into the backseat and merrily looked forward to the hot shower and soft bed, but Nipun and Trishna were already discussing how to follow up and support the labor of love project people brought up during the day. At some point into their animated brainstorming, I burst out laughing from the back of the car, to the amusement of Nipun and Trishna. I don't know exactly why I laughed. :) Perhaps I found these guys totally "insane" in their "giving with reckless abandon". Or perhaps I was laughing at the ridiculousness of my own obsession with "self care" and comfort, when my comrades are working orders-of-magnitude harder than me.
I bow down again and again to this Bodhisattva spirit in disguise. As they say, all we can do is to pay it forward with great joy. :)
Over 150 years ago, in this same city, Darwin published the Origin of Species, and unleashed a paradigm shift in our worldview. Unfortunately, some have gone on to distort the law of Natural Selection to glorify the law of the jungle and justify selfishness and separation.
However, it is no coincidence that, in the concluding words of his revolutionary classic, Darwin invoked a near mystical image of an "entangled bank" of living beings, all "dependent on each other in so complex a manner”.
Today, the global human society is also an "entangled bank", if not an "entangled mess". We have forgotten our complex interdependence, and our common origin. Perhaps, more than the Law of Natural Selection, it is the Law of Love that will save us from ourselves.
As we sit in these many-to-many circles -- the oldest of our spiritual technology, we are witnessing the emergence of myriad generosity experiments to reconnect the human hearts. To borrow Darwin's metaphor, "from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
May our one-day retreat on this ordinary Sunday be another of these "so simple a beginning"!
[More photos of the retreat are also now online.]