NGO Retreat: A Journey from Head to Heart
After attending Startup Service a couple years ago and engaging with the Moved By Love ecosystem, the question arose of how to bring the spirit of love into my work in the NGO sector.
Perhaps as some form of an answer, a couple weeks back, about 45 leaders from various NGOs came together for a 3-day retreat. It was a wonderful experience which has caused so many ripples. It’s difficult to capture it in words. For the benefit of many who wanted a "full download" on the retreat, this is the best we could do.
The retreat began by taking us in a sacred space beautified with flowers and 'Diyas' by invisible hands. We were greeted with a "Tikka" and “Namaskaar” and a flower given to each one of us with a namaskar.
We then sat in a circle with a minute of silence and that space within this circle of sharing where each one of us shared was so intense and prevailing. We felt like one big family. Each one was listened to and looked at with so much love, dignity and validation, this process in itself was magical. And then the prayers were so soothing and made us all more still.
After a break, we transitioned into a talk from Nipun-bhai. There was no formal introduction to faculty, as he is a phenomenon one cannot introduce, one has to experience! In a heartfelt sharing, he very gently and lovingly helped us explore and hold a few questions and ideas and soon it was not ME but WE who were exploring:
Being the change we want to see in the world.
One key idea was that the place to begin is with inner transformation rather than impact. This flipped it for many of us from the NGO world, where the buzz words are "Impact," "ROI," "Evaluation and Monitoring," "numbers," and "statistics." This man here was talking about trust, love, giving. Initially something did not fit. But soon we all remembered this was where we originally got inspired to start our work, before we then got caught up in the running of it. As one NGO leader pointed out, we began to see "donors as currencies, and beneficiaries as statistics, sheer numbers." With this realization, a deeper question was posed: ‘Who really is the beneficiary?’
It was a returning home of sorts. It rekindled all those emotions that came so naturally to us where we felt 'ONE'. We could already sense transformation as it emerged, minus the lecturing, preaching and criticism. We all explored within and got something for ourselves and our fellow beings.
The different forms of capital were introduced, and we realized how we were very biased over only the financial capital which is just one resource in the whole spectrum. The realization that we have so many capitals was empowering and enlightening.
Jyoti later reflected, "I learnt that giving love brings about changes money cannot produce. Finance is essential like salt but other ingredients are what makes the food for soul."
A session by Preeta and Audrey helped us understand Leadership as Laddership, how a leader becomes a ladder to facilitate 'climbing' of their team and some questions were again held and explored.
We picked up our 'edges' (areas or challenges where we feel we have reached an edge and we want to stretch and look ahead of). The edges were:
1. Issues with donors
2. Human Resources
We had anchors in each group to hold space and facilitate the discussion.
The almost unanimous conclusion was it all begins with IT (Inner transformation) the energy we bring in our interactions with all.
All the above processes were done with stories both by faculty and participants (After the initial half an hour difficult to differentiate who is faculty and who is participant). Inspirations were drawn from Vinobaji and Gandhiji's lives, as well as from some extraordinary everyday people stories.
For dinner we had one more surprise where invisible hands had created beauty and music for us to have a Silent Dinner where we were lovingly served and then those served in turn served! Including our brothers from staff who looked after and served us during the whole retreat as one of the staff from Flame remarked, “I am feeling that I am eating at home where I am served with love”. All were now in a state of “How may I Serve”. What a powerful state for NGO founders & leaders!!! With all this subtle beauty there was lots of music and songs in a circle where there was a song playing in every heart only some were more audible.
On the final day, there was a different energy in the air. Nipun-bhai remarked how we are all grateful to our ancestors who took all the right and left turns for us to be blessed with whatever we have today. We were inspired by the story of two Buddhist monks, who went on a bowing pilgrimage for 2 years and 9 months, taking a bow at every three steps.
We then embarked on a silent closing walk, where we put the three-steps-and-a-bow into practice, in gratitude to our ancestors and with an intent to empty ourselves. This was done on a beautiful path laid out again by invisible hands with messages and quotes. For those of us who could not bow, it was still done with that spirit and reverence. This was magical. Many were moved to tears.
As we closed with a a final circle of reflections, it felt as though we were breathing in countless transformations. Our gratitude to the many invisible hands and hearts that held the space is immeasurable. From the beautiful university campus on which we held the retreat, to the many nameless volunteers who came and selflessly served us the silent dinner, to Gitanjali's stunning stories and ambiance; and the dedication and care of Sheetal V, who showed up with bright smiles, anchored the entire retreat (even though a close family member of hers had just passed away!) and next day went straight to serve at another retreat(!)... we have most definitely been moved -- perhaps even bulldozed :) -- by love.
One participant later wrote, "Until this weekend, I was on a mission for 'outer transformation' -- to do something for make the society a little better. I was using my mind and intellect for that act of outer transformation. Yes, I could have been successful in that, but it would been have been like cultivating a flower without fragrance. To add the fragrance, I realized that I need to first transform myself to be a little more kind to myself to all I meet in everyday life. Just a diversion on the "service" road will give me strength go a long way on the highway."
And the ripples continue! Renu has been inspiring kindness amongst the children she works with. Each child picks a card, does the suggested act of kindness, and writes about it in his or her journal. Pramod has been experimenting with small acts of love at work. Bunch of us are inspired to practice stillness-- whether as a moment of silence before meetings, a minute of gratitude before meals, an actual period of meditation, or beyond. On that note, other daily practices that we collectively brainstormed during the retreat are unfolding in our various corners of the country.
As Jyoti sums up, "When it is a beautiful sunrise, one cannot say what is so special about it. Everything, including one dark cloud (which is like our blind spots), makes it so beautiful and divine... I have heard that love moves mountains, but it wasn't until here that I have deeply experienced this. No one had to be told, it was flowing and I was drenched! I do not know how will I measure it actually. All that I know is I will consciously put in efforts to live what I experienced. Sounds hefty, maybe I will succeed sometimes if not all times. I will do my best."