Wowed By The Field Of Love In Philippines
Posted by Nipun Mehta on May 19, 2018
On the surface, I came as a speaker for Assumption College commencement -- which, of course, was a remarkable experience. It's an all-women school with about 3000 kids, from K through college, and whose alumni have included 2 Philippines presidents, numerous business leaders and even more nuns! Somewhere behind a podium in the photo below, I'm speaking about embracing grace. :)
Underneath the hood, though, I had the great joy of witnessing Ana's magic. (For those who don't know Ana, she was Julliard's "100 Most Outstanding Alumni in 100 Years" among other things.) First off, extreme hospitality from Anjo, Erwin, Wylette and the entire compassion army -- I mean, having been here multiple days, I still don't know my way around, because there were always volunteers escorting you with great love. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. :) It's a remarkable team of seventeen that spend two hour of each work day in a circle of sharing, and feels like family with each other.
What Ana and Anjo have done here, since Gandhi 3.0 in January, is totally remarkable.
To give you a flavor, they have started a whole bunch of monthly events with alternative pricing. There's the Kindness series -- Kindness Theater, Kindness Kitchen, Kindness Komedy, Kindness Krafts. And then the circles -- Kindness Circles, Awakin Circles, Talking Circles. Few more include Movement for Love, Yoga for All, and Hub of Light. All of them open to the general public. Some are "priceless pricing" (inspired by Bonnie!) and others are with "multiple forms of capitals", as seen below:
It's not just the events, though. All ships are steering towards transformation, to be "bees of the invisible" (as Rilke would say).
As an example, consider the improv circles offered via Kindness Comedy. As Nimo says, you really don't know Ana until you've seen her teach theatre. The school president, Carmen "Pinky" Valdes, told me how Ana led a performance in Rome with 7 thousand people and realized, "She doesn't know the priceless gift she's got." Dr. Pinky then put her in charge of METTA Theatre (which Ana named based on her resonance with "loving kindness"), which has thrived for the last dozen years under her leadership. But given Ana's spiritual orientation, all performances are designed for an inner experience. For instance, one of her exercises is "masks", where people don't just wear masks for role play but often are moved to tears in realizing just how many sub-conscious masks they are still holding on to. (And who knew that Ana has published a book? In leafing through the hard-copy I'm yet to get autographed, :) she shares many exercises developed over the years.)
Another experiment they did, on their school "anniversary" day, was to replace all classes with kindness acts. Everyone literally did kind acts for each other and for strangers all through the day, and the teachers also spent the day creating "Kindness Crafts" (inspired by Sehr's "stitch a heart" circle). A detailed write-up on this is coming soon, so it can be modeled by other schools.
About month or so ago, the school inaugurated a beautiful 5-story building, and Ana was put in charge of it. She named it "iNay", which means mother in Tagalog. "The whole purpose of this building is to encourage circles," Dr. Pinky told me, as she articulated how just much has changed for the school and college, post Ana and Anjo's return from India. And Ana has been audaciously embracing "priceless pricing" (inspired by Bonnie!). I say audacious because this is in a traditional context where donors, for example, insist on putting their names on individual rooms they've contributed for. Ana is fearlessly pioneering a new way of kindness and laddership, and is happily awed at its resonance. (She's speaking about it to the board next week, so send her some good juju. :))
Among other activities at the building, they'll also be doing Kindness Kitchen -- a variant of Karma Kitchen, adapted for the local context. They recently started Awakin Circles, and intend to continue it every week. 21-day challenges are common on campus. None of the upcoming retreats will be done in a traditional transactional way. Everything, in fact, has become an experiment for creating a "culture of kindness".
During one of the "talking circles", I spoke to the local and global leadership (including three nuns!) about "Gandhi 3.0". Many spoke about their resonance and are thrilled to follow-up with next steps. One woman, with all seriousness, said, "I'm disturbed. Very disturbed, actually. But in a good way. I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight." :) Another talk was at the top business school in the country. Feeling into the palpable resonance from unlikely b-schoolers, the former school dean now wants to create a laddership-esque retreat. A former labor minister now teaching at the school felt it was pre-destined we met, to "brew a more perfect storm". :)
I also spoke to a couple of school assemblies, with many Smile Cards now floating around. :) When I asked the students if we are fundamentally selfish or kind, the responses were numerous and profound. "Definitely kind." "I think we're blank slates." "Sometimes I see monsters around, and I want to make sure I don't become one of them." (Context: on the violence spectrum, current president of the Philippines is on the polar opposite end of Gandhi, and very popular.) In one of the most touching responses, one young man (visiting his sister for graduation) spoke for a few minutes to the tune of, "I've been bullied a lot, so I have good reason to believe that people are mean. But I don't want to believe that. I think we can always be kind."
Here's 12th graders doing a minute of silence before we start:
In many ways, I was in the Philippines following in Nimo's trails. He came here last year, Ana and Anjo then came to India, and then the ripples. :) Everyone knows his songs here. He did a concert with 2 thousand young boys at a school here last week, as they all sang together. Even at Assumption, more than 500 residents wake up every morning to Nimo's Grateful song.
This morning, I went to a women's prison where Ana and Anjo have been putting on weekly "theater arts" circles. Last year, when Nimo visited, they were all deeply moved and then memorized his songs. And as a tribute to him, and to express their gratitude, they put on a *phenomenal* performance today! They said knew me because Nimo told them about his "brother" last time. :) Without a mic, in the sweat-inducing heat, with their friends from the prison, they danced and sang their hearts out. You can't see the signs in the back but it says, "We love you, Nhimo" and we could all feel it. (They also *really* adore ANJO! Just mention his name and everyone squeals "Yaaaay" and starts clapping!) The emcee, also an inmate, said, "We had been looking forward to this day for a long time. Just you coming here gives us hope. Thank you." I spoke to many women who had been there for more than 10 years, and they hardly get any visitors. I'm sure if Nimo was here today, he would have left with moist eyes and big smiles -- the way I left.
The beauty of all this is that Ana is just getting started. She just finished Laddership Circle and has even more ideas. (As a sign of her commitment to these ideals, she thought Laddership Circle was residential and arranged for a six-week leave from her work!) In September, she's coming to stay at Banyan Grove in California; her amazing team is excited to do various immersions in India; the school president is keen to head to Symphony of Peace Prayers in Japan; at their new Pardo theatre, we are brainstorming an Asia-wide TED-style event for journeys of transformation - a la Awakin Talks; the school has approved hosting a mini version of "Gandhi 3.0" in early 2019; and the list continues on.
At our final lunch, I got a glimpse into Ana's mystical experiences with life (oops, Ana, am I allowed to leak that? :)), and in the end, we just felt deeply grateful by the inexplicable forces of grace that have brought us all together to spread a little bit more love in the world.