Unfolding Stories Of Service And Transformation
Posted by Jignasha Pandya on Jul 3, 2017
Two Sundays ago, 22 friends in Vadodara gathered at Rachana and Ashish's warm and welcoming retreat space which is ttheir lovelyhome to share a beautiful day together in the field of ordinariness, stillness, reflection, service, gratitude, and love. We collectively held the intention to deeply listen to service journeys of many of us whose cups of gratitude are overflowing and have been a part of many labor of love projects in Vadodara. We wanted to deeply listen to - their motivations, aha moments, challenges and the road forward.
Our circle of sharing opened with warm welcoming hugs and haldi dot on our forehead from Lipi and Manali. The mogra flowers kept in various corners of the room calmed our minds and brought a smile to our faces. After spending the first half hour in silence and prayers together, as we went around the room sharing our personal journey the gifts that we have received, our hearts began to connect and we could find a glimpse of our story in every story that was shared. It felt like we were collectively listening and feeling at home.
We witnessed the unfolding of many gifts in the first circle of sharing -
The gift of planting seeds: Bhakti's grandfather was an Ayurveda doctor, he would chant a mantra while he was grinding and making pills for his patients. (This is an old practice with Ayurvedic doctors, who believe that the patient gets better not only with the ingredients in the medicine but with the intention that the doctor puts in while making the medicine.). Seeing him as a child and imitating gave her a very fundamental gift of intentional giving of well-being. Jaimit shared how his grandmother seeded the gift of singing while everyday carrying him to a temple to attend Satsang.
The gift of noble friendship: Bhumika shared how noble friendship, which is different from she experienced with school and college friends, has helped her find balance during her highs and lows.
The gift of birth: This life is a gift, Rajlaxmi aunty, and Ramesh uncle expressed their gratitude for this life they have received.
The gift of teachers and community: Siddharth shared his gratitude to all teachers in his life, be it people or experiences. Experiences that have helped him decide the path to walk on.
The gift of values: Rachana shared that how love and silence both reside within us. Because we start looking for things outside/bahar mukhi we start losing the connection. She shared how she resonates with the values- truth, fearlessness, and love which are so interconnected. When you stay true to yourself, you become fearless and when you are fearless one can love with no boundaries and soon the line between giving and receiving melts. She shared how we keep holding to love by closing our fist not realizing that the more we try to hold the less we receive, it's only when we let it free we would cherish it more. She quoted a line by Meera which says - 'Nahi aiso janam barambar' (we may not get this birth again so let's utilize this birth in all good ways and in service.)
The gift of forgiveness: Neela Aunty shared how all her life she longed to be loved. Then, she heard the famous Sai Baba story where Sai Baba comes to a bhakt as a dog and the bhakt shoves him away. In that moment she felt that all the difficult people in her life are maybe God and she might be shoving them away. In that moment she decided to serve those who brought misery into her life and see God in them. This opened up doors to the love within which she sought outside.
The gift of radical love: Arundada had gone to Cyprus during a time of communal tension between the Greeks and Turks. One day, he was out for his morning walk, the Sun was just about to rise. On his way he saw two shepherd boys laughing at him, he kept walking in their direction towards the hill top. As he went close, one boy ran and brought out an air gun and pointed at him. Dada did not know if these boys were Greeks or Turks, he did not speak the language and it did not matter. Dada went close while the gun was still pointing at him, patted on one boy's shoulder, smiled, said ‘hello' and started walking up the hill. He went up watched the sun rise, offered his morning prayers and started walking down. The same two boys ran to him and this time offered him two fistfuls of almonds. Dada then shared, ‘I do not know what got transferred in those moments but what I remember even today are the smiles and laughter we exchanged.’
The gift of balance: Rushabh felt that he has received the gift of balance from the community, where he understood that each one has his own middle and that they will have to find that and operate from there.
At lunch time and when love is overflowing we get surprised and pampered by an extra dose of sweets. And, as our stomachs were being fed, conversations were going deeper and we could see some asking questions, some listening with wide eyes and some serving – all happening at once. We were all prepared to dive into the second half and listen to simple yet inspiring service journeys.
Swara shared an overall presentation tying together stories, intentions, initiatives and projects that have been emerging in the local eco-system and the entire spectrum of engagement. After which there were five presentations followed by a closing comment from Arun dada. Here’s the summary of all the gifts that unfolded:
HeArtist Stories: Bhumika had only four days to design 28 pages of a kindness diary for the global Gandhi 3.0 retreat. In her mind, she had already told herself that it was impossible to do that. Somehow she set herself to work and the result was that the first edition of thousand diaries got over in a couple of months and the next lot is in printing. There were many aha moments for her during the entire process – 1. she learned that courage doesn't roar. Sometimes it is a quiet voice inside that whispers "Let's try it says” 2. It has always been difficult for her to work when there is chaos around, but this time around it did not impact her, in fact, she did not notice any while she was drawing. Though it was high pressure she was happy all the time. She wondered how did this happen? Why does this not happen when she is working on a commercial project? 3. While designing the diary she felt like a dot in the web that enabled the diary to take its form and was reminded of the Thich Nhat Hanh quote – ‘here is a floating cloud in the sheet of paper. Without the cloud, there will be no rain; without the rain, trees cannot grow; without the trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.'
From Transformers to inner transformation: Lipi, Gyan, and the gang are a group of engineers who have regular jobs where they travel more than 35 km one way, but they find time every Sunday and on every free day to engage in service projects. Unlike other young people who would want to catch a movie or sit around in a coffee shop with friends, these guys hardly know about the new movies playing in town. They go do compassionate clowning in hospitals, old age homes, children’s institution for more than a year. They could experience a visible shift within through the year like – they opened up and connected with strangers which otherwise they would have not known of or met, increased tolerance, they learnt to look for the positive in people and situation and amplify it, could connect more authentically and while smiling for others they learnt how that smile made them happier people. The two challenges they are working on are emotional overwhelm when they were in difficult situations and patients being non-responsive.
Divine Hands: Kunal was once visiting a village where he was served and welcomed with a lot of love by families who did not have much. This made him think and that is what gave birth to divine hands. Now, every Sunday many volunteers come together – cook and go in communities to share food and stories. They started from distributing food in the slums to now cooking and sharing meals and stories. Their aha moment was when during the month of Ramadan a group of people were not sure if they could break their fast as they did not have anything to eat. The group felt so much gratitude for receiving the food that they showered the volunteers with blessings. This is when they felt like they were receiving while on the outside it may look like they were giving.
Yoga Champs: Pinky works with a leading newspaper in India. We lovingly call her CEOji for her commitment and dedication to anything that she picks up. Pinky runs yoga sessions for underprivileged children on every Sunday. Her aha moment is that she has been able to be consistent with her practice (She was very inspired my Harshida aunty who shared that one of the most important parts of this practice is to be consistent at your practice.). The question she is holding is – how can she give the same love that she gives her nephew to all the kids she interacts with.
University experiments of kindness: Rachana is a university professor who chooses to stand against the current in the mainstream. Her quest started with a research questions like - whether doing acts of kindness really brought about transformation? Studying the process of transformation in an Awakin space? Since then she has done a number of experiments in her university and somehow her research questions are now exhausted as she has begun to be the change herself. She now hosts Awakin in her house and 21-day challenges in her college. She has introduced small practices in the children's Bal Wadi like – when every child comes in they stand in two lines and hug each other. These little actions have rippled out and touched students and teachers in different ways.
Invitation to Be: Siddharth began his presentation with an invitation. Before he began, he said ‘do not mistake the finger for the moon as I speak, for I am still walking on the path.' His experiments and way of life make him stand at the far end of the service spectrum. Siddharth did his engineering from IIT – Mumbai and after that wanted to move to an ashram, but instead joined Gandhi fellowship to not worry his father. After the fellowship ended he spent the next year in a Vipassana center. Now, he is living in Vadodara teaching physics to students a couple of hours in a day and spending rest of his time to really ‘Be'. And, his invitation to all of us was to ‘Be’ in that moment. And, as he extends his invitation he also says – ‘as the Master says, my responsibility is limitless.’
After the homemade ice-cream break, we all gathered to do some fun activity with Varsha and Risha to shake off some sitting energy bring ourselves back.
Arundada a lifelong volunteer was constantly, silently blessing us with his presence. After patiently and attentively listening to all he shared some really simple signs of what it really means to serve. He said at the end all of this work must lead to citta shuddhi (inner purification). He said there should be no pretense. He ended by beautifully singing and teaching us the song ‘Gamta nu kariye gulaal’ (If you have something that you like, do not store it in your pocket, share it will all).
When you put your heads and hearts together to plan these kinds of retreats, we put a lot of love into thinking about all aspects of the day and all the things you feel moved to offer to serve the attendees from decorating the space with inspiring messages and uplifting quotes to offering food and refreshments to nourish the body and soul all day long to tagging everyone with gifts. But so much of the magic of what happens at the retreats is what you *don't plan* -- those small heartfelt moments throughout the day that you will never forget. Like when we walked in we saw mogra flowers in different corners of the room (not by the ambiance team!), zen notebooks and pens, beautiful plants as gifts and homemade ice-creams during the afternoon break. It is just that somebody’s cup overflowed and they wanted to share the love.
The ServiceSpace ecosystem held our retreat together in so many invisible ways, it was such an honor to channel inspiration from so many of you and weave it in throughout the day! We played the ServiceSpace video “Be selfish Be Generous” after break & Nimo and Daniel's "Planting seeds" evoked so much inspiration and love in our hearts.