What's Love's Business Plan?
--Audrey Lin
13 minute read
Dec 30, 2018


As we wind down on our final days of 2018, I'm reminded how around this time last year, a crew of volunteers were bustling into action, scheming up surprises for a palpable “Gandhi 3.0” retreat last January. After the gathering, with so many folks brimming with energy to spill forward the goodness, it felt natural to collectively deepen further through a 6-week virtual Laddership Circle, to learn from each other, explore transformation-led design principles, experiment within ourselves and with our communities, and engage labors-of-love that reflect the emergent field of collective wisdom.

Last Spring, 18 of us from 9 different countries signed on, and what a journey it was! Below are some of the many highlights.

“What’s love’s business plan?” Ana genuinely asked. "What system designs create the conditions for transformation?"

We quickly realized there's no one-size-fits-all answer, but it was remarkable to witness how the collective space of the circle supported each of us to unfold a collage of living answers in our corners of the world. In the Philippines, Ana’s board members wanted a business plan for her variety of experiments -- including “Kindness Theater," a 5-story gift-economy retreat space, and kindness activities (like cooking hundreds of meals to feed others). In the backdrop of the prestigious, globally established Assumption College -- which, on Ana’s campus alone, enrolls 2-3 thousand students from preschool to university -- these are quite out-of-the-box experiments!

Similarly, interfaith minister Bonnie initiated classes at her church on a “Priceless Pricing” fee structure:
In Priceless Pricing classes, we ask all class participants to first commit to spiritual growth. Please be sure to attend all the classes if possible! Near the last class of a series, we invite participants to meditate on what financial amount they would like to contribute. We ask them to consider an amount that that reflects their personal experience of benefit merged with the desire to raise up our divine community to support happiness, personal growth, and global blessings. We leave the specific amount up to the individual’s inner wisdom.

We thank you in advance for honoring this Priceless process.

As she experimented, Bonnie reflected:
We used to charge for various classes and give the teacher a portion of the fee. I find that with Priceless Pricing comes the recognition that the most valuable things, like spiritual education and community, are Priceless. For the most part, people realize that they are giving to an intangible value. I also find that I'm a better teacher when I teach from a Priceless Pricing model. I don't accept a fee for these classes and I find greater freedom in that. Also we teach the art of giving by asking the students to decide collectively on what inspires them, and then we donate to that organization/person as a group.

Building off the group exploration, Venu had been experimenting with pay-it-forward process in his medical practice(!), and took further steps to articulate what that meant to his patients. Marian and Aslinur launched Anar Journeys on a gift-basis, with so many loving touches of care, including gifts handmade by volunteers to take on the journey! In Portugal, Vasco and Maria designed multi-day "Deep U" retreats with their local community. Immediately after one gathering, two participants sweetly wrote in about their beautiful intent to deepen in service: "My husband and I have come across ServiceSpace very recently and it has made such an impact that we needed to get in touch with you. How can we be part of your team? Is it possible?" :) and "I hope to share my humble contributions for anyone who needs them and to incorporate others' feedback on my personal and professional life."

Vasco also wrote about the magic of the convergence, and described their pay-it-forward process:
Inspired by several projects (e.g. Bonnie, Sehr, Galia, Aslinur, Marian, and many, many others) we came up with the following design:

- people apply to be part of the event;
- the community of alumni help select the ones that seem more aligned with the purpose of the program;
- people are then officially invited to participate;
- volunteers prepare several "gifts" (e.g. heart pins, badges and many others), in a way that also involves participants of past events (in this edition Dani was a magnificent "ladder" in this, making most of the materials and even inspiring her parents to stitch some of the bags!);
- finally the participants go through the experience, which intends to be a "greenhouse (the "soil" is prepared, the "seed" is "planted" and then "watered");
- at the end they receive the "bill". It says zero.

Then the question was: how to manage the donations? Regarding the financial ones, the idea was the following. Imagine three buckets. The first one is for costs (e.g. venue, materials, etc.). When that bucket is full, the "water" starts moving to the second one. This one regards the "opportunity cost" of facilitation (I've decided to charge only 25% of what I normally do in the market in terms of fees so I can be sustainable) and also a fund for future events to cover extra costs (e.g. plane travels, accommodation, etc.). When this one fills, the "energy" then moves to the last bucket, the only one that doesn't have a limit: donations to support other projects, specially the ones related with the program "pillars". The intention is that all profits, in case they exist, are channeled to different NGOs. ;)

With so many different manifestations and perspectives, it became clear that inner transformation is dynamic, living process -- not a predictable model one can replicate. :) Yet, in coming together with an open mind and heart, and shared intentions to "be the change we wish to see," we drew inspiration from each other, which rippled into unique, concrete expressions of these values in our own communities. Rather than focusing on the content of a project or product, everyone began to focus on the process of creating a context for humanity's intrinsic virtues to surface.

At some point in our circle, Ana gave a presentation to stakeholders at her college on the “gap” between their operating costs and the transformative education they wanted to share:
I presented a new pricing model, that had been inspired since Gandhi 3.0, Pranidhi's Yoga Shala West, Infinite Vision and Aravind Eye Hospital, Bonnie's sharing of "priceless pricing". As I shared the rationale, I felt all of you as the "breath" supporting me, feeling shaky, but the words as they came out of my mouth, slowly taking root in my heart. A new emerging garden, seeds planted last January in Gandhi 3.0, and actually even further back, when I first met Nimo online, through his Empty Hands Album, and who eventually introduced all of you angels.

From my presentation -- The result was silence, then... they liked it, and now I have to present to the alumnae, Sister's membership, and Board of Trustees.

Waaaaahhhhhhhhhh! You are with me, each of you, thank you!

Soon after, she and her team began hosting retreats to practice a culture of kindness outside school walls, and enabling “invisible service” and “silent service” for each other. They also invited Nipun to give their commencement address last May, after which the principal of their K-12 schools inspired us to host an education-themed circle with their teachers, as well as educators across five countries, to explore how qualities of service and kindness can be instilled as alive, embodied values rather than a rule to be followed. Here's a video of Ana and her team's first retreat.

As the spirit of sharing inspiration and ideas continued to blossom, a humorous meme was also born: “Out beyond ideas of copyright and copywrong, there is a field. I'll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, we say #PleaseStealOurStuff.” :) If our circle was a dictionary, we were adding new pages to it every week-- defining new vocabulary to describe the patterns of positive deviance that were manifesting in front of us: shifts from leadership to laddership, from being mindful to also kindful, from market rates to priceless pricing, from copyright to #pleasecopy. :)

On our last week, Jerry poignantly added another one: from entrepreneur, “I am becoming a "transpreneur,” he wrote. “crossing over and taking with me in transition all I have learned on this pilgrimage with you and previous teachers and companions. I will draw together from the entrepreneur of fire; the intraprenerur of earth; the interpreneur of water; and the innerpreneur of air. They blend and need each other.”

“What does showing up look like?” was another question, which Sehr wondered. Sacred texts talk about how there can be “action in inaction” and “inaction in action”. How do we fully show up in a way that unlocks our core values?

It’s remarkable how much unfolds when we simply find an excuse to deepen in values, within ourselves and with others. Sehr and Bonnie started “stitch-a-heart” circles (aka: “heart-felt investing”) in Dubai and California. Soon after, Aslinur in Istanbul hosted one -- in which her mom joined, too! Inspired by the idea of spending time with family in such a way, in Portugal, Maria, her parents, and Vasco began stitching homemade gifts to share with participants of their labor-of-love “Deep U” Retreats -- which have taken on a life of their own!

Sehr’s question of “showing up” also brought her to a local farm, where she found herself leading a joyous day of service. And then to a five-star restaurant, where she described “massive heart ‘surgery’” through the launch of Karma Kitchen -- with the host restaurant chefs volunteering on their only day off (and that too, while fasting the entire day for Ramadan)! Galia, too, kicked off the first Karma Kitchen in Israel -- where they served 400 guests! She recalled the joy of volunteers gathering to serve, including a whimsical labor-of-love moment the night before, standing on a chair in her kitchen, stirring a massive pot of soup for strangers and friends to enjoy the next day. In DC, Jerry noticed litter on his street -- and decided to pick it up, which prompted interesting conversations with a neighbor, and within himself.

In Istanbul, the first night of Ramadan intersected with Aslinur and Marian's Awakin Circle. Traditionally the first iftar dinner (breaking of the fast) happens at the parent's home, and Aslinur's mother had invited her home for dinner. Caught in a seemingly conflicting situation of filial respect vs. her values for hosting a meditation circle, they came up with a solution: her mother agreed to bring the whole Awakin Circle into their home -- into an evening rich with community values and nurturing care. Aslinur wrote: "[My mother] was flying around like a butterfly, constantly serving and feeding people whom she addressed “my daughter”, “my son.” It was a blessing to welcome the first day of Ramadan all together ... these days, I am so grateful to what Life is constantly presenting to me, to us, to the whole. And tell myself... actually Life is always sending you blessings but you often focus on the package and miss what is in the box- a delicious food to be shared with friends."

How to organize in ways that shift from "me" to "we"? Kai asked one week, amid facilitating an immersive fellowship at his Peace and Permaculture Dojo. During our “wealth”-themed week, Myron in Wisconsin recalled a sociology experiment from his undergraduate days, where 30 students were taken to South Side Chicago to spend a weekend on the streets with just a couple dollars. While his peers had a brutal experience, Myron survived-- thrived, actually-- by tapping into the power of relating to others:
“I … connected with people on the streets and got a place to stay on their couch through the weekend, got great restaurants to give me free food ... For many of the others, it was brutal. They just had no experience at what to do and some were traumatized. It was not a well thought out experiment. I just knew that money was a limiting factor and didn't offer skills/tools needed to survive. Those skills are more relational.”

We saw how tuning into ways to relate can unlock so much value when we least expect it. Linda recalled a poignant moment on a plane, when she found herself sitting next to a man who appeared quite disheveled, and who ordered an alcoholic drink first thing at 9AM. Intuition told her to show up with love, and she turned and talked with him: “Hello, how are you?” The reply: “I just buried my daughter. And now I’m going home.” With tears streaming down her face, she spent the entire plane ride in deep conversation with this newfound friend.

"How to shift from manufacturing to gardening?" Rather than plan-and-execute a desired outcome, how do we tap into our collective field of consciousness, and search-and-amplify the value already present? Marcel Proust once wrote: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." As we expanded our lenses of possibility throughout the month-and-a-half, the world right in front of us began to expand with more value than we could dream up on our own. Below is an excerpt from a recap after that week, of various forms of capital surfaced as questions to live into:
  • Compassion Capital
    • What's the "business model" for transformation? What system designs create the conditions for transformation? (Ana) #KindnessTheaterRocks :)
  • Humility Capital
    • "The way out of suffering is to suffer." How does failing give rise to a deeper kind of success? #SuccessfulFail :) (Bonnie)
  • Emergence Capital:
    • How do we simultaneously hold questions and pave a concrete path forward? (Maria)
    • How can I hold space for the divine to flourish? (Aslinur)
    • What happens when we lean into impermanence (and buy a stranger a milkshake :))? (Fab)
  • Subtle Capital
    • "I've been praying for a new story." What happens when we prioritize stillness or prayer (in the midst of tremendous activity)? (Myron, as he kicks off a national conference today!)
    • How do I continuously cultivate the awareness to change myself, to stay in my integrity? (Linda)
  • Attention Capital
    • How can I shift from "no" to "shallow" to "deep" breathing and listening? How to slow down, without agenda, to be here now? (Jerry)
    • What does it take to "never turn off"? (Sehr, inspired by Galia's nonstop kindness!)
    • What's the ripple of an intention? In what ways can deep listening shift a conversation or a relationship? (Marian)
  • Community Capital
    • What happens when we redirect generosity to the broader community? What happens when my program participants pay-forward (in money, time, etc.) their "registration fees" to a cause of their choice? (Vasco)
    • How do I organize in a way that shifts from "me" to "we"? How to skillfully hold space for vulnerability in a group? (Kai)
On top of that, the commitment to the circle -- from fellows and volunteers alike -- was remarkable to behold. Each week, our circle began at times that spanned 7AM to 11PM, depending on what corner of the globe we were in. Kai in Japan would show up week after week, offering lucid insights at midnight! Zilong, too, dialed in late-night from China, several times while on the road with his gracious parents, who were sleeping or meditating in the same room during our call. Similarly, one week, Venu was in a remote area and managed to find wifi to dial in. Komnieve dedicatedly joined our volunteer crew, even with the sleep deprivation of being a few-months-old new dad!

When we reflect on such a convergence, we find ourselves both stumped and awed. Who could have willingly thought it up? Who would've thought a celebrated author, a shaman, a Nobel Laureate, two former actresses, two former nurse practitioners, a former luthier, a permaculturist, two masters' students, several mothers and fathers, humanists, and countless community builders would gather as pilgrims on a shared journey of personal and collective transformation? And who could've schemed up that a former CEO of one of the "best places to work in Los Angeles," a gastroenerologist, and a 20-something-year-old who who was voted to give his university commencement address, would volunteer their time to serve so wholeheartedly in such a space? We couldn't have come up with such a diverse community if we tried. But luckily, as one participant put it, "I know for sure that I'm not driving the bus." As all of us deepened in small acts of service, we found ourselves tapping into a greater pattern of interconnection.

The laws of nature hold timeless wisdom. As Gandhi said, "Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills." With unconditional love at our roots, we allow ourselves to be humbled and surprised, to both spring into action and dissolve into the natural rhythms of our innate capacity for compassion, in whatever forms they want to emerge.

Towards the end of our 6+ weeks together, Ana jokingly proclaimed, “I’m irreversibly damaged!” -- which Maria echoed and re-coined as: “I’m irreversibly repaired!” :) Over half a year has passed since the circle “completed” -- but the “damage” is done, :) many-to-many ripples are in motion, surfacing and spilling over as time and conditions continue to ripen.

Posted by Audrey Lin on Dec 30, 2018

14 Past Reflections