‘The Meera sang with Ektara’ - Maitri Gathering, August 2016
I never have been able to know what we are doing in the retreats, why are we doing what we are doing and for whom! But one thing I always keep in my heart is that three days all I have to do is love. Love without a reason. Love without thinking. Love when I have to do the mike and my friend is still to finish the ‘last’ joke she wants to share. Love when I meet someone I am not able to understand. Love as I listen deeply and keep emptying the stories running in my mind. Love as I just receive whatever comes to the moment. Because these three days all is good if I am moved by love. And this retreat Meera came. Yes! In her kesari chola (saffron attire), Ektara in her hands and love in her heart.
The retreat began a day before, when all us volunteers gathered to welcome all the participants with tidy rooms, name tags, smile decks and fresh, smiling each one of us! And as I went to greet Jayesh Bhai he shared ‘is baar Meera ko bithao.’ (this time bring Meera to the retreat.) In my heart lit the beautiful Meera that sat in the Pavitra. I prayed to her as I received her to be with us for the three days. Bas ki hum bhi premi banjae unki tarah. (May we also become beloved like her.)
The moments whispered in my ears ‘we are all connected’. We opened the circle around the Peace Pole with Sharada Baa from Pune who offered ishavasyam. while Pratyush bhai closed the circle with ‘purna madah’. Kishan Bhai shared that the interpretation of another name for ESI is actually ishavasyam.
Hugs, floating candles, flowers and flute welcomed all the participants as Nimo Bhai expressed gratitude for each one for trusting and being part of the retreat and coming for no agenda; only because a friend asked them to come. He shared how he holds Ubuntu close to his heart. All we can do is not just be, but inter-be; as he offered the story of a researcher in Africa and a bucket of chocolates. Ubuntu it is! I am because we are.
Sheetal Didi just went through a gracefully tough time as her husband Neerad went through a bone marrow transplant. She echoed for all of us that not even once she felt that she was alone; with so many being there for her. Not just the doctors, nurses and the close kins but also those who send jokes every morning, formed praying circles, maintained fasts and silence. She was moved to reflect how everywhere is family as she remembered Pullik a brother who took care of Neerad Bhai in the hospital. He requested her to never apologize to him for waking him up in the night. He said he is doing his tiny bit to support Neerad Bhai’s will, life and effort that is beaming to live! She said to herself ‘Here is a brother – a family. Can I ever be alone?!’
Pratyush Bhai our brother from Delhi decided to walk the Narmada Yatra and he walked for a year and half having varied experiences and going through a transformation within, was startled with joy as he shared now he sees narmada maa in beings, living, inanimate and in himself. One ever flowing mother in all.
Hemakshi while on the Shirdi Yatra by herself was taken care of by an old man who happened to stand next to her in the queue and she never saw him again after she reached the Sai Baba Murti. She said she knew in her heart, she was here to receive the murti but more so to receive the feeling that we are taken care of all the time.
Arpita with a lot of love shared of her grandmother who taught her to love the clothes even as you fold them. ‘Tum kapdo ko izat karo, who tumko izat denge.’ (You respect the clothes and they will respect you.)
Sharada Baa with tears of gratitude recalled her own mother who would wake up and cook even in the middle of the night for whoever would come to their doorstep.
Kapil shared many stories of how beings especially animals, birds and insects are always connecting with him, offering their wisdom. Once in Dharamsala he recalled about an insect that kept swirling above him, not biting as he wrote a very disturbing mail like to tell him to be still where he is, in a rhythm.
The circle beamed with stories of catching the right bus at the right time, meeting just the people they needed to, finding lost things out of nowhere, having a bond of only a smile and no name introductions with so many people. All of us echoing connections are beyond what we can really tell, least explains. Parul beautifully reminded us that in this connected whole we too are an answer to someone’s prayers!
The connection with ESI was shared by Jaimit during his first visit to Sughad where he saw Meghna Didi climb up two stools to do the lines on the wall. In that moment and now; he knew this place is love - no more and no less. I went ‘aha’ when a brother who was at ESI for the first time shared ‘I knew I had to come back, I belong here’.
Jayesh Bhai closed the circle by sharing ‘deewar ke peeche ka dekho☺’ (look behind the walls). Which to me was - only when we have no judgments, our mind stills and hearts are filled with love. We look beyond people, their personalities and then we can do nothing but love and be connected to that love. Which has no personality attached to it. Only a flow. In you and in me!
The welcome lunch was full dhamaka with dhol and garba which was continued with Nimo Bhai sharing his soul-songs and few of us bringing alive our stories of joy, kindness and gratitude at the Seva Cafe. Our tummies full with Prasad prepared by the Seva Café family we came back to ESI. Our soles tired but souls recharged completely!!
The hands day it was!! Devendra bhai who worked with Ishwar dada for many years shared “when we do something, only two things happen - Prize and Surprise.” When we do something it is a surprise, a joyful gift for who receives our work and prize for us as we see the joy in the one who receives our work. Can we really tell who is the receiver or the giver or just surrender and dance with our hands up in the air!
With jhadoo (brooms) pinned on our shoulders we went to the Kabir Ashram, and Lilapur in different groups. A few of us stayed back to learn how to make brooms and decorate the ESI Campus.
While the participants at Kabir Ashram decided to practice silence to offer themselves fully; the Lilapur gang spent time with the school children. Krishna shared when she saw all the children sing a song in coordination and do the hand washing actions she was humbled to ask herself - “are we really here to teach or to learn? Am I a teacher or a student? Or both” ☺
A sister shared while she made the brooms she felt so much more connected to her daily sweeping ‘chore’ she performs at home. Each stick needs to be cleaned of its slivers before it is tied up into a broom. So much detailing in a broom! She was moved.
Purnima shared how happy she was to see participates happily surprised to see their rooms tidy, clean and decorated. Bhumika witnessed the gift of Jaimit brushing and mopping the tiny corner of the terrace she had left out and purnima move meditatively with the broom. Like the usual cleaning became a dance in symphony.
The Awakin circle was around the passage on servant leaders and many were grateful to see it in action in Jayesh bhai as he cleaned the utensils at Kabir Ashram. Pratyush Bhai offered Gopal Dada’s stories. Hemakshi shared that she experienced servant leadership in her student who would stay back to shut windows after school. I closed the circle with the story of the geese who fly together in a particular formation usually, where each of them has two geese behind them flapping their wings in unison. As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in V formation the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. When the Head Goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. We then welcomed all to the silent dinner. And the Meera appeared for Darshan. The dinner space was lit with Meera singing with the Ektara, the diyas dancing around her and all of us having the prasad in silent devotion.
The third day the day of the heart began with making a big heart right in the center of the maître hall and many tiny ones strung together on the periphery. Jayesh Bhai the loving heart himself shared the story of Jethi Maa, an old woman at one of villages who would feed ants everyday and will be serving all who comes to her. She served a foreign volunteer like she would take care of her daughter and that became a transforming experience for the volunteer as she had never been loved like that before.
When we see God in all, we are all connected and this connection needs no words no religion only love. With this feeling love connects us all and all that we can give back is a heart full of gratitude. We all walked the three steps and one bow around the ESI campus. We closed the circle by sitting sharing our gratitude in that moment. Most of us could share only silence and some tears of joy.
Kishan Bhai offered stories from his Vipassana Seva of this one person who was a Government school teacher. This school teacher who was a Dhamma Sevak, not only offered his relentless serving but also stressed on offering a donation of an amount which considering his situation would have been too much. This opened Kishan’s heart and expressed how it is love and only love that we cannot but just give away! Then we danced and hugged singing! Atul Bhai entered with dhol to welcome all of us to Annapurna; serving us a meal like the very first day. I couldn’t tell if it was the end or the beginning of another journey - journey of more togetherness, more joy and the union of Head Hands and Hearts. While I witnessed all this, there was Meera; lit with the sunshine and the peacock feathers swirling around her, singing with the Ektara.
While I had already said my goodbyes to all (to Meera too ☺) Kishan Bhai called me from one corner of the Sughad garden and asked me to place Meera back to her Pavitra home in Sughad. I bathed her with fresh water, wiped her with my towel and placed her, receiving her yet again.
More pictures of the retreat are uploaded here.