Four Days On The Road
Posted by Jignasha Pandya on Apr 18, 2019
Our first stop was a circle in Bakersfield, where a group of motivated women held a screening of Gandhi that was attended by 500 people -- and then held an interfaith march, in a fairly polarized community that votes strongly Republican, that brought together more than 700 people. Our first surprise was being greeted by two very young ServiceSpace volunteers, playing Gandhi's favorite chant for Arun Dada:
That was followed by the very first Awakin Circle in Bakersfield, courtesy of the one-and-only Trishna! The evening was truly sublime, with 40-50 of us huddled around a re-arranged living room. Few people just couldn't stop tearing up, as we spoke about the power of generosity. One doctor said it best, "Usually, I got to events and I watch things on the screen. Today, I became the screen!" Joy was in the air. As Trishna joked, "You don't understand. In Bakersfield, people leave weddings at 9PM. It's 10:30PM and we're all still here." :)
The next morning, we had a circle in Watts, with local community organizers from Orland Bishop, co-founder of HomeBoy Industries, and a 96-year-old activists who supported Martin Luther King Jr. The community here has endured so much, including the Rodney King riots in 1992, and many felt that our dialogue was well-timed considering the recent shootings.
Right as we walked in, Orland greets us with a big smile: "Welcome to ServiceSpace." For the last 24 years, he has worked in the community, build the "rhyzome network" to prep the field so many other possibilities can bloom. It was an art gallery. They have no office -- which just means they are working from every place. :) From his sacred water pilgrimage that he had embarked on, he offered holy water as a offering to Arun Dada. Nigel, to the right, told a moving, metaphysical story of seeing a goddess emerge from a burning fire and guiding us to lead with our heart and working with a "gentle feather" in hand. When some indigenous elders heard of his experiences, they told him, "You have brought our goddess by to us." He is now summoned by Cameroon to build a statue twice the size of Status of Liberty, and create a movement around those values.
One of the cutest highlights of our circle on the gentle power of nonviolence was a 96-year-old grandma, who not only had the fire of transformation in her eyes coupled with the overflowing of love in her heart. When Arun Dada was asked, "What gives you hope, in such times?" He spoke of kids. And the grandma then adds, "Well, I've been a kindergarten teacher most of my life. Kids definitely give me hope. They didn't need to be taught love. That just how we're made."
By evening, we were in another circle in the Hollywood area. Lots of young and diverse people, and many from the acting world. About 50-60 of us crammed into Pranidhi's and Komnieve's space, meditated and held space around the topic of inner-transformation driven social change. Some of the stories laid out a pretty high bar -- "If it was 1:13AM and Vinoba accidentally woke in the middle of the night, he would ask himself what time is it. If he was off by one or two minutes, he would forgive himself. Otherwise, he would be worried that he's losing his awareness." The collective vibe was so strong, that by the time Dada was closing with "May all be blessed" chant, he spontaneously, and uncharacteristically, went into a follow-up Bengali chant -- May we find the strength to be free from all our knots. It was powerful. :)
We had two more circles the next day, and each one filled with so many ripples. For instance, at the evening circle in Pasadena, it happened to be the host's 67th birthday. In that musically-themed evening, we also had a world-renowned Sitarist, Paul Livingstone, join us. It made for a beautiful evening, that Kalpana Aunty later called, "One of the best birthdays of my life."
As if all that wasn't enough, our grand finale was yet to occur Sunday morning in Ventura. At Bonnie's Church! There's so much that can be said about her, but she turns it around. "I'm trying to make this church a mini ServiceSpace." Her logo has heart pins now. Their tagline mentions the word love three times. Their courses are "priceless pricing" based, and getting strong turnouts. Most recently, their bookstore has gone gift economy, too. Before each service, in true laddership style, Bonnie leaves last from their inner quarters into the main hall by reciting a silent prayer for being a great instrument of peace, and then bowing! Along the way, you would see this wall of kindness that Peter Frank (also a local Awakin host in Ventura) has built up -- it's where everyone writes the acts of kindness they've done. The hope is for the entire hallway to be filled with reminders that kindness is always possible:
And then the Church service. Perhaps about 300 people were present. Arun Dada asked everyone, "If you received the grace for asking for any boon from God, what would you ask for?" After two minutes, he sang a poem by Roman Catholic mystic who responded to that very question. You can't feel the energy in the YouTube video, but people were in tears without even understanding the meaning. And then he shared the meaning, which opened it up even more. By the end, when he realized we only had two minutes left, he held silence to see if any words needed to be said. Pin drop silence. By the end, no one could even applaud. We just waved our hands in the air, to harmonize with the collective vibration, with a unspoken wish to pay it forward.
In his own way of combing inner transformation, external impact and skillful means, Vinoba once quipped, "In Gandhi, I found the peace of Himalayas, and revolutionary fervor of Bengal." I'm not sure if this counts, but courtesy of the stunning Harpist Jessica Brizuela, we left with Himalaya in the background and Bollywood in the foreground. :)
Grateful for these four days!