Timeless Surat Smiles
It’s neat how time spent in a space of love can expand into a space of timelessness.
This past April, Parag launched a gift economy Wisdom Book Store at his 1200-student IB school. A few months later, they did it again, and kick-started a Week of Kindness. Moved by the spirit and momentum of these spaces, Parag and his wife Mitaben host about 10 of us in Surat for a little over a day, simply to hold and co-create space to share smiles, spread love, and nurture seeds of generosity in their blooming ecosystem.
On Sunday night, about 10 of us from the MBL family gather at a public talk for 200 folks. Just 24 hours later, a post-Awakin circle of 30 of us feel like family—embraced in group hugs, warm smiles, people fighting to touch each other’s feet, and gratitude in everyone’s heart. It’s amazing how one day in a space of deep presence and imbued with the spirit of small can feel like a month.
At the Sunday night talk, stories of kindness, ordinary acts of great love from Karma Kitchen and Awakin gatherings abound. Madhu shares about his experience bringing sweets to a neighbor who had vandalized his car. Nimo, Sachi, and Sima’s Being Kind music video radiates of “the magic that unfolds one small act at a time”. In the Q&A, folks in the audience share about their own encounters in generosity. After the talk, everyone hugs the person next to them.
A delicious dinner is graciously served to all, as more insights and conversations unleash a river of ripples. Parag’s wife Mitaben decides to serve the dining staff laddus, which then inspires a gang of 10 or so folks to shower the staff with extra helpings of dinner. Another person reflects on Madhu’s story and remarks, “I just fought with my carpenter, but now I’m going to practice giftivism and take sweets for him.” Someone else gives pastries to a stranger, one couple is ready to start a Seva Café, and another individual tells Khushmita, “I’ve always wanted to take care of my maid’s daughter. I’m going to pay for her wedding and SMS you when it’s all done!” Afterwards, we head home with our gracious hosts and share stories late into evening. With attention to the smallest details, Mitaben and Swara even make a warm soothing concoction for a few folks with coughs.
At 7 am, we head to the home of a beautiful family who had invited us over to meditate. A service-hearted family with five grown children, their spouses and loving parents, regularly host group Vipassana meditation sits and one-day retreats in their basement-turned-meditation hall. After the sit, we circle up and share more stories over an abundant breakfast. We learn about their practice of feeding 2500 monks everyday, and how their meditation practice anchored them and helped them process the sudden loss of their 9-year-old daughter. Tidbits from Rev. Heng Sure’s bowing pilgrimage also inspire us all. :)
Mid-morning we head back and have a spontaneous circle of sharing. Immersed in a stream of stories, we are all elevated by the presence of deep listening as Sheetal and Madhu lead us in a “Dil ki Khahani” with Mitaben, who so candidly opens her heart in sharing about learning patience from her son with special needs.
After lunch, we enter the Fountainhead School, and talk about smile cards, small acts, and generosity with an auditorium of teachers and student leaders. Nipun gives a talk with a powerful video, Trupti shares candidly about her experiments in kindness, Madhu offers a beautiful lesson from his grandfather, and I wonder about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Thoughtful questions emerge: “Does generosity make others dependent on us? Is technology helping us connect or disconnect? What if someone refuses your kind act?” Many folks start recalling their own interactions with kindness, and the students in particular are totally flowing with the spirit! We part ways after sharing a group hug and many smile decks.
Afterwards, the day ends with an Awakin Circle. At the front door, someone has arranged our shoes into a heart. Parag and Mitaben’s dining room has been transformed into a meditation circle and about 35 of us sit an hour in silence, followed by an hour of sharing. The passage of the week is on anger, and Khushmita blows us away with a beautiful story of her interaction with a man who delivered a gas cylinder. Rich stories naturally emerge.
Nikaben shares how she noticed that a cow was in a lot of pain after it had given birth. Every time she would come hear it, the cow would become extremely aggressive. On the third day of this pattern, Nikaben goes and touches the feet of the cow, asking for forgiveness for the maternity pain that she had to go through, and any other pain she unknowingly may have caused. Something melted in that moment—and both she and the cow were in tears. Swara decides to do an act of kindness whenever she gets angry. Another women shares that when she reacts in anger, her son gives her a tight hug and eventually her anger vanishes. Anne-Marie reflects on learning the value of a time out from a 4-year-old. We finish the circle with two minutes of gratitude, Suresh sings a song in honor of Gopaldada. Parag and Mitaben rise and serve all of us dinner beaming with love. Sheetal, Trupti, and Swara are determined to do the dishes as pockets of deeper conversations sprout up around the room.
As the evening fades, we part ways as if we’ve always been family—with warm hugs, deep smiles from the heart, and knowing we’ll see each other again. It was a little more than 24-hours, but time spent in spaces like these bring forth the beauty of a lifetime.