Seeing the Extra ordinary in The Ordinary
The Moved by Love retreat this September had a beautiful theme woven into its gentle yet expansive being. As 40 beautiful pilgrims from across the country gathered to meet each other in 'Maitri', cultivating deeper friendship and understanding, with the bhaav to transcend the meeting of kindred souls with a deeper understanding of what binds us together. What roots are interconnecting us beneath the surface and what stirs within us to engage with each other in the spirit of 'Vasudeva Kutumbakam'.
Sanchi opened the gathering with a heart felt welcome to all our dear brothers and sisters, while Chris bhai shared his little practices of seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary in each moment of his day. How a single movement in his weight lifting routine taught him so much to how powerful making a broom and meditating with it as he pulled out leaf by leaf of a branch of the palm tree to create a single jhaadu. The beauty he found in these simple moments which gave him so much internal peace and equanimity and nourished him from within. Khush Di shared the story of Tambe Kaka in Pune who after retiring from his job at 60 started looking after the forest in his neighbourhood and would go early every morning to do his little bit for the trees - watering, planting saplings, creating terraces, little canals etc and kept doing this for years on end inspiring hundreds of daily walkers in the forest to also do the same, which has resulted in a co-created happy forest :) Shubhangi shared how she visited an underprivileged home and as she went in enthusiastically to play with the kids, she realised that they were visually impaired and so couldn't do much of the activities she had planned, but she realised that they had other gifts - singing, stitching etc and when she engaged them in that, they were overjoyed. Kopal shared how she had a practice of smiling at everyone as she travelled in the metro in Delhi. Once she smiled at a lady who smiled back at her; Kopal felt an inner calling to hug this lady and she mustered the courage to do so. As she went up to her and hugged her, this lady was all smiles and shared that she really needed a hug today and was grateful to receive it.
Banshi sweetly shared how she once met an uncle in her new neighbourhood who was giving away a bag-full of books to the raddiwala. She was intrigued by the books which were spiritual in nature. Although she didn't read any of these books she felt it was a treasure house of knowledge and should not be wasted! She asked the uncle for this bag of books and kept it with her in her room. From time to time, she would gift her friends these books and in return she would also collect other books. Over a period of time, she gave away many books and received many in return. She still treasures this bag of books which keeps multiplying the more she gives them away :)
Preksha reflected on how she noticed when there was construction activity taking place nearby that the labourers would always share their food with all present even if it was wandering street dogs. They never hesitated in feeding them. Also the street dwellers would never take food if they had already eaten which was such a lesson in taking only what one needs. Sonika, who is a Tai chi teacher shared that how when she teaches, many people come to heal physically or emotionally and how when she is able to help even one person by being there for them, it makes her so grateful. It may look small then, but it means so much. Shubhi spoke of how she was inspired by Jayesh bhai, and once outside a large temple premises, she started collecting strewn plastic wrappers. Soon other people also started doing the same and the ripple turned into a wave :) Murtuza spoke of how he once went to give a motivational talk at the Paraplegic centre of the army in Pune and how he returned much more motivated and enriched by their sharing's instead while Hardik shared of growing up in a male chauvinistic household and how an incident with his mom taught him to be humble. He started helping her with the household work and how he overcame the male conditioning in the house which strengthened his bond with his mom and today she is his best friend.
Rahul reflected on how he and his dad once went to visit an ancient Ganesh temple in their city. It was a big festival day and there were thousands of people. When they reached the shoe stand, they realised that only 4 volunteers were manning this stand and due to the large number of people coming and going, everything was in chaos. Without thinking for a moment, his dad jumped into the shoe stand and started helping the 4 people. He also pulled Rahul in and together for a couple of hours they selflessly served everyone passing by with the safe keeping of their shoes. Slowly some more volunteers joined in and things started functioning well once again. It was on this day that he truly realized the power of seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Jayesh bhai shared that how just listening to the beautiful people in the opening circle, he had 'Dhairya darshan' - where he saw immense patience in all as the sharing went on for about 3 hours. He felt that where there is respect, there is deep friendship.
Meghna di and Sheetal bhai shared our collective Moved By Love values in a short presentation as they emphasized on the 4 shifts that keep us going retreat after retreat - From Transaction to trust, Isolation to Community, Scarcity to Abundance and Consumption to Contribution.
Post a wonderful visit to Gandhi Ashram and Safai Vidyalaya, the Karma Bhumi of a lot of invisible ladders who lit up the path for others by their daily practices of love in action, we reached Seva cafe where we began to understand its tagline - 'Living is Giving'. The sheer joy of service and love felt in its surroundings was palpable.
Natasha shared with us her service journey of experiments in Gift economy with her work as a Chiropractor, while Drishti shared her experiences of being inspired by Seva cafe to experiment with a one day seva cafe experiment in Mumbai where she and her brother took over a restaurant for a day and served more than 100 people as guests along with the help of a lot of volunteers and how that was a huge learning for her. Bhaskar and Raju shared their incredible journey of 10 years with Seva cafe and Devesh and Himanshu enthralled us all with their soulful bhajans. What a magical evening :)
Give Your Hands to Serve - And your Hearts to Love
It was a beautiful morning on day 2 of the retreat as Sonika, who is a Tai chi expert led the group through some simple yet intense exercises to connect within and flow in the harmony of the universe. Rejuvenated by this simple flow, the participants gathered for a circle of sharing with Devendra Bhai who has worked for more than 25 years in the field of Sanitation and whose joyful demeanor and playful stories bring glee to our hearts as he shares wonderful experiences and anecdotes from his life's journey. He helped us understand the value of using our hands effectively, with discipline and devotion, to find the harmony, the catalyst between the Head and the heart. He shared his favourite quote with us - ' May all good work begin with Me ' and the importance of taking the lead to effortlessly begin action where needed.
As all the participants got ready for a day of service, they were quickly divided into 3 teams - one making brooms with Chris and Kanchan dada. One painting tin oil cans to create beautiful dustbins in the campus and one to cook for all at Kabir ashram. Each team put in their best 'Hands' forward and magic was created, whether it was the meditative practice of slicing a palm leaf one by one with extreme care and focus to get one tili of a jhaadu or the painting of the tin cans which needed careful washing, scrubbing, preparations in order for it to be base painted in the first place.
Kabir ashram was turned into a beautiful space with decor using local material, welcome drinks, a grand welcome and delicious prasad for everyone made by the participants. It was incredible to see the energy with which each and every person was served.
Anar didi gave a wonderful talk on her own practices which help her maintain a balance of the head, hands and heart in her life.
As Sanchi shared the following after the Awakin circle -
This retreat brought two very beautiful shifts. While I sat on the cushions facing everyone to host the Awakin circle on the hands day I sat with the obvious anxiousness around what will I speak, everyone is watching me so back unnaturally straight etc :) and through that thirty minutes of silence a lovely feeling emerged. What is this anxiety about and this thing of doing ( sitting back straight then) to impress?
Isn't it because I feel I separated myself from the participant brothers and sisters who sat in front of me and also from volunteers. A oneness sprouted there and then. We are all one and this retreat is us. Our being. And not a performance. A melting of something uneasy inside happened. A little bit more towards the one pure flow in all of us.
And second I just loved Anar Didi say it loud and happy ' I am a true mother.' The honest person that she is to express her shortcomings to everyone. Her also saying that hey! This is my strength! Was an aha moment for me! I felt how sometimes I do not accept public appreciation and it is not shyness or humility. It is sheer ego. That somewhere inside knows I have that strength but the same ego tells you Oh! How can you express and accept in front of everyone. You HAVE to be humble. And underplay it.
This underplaying is ego too! As much as over playing :) it is sameness in a 5 star buffet and the roadside tapri that is egoless-ness :)) I guess.
The beauty of the Silent dinner brought stillness into every heart and created a space of deeper reflection into what we had received and what the day had taught us. Later as we came out of this sacred space it was wonderful to see the Anganwadi teachers who had a training in the same campus, dancing in abandon to the garba music playing in the campus. We all joined them and danced our hearts out :)
In the end, nothing we do or say in this lifetime will matter as much as we would have loved one another.
With smiles and open hearts, we entered Hriday Kunj, the little heart shaped grove in the ESI campus which was the venue for a heart sharing by Jayesh Bhai. Chris was asked to introduce Jayesh bhai and it was beautiful how he opened with," Everyone talks about Jayesh Bhai's father, Ishwar bhai Patel but I rarely hear about his mother Vasudha Ben Patel. I wish to share about her today. Every time she enters the campus, she lovingly greets everyone and blesses everyone with a kind pat on the head and love in her eyes. I have been the recipient of this love by Mother Vasudha several times and each time I feel so full of emotion by her grace and generosity." As he mentioned these beautiful words about Vasudha Ba, Jayesh bhai was overcome with joy and emotion as he proceeded to share his journey of service, love and the Joy of giving.
He spoke of Ekagrata - Oneness and Samagrata - wholeness and how when we connect within, with the soul with detachment we connect with the entire humanity.
After a sharing on the Humble practice of two Buddhist monks in California who took 3 steps and a bow to bring peace within themselves and through that, prayed for peace in the world, we set out to bring this humble practice into our own lives right there in the ESI campus. As 35 of us bowed with reverence around the periphery of the campus, there was a feeling of oneness, a feeling of shared love, a feeling of unity in our hearts.
As we sat once again in a closing circle to pour our hearts out, there were no words coming forth to express the feelings. It was as though our cups had been emptied and our hearts were overflowing.
As Natasha, a volunteer shared later - Another retreat has filled my heart and emptied my mind. If I had to take away just one thing from this last retreat, it would be to breathe just a little deeper. In a discussion, one of our ladders shared that these retreats show us our mistakes so we have the opportunity to correct them and that one retreat makes her 1% better. I couldn't agree more. How huge to improve so much in just three days. Not that it's a race but it is important to be improving ourselves if this is the path that we have chosen or have been put on. Either way, this is where we are and as Kabir says "where we are is the entry point". I've enjoyed receiving that which I need for my journey in this moment and being that much more aware of it lately.
"To see the World in a Grain of Sand and the Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour."
~ William Blake
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