Being the Change, Changes the Being
About 35 of us gathered for three days on November 20, 2015 at the ESI campus with an intention to explore the question of how we could be the instrument of change in our own environment in our own small way. It was a gathering of friends from diverse backgrounds ranging from social workers to entrepreneurs to corporate executives to educators to technologists which brought a lot of richness to the circle.
We started the Head Day by gathering at the Peace Pole for prayers. Kids and elders offered prayers in gratitude to the lineage, to nature, to all the volunteers who have helped create and nurture this sacred space and inspire us – Gandhiji, Vinobaji, Ishwar Dada, Parikshit bhai and many others.
Followed by the prayer, we were led by Saheb from the Kabir Ashram on a peace walk in silence around the campus. After a warm welcome, the circle was opened for sharing with the seed question:
“Could you share a personal story or experience about being the change in your environment or have been inspired by someone who has been the change.”
Sheetal opened the circle by offering gratitude to his mother for the first lessons in kindness that eventually led him on this path of self-purification. Many other participants shared how their parents were the main source of inspiration for them to be the change, even if it meant going against the norms of the society.
Sanjeev and Yash shared how they chose to act immediately when they witnessed an accident by rushing the woman to the hospital and saving her life rather than just be an on-looker like many others on a busy street.
A young participant who works in a large organization chose to stand up for a colleague who was harassed by her superior at work. Once she stood up for one person, 30 other women from the same workplace came forward to share similar stories and this led to the HR department taking strong action by putting new policies in place to protect the women employees.
Meghna shared about how Gopal Dada would pick up pebbles and put them aside with every step while on a walking pilgrimage to clear the path and avoid pedestrians and cyclists coming after him from getting hurt.
Mayur shared that he was being the change in a small way by choosing to cycle or walk any distance less than 2 kms from his home. He was also not shy to share this with his friends who were saving up to buy bigger cars J
Beatrice, who’s come all the way from Burgos, Spain, shared how she created a small organic garden in the industrial space where she works with her father. She grows tomatoes, strawberries and a variety of other vegetables and gifts the harvest to clients who visit them. Soon she noticed that the lines between the employer and the employee blurred as they started having their meetings in the garden instead of the conference rooms! Inspired by this, other organizations like L’Oreal and Firestone in the vicinity were keen to create green patches in their spaces too. Beatrice shared that this garden has also resulted in her inner cultivation – every time she feels angry, she would go to the garden and pluck the weeds out and this small but significant act would help her calm down.
Nipun Shah shared how after a persistence of 5-6 years he was successful in inspiring his family to care for the environment. He shared the story of his brother and his ten year old son who cleaned a considerable patch of the beach when they were on a vacation. As a family, when they are out for a picnic, a practice they follow as a family is to clean up the entire area before they leave the place. With this shift in sanitation, they are being a change even as a family.
Sumita is being a change by continuously slowly and consistently moving towards minimalism, by doing small acts such as owning fewer clothes, doing her own work, etc.
Kineree shared that she has been inspired by her mother in love and compassion by uplifting the families of the household help by teaching them to save and working alongside with them. As a HR professional, Kineree has taken this practice to her workplace by making the house keeping staff feel special by just lending a patient ear to them.
Sheela decided to be the change after her mother who suffered from a heart attack was cured by vegetable juice and decided to deliver vegetable juice to people with heart problems and committing to the cause of making food pure and organic.
Khushmita shared how she has been inspired by her grandfather who was an embodiment of ‘Sarv Dharma Samabhaav’. How her grandfather not only believed but actually put in practice by getting each of his children getting married into a different religion and culture.
Maggie shared how her father got a lot of opposition from family and friends about educating the kids and exhausting himself and his retirement funds. Her father regarded education as the dowry for his nine girls and said he would give them as much dowry as they wanted. This inspired Maggie to stand for what she believed in without holding malice or hatred in her heart for those who opposed her. She says, I am from the mud and like different flowers take different colors and fragrance, I have my own color and fragrance.
Here’s what Mihir shared:
“I'm geared up for attending my first MBL retreat in Ahmedabad, and am waiting for the train to arrive at Surat train station. It is delayed a bit, and from the looks of it, there are a lot of people who are going to get onto this train from here. Finally the train arrives, and everyone scrambles to stand outside their allocated coach, anxious to get in. I happen to be the first in the queue. As the train comes to a halt, passengers start alighting the coach I'm supposed to get on. Almost the entire coach is getting off, and they have a lot of luggage. This results in the process taking a long time...and the crowd waiting to get on the train is getting restless. They start shouting & urging the passengers alighting the train to hurry up. The passengers getting down start arguing back, and things get heated. I am in the middle of all this, and suddenly the realization strikes that hey, I'm not separate from what is going on there. I am that! The commotion within is not different from the one without and the truth is, I have contributed to this conflict in ways which may not be apparent right away. So the question arises - what should I do here, now? How do I alleviate the situation? Due to the urgency of the situation, the mind doesn't get a chance to play its tricks. I immediately start helping the alighting passengers get their bags out of the coach. This speeds up the process, and soon the passengers exit. I then let many of the passengers behind me get on the train first. Soon we are all inside & the train leaves the platform. I sense that the atmosphere is charged with negative energy.
People are saying how "the others" were so insensitive & callous and how much stress those few minutes caused them. Parents were scolding their children and spouses - each other. Again the question popped up in my mind - what can I do here, now? How can I deal with this flow of negative energy? The mind could come up with no answer. Just then, I see a tea seller entering the compartment. I call him and give him some money, and tell him to serve tea to all the passengers in the coach and if anyone asks, he should tell them that it's from him for free. He laughs in disbelief, but I insist. He tells me this is crazy. I ask him to do it anyway. He hesitantly starts serving the tea to the passengers one by one, some of whom are taken aback and wonder what is going on! Some reject it, some take the tea but then talk in a hushed tone something along the lines of "this is weird, be careful". And some are pleasantly surprised and thank the chai wala. As more and more passengers see this happening, they start feeling that the guy is genuinely doing this out of kindness. The commentary in their mind changes & therefore their expressions change from "how painful it is to deal with others" to "Hey, it’s not all that bad, there are people like this chai wala too!" Their defense mechanism is relaxed, the mind quietens and the negative energy is transformed. The chai wala is experiencing this first-hand and seems to perceive the impact of it. He reaches the other end of the coach, looks at me and smiles. Not a word gets exchanged between us, but I feel a deeper communication has taken place. As for me, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for having experienced what communion probably feels like.
After a powerful opening circle, we did the “Tree of Life” exercise. Sheetal shared how we can look at our life as a tree and what we offer to the world as the fruit and the origin of fruits being the roots, which are representative of our values and the soil around representative of our environment. The participants got an opportunity to go deep within and really examine the roots and the soil. The exercise threw light on the fruits each one felt that they offered currently and what they would like to offer going forward by changing the roots (values) and the soil (environment).
Anarben shared from her heart about her experiments in generosity and how she learnt to keep doing her duties consistently without the expectation of the fruit. She also shared about her personal practices and the perseverance needed to be the change and therefore bringing positive change in the society around us.
The participants experienced an Awakin circle followed by the silent dinner under the moon and stars and were deeply moved by the warmth and love they felt through the day.
Well, it seemed like a packed day but everyone seemed to have the energy to dance around the bon fire before hitting the sack.
We began the Hands Day with an inspiring circle with Devendrabhai, who has been working for the cause of sanitation for more than twenty years. He had everyone in splits with his sense of humour and shared how important it was to make connections with the hearts of individuals before we attempt to create any change in the village community or environment.
Khushmita got us energized for the rest of the day with a laughter session and we divided ourselves into two groups, one serving at the Kabir Ashram and the other in cleaning the ESI toilets and campus.
Participants came back post lunch to share their deep reflections and we headed out for a tour of the Gandhi Ashram and Safai Vidyalaya.
Spirited Talks were anchored beautifully by Nimo at Seva Café and all of us got a chance to listen to his soulful music. Senem, one the participants, was moved to offer a Turkish song in her melodious voice.
The Heart Day began with Jayeshbhai’s wise words on how the ‘bhaav’ with which you do service helps create that one moment of connection which in turn leads to many ripples.
Madhu shared about Rev. Heng Sure’s bowing pilgrimage that lasted 2 years and 9 months and how doing the “three steps and a bow” around the ESI campus has transformed so many of us and helped cultivate humility, gratitude and the feeling of surrender in our hearts. Meghna led us on the “three steps and a bow” and a few participants were moved to tears with this experience.
The closing circle ended with all of us surprising the participants with a slideshow of their photos and lots of warm hugs. Many participants joined the tour of the ESI campus led with love by Jayeshbhai.
A few participants from the part of the planet in Spain and Turkey were moved to serve and pay it forward by offering to volunteer for the subsequent retreat to be held for the teachers of PTC and Vinaya Mandir. It was heartening to see the enthusiasm and the love with which they were serving though none of them understood a word of the local language in which the entire retreat was being held.