The re'love'ution is here!
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw, that life was service.
I acted and behold, service was joy.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore~
Maitri Space in Sugadh, Ahmedabad was abuzz with 30 diverse individuals convening together from different parts of the world for yet another immersion into the alignment between ‘head, hands and hearts.’
The gathering began with a peace walk, collective prayers and a circle of sharing where each participant was asked to share a micro moment of love.
Sheetal, born and raised in Nepal shared that the value of service was inculcated in her by her parents from a very young age. Every weekend the family would visit a local orphanage or an old age home and serve in small ways. When she moved to India for studies, she lost touch with that aspect of her life. When in 2011 by sheer chance, she ended up celebrating her birthday with some disabled kids and remembered the joy of serving and decided to keep her childhood tradition alive.
Kamlesh was once sharing with his barber of how much he valued his parents and would visit them as often as he can to be of some service. The barber painfully confessed that he had a difficult relation with his parents and though they lived in the same town in southern UK, he hardly ever saw them. Kamlesh left without saying anything but offered a prayer for the barber. To his pleasant surprise, on his next visit, the barber excitedly shared that just in the last month he went to meet his parent’s thrice and his beaming smiles were indicative of his joy.
Martin, a young teenager of 15, spoke of the gift of insight in a recent dream. He dreamt that he was 80 years of age and that he had wasted his life in the pursuit of material goals and stuff which were now useless to him. As he woke up in his present 15 year body, he reflected on what might it look like to live with a youthful energy guided by the wisdom of his 80 year old “self”.
Bea spoke about the small acts of kindness she was receiving right here in the retreat. As she was decorating the Maitri Hall in the morning hours that day, she was experiencing a slight chill. Devesh noticed this and quietly got a shawl and put it over Bea’s shoulders. Bea felt as if she was enveloped with a blanket of loving care and the warmth of that gesture stayed for a long time.
Dravya spoke about a lesson in generosity he learnt from his father on a boat ride. When his father noticed that the boatman was not wearing any shoes, without a moment’s hesitation, he removed his new pair and gifted them to the boatman. Something shifted in Dravya who had a strong attachment to shoes since childhood and had accumulated a cupboard full of shoes, most of which he no longer used. He went home and decided to start giving away his prized shoe collection whenever the opportunity arose. With a smile of satisfaction, he shared with us that he now experiences greater joy in giving than acquiring a new pair for himself.
Robin shared a life changing encounter with an old lady on his way home one day. He had stopped to have a sabudana wada at a roadside stall. An old disheveled lady came up to him and requested Robin to buy her some butter-milk. Thinking she may be hungry too, Robin offered to get her some food also, but to his surprise she responded in the local dialect saying “All I need right now is butter-milk, and I am usually provided what I need when I need it. God is kind and I am happy living in the now.” The contentment and presence which Robin saw in the old lady’s eyes left an indelible impression that inspires him till date.
As a young girl Purnima remembers how much it irritated her when her grandmother would always caution her to conserve water even though there was plenty around saying it is the nectar of life. “I will not tolerate the waste of even a drop of water”, she would say. On a recent trek, her group ran out of drinking water and faced the risk of dehydration. Just then they saw a pond in which a few cows were drinking water and they ended up drinking water from the same pond. Purnima felt gratitude for her grandmother’s value on conservation.
Varsha shared how serving “tyaag nu tiffin” to the elders in the slums with Ramesh bhai taught her so much, especially his philosophy of “now is the only time”.
Navin who is part of Sughad retreat staff spoke of a time when he realized the different types of handicaps humans have. Being physically handicapped, he usually sat in a seat specially reserved for the disabled on the local bus. Once a pregnant woman got on to a packed bus he was seated in and requested a man who was smoking if he could let her sit on his seat. The man not only refused, but continued smoking without concern for her condition. At this point, Navin gave the lady his seat, and with a smile told the smoker, “Isn’t it funny, how we all are handicapped, be it physically, mentally or emotionally.
Rina remembered how growing up with her parent’s in USA, theirs was an open house there was always a steady stream of guests who would stay at their home. She would end up giving up her bed to a guest quite often and over time she made peace with this. Now that she was at the receiving end of all the warm hospitality on her 3 month service trip in India, she is grateful to her parent’s for being who they are.
Deven brought in the spirit of our beloved elder Arun dada by saying that the lives of people like him are a gift to us. Once Arun dada was invited to dinner at his friend’s place and as they were about to start eating their neighbor walked in. After a casual introduction by the host, Arun dada characteristically invited her to eat with them. The lady replied that she never ate at another’s home. Arun dada responded “I also never eat at another’s home, because wherever I go I am always at home.” Kabir echoed a similar sentiment in his poem “Sab thor jamaat, humri jamaat” (wherever I go, I am in my community).
Ankur shared that there is great value in doing good, because when we offer something with love to others without expectation, the Universe is indebted to us.
In conclusion, Jayesh bhai beautifully encapsulated the warm vibes in the room by singing a few lines from Maitri Bhaav. He expressed that these retreats are pure spaces of kinship, and all are invited to empty the mind from worldly concerns, and fill the heart with these sacred waters of amity. He went on to share that though all ideas may appear to come from the mind, they can take root and blossom only if planted in a soft moist heart.
In the afternoon, Deven shared a heartful presentation (or prem-station) about the Moved by Love eco-system peppered with stories from across the eco-system.
Post a short Laughter yoga activity with Khushmita on the lawns, we moved back into the hall for a reflective session on “Share what you already have’. Inspired by Bea’s beautiful graphics, participants listed down the multiple forms of capital that are already present in their life. Then in small groups, we reflected on how we could share the resources we have, and hopefully bring more equity, joy and peace in the world.
There were a few aha moments in the circle when Miki said “We already have all we need! And is there ever an end to our greed?.” Dhara reflected on how being a compassionate clown had shown her “everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” Diana shared that she was feeling gratitude for all the little gifts in her life and she would like to pay forward the warmth and love she had received in life. Krutika shared that she felt validated to continue a practice that she and her close friends had started. On each other’s birthday instead of buying material gifts, her friends decided to do random acts of kindness like feeding puppies, planting trees, distributing blankets and paying forward the merit to the birthday boy/girl.
Later in the evening as we stepped into the he(art)fully decorated dining hall for the “silent dinner”, many participants had tears in their eyes as they were warmly welcomed with hugs, soft live chanting and welcoming rangolis and diyas. After dinner, there was another surprise in store as the volunteers put together a beautiful evening with songs, stories and stillness around a bonfire under a star lit wintry open sky.
We started the second day with an hour of silence in which participants could either engage in meditation or sweep the campus. As I was sweeping the courtyard, this quote on the opposite wall came alive. “Service is external meditation, and meditation is internal service.” The realization dawned that with every sweep of the broom, we clean a tiny part of our heart’s room. Just like the vast courtyard yet to cleaned in front of me, it was humbling to see how much work was yet to be done within. As I was reflecting on all of this, the story of the little sparrow who was doing what he could to help flashed in front me and I started sweeping with renewed vigour. Simultaneously, a few others joined me and we ended up cleaning the courtyard quite quickly. The courtyard gave me a feeling of cleanliness within too, reminding me of the power of collective practices or as Vinoba would say “Samuhik chitta shuddhi”.
Being the day of hands, the participants spent the morning crafting heart pins with the sisters from Gramshree and learning how to make brooms from a spirited Kanchan dada, who though 75 years of age has the energy of a 20 year old.
In previous retreats, participants usually visit Seva Café as guests. This time we asked what would it feel like to step it up and go in as volunteers instead, an experiment in shifting from consumption to contribution. So half of the participants went to Seva Café at 4 pm to help out with the dinner preps and décor while the other half created some beautiful hand-crafted posters to spread “miles of smiles” on the streets outside. After an hour of walking around spreading smiles, when the participants reconvened in Seva Café, their faces were beaming with joy, and an excited Mansi shared that “I have received so much love today. The universe sure gives to those who give. To the one who gives most, most is given.”
Pradnya, whose daughter was getting married in two weeks shared that she received a few insights on how she could infuse some random acts of kindness and joy in the wedding rituals. Pranit shared how he was learning that a smile costs nothing, but is priceless. Meena, Payal and Mita, all three being teachers in the Gandhi Ashram schools reflected openly on how they could bring in more kindness in their classrooms. “An ounce of practice is better than tons of theory” they said in unison as they resolved to start doing small acts for their students and families.
Close to 7 pm, Bhaskar rang the bell for the Seva café prayer and distributed tasks for the evening among us such as welcoming guests, serving food and doing dishes. For the next two hours there was a beautiful symphony of vibrational joy as participants who had just met a day ago were now serving together in the spirit of selfless love. Tushar who was so moved by love shared “wish I could live like this everyday. I am experiencing greater joy in giving rather than my habitual selfish taking.”
As we came back to Sughad, someone on the bus jokingly remarked that all our soles were tired, but souls felt rested.
The third day being a day of heart, we opened with a beautiful conversation and Q&A with Jayesh bhai where he spoke about his own life journey and the lessons life had taught him which moved everyone to tears. Carrying this bhaav of maitri within our hearts we undertook the 3 steps and bow pilgrimage and closed the retreat with a circle of sharing once again.
If you ask me what took place in these three days, I don’t really know, but when I saw the room at the end of the retreat filled with hugs, tears, joyous smiles, laughter, dance and celebration, I knew that something sacred had transpired within the collective heart. In that instant I resonated with the words of Rumi, “Your task is not to seek love, but to seek and remove all the barriers you have built against it.”